Rabbi Dr. David Berger In The Jerusalem Post: “Who Controls 770?”

Rabbi Dr. David Berger writes:

In sum, this generation has presided over a historic transformation of the Jewish religion. We now live in a world in which Judaism affirms the possibility of the Second Coming of the Messiah – and perhaps even of his divinity – as a fully acceptable belief.…we will continue to acquiesce in the ongoing Christianization of the Jewish faith.

How can one argue with this?

Who controls Lubavitch headquarters?

A recent court decision has awarded control of the headquarters of Lubavitch Hassidism in Brooklyn to the “non-messianist” Agudath Chasidei Chabad. This ruling, which has elicited considerable coverage in the Jewish media, highlights the tensions between reality and perception that cloud the understanding of this ongoing controversy.

The main synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway has been controlled for some time by hassidim who believe not only that the late Rebbe is the Messiah but that he remains physically alive. Slogans proclaiming his Messiahship adorn the synagogue, including the cover of the ark containing the Torah scrolls; worshippers form an aisle through which he marches as services begin, and children point to him as he sits in his superficially empty chair.

Many, probably most, hassidim of this sort endorse the theology expressed in a 2003 article by an Israeli rabbi, who affirmed that “we Lubavitch hassidim believe that Lubavitch is Jerusalem, the House of our Rabbi in Babylonia (i.e., 770 Eastern Parkway) is the Temple, and the Rebbe is the ark of the covenant standing on the foundation stone in which (referring to the Rebbe/ark, not the foundation stone) God’s Being and Essence rests.”

(Hebrew readers can access this article by clicking on “Ekronot be-Olam ha-Hasidut” at http://www.hageula.com/?Row1D=5&CTopic=3&STopic=4&PHPSESSID=fe17b307d12b9ad705fb592d099a652f .)

From the perspective of Jewish law, there can be no material difference between a church and a synagogue in which congregants worship the divine Essence manifested in an invisible human being whom they face during prayer.

THE LAWSUIT was triggered by a violent confrontation in which such congregants defaced a plaque placed on the exterior of the building by the moderates. The plaque’s intolerable offense was that it referred to the presumably living Rebbe with an honorific abbreviation characterizing the righteous dead. In the course of the legal proceedings, the hassidim who control the synagogue argued that they represent the majority of the community and that the court has no authority to intervene in a theological dispute.

The judge agreed with the last assertion and took no position on the first; he maintained, however, that he has every authority to rule on a question of property law, and the building in question, he said, clearly belongs to Agudath Chasidei Chabad.

Journalists who have asked leaders of the victorious group what changes they intend to institute now that they presumably have the authority to do so have thus far been provided with assurances lacking in specificity. One of the difficulties these leaders face is that believers in the Rebbe’s Messiahship indeed constitute a majority of the Crown Heights community, though the percentage who attribute to him continued physical life and/or divinity, while certainly substantial, is more difficult to assess.

Moreover, spokespersons for Agudath Chasidei Chabad itself explicitly affirm that there is a real possibility that the Rebbe will reveal himself as the Messiah, and their opponents’ assertion that they themselves believe this firmly though covertly may well be correct.

THE REACTION in the Jewish community at large is distorted by profound misperceptions of the real status of messianist belief within Lubavitch. Casual observers, abetted by a conscious campaign of disinformation by the moderate establishment, imagine that the believers are a tiny, if noisy minority, and that they are in a state of precipitous decline.

They further imagine that the putative majority, including virtually all emissaries, reject the Rebbe’s Messiahship decisively. In fact, the movement’s major educational and communal institutions both in the main population centers and worldwide are either in the hands of overt believers or suffused by this belief, and large numbers of emissaries affirm it. Skeptical readers can find the evidence for this assessment in my book on Lubavitch messianism, preferably in the updated Hebrew version, or in the very brief summary article at http://www.thejewishweek.com/top/editletcontent.php3?artid=3518.

WHAT THEN does this court ruling mean for Judaism? From a narrow perspective, the victory of Agudath Chasidei Chabad may mean that the prayer service at Lubavitch headquarters will no longer be marked by overt messianism and Rebbe-worship, though this result is far from certain. From a larger perspective, however, this victory may strengthen the misimpression that Lubavitch hasidism is dominated by Orthodox Jews in the traditional sense.

