Monday, May 12, 2008

God Centered or Rebbe Centered?

Every Motzoei Shabbos after Maariv, the mainstream Lubavitch Shul here in Chicago, Bnei Ruven, a self proclaimed anti Meshichist Shul puts a television monitor in front of the holy Ark - the Aron Kodesh - so that they can watch a video of the late Rebbe. The flurry of activity in bringing out the TV and putting on the DVD while the last Kaddish is being recited is a sight to behold! This act is indicative of one of the primary problems with Lubavitch. And it is a problem that has finally been addressed by a prominent Charedi Rav.

In a recent post, I had some very strong words to say about Rav Belsky. He made some comments in a Mishpacha Magazine article about modern Orthodoxy that I believe were very divisive.

But that article was not only about modern Orthodoxy. He was asked about Lubavitch - specifically about their Messianism. And in this respect I totally agree with him. In fact I am happy to see that Rav Belsky carries the same perspective I do. Here is an excerpt from the Mishpacha interview quoted in an editorial in VIN (with which I also agree):

Chabad used to be about disseminating Chassidic teachings which the Baal HaTanya wrote, saying his divrei Torah, etc. In America, Chabad started out with shlichim [sic] going out and bringing the masses back to Judaism. These are goals which we share and do not contest.”

“But present-day Chabad has nothing to do with the above. Present-day Chabad has become a personal cult centered on the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. Everything they do, from beginning to end, revolves around this. They constantly project his image, talk about him and how great he was, how smart he was, how he was a better strategist than all the generals, that he was Mashiach, etc. This is the way people talk about a cult figure. There’s no room in Yiddishkeit for a personality cult in which an individual is deified and glorified. Whether he was great or wasn’t great is immaterial. There have been many great people in Judaism. The personality cult of glorifying an individual person, giving him unique titles, elevating the shape of the building he was active in, etc., has no place in Yiddishkeit.”

He is saying what I have been saying for a long time now. In fact it is not only me. It is also Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller. He put it best when in an article a few years ago he asked if Lubavitch was Rebbe centered or God centered. The biggest problem in Lubavitch now is that they are indeed Rebbe centered, not God centered. This is the source of all their problems, starting with their biggest one, the Messianists among their ranks.

Dr. David Berger who has been a lone hero in this cause has been urging rabbinic leaders to speak out for years – calling it a scandal that they haven’t. I agree. This has contributed to the perpetuation of Lubavitch Messianism - a phenomenon that not only hurts them, but hurts all of Klal Yisroel.

The current statement by Rav Belsky is the closest any rabbinic figure has come to speaking out publicly and forcefully on the issue. And Rav Belsky has stuck to his guns here, refusing to back track. The OU, Rav Belsky’s employer, says that their views are not reflected by Rav Belsky. That is a shame. They ought to back him up.

I understand their political position. But I think that not backing him up ultimately does more harm than good. They may be winning more friends in Lubavitch now but they are enabling more Messianist nonsense to continue.

Rav Belsky is right. Lubavitch has become a cult of personality. I have said virtually the same thing myself. When the Rebbe is nearly deified, it is not such a leap to say he was the Messiah -and will be the Messiah resurrected!

Lest someone accuse me of a double standard, let me make it perfectly clear. Emes is Emes. That is what I stand for. It doesn’t matter who or where it comes from. Nor does it matter if it comes from an individual with whom I disagree about other things. On this issue Rav Belsky is 100 percent correct.

And so is VIN. They see Rav Belsky’s words as a favor to Lubavitch. Only if Messianism is routed out, will their standing in the rest of Klal Yisroel be restored. And the best way to do that is to go back to what Lubavitch was before it became what it is now: a cult of personality. And along those lines the first thing Bnei Ruven should do is throw out the TV!