Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rebbe and the Messiah

Being a Gentile and a Christian, I had never heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994. I was very surprised when I learned that a group of Hasidic Jews consider their dead rabbi to be the Messiah.

In 2009 during a trip to New York City, I was in a taxi cab which pulled beside a motor home labeled a "Mitzvah Tank" at a traffic light. Emblazoned on the side was a huge picture of Rebbe Scneerson. The markings labeled it as being part of the "Messianic Lubavitchers." When I got home I began to do research on the Messianic Lubavitchers. First, I learned that a mitzvah is a religious commandment or a good deed. The Chasad Lubavitchers drive around in RVs and vans called "Mitzvah Tanks" and invite Jews to come inside and perform Jewish prayer rituals such as wrapping tefillin. Second, I learned that the Messianic Lubavitchers are Hasidic Jews who believe that the late Rebbe Schneerson is the Messiah and that he will come back from the dead in a Second Coming and complete the redemption of Israel.

Mitzvah Tank

Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Intrigued, I began to collect books about Hasidism. One of the books which I acquired was The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference (2001) by David Berger. Berger is an Orthodox Rabbi and professor who argues that by believing that a dead rabbi can be the Messiah, the Messianic Lubavitchers have removed themselves from Judaism and created a new religion. Berger also sees the belief in Rebbe Schneerson as the Messiah to be a catastrophe for Orthodox Judaism.

Why did I pull this book out and read it cover to cover during this holy season of Advent? This topic is highly relevant during this season of Advent as we celebrate the coming of the true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and anticipate His imminent return.

A big part of Rabbi Berger's argument is that if Orthodox Judaism allows the belief that a dead Rabbi from Brooklyn is the Messiah, then the Christian claim must also be taken seriously.

"The legitimation of Second Coming Judaism has not been lost on interested Christians. Two people have told me that Cardinal Lustiger of France, who was brought up as a Jew, has warned Jewish friends that this is how Christianity began. A stranger approached a rabbi from my neighborhood on the streets of Manhattan, showed him a picture of the Rebbe, and asked, 'How is he different from Jesus?'

Far more important than these random observations is the growing utilization of this movement by skilled and committed missionaries. A convert to Orthodox Judaism living in Minneapolis informs me that the local head of a missionary organization greeted him with the question, 'What about the Lubavitchers?' Three people have told me of a billboard or poster in California with the phone number of a missionary group, a picture of the Rebbe, and the message, 'Right Idea. Wrong Person.' Another spoke of a Jews for Jesus T-shirt with the Rebbe's picture. None of this is the least bit surprising. No missionary with a modicum of intelligence could fail to exploit the gift-wrapped opportunity that Orthodox Jewry has bestowed upon proselytizing Christianity."

New York City Billboard Proclaiming the Rebbe is the Messiah.

Rabbi Berger details instances where children in Yeshivas were instructed to pray towards pictures of the Rebbe and recite prayers to the Rebbe as the Messiah. In one of the more comic instances, Berger recounts that some Messianic Lubavitchers believe that the headquarters of Chasad Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, will become the new Temple when the Rebbe returns as the Messiah. Berger comments with derision, "Thus, one fulfills a key requirement from moving from presumptive Messiah to definite Messiah by building a large synagogue in Brooklyn." Berger also recounts that in 1997 six high ranking Hasidic and Orthodox rabbis issued a rabbinical ruling which required all Jews to believe that Rebbe Schneerson is the Messiah!

I find this topic endlessly fascinating. Although one is tempted to laugh and to poke fun, these are deeply religious people who are desperately seeking the Messiah who will redeem them. The relationship between Jews and Christians has, through the centuries, been marked by fear, sin and excess and both sides. From the excesses of the Middle Ages against the Jewish community right through to the Holocaust and our own day, we Christians have largely failed in our mandate to manifest the love of God in our lives. We cannot possibly write off people who love God so much as our Orthodox Jewish brothers and sisters. We must continue to pray for them and for our own conversion.

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Rabbi David Berger


  1. Xtianity is rejected by the Jews not because Jews do not believe in the coming of the Moshiach but because xianity rejects the commandments and the study of the Torah as the only means of communion with G-D.

    Gentiles took a very Jewish man (if he ever even existed)and stripped him of his religion and made him into an idol, to be worshiped. If you were to read the Bible you would know that even Moses who was closer to G-D than any other man hid the place of his burial, lest the people (even gentiles) should G-D forbid worship him as a deity.

