Rabbi David Berger Responds

I emailed Rabbi Dr. David Berger on Friday to ask him about his choice of venue for his valuable new article on the state of Chabad messianism. We exchanged emails and, with Rabbi Berger’s permission, I am publishing his response:

Dear Shemarya,

In response to your question about publishing an article regarding Lubavitch on a Yated-run website despite the fact that 1–the website is guilty of objectionable behavior in the Slifkin matter, and 2—the decision makes me an easy target for Lubavitch critics who will disqualify anything written there by pointing to R. Schach’s hostility to the movement:

I want religious Jews, decidedly including haredim, to be aware of the realities addressed in the article. Many haredim who read Yated’s website are not disciples of R. Schach with respect to this issue and are entirely susceptible to misleading propaganda about Lubavitch. Thus, one such Jew told me just two weeks ago that I should forget about Lubavitch messianism since the Lubavitch hasidim themselves have forgotten about it.

In addition, there are very few forums in any sector prepared to publish this information. At this juncture, the Jewish Observer will not. Jerusalem Reports was approached by Littman after my English book appeared and expressed no interest. Thus, when the Jerusalem Post asked me to write about the 770 court decision, I complied with the request. When Mordecai Plaut–with whom I had had no prior contact–read that article, he asked me to address the question of the actual beliefs of Lubavitchers, and after some hesitation I agreed. Within limits, I take the opportunity to keep this issue alive whenever such an opportunity presents itself. Fair-minded people who read the article will judge its persuasiveness on the merits. (Most of what is written in the article is already in the book, especially the Hebrew version, but few people are willing to read books. This, of course, does not prevent them from expressing firm opinions about subjects with which they are barely familiar.)

Of course Lubavitch hasidim will say that the article is posul because of where it appeared, but they would say–and have said–the same thing about other venues as well. What would they say if I published it in “Failed Messiah”? Would the Jewish Week or Forward (which wouldn’t publish it anyway because of its length and possibly also because of its subject matter) be less subject to attack as posul? Similar things were said–not altogether unjustly–when I published my article about avodah zarah in Haaretz. As I wrote in the book, I decided to publish a follow up article in Hatzofeh because of this criticism only to discover that practically no one reads Hatzofeh. When the RCA passed its resolution it was skewered as a worthless organization. (I published a brief passage about Chabad in the current Tradition at the end of a review essay on Irving Greenberg’s book about Christianity.) I suppose the most concise response to your question would be that Lubavich hasidim and their sympathizers already say that anything I write is null and void since I am a mendacious, Torquemada-like, Osama bin Laden-like hater who declared his hostility toward Lubavitch on the day he was born. (Both of those analogies have appeared in print, the former in First Things, the latter in the Algemeiner Journal.) Plenty of people believe this.

There are indeed some readers who might have been receptive to this article in another forum who will discount it in this one, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Having said all this, let me add something about the website itself. I have no ongoing familiarity with it. In fact, after receiving the editor’s email message, I had to find the URL through a Google search for “Mordecai Plaut” and “Yated.” I do not doubt that it contained material relating to the Slifkin affair that I would find objectionable. As a Modern Orthodox Jew, my ideological orientation is hardly identical to that of the editors of Yated Ne’eman. Nonetheless, I begin by saying that to me, haredi Jews are not the Other. I identify with them much more closely than I do with the editors of Haaretz or the Forward, where I have published and would publish again.

In addition, let me share an experience with the website in question that goes against the stereotype of a rabidly anti-Lubavitch entity that would do anything to besmirch the movement. First of all, I was asked to do a piece that would be as factual as possible and relatively free of editorializing. Second, a lengthy half-sentence was deleted by the editor in large part because of a policy that attempts to keep “ki’ur” to a minimum. The article contains the following sentence: “Another [Lubavitch rabbi] wrote that ‘we Lubavitch hasidim 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 even ha-shetiyyah in which (referring to the Rebbe/ark) God’s Being and Essence rests.’” In my original submission, the sentence continued as follows: “and he went on to say that the prohibition against shittuf, i.e, associating God with something else in a manner that would normally constitute Christian-style avodah zarah, applies to the sun and moon, but not to tzaddikim, who are one with God.” I argued that this additional information is crtitically important, but the editor felt that it was not important enough to overcome the larger editorial policy. I did not draw a line in the sand and allowed the deletion. While I think the editor’s decision was mistaken, I admire the commitment to avoiding what he sees as unseemly content, a commitment that overrode any desire to add additional unfavorable information about Lubavitch. I ask myself if I can think of any other forum that would be so fastidious, and I come up empty.

