Sunday, March 11, 2018

Purim, Lubavitch, Ner Israel, and Meshichism

A Siyum at 770 - Declaration (Hebrew) that the Rebbe is Moshaich is on the wall
I have never been a fan of ridicule. Which is what often passes for humor on Purim.  It is both offensive and hurtful to those being ridiculed. I am not being a spoilsport. But there are right and wrong ways to do satire. What often happens in the attempt to be cutting edge or outdo last year’s Purim Spiel (play or skit) is that lines are crossed and  people get hurt. Often those people are the very people deserving of their highest respect.

I recall some pretty rough stuff at the Purim Spiels during my Yeshiva years. In one case I remember laughing at a particularly cruel mocking of one Rebbe, and then immediately realized how hurtful that ridicule must be the individual targeted. And feeling very badly about laughing at him.

Being the good sports they were, most of those targeted just looked the other way and let the boys ‘let off some steam’ one time a year. That is to their credit. But it doesn’t absolve some of them of their guilt about the truly harsh ridicule I witnessed year after year at successive Purim Spiels.

It is with that in mind that I read the disturbing news that took place a couple weeks ago in one of the more enlightened Charedi Yeshivos, Ner Israel in Baltimore. With Purim as an excuse - students there ridiculed Chabad/Lubavitch in some very unflattering ways. 

One picture is worth a thousand words.  Instead of describing what they did - one can see photos and much better description of the hurt than I could ever made. It was from a Lubavitcher Chasid and can be seen along with those photos here (link).

For their part, students of Ner Israel ‘went to the house of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of the Chabad Center and Lubavitch of Maryland, and delivered a letter of apology’. I do however wonder why there was not comparable apology from Ner Israel’s leadership.  From the Baltimore Jewish Times
When asked to comment on the displays, Ner Israel Yeshiva president Rabbi Sheftel Neuberger would only say, before hanging up, that the displays were taken down after a couple hours
There is still some ill will left over from this event. But there are also voices of peace that in the spirit of Achdus have accepted the apology and want to move on.

That said, there is a reason that this happened. Not an excuse by any means. But a reason. Chabad’s main headquarters - the Yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn - is dominated by Meshichists. I have not addressed this issue for quite awhile now. But it hasn’t really gone away in the very place it should be most rejected. The belief that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is Moshaich is alive and well in that location. 

They believe that their Rebbe (who actually died almost 24 years ago) is either still alive and laying in wait to reveal himself as Moshiach – or will be resurrected as Moshiach in some sort of second coming. While this idea has died down in most other Chabad locations (with the possible exception of Israel) it is the dominating force in their Yeshiva.  

Mainstream Lubavitch has in recent years refocused on their mission of bringing Jews estranged from their Jewish heritage - back to it. They have in fact publicly condemned their Meshichist members and have even fought against the overt Meshichists – realizing the terrible damage they were doing to their image and thereby their mission. 

What they believe in their heart of hearts, however, is hard to determine. At some level I believe that most Lubavicthers believe it is at least possible – even if unlikely – that the Rebbe will someday return to be Moshiach.  

Which brings me back to 770. They are very overt in their belief that the Rebbe is Moshiach. The signs on the walls of their Yeshiva proclaim it. Why is this allowed to prevail? If Lubavitch really believed that this was wrong they should have by now eradicated it. And yet it prevails without any apparent resistance from the mainstream Chabad leaders that oppose it.

Not long ago, I spoke with a Lubavitcher acquaintance who is one of their older emissaries and asked him why this is still going on 24 years after his Rebbi’s death. He professed his disappointment with the phenomenon and told me that their leadership has tried mightily in a variety of ways to rid 770 of them. But to no avail and they will not use violent means to oust them.

I have to question their determination. I too am opposed to using violence. But there are things that that can be done, like boycotting the building. Or changing their world headquarters to another location. And disowning the current occupiers as renegades that do not reflect the views of Chabad. They need to publicly and unequivocally declare in writing - that their beliefs are foolish and at odds with mainstream Jewish thought.

Instead they continue to consider 770 their world headquarters and meet regularly there – as they did again at their last annual Kinus Shiluchim (convention) where Chabad emissaries from all four corners of the earth meet to discuss common issues. I can only wonder just how opposed they really are to the Meshichists if after 24 years they still allow Meshichsts to dominate their headquarters while continuing to place a high value on that location as though it were the Beis HaMikdash. And refuse to do anything significant to stop it… at least along the lines I suggested.

I want to be clear. Just as I have not been reticent in my criticism of Chabad on this issue, so to have I not been reticent about showing my appreciation and admiration for what they have accomplished under the leadership of their Rebbe. They have continued his legacy to this day - and long after his death have added to it. I am full of awe of what they do and how they do it. They are by far the most successful Jewish outreach group of my lifetime. To the best of my knowledge, they do not bring any Meshchism into their work.

But Chabad still has one major problem that in the eyes of the rest of mainstream Orthodoxy takes away much of their luster if not their legitimacy. Their Meshichism has not disappeared. It is alive and well in 770.

Chabad leaders must answer why 770 is still controlled by Meshichists 24 years after the Rebbe’s death. In my view to this point they have failed to address that in any meaningful way. They need do do that now! No more excuses!