My Contact Info, Bio & Credo

FailedMessiah.com is published by Shmarya Rosenberg

Contact

Email Address: failed.messiah – at – comcast.net

One-Line Bio

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Weisel. ~~~ “The seal of G-d is Truth.” – Rabbi Hanina, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 64a.

Biography

I was drawn to Chabad-Lubavitch, a grouping in Orthodox Judaism, because it seemed to be the perfect combination of social service and religious mystery. Long before the pop-Kabbala craze made famous by Madonna, Chabad was teaching a form of Jewish mysticism to Jews like me who had grown up in secular homes. And it combined that mysticism with social service. Chabad had a drug treatment facility in LA, poverty programs in New York City and Jerusalem, underground outreach in what was then the repressive Soviet Union – and a rabbi just around the corner from practically every Jew in America, even those in Jews who found themselves in Iowa, Texas and Minnesota, far away from the costal centers of Jewish life. Under its charismatic leader or rebbe, Chabad focused on macro issues – for example, opposition to the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, promotion of prayer in American public schools, and the staging of public displays of Jewish religious symbols on government property – promoting an in-your-face, unique and unapologetic brand of Judaism that included any Jew, no matter how removed from Jewish life he might be, in its body politic. As a Chabad wag is fond of saying, “All Jews are members of Chabad – some just don’t know it yet!”

My involvement in Jewish life predated my joining Chabad. I was active on my college campus, with a national Jewish fraternity, with an international Jewish student group, and in the effort to rescue the small endangered Black Jewish community of Ethiopia. It was this last involvement that would lead to my excommunication.

Soon after joining, I asked Chabad to help with this rescue. I spoke with Chabad leaders, men close to the Rebbe. Chabad would not undertake such a mission without permission from the Rebbe, I was told. (His immediate predecessor had been described as the “Pope” of Orthodox Judaism.) After months of waiting, asking, and waiting again without a response, I sent a certified special delivery letter to the Rebbe in Brooklyn. In it I listed some things Chabad could do to help the Ethiopian Jewish community. After each item, I asked a simple question: Is Chabad doing this? If not, why not? I also asked if the Rebbe considered these black Jews to be Jewish.

I already knew the answers to the first part of those questions. Chabad was not doing these things. Less than 40 years after the Holocaust, I wanted to know why.

Two months passed. The Rebbe did not answer my letter. I decided to leave Chabad. Before doing so, I gave my contacts in the Chabad leadership another chance to get an answer from their leader.

They returned with an answer. The Rebbe had read my letter. He directed me to continue the work I was doing to help Jewish communities, especially the work I was doing locally. And, if I wanted to resolve any dispute over the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jews, I should do so through the leading Orthodox Jewish legal authority in the United States. The Rebbe did not feel himself competent to decide this complicated issue of Jewish law.

The Rebbe had answered my letter but had not answered any of my questions – and Chabad was not helping Ethiopian Jews. Still, I saw hope. If this leading Orthodox legal authority would endorse rescue, surely the Rebbe would order his followers to help.

So I worked on it, months later getting that endorsement. Soon after, I took a leading Ethiopian Jew to Washington to meet with senators, representatives and State Department officials. After successful meetings, we decided to go to New York to meet with Jewish religious leaders to line up support for rescue. Our first stop was Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn where we were refused a meeting with the Rebbe. However, the chief judge of the Chabad religious court agreed to see us. He endorsed rescue and our efforts.

Four months later, Operation Moses, the rescue operation that saved thousands of Jews from Sudanese refugee camps bordering Ethiopia, would begin.

Fast forward 20 years. Chabad was still not involved with Ethiopian Jews, but the issue did not seem so pressing after the rescues were completed. I remained in Chabad, working at times for the organization in America and Israel. I went to rabbinical school, studied and was about to take the equivalent of rabbinic boards. A large Israeli-based Chabad magazine was publishing a series of letters from the now late Rebbe. These were private correspondence meant to answer difficult and often intimate questions. The Chabad publication got around privacy issues by removing the name of the correspondent. In my case, the letter read “To Mr.___, S. Paul, MN 55116.”

