Menachem Mendel Schneerson: The Expedient Messiah, Part 4

Trudie Pert


CONTROVERSIES

Criticism of Schneerson, limited among non-Jews mainly to his supremacist views, has been more varied among Jews. Some have questioned his mental competency and his veracity, criticized his professional manners and condemned his theology. Perhaps because they did not believe in the authenticity of Schneerson’s mid-life born again experience, many senior non-Lubavitch Chassidim opposed or took a neutral stance toward him throughout his reign. In an interview conducted on Israeli television shortly before Schneerson suffered a debilitating stroke, two years before his death, an important Orthodox Israeli philosopher, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, was asked what he thought of the Rebbe’s messianism. Leibowitz’s response was characteristically sarcastic: “There is only one thing that I cannot figure out about this man[Schneerson], and that is whether he is a psychopath or a charlatan. This is the only thing I just cannot decide—this kind of degeneracy, of phony prophets and false messiahs, is as ancient as Israel itself.”

A tenet in the shared code of professional behavior among Reform and Conservative rabbis and congregations includes the principle that one does not solicit members of each other’s congregations, regardless of synagogues or affiliation. Chabad, however, ignored this tenet. Indignant that Chabad was apparently proselytizing members of their congregations, the associated clergy of Pittsburgh congregations stated in a righteously indignant declaration:

We believe that people have a right to belong to the religious institutions that they desire without being called, visited or solicited to leave and support other places of worship and learning. Sadly, it has been the experience of several Reform congregations in the Pittsburgh area that the connections between congregants and rabbi are not always honored by those who speak on Chabad’s behalf. This has led to disruptions in congregational life, to ill feeling and needless strife. (See here)

The general Jewish community has been amused or indifferent to the proclamation by Lubavitch that Jewish belief requires belief in the messiahship or even the divinity of the Rebbe. Soon after his death members of Chabad-Lubavitch in fact were divided into two categories: the “Elokists” who believe that Schneerson is God and the “Mishichists” who hold that he is the messiah. Needless to say, some Jewish professors of theology interpreted this belief to be heretical and idolatrous and were thus in a quandary. They admitted that Schneerson’s success could not be denied: after all, he established a worldwide empire of followers, spread Orthodoxy to places where it had never been known, and established a most effective fund raising organization. To criticize him would be interpreted as an attack on his achievements.

Many Jews who are not Orthodox and maybe not even very observant praise Chabad and continue to fund its activities. They admire Chabad’s institution building, the devotion and selflessness of its emissaries, and its bold representation of Judaism in the public square. In addition, they carry with them nostalgia for their east European past and a sense that Lubavitch is the most authentic version of historical Judaism still extant. Finally, though perhaps not devout themselves, they hold the conviction that Orthodoxy is the firmest guarantor of a Jewish future.[33]

Though finding fault with Schneerson might be construed as an assault on his reputation and accomplishments, many non-Orthodox Jewish theologians, nevertheless, have been concerned about the similarities of Chabad messianic theology to Christology which they fear causes it to be heretical and even apostatical. To claim the messiahship of the Rebbe undermines the first line of defense against Christian missionizing, which has been that Judaism cannot accept a messiah who dies in the midst of his redemptive mission. Lubavitch texts after Schneerson’s death contain references to essence, omniscience, and omnipotence—all Christian concepts. With the decline of a pervasive Christian threat, familiarity with messianic texts and sensitivity to messianic deviationism has waned to the vanishing point even among learned Jews.

“Jews for Jesus” quickly understood the implications of the messianic message and came out with a tee shirt with the Rebbe’s picture, accompanied by the words—“Right idea, wrong person.” The question remains why, though the two earlier messianic movements in Jewish history, Christianity and Sabbatianism, were quickly and thoroughly delegitimized by the Jewish collective, the current Schneerson messianic claim has not been. Predictions have been made that Chabad will come to be seen as synonymous with Judaism, and all other Jewish groups will be perceived as sects. Hasidim who proclaim this belief, including those who have ruled that it is required by Jewish law, routinely hold significant religious posts sanctioned by major Orthodox authorities with no relationship to their movement.  For example, a Hasidic Montréal rabbi holds the position of head of the rabbinical court of the entire city. In England, Chabad rabbis constitute 50% of the rabbinate. In Russia, the government has appointed a Chabad head rabbi. Fund raisers continue to be held and messianic literature circulates unimpeded in non-Lubavitch synagogues.[34]

In fact, by now belief in the nature of messiahship has become a class issue. The less successful, less sophisticated residents of the original Hasidic ghettos, like those in Crown Heights continue to hold the view that Schneerson is indeed the messiah. However, the overwhelming majority of shluchim, who are wealthier and more sophisticated, are not messianist. Ironically, degree of belief has not effected the growth or dynamics of the organization.[35] Many of Schneerson’s emissaries were and continue to be active in Chabad’s enormously successful fund raising projects.  Indeed, publicity and fundraising have become a chief occupation of many schluchim. There are currently 4,000 Chabad emissaries worldwide, nearly twice as many as a decade ago. Chabad houses are found on most college campuses in the West and in virtually every state in the US. The movement has established itself worldwide in over 50 countries, most recently in Finland, India, and Cyprus. Behind all this activity is a superior bureaucratic organization, employing thousands of persons. It is puzzling of course, why so many Chabad houses are established in countries where few Jews reside. And if the shluchim are not going to Finland or Cyprus to convert fellow Jews, why are they there? To colonize? To engage in international criminal activities?

