Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Professor David Berger Responds

Last week in an effort to seek Emes and balance I presented an essay by a non Meshichist Lubavitcher, ELR, whose sole agenda was to give an accurate portrayal of the current ‘state of affairs’ with respect to Lubavitch Messianist beliefs. He understands the damage this phenomenon has done to his movement and hopes that eventually Chabad will overcome problem and be able get on with more important matters.

He acknowledged that the problem is huge but nonetheless contends that the majority of Lubavitchers are not Meshichist. He even went so far as to attribute partial responsibility to the rebbe for the problem. He suggests that the Rebbe erred near the end of his life by underestimating how his Chasidim would react to his push toward Moshiach. By the time he realized, it was too late in that shortly thereafter he suffered a massive and very debilitating stroke thus making him unable to do anything about it.

In the course of ELR’s argument showing that mainstream Lubavitch is now pretty much on the same page with respect to messianist belief he cited the view of Rabbi Yoel Kahn, whom he said many consider the Talmid Muvak - a devoted student of the Rebbe. Rabbi Kahn is a vehement opponent of the Meshichists in Lubavitch and has made some very strong negative statements about them. But he has not always felt that way. To quote ELR:

Though Rabbi Kahn did make mistakes in his understanding of the Rebbe's words, and entirely misread the situation, in a large part being responsible for the development of Messianic fervor in a very extreme form - he nevertheless had the bravery to confront the reality of the situation when proven wrong. Today he sincerely regrets his previous actions and especially what those actions ultimately led to, and trys as hard as he can to undo the damage, which he acknowledges he is himself responsible for.

Professor David Berger is in the forefront of raising public consciousness among Orthodox Jewry on the serious matter of Chabad Messianist belief. Very few people outside of Lubavitch have done as much research into the issue and have the clear understanding of it as he does. He does not mince words and tells it like it is.

Very few people have the knowledge and credentials to refute Lubavitch Messianist views and claims. And even less have the courage to call the indifference to it by Orthodox leadership a scandal! He has written extensively on the subject including the publication of a book which he translated into Hebrew. He recently republished it in paperback with additional material.

I asked Professor Berger for a reaction to the post and he graciously accepted despite his busy schedule. I reproduce his reply with his permission:

Please accept my apology for not responding in a timely fashion to your message about the Chabad posting. You caught me at an exceptionally busy moment.

Let me make a few points for your information. The citation of R. Yoel Kahn’s article is misleading in the extreme. It is true that he says that belief that the Rebbe is the Messiah is not a halakhic obligation because we know this through spiritual means not connected with ordinary halakhic processes.

However, he adds, this does not mitigate the certainty that he will be the Messiah. See p. 20 of the article (section 17:2), where he uses the words vaddai and vadda’ut. The article is available at http://www.chabadlibrary.org/books/pdf/mug2.pdf. I referred to this in the introduction to the paperback edition of my book, p. xxxii.

I was happy —indeed, very happy-- to see one Lubavitch commenter say that he and some of his friends are willing to declare that the Rebbe will not be revealed as the Messiah, and I certainly hope that there is a growing number of such hasidim.

Nonetheless, most of the major institutions in Crown Heights , in Israel , and even elsewhere remain in the hands of believers. (One must keep in mind that within the movement, the term meshichist is reserved for people who put up messianist posters, say yechi in davening, or even believe that the Rebbe is alive. Mere belief that the Rebbe will be revealed as the Messiah does not make you a meshichist or even rule out your designation as an anti-meshichist. Thus, R. Kahn is an anti-meshichist even though he firmly believes that it is a certainty that the Rebbe will be revealed as the Messiah.)

To take a recent example, Oholei Torah/Oholei Menachem (the largest yeshiva in Crown Heights and perhaps the largest Lubavitch yeshiva in the world, one that produces many of the shluchim) put out a Torah booklet in honor of the most recent shluchim conference—an event that projects quintessential non-messianism—with the messianist slogan on the cover page and with a “moderate” article from a major mashpia there maintaining that one should not recite that slogan before modeh ani.

The psak din requiring belief in the Rebbe’s Messiahship as a halakhic obligation was noted by some of the commenters and is discussed in chapters 5 and 12 of my book. It was issued in 1998--several years after the Rebbe’s passing—by six distinguished rabbis, and the signatures have since grown to about 250 the last time I looked.

The signatories have had ample opportunity to dissociate themselves from it. I do not doubt that some of them (especially the small number of non-Lubavitch rabbis among them) did not give it careful thought, and one of them that I know of (R. Yaakov Yosef) was recently quoted as saying that he does not now believe that the Rebbe will be revealed as the Messiah.

Nonetheless, there is every reason to believe that the vast majority who have not openly protested continue to adhere to this ruling. Many known messianists did not sign, perhaps because they are not ready to go so far as to declare a halakhic requirement to believe. In any case, this is only a sampling of rabbinic figures who endorse this belief.