Finally, let me take this opportunity to say something about R. Schach. Modern Orthodox Jews see his Lubavitch campaign as an egregious example of his extremist zealotry, and outside the circle of his disciples, the Traditionalist Orthodox see it as an unfortunate idiosyncracy. But those all-too-few Jews who have come to understand that Lubavitch Hasidism after the Rebbe’s death has visited a historic catastrophe upon the Jewish religion need to acknowledge that R. Schach saw what we did not. I write much more respectfully about the Rebbe than R. Schach did, and I wish that the critique had been formulated somewhat differently. Nonetheless, I have developed enormous respect for his prescience and his courage. Would that such prescience and such courage were not in such short supply.

David Berger

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21 Comments

Filed under Chabad Theology

21 responses to “Rabbi David Berger Responds

  1. Paul Freedman

    I wonder whether “shittuf” for more Lubavitch goes beyond believing, in a very naive way, that the Rebbe is in some way literally “Godly” (in the same way that Christians say a devout preacher is a “Godly man”)–which means for them that the Rebbe is really really special and Important, and that he can, in some way, speed prayers on to God (because he is in some way *of God*). I don’t know that the average Lubavitcher on the other hand thinks that the Shema is a statement *about* the Rebbe–that references to G-d in the liturgy are references to the Rebbe, that when a Chabadnik prays to “Adoni Elohenu Adoni Echad” he is literally praying about/to the Rebbe.

    Am I wrong?

  2. D

    Dr.Berger,

    Let’s dispense with the pshetelech and excuses. You published in the “Rusty Nail” not because you wanted to reach a particular population or widen your base. You published there because they are the only ones who want to hear your message anymore. Clearly the Jewish Week and Jewish Action are no longer interested.

    You have jumped the shark and are no longer relevant. Deal with it!

  3. Anonymous

    This Mr Berger must be snottys father as I cant see any self respecting Writer/Journalist dignifying this tabloid trash here with a response of any sort, but seeing as this Berger fellow like Rosy considers himself the victim of Chabad maybe he should be a guest commentator on this site so those of us with a sense of humor can have a go at him as well.

    By the way Snott, how has Berger helped your niggers in Darfur??? Isnt that the litmus test for you whether someone is worthy of your Judaism???

    Keep the laughs coming!!!!!

  4. I am no fun of Lubavitch, I used to live in a small college town with elderly Orthodox population. I saw those Chabbad people come from New York and try to take over the shuls, make them change their nusach and force cholov Isroel on people who are not even shomer shabbath.

    But the big picture is that those people(chabbad) prevent Jews from intermarriage so at least we got one generation intact.

    If those idiots want to believe that their rebbe is the messiah it does not bother me just like I am not bothered by the other idiots who believe the world is 5000+ years.

  5. Anonymous

    Dr. Berger is a great man who will go down in history as a voice of conscience who stood up to the Lubavitch-Christians. The Jewish people owes him a great debt of gratitude.

  6. Neo-Conservaguy

    “By the way Snott, how has Berger helped your niggers in Darfur??? Isnt that the litmus test for you whether someone is worthy of your Judaism???”

    Would the last Lubavitch Rebbe, zt”l, be proud of you writing such low class statements?

  7. Anonymous

    What we have now is a new threat to traditional Jewish belief. Just like there is a Hebrew-Christian movement which is a distortion of our faith, there is a now a Lubavitch-Christian movement which is similarly a threat. Both prey on the ignorant – on Jews uneducated Jewishly, the lost sheep of Israel.

  8. aaron mendelsohn

    both of you are to blame for the deaths today in haifa, instead of saying psalms and praying you attack other jews.
    IS THIS THE TIME to critcize other jews?

  9. Anonymous

    This time is an excellent time for repentance and warning people away from heretical beliefs. Therefore this topic is very appropriate. I appeal to Lubavitchers to repent and recognize and admit publicly that the Rebbe died and is not Moshiach. In that merit, G-d should have mercy on us and protect us from our evil enemies.

  10. Anonymous

    I am disappointed that the Yoseid took out that passage from Dr. Berger’s article. But they still deserve much credit for publishing the rest of the piece.

    I call on all Lubavitchers to apologize to Dr. Berger for any personal attacks on him and thank him for his concern about their movement. In the great zechus of teshuvah, we should be zoche to the real Moshiach, soon, in our days, amen.

    A special farbrengen should be called at 770 with the expressed theme of repentance for the attacks on Dr. Berger over the last few years. It should be broadcast to Lubavitch centers around the world. If such a sincere effort is made, I think Dr. Berger would be open to consider requests for mechila.

  11. Lazer Wolf

    “A special farbrengen should be called at 770 with the expressed theme of repentance for the attacks on Dr. Berger over the last few years.”

    a farbrengen, is minhag haemori .
    as to their tshuva, impossible sheneimor: umuuvvat lo yukhal liskon !

    “to blame for the deaths today in haifa, instead of saying psalms and praying you attack other jews.”

    how about it being for the sin of the minim axelrod and his knufiyo ? and what are “al shlosha pishei tzfas ?”

    “Would the last Lubavitch Rebbe, zt”l, be proud of you writing such low class statements?”