The letter was an answer to my letter on the rescue of Ethiopian Jews. The original may have been lost in the mail. More likely, it was taken by an alert aide who recognized its potential damage to Chabad and the Rebbe’s reputation. The letter is a collection of excuses. Why other things, like American Jewish spiritual needs, are more pressing than saving poor, starving Black Jews and therefore must come first. Fanciful denials of Chabad involvement in Washington lobbying and Israeli immigrant absorption – two well-publicized Chabad activities. But worse yet was the tone, so mean, spiteful, and uncaring about the suffering of Ethiopian Jewry.

Because the Rebbe could not bring himself to write the phrase “Ethiopian Jews” – perhaps a good indication that he, despite rabbinic rulings to the contrary, did not consider them to be Jews – he wrote the phrase, “the matter that you are so concerned about.” Because of this, and because the letters the Rebbe responded to were not filed with those responses, Chabad did not realize the true import of the letter, and they published it.

I waited a month before responding. Then I published my letter to the Rebbe along with the Rebbe’s response on my blog started for that purpose, http://www.FailedMessiah.com. Because I refused to take down the blog, I was excommunicated. That means:

1. I can no longer be counted as part of a prayer group.
2. I cannot lead prayers or receive any religious honors.
3. I have been shunned by members at the request of the rabbis.
4. Members are urged not to do business with me or to see me socially.
5. I cannot work in religious-related business.
6. I have completed rabbinic training but cannot sit for what is the equivalent of my boards.
7. I have been told that there is no repair for my soul and that I will burn eternally in hell.

I have also:

1. Been threatened.
2. Had websites hacked and destroyed.
3. Had my home address and telephone number posted on the internet.
4. Had thousands of dollars of magazine subscriptions and other materials illegally charged to my name.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would.

UPDATE: January 2007 – I no longer have an interest in being a rabbi. My religious beliefs have changed much since I started this blog. For more details, please read this:

October 24, 2006
What I Believe

I received an email from a man I greatly admire, although I often disagree with him. David Klinghoffer wrote with a suggestion, which I’ll paraphrase: “Why not write a post on what you actually believe rather than simply bitching about every rabbi in the world?” Fair enough. This post will explain my “theology,” so to speak. But there will be plenty of bitching involved, because what I complain about has so shaped my worldview that I cannot make my case without mentioning it.

I’m evolving. If you’d asked me three years ago, I would have spouted rhetoric largely indistinguishable from Avi Shafran, but with some carping about nepotism, cronyism and the missed opportunities generated by same added in. But that was then. I’ve seen enough since then to realize that my initial revulsion at the business of the haredi world, suppressed so long ago, was well justified. And I’ve seen that non-haredi Orthodoxy is no better.

I’ve also learned that many if not the vast majority of “facts” presented by the likes of Aish HaTorah, Agudah and Chabad are false, nothing more than slick, often cult-like PR.

Jewish belief is based on a mesora, on tradition handed down from father to son, teacher to pupil, from Mount Sinai until today. But a mesora is based on trust, on the honesty and credibility of the fathers and teachers who pass it down.

The lies of the kiruv movement and the lies and misbehavior of the so-called gedolim, the deification of a false Brooklyn prophet, and all those criminal convictions, indictments, investigations, abuse coverups and the like have real impact – they destroy the mesora, break the links in the chain, so to speak, that once bound us. If today’s rabbis lie to us, why not Rashi? Why Not Moses?

And, indeed, if the findings of archeology, genetics, astronomy, and so many other scientific disciplines are to be believed – and they should be, in part because they independently confirm each other’s work – our forbearers did quite a lot of lying. Either that, or they spoke in the language and style of their day, using myths to teach spiritual truths, never intending those myths to be taken as literal truth, And this, David, is what I believe. Those myths contain some of humankind’s earliest memories, often in fragmentary form, of what came before civilization after the great ice age ended and humans discovered agriculture, built the first cