Chabad: Unity or Division?

In recent times the rift within the Chabad Lubavich movement has spilled over into Jewish communities in various places, sometimes to the point that it starts to undermine the exceptionally valuable and entirely legitimate outreach work undertaken by the Shluchim of the Rebbe.

There are a number of Chabad Chassidim who aspire to the idea that the Rebbe is Messiach (“Meshichists”), and very publicly proclaim this.  Take for example the website http://www.longlivetherebbekingmessiahforever.com/ or the letter in the Australian Jewish News by Binyomin Leonard (edition of Feb 8 2008).

It may not be right for a blog like this to lay into the theological base of these claims.  Simply put, those of us who are not Lubavich are ignorant of the philosophy of the movement, and the chassidus that leads to such belief.  It does not fit the normative understanding of Judaism, but this blog will stop short of suggesting excommunication. 

Suffice to say, that the Rebbe, whose life work inspired millions of Jews and revivied Judaism in many places, was buried, and his memory should be a blessing.  It is not credible to claim he could wake, and as the prophetic ideas of the Jewish Messiah (including world peace) have yet to transpire, it is not evident that the Rebbe filled the mandate required.  As has often been pointed out, there have been many occasions in Jewish history where the fervour of religious leadership has identified either the potential of the Messianic age, or claims of Messianism that have ultimately not been realised.

There are several Chabad Rabbis in Perth.  All of them are very inspiring and hard working leaders in the community, and all of them attract different types of people within the community to their activities.  Nobody has had the need, or the sheer gumption to pose the question whether any of them believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach.  The question for this post is, should this question be asked?  Is it a rude or inappropriate thing to ask?  Is it a valid question, or is the expectation of a simple yes or no answer too simplistic?

For the sake of normative Jewish experience, and absolute communal unity, it is a shame to see such emotively charged rifts in other Jewish communities, especially Melbourne.  The chant of “Yehi”, proclaiming the Rebbe as Moshiach is not one that is part of the public tefillah of any Perth community, but that does not mean the undertone of Meschichism is not prevalent here.  Better we should know, define, understand, and debate such a matter than to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that their is no theological conflict within such an expression. 

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