There are indications that a sideline of Chabad is criminal activity with ties to Mossad and that Chabad houses provide safe houses and storefronts for Israeli intelligence and criminal activity including everything from terrorism, to money laundering, to drug running, to prostitution. Claims have been made (see also here) that Chabad-Lubavitch is allowed to exist as a powerful international force because it serves Israel by working with Mossad in intelligence and criminal activities, and as a source of extremist ideology to fuel Zionist crimes. (See here for TOO articles referring to the traditional practice of mesirah which is common in the Orthodox community, often preventing open discussion of fraud by the entire community.)

LEGACY

Schneerson came into public notice at a time when Judaism was basically lacking any positive content and defined solely by two negatives, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Had the negatives of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust alone continued to define Jewish identity, then Judaism would have been in danger of eventually losing any affirmative essence.[37] Schneerson provided that positive content by publically affirming the racial superiority implicit in the concept of “chosenness.” While Jews have always considered themselves superior to gentiles, mainstream Jewish groups have minimized the implications of Jewish racism by restricting it to the moral realm and thus giving it the veneer of respectability. Unlike their more assimilated brethren, however, the Hasidim have continued to hold on to their fundamentalist, literal racial beliefs.

As long as Hasidim remained a fringe group in the United States their racial views remained obscure. However, once Chabad felt secure in the multicultural milieu of the 1970’s under the reign of Schneerson it became quite openly racist. Not only did Chabad begin to publish articles concerning the subject of racial superiority in English, but Schneerson’s talks, though delivered in Yiddish, were immediately translated into all major languages. When Schneerson stated in his sermons that both body and soul of a Jew are much superior to that of a non-Jew, he did not claim to be original, but based his conclusion on passages in the Tanya. Eventually, as if to attempt to appeal to non-Jews and subdue his racist statements, Schneerson pragmatically framed Jewish interests into pseudo-universal terms by promoting the Noahide laws and reassuring “righteous gentiles” of their place in the Jewish world to come.

Regarded as one of the Lubavitcher sect’s leading contemporary authorities on Jewish mysticism, Yitzchak Ginsburgh, a St Louis born rabbi, also spoke openly of Jews’ genetic-based, spiritual and physical superiority.  In an interview two years after Schneerson’s death, Rabbi Ginsburgh asserted that Jewish superiority invests Jewish life with greater value in the Torah. Rabbi Ginsburgh elaborated upon the earlier general notions of superiority by adapting them to contemporary scientific knowledge of heredity. Not only is the Jewish body superior to a gentile body, but its very strands of DNA, the smallest units of inherited structure, are special. By this perverted Talmudic logic Jews may ethically harvest the bodies of non-Jews for spare body parts. The belief in superiority is essential for a genetically closed group to prevent intermarriage. What could serve as a greater deterrent to exogamy than equating gentiles to animals on even the chromosomal level?

While the critical myth of Jewish chosenness bestows racial superiority, it also entails obligations or commandments. In his book, A People That Shall Live Alone, Prof. MacDonald suggests that the religious ideology of Judaism is essentially a blueprint for group evolutionary strategy. Jewish religious books, especially the Old Testament, are permeated with the notion of reproductive success. These books warn Jews that those who stray from identification with the tribe and ignore its religious commands will ultimately suffer the grievous fate of few offspring.[39] The decline in the Jewish birthrate today to below replacement level coupled with the practice of large scale exogamy is perceived by many Jews as a group failure of potentially catastrophic consequences. Though Jews have demonstrated that as a people of marked intelligence they need only a small population to maneuver the controls of a majority non-Jewish country. Nevertheless even they need a minimum critical mass. An initial Jewish response to a historical event of cataclysmic importance is frequently renewed messianic speculation.[40] Certainly, a below-replacement birthrate could qualify as such a cataclysmic event.  Since believers are ordered to be fruitful, the mitzvah-messiah campaign to bring Jews back to more traditional ways may ultimately be regarded as a modern Jewish group campaign for reproductive success.

