Chabad Messianism

Messianism in Chabad-Lubavitch challenges Jews of all denominations to consider the limits of Jewish theology.

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Berger's second argument is more complex and controversial. He argues (to my mind, convincingly) that the belief in a messiah who is dead and is about to be resurrected to finish his job carries the potential of blurring the distinction between humans and God to such an extent that it can lead to avodah zarah, that is, "foreign or non-monotheistic worhip." Berger cites some troubling statements in Lubavitch publications that lead us to believe that his concern is real, not, to be sure, about all Lubavitchers, and perhaps not about most. But, Berger argues, key Lubavitch educators in important positions have made statements that cannot be tolerated in a monotheistic religion. How are we to relate to the claim that because the Rebbe is actually "the essence and being [of God] placed [areingeshtelt] into a body," he is without limits, capable of effecting anything, all-knowing and a proper object of worshipful prostration?

Berger has issued a challenge to all non-Lubavitch Jews to re-examine--indeed, to oppose--the exercise of broad communal authority by anyone who was a signatory on the psak. He even suggests that non-Lubavitch Jews withhold their suppport from the specific institutions where the signatories occupy positions of authority.

Berger's arguments are sufficiently complex that a short essay cannot do them justice. But I think that they are worthy of careful reading by all Jews. I have admired Berger for 31 years, ever since I was a student in two of his undergraduate Jewish history courses, one on messianism and one on Jewish-Christian polemics. He is a pious and committed Jew and a great scholar. Before 1993, I never heard him take an anti-Lubavitch or anti-hassidic position. In fact, he has always shown tolerance for all and a great respect for rabbis who are Torah scholars, even for those whose worldviews are not his. But he is also eager to preserve Jewish monotheism and Jewish identity by fighting against any blurring of the boundary between Judaism and Christianity. Berger's campaign is not a quixotic crusade. It is a serious attempt to ask Jews of all denominations to think seriously about Jewish theology. Berger would say that serious changes have taken place in Judaism in the last twelve years and he challenges us to think about how we will react. 

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Martin I. Lockshin

Martin I. Lockshin, Ph.D., is a professor at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in Toronto. He received rabbinic ordination after studying at the yeshiva founded by Rav Kook in Jerusalem.