    The Jews who believe that the Rebbe will return as the Moshiach believe this because it is within their tradition that before Moshiach's arrival the righteous who personally merited redemption but lived in a generation that was not worthy of it, will resurrect, so they can be rewarded for their devotion during their lifetime. This tradition is not limited to the Rebbe. It is only because his followers believe that in his lifetime he accomplished many if not all of the the rules describing who can be deemed the Moshiach according to Maimonides (the universally accepted decider about these issues) that they believe that he will be resurrected with the rest of the righteous, he will than lead them and us out of exile.

    Xtians especially Catholics, are being punished (observe their fate in Muslim countries, the empty Churches in Europe and the sex scandels world wide) and will be punished as were the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks etc. for oppressing G-D's chosen people. You are the followers of Edom. Read the Bible to find out what is in store for you.

    If you are religious and care about your relationship with the Creator, repent now, and abandon the cult that you have been taught to follow.

  2. Bad Catholic - Thank you for this very interesting post.

    I agree completely with you last paragraph. We should thank God for all those who are trying to follow Him.

  3. So Anonymous says we are members of a cult, but he and his several dozen brothers and sisters have found the correct path?

    That is about as believable as Marshall Applewhite and Heaven's Gate, or David Koresh, Jim Jones, et. al.

    Hopefully, G-D will be patient will folks like Anonymous.

  4. 1.
    a particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
    an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
    the object of such devotion.
    a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
    Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.
    a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
    the members of such a religion or sect.
    any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.

    Which one of these definitions do not describe Catholics (xtians).

    You mistake my intention if you think that I have any personal animosity towards the followers of your cult.

    I just don't understand how people who seem to be intelligent, as the author of this blog seems to be, can not see what is most obvious to those seeking communion with G-D. That the Torah as it was passed down from generation through generation including the generation that it is claimed that JC lived in could never deify a human or anything else. It is one of the what you call the 10 commandments (it is actually 10 statements "Dibrot" and 13 commandments). In your own book it claims that JC said that he did not come to change the Torah yet that is precisely what the followers of paul did.

    So we "the blind ", who your cult leaders have decided "must be preserved in misery" so that we may witness the mistake of our ways, say to you, repent to G-D for your sins and abandon your foolishness. G-D is merciful, he will accept your change and bless you. For remember "those that bless you (abraham) will be blessed and those who curse you will be cursed. Since JC is one of us, how does it feel that he too would need to remain in misery for adherence to the Aseret Ha'Dibrot.

    What a shame on you that you choose the path of Eisob as opposed to the path of Jacob.

  5. Anonymous,

    I don't think that it is intellectually honest to argue that Jesus of Nazareth was not a real historical figure who actually lived. There is just as much evidence that he was a real flesh and blood man as that Socrates or the Buddha were real historical figures. Even scholars who dismiss the divinty of Jesus recognize that He was a real man.

    The issue of whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate God and the Messiah of Israel is an issue of a different character entirely. Of course, I am convinced that the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus rose from the dead, spoke to his followers after His resurrection and ascended into Heaven. Otherwise I would not be a Christian.

    Therefore, I also think that Rabbi Berger is absolutely correct that if the Rebbe's claim to Messiahship is taken seriously by Orthodox Judaism, then the Christian claim must also be taken seriously.

  6. Does he mention anywhere that he should be deified? Did the people who wrote your book ever meet this figure? More so does he advocate that JEWS should abandon the Torah in exchange for worshiping HIM.
    Three obvious differences:
    No one claims that the Rebbe died and was resurrected (although there have been other figures in Judaism who have died and were resurrected. As a matter of fact this happens quite often with non Jews too)
    It is Jewish people not gentiles who follow the Torah that believe that the Rebbe "will" redeem them and not
    "has" redeemed them. This follows our halacha and tradition(Bar Kochva as an example).
    And the most important is that the Rebbe taught that our redemption will come through keeping our covenant with G-D on Mt Sinai and that we must be meticulous in keeping the Torah and not G-D forbid by abrogating this covenant!

    The fact is, historical and by the writings of your own scholars, that Paul and his followers had to distance themselves from the Jews because there was no way to get adherents to this new religion if the gentile were to need to circumcise, keep the Shabbat and kosher laws. Think about it if JC told you to keep the Torah today would you drop your lifestyle and do it? Would you give up pork and circumcise? So how come the original gentiles brought into the fold didn't want to? A few did and that was it. After waiting some time and no redemption how easy do you think it would be to convince a gentile of this story?

    You want to save yourself? Read and be saved get educated read books. Something that the Church did not allow its followers to do for hundreds of years (I wonder why?). Start with this book written by one of yours:
    Christian Antisemitism a History of Hate
    by Prof.William Nicholls published by Aaronson

    I am not a scholar but any five year old child studying Torah will tell you that what you call sacrament is pure idol worship that even the gentile children of Noah are prohibited from doing.
    Repent now for when Moshiach comes you will want to part of it.