In the 1970s, when the mitzvah-messiah campaign was initiated, non-Hasidic American Jewish fertility had fallen steadily to very low levels with estimates ranging from 1.4 to 1.9 children per woman—below replacement level. In fact, American Jews have been even more successful at lowering their birth rate than gentiles. American Jewish women in their thirties are nearly twice as likely to be childless as their gentile counterparts. This part of the Jewish community is also considerably older than the surrounding population: the average Jewish age is forty-two, compared with just thirty-five for the United States as a whole.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, American Hasidic women were probably having in the range of two to four children, much like their non-Hasidic counterparts and also much the same as non-Jews. Demographers believe that in the 1970s the situation began to change dramatically. The Hasidic population appears to have grown in tandem with the spread of Schneerson’s messianic campaign, leading to the conclusion that Chabad has deliberately increased its birth rate. While the birthrate of the non-Orthodox portion of the Jewish population has remained at or lower than the general population, the Orthodox rate has soared. A birth rate increase in an environment of improved economic or social conditions, when one would expect a lowering, is presumably the result of Hasidic religious beliefs. Hasidic Jews all over the world now have a great many children: at least seven children per family, and often many more, a rate among the highest on earth. At their current pace, the Hasidic population could theoretically double or even triple in each future generation. In fact, if present trends continue, Hasidic and other growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups will constitute a majority of US Jews in the second half of this century—a potentially profound cultural and political change.

Miriam Rosenbaum, a Hasidic woman and Princeton student with an interest in the intersection of ethics, genetic research, and public policy, was awarded a Rhodes Fellowship in November 2011. This is the first time a Hasid has received the honor. Also awarded a Rhodes was Ronan Farrow, son of Woody Allen (Jewish) and Mia Farrow (non-Jew), and a young man of extraordinary mental ability. Responses from an Orthodox blog include: “Fine but how many kinder will she not have because she spent these years studying with the goyim?? As for woody alans [sic] son who cares? Just another goy to me.” As the Hasidic true believers come out of the ghetto and into academia they bring with them untapped reserves of brain power. And as soon as they begin to excel in the Ivy League colleges in greater numbers, it is only a matter of time before they occupy key positions in the judiciary, the teaching faculty of the elite universities, and the highest positions in government.

Besides increasing in number, Hasidic Jews are also becoming genetically healthier. Perhaps as a consequence of Schneerson’s legacy of embracing modern science and technology to promote his community’s advancement and welfare, the Hasidim are proactively using the latest eugenic practices to help prevent the transmission of disorders with a genetic basis. Knowing that children are more likely to inherit a devastating genetic mutation if both parents are carriers of a deleterious recessive mutation has made it possible for the Hasidic Jews to take positive steps.  In 1983, the Orthodox nonprofit organization, Dor Yeshorim (aka Committee for Prevention of Genetic Diseases) was established in Brooklyn to obtain DNA samples from Jewish teenagers.  These samples are compiled in a database which is used to prevent genetically incompatible marriages.  Many unmarried Hasidic young people will not even agree to arranged dates with someone who has not been tested by Dor Yeshorim. The organization has had phenomenal success, and the incidence of known genetic disease in the Hasidic community has dropped dramatically. Thus biotechnology is now a significant factor in Jewish marital compatibility and total genetic endogamy. [45]

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, the largest organization of Hasidic Jews in the United States, sees the future of Hasidic Jews thus:

There will be an economic crunch, and there already are many two-income families in the community, but no Hasidic Jew is starving, or having fewer children because of economic restraints. All members of the community tithe their incomes to make sure that others will have the help they need. The community therefore has an unbelievable array of charitable organizations that ensure the survival of its members. (See here)

According to Shafran, the Hasidic community will grow younger, stronger and much larger in the coming years.

Though Schneerson’s reign seemed like a freak of Jewish history and dependent on his continued living presence, his organization has shown no evidence of declining without his leadership. Throughout its history Judaism has always been characterized by a sense of imminent danger. To the childless Schneerson a great peril for Jews in the contemporary West was not so much overt anti-Semitism as the loss of Jewish identity, manifested in exogamy and reduced birthrate. By means of the group strategies which he initiated, the outreach proselytizing program, the civic displays of menorahs and public prayer, and the open pronouncements of Jewish racial superiority, he attempted to restore a positive identity to Judaism. If his messianic-mitzvah campaign is interpreted as a strategy to people the world with greater numbers of Orthodox Jews, then the Seventh Lubavicher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, may be credited with ushering in a more observant and racially supremacist, more populous and genetically sound, and much more hostile and menacing, Jewish messianic age.

Additional videos: Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.

Video: International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shluchim, November 28, 2011.

Keynote speech praising Rebbe Schneerson  by Jonathon Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom (Orthodox though not Hasidic), Cambridge, MA, Oxford, PhD, seven honorary doctorates, Knighted, life peerage in House of Lords.

Video – Kennedy and Schneerson announcing their respective Peace Corps projects.

End of Fourth and Final Part

References to Part 4

33   David Berger, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, (London; Portland OR, (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001), 118-130.

34  ibid.

35   Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe’s Armay: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, (New York, Schocken, 2005

37   Kevin MacDonald, Separation and Its Discontents, 331, 50-53

40   ibid, 68-69

45   Susan Martha Kahn, “Are Genes Jewish,”in: Boundaries of Jewish Identity, ed. Susan Glenn and Naomi Sokoloff, (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2010), 12-26.

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