    Probably yes, hence the mess they landed in now, he was their master.

    “Dr. Berger is a great man ….The Jewish people owes him a great debt of gratitude”.

    hear, hear!

    “If those idiots want to believe that their rebbe is the messiah it does not bother me just like I am not bothered by the other idiots who believe the world is 5000+ years.”

    Reb Gnacius,
    under the same token, should we consider those who marry J for J as remaining in the fold? Never, neither those neveilos nor the treifos.

    and who is a “rusty nail” ?
    it is crown heights ands it’s minim populace
    that worships a deity inferior to the golden calf.

  12. pushkina

    dr. berger tells the truth and truth is truth no matter where is it published.

    and for those chabadniki who believe in his mesiah-ness and for those others who either don’t care or don’t know about shabtai zvi, please keep this in mind: shabtai zvi, the most major false messiah of jewish memory, almost destroyed the jewish people, a mere 340 years ago.

    and to say, well they keep jews from marrying out… puleeesssse.if they’ve become xztians in all but their clothes, how are they protecting jews?

  13. Anonymous

    …Lubavich hasidim and their sympathizers already say that anything I write is null and void since I am a mendacious, Torquemada-like, Osama bin Laden-like hater…

    You flatter yourself too much with those two archetypes, Dr. Berger. Nay, you are far more like a different Iberian historical figure; one who “fights the good fight” but all for nought.

  14. Yochanan Lavie

    As I have said before, the billboard on the west side highway of Manhattan could have been posted by Jews for Jesus, if only the personality featured was changed: “The Messiah is Here!” This dishonors a great (but deceased, o”h) tzaddik (NB I wrote: great- not perfect or infallible).

    It also undermines the very foundation of our religion- that God is not a man (or can be embodied in a man-which is the same thing). But the anonymous poster is right- this is a quixotic fight. Judaism is destined to split into 2 religions:

    1. Judaeo-liberalism, which believes in the 10 Suggestions, no divine revelation, poltical radicalism, and a therapist God.

    2. Judaeo-lubavism, which is like the Amish with better technology, has a chumra of the month, and has the rebbe deified instead of Jesus.

    What about a third way for the rest of us?

  15. D

    > What about a third way for the rest of us?

    Simple. That would be the “Krum Central” Judaism espoused by the Agudah-OU-Lakewood-Yated axis.

    How do you like your poison, Yochanan? Straigt up? On the rocks? With a dash of Pina Colada mix? 😀

  16. Michael David Kittell

    Hi, I would like to address this to Rabbi Berger; as I don’t have his address, here it is: Rabbi Berger, even if Chabad is every bit as bad as you say, why are you friends with failed messiah? This site is all rechilus and sinas chinam, it has denied the Miracle of Chanukah, and its “owner” has a Mindspring email address, which is only issued to Scientologists. THEY are less Jewish than even Meshichists, Rabbi berger!

  17. Michael:
    Too funny!
    I doubt that Rabbi Berger is “friends” with failed messiah. Responding to Shmarya’s query and quasi-accusation, and defending Rav Shach does not a “friend” make.
    In terms of your other points:
    1) you are correct on that score
    2) I don’t know if you say this tongue in cheek or in ignorance of why this is hilarious, but either way, too funny!
    3) is this for real? this makes me think that you are joking in point 2.

  18. Anonymous

    Mindspring was/is a successful internet company. While I believe it was sold a number of years ago, it seems that those who connected through it in the past can still hold such e-mail addresses now. Dr. Marvin Schick also has a mindspring address, FYI.

    What you say about mindspring addresses and scientologists is not correct.

  19. Anonymous

    The fact is that Lubavitch is actually a small sect. They just make alot of noise and have a big PR apparatus. Like a tiny poddle, who barks alot, so people don’t forget that he is there, so too, does the Lubavitcher sect, constantly engage in PR, to create the false image that is a giant group, rather than the small sect that it actually is.

    It’s true that they have a sizable group of sympathizers. However, full-fledged Lubavitchers are not that numerous.

  20. Anonymous

    Oops-that should be tiny poodle.

  21. Anonymous

    The game plan of Lubavitch is this.

    1) Create the false image that they are mainstream and the vanguard of orthodoxy, rather than the small, fringe sect that they are, and that their dead Rebbe was the leader of the Jews, rather than just the leader of a small sect.

    2) Send out missionaries (which they call shluchim or emissaries) to convert ignorant (of Judaism and about Lubavitch) Jews to their sect, thereby gaining large numbers of new adherents. Have them concentrate on ignorant Jews, who are easy prey for their trained missionaries, rather than Jewishly educated Jews, who, knowing more, don’t buy their product as easily.

    3) Maintain a high birthrate.

    In this way, they are trying to transform themselves from a small, fringe sect, to a larger, more influential group, and gain mainstream acceptance.

    Their strategies are reminiscent of the Mormons.

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