What religion believes that a Jewish rabbi began a messianic mission of redemption -died - and will be resurrected in the future via a second coming to fulfill that mission and become the Messiah?
If you answered Christianity you would be close. But you would be wrong. The answer is a group of fervently religious Jews known as Lubavitch or Chabad.
This has caused a quiet but major rift between Lubavitch and other mainstream Orthodox groups.
According to a December article in the Jewish Chronicle Online - an unofficial Lubavitch website named COLive has accused the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) of targeting Messianic (Meshichist) rabbis as a danger to Judaism - more so than even Reform or Conservative Judaism. From the article:
“Concerned about its members turning their skin, you’d expect them to include a clause denouncing Conservative or Reform Judaism.
“But why stop there? Seems like an RCA member may convert to Christianity, just not become a Chabad messianic, God forbid.”
The complaint by COLive editor Yehuda Ceitlin is that only Lubavitch Messianic rabbis are targeted for exclusion from membership. He claims that very few Lubavitchers are messianic and he resents the fact that only Lubavitch messianic are deemed a threat. Why are they worse than the Reform or Conservative movements - or even Christianity? There is no resolution about any of them from membership. But there is one barring Lubavitch messianic rabbis from membership.
Mainstream Chabad has for some time now been claiming that Messianists have been ostracized. To a certain extent that is true. This was demonstrated recently as the article points out:
This belief caused a schism in the Chabad movement that has led to arguments and even fights between opposing groups.
Last month, a trial opened in New York after a brawl at a Brooklyn yeshivah over the Rebbe’s messianic credentials ended with six people facing assault charges.
There have been many instances like this where mainstream Chabad leaders have denounced their extremists. They have in fact been very strident in their opposition.
But… opposition to what?
RCA member and author of the resolution points out Rabbi Dr. David Berger points out:
…although only some Chabad rabbis are vocal in their belief that the Lubavitcher rebbe will be reborn as the messiah, many more have vowed not to speak about the matter publicly.
He said that others believe that the Rebbe did not actually die — that he is merely testing his followers — so they can sign the statement with a clean conscience. “The majority fervently believe he will be revealed as the messiah”
Lubavitcher belief runs the gamut from only an unlikely possibility that the Rebbe will be resurrected to the absolute belief that he will. This narrower spectrum is the view of most Lubavitchers. There are some who believe he is still alive and waiting for the right moment to re-appear as Moshiach. And then there are a few that actually believe he is a God incarnate. The vast majority of Lubavitchers are very private about their beliefs in this one regard. Those who are vocal about it are ostracized.
This is the problem with mainstream Lubavitch. No matter how anti Meshichist they claim to be, they refuse to go the extra mile and do what’s necessary to once and for all rid itself of any hint of messianic belief. When push comes to shove they virtually all point to sources that allow such a belief. They insist that it is permissible to believe it no matter how likely or unlikely. The only question is how far along this belief spectrum one goes with this - and to what extent are those beliefs kept private.
Why do they care…. one might ask? After all they have been pretty successful without much help from the rest of Orthodox Jewry. They go to great lengths in doing things their own way and do not ask for any input from anyone about what they do. And they trumpet with justifiable pride at all their successes.
In my view the answer is legitimacy. They do not want to be ostracized by the rest of Orthodoxy. No matter how independent they are they need to remain legitimate. They can ill afford widespread condemnation from other Orthodox groups. It would severely undercut their Kiruv efforts if they claimed to be legitimate while all other segments of Orthodoxy say they are not.
Which is kind of ironic since they so pride themselves as independent. They refuse to even call themselves Orthodox - often listing themselves separately and outside of any Orthodox grouping. They in fact rarely if ever have joint programs with other Orthodox groups.
At the moment, they have been successful at retaining their legitimacy and have convinced much of mainstream Orthodoxy that the messianic problems have been more or less successfully handled internally. But as Dr. Berger notes – this is highly questionable.
So try as they might to portray themselves as anti Meshichist -most privately not only tolerate believers in the Rebbe’s ressurection and messiahship but secretly (or not so secretly) believe in at least the possibility of it.
So if Mr. Ceitlin wants to know why the RCA targets Lubavitch, it’s because the problem is far worse than he is willing to admit. Or divulge to the rest of Orthodoxy.
Things are relatively quiet now. As an Orthodox outsider who has very close relationships with many Lubavitchers, I do not hear any talk of the Rebbe as Moshiach. But I have been very clearly told long ago by a very strident anti Meshichist Lubavitcher that the belief is valid! And one prominent Lubavitcher who is in the forefront of fighting the messianists has told me privately that no one is going to tell him what to believe about his Rebbe!
So the belief is still there. And the RCA has singled out Lubavitch precisely because they are so religious. There is no danger of a Reform or Conservative rabbi joining the RCA. Both groups proudly believe in theologies that Orthodoxy clearly rejects. Chabad’s theology is on the ether hand theologically consistent with Orthodoxy - except for this one detail which they try and obscure.
Full acceptance by the Orthodox mainstream – from left wing Modern Orthodox to right wing Charedi - will not happen until they rid themselves of even the remotest notion of a resurrected Messiah.