Moreover, this misimpression, serious as it is, pales in the face of a still deeper problem. For reasons that I have tried to address in my book, even when Jews, including Orthodox Jews, are aware that a particular Lubavitch leader or emissary believes in the Messiahship of the Rebbe, they generally accept him as an authentic Orthodox authority. Such acceptance can remain intact even after they hear him attribute divine characteristics to his deceased Messiah. When they are told that a Lubavitch hassid believes only that the Rebbe may be the Messiah, they celebrate his moderation and adherence to mainstream Jewish tradition.

In sum, this generation has presided over a historic transformation of the Jewish religion. We now live in a world in which Judaism affirms the possibility of the Second Coming of the Messiah – and perhaps even of his divinity – as a fully acceptable belief.

The recent court decision, while it may (or may not) stop the overt worship of the Rebbe-Messiah in Lubavitch headquarters, will probably further anesthetize the larger community. Suffused with the warm glow of self-congratulation at our embrace of tolerance and love of our fellow Jews, we will continue to acquiesce in the ongoing Christianization of the Jewish faith.

The writer is Broeklundian Professor of History at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His book, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference (Littman) has now appeared in an updated Hebrew version, Ha-Rebbe Melekh ha-Mashiach, Sha’aruriyyat ha-Adishut, ve-ha-Iyyum al Emunat Yisrael (Urim).



Filed under Chabad Theology

10 responses to “Rabbi Dr. David Berger In The Jerusalem Post: “Who Controls 770?”

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    Is this Shabtai Tzvi redux? Is this worse than Jews for Jesus? I am afraid so? What does the “Failed Messiah” community think?

  2. shmuel

    Dr. Berger is 100% correct. It is indeed the Christianization of Judaism by long bearded, black-hatted, vodka-drinking, Tanya-spouting mishugenners, and, sadly, there is no end in sight. Not even the tombstone of their dead rabbi will sober them up. Cognitive dissonance? Not with dummies who refuse to acknowledge death, who refuse to believe traditional Jewish beliefs…it’s really amazing. I used to admire their good work…I can’t anymore.

  3. About Time

    It is about time Berger admitted the truth, that the vast majority of Lubies believe the Rebbe to be the Moshiach. Until now he has held that the movement was split which kashered up the non existent silent majority.


  4. hashfanatic

    This whole fall from grace has a lot more to do with Kahanist encroachment, and learning how to do what is expedient rather than what is right. That’s what set the stage for the flag-waving hordes to manifest themselves in performance.

  5. About Time

    Hashfanatic wrote,”This whole fall from grace has a lot more to do with Kahanist encroachment, and learning how to do what is expedient rather than what is right”

    A good point. The rank and file never really understood the wickednesss of Zionism. Expediency at the expense of righteousness. Shmarya shed everything regarding Lubavitch except the Zionism. This blog is Zionistic and exhibits a spiritual atavism.

  6. Yochanan Lavie

    There are other forms of Zionism other than Kahanism (which I am against). Zionism simply means that Jews, like any other nation, should have sovereignty in their homeland (which isn’t Poland). It is also sanctioned in the Torah (which proves that God keeps his promises and isn’t fickle, after all) which declares that the Jews shall return to their land. (And if you’re waiting for the messiah, in order to return, keep waiting forever. It ain’t Jesus and it ain’t Menachem).

    Why are other forms of nationalism, including palestineanism, okay, but not “Zionism?” And if all forms of nationalism are evil, what’s the alternative? The wonderful UN which gives Iran honors in anti-proliferation and human rights forums? Let’s have a humane State of Israel in at least some of our historic land. I don’t want to belong to a loser people, who are perpetual victims, in exile. That may be p.c. and romantic, but it sucks.

    Besides, as one Lubavitch rabbi said to me, Chabad is against “political Zionism.” This rabbi refuses to say “amen” to the prayer for the State of Israel because of Gush Katif (which is like hating America simply because you don’t like the president).

  7. Paul Freedman

    Osama bin Laden thinks Zionism sucks too.

  8. mazeartist

    My campus rabbi is from Chabad, and if you ask him what he thinks of the Yehists, he strongly denounces them. You can;t paint Chabad with a broad brush. Not all Chabadniks are yellow-flaggers.

  9. uzziyahu

    if you ask him what he thinks of the Yehists, he strongly denounces them.

    as they say, you have to be careful when trying to understand these people, since they speak from 6 corners of their mouth.
    u don’t ask the “rabbi” what he thinks of yechi, you ask him if the mms is the messiah.
    and if so how? and if he is not to be ruled out, why?
    another good question is, when one reads the 13 principles after morning service, is there a particular person to think of when mentioning the creed of the coming of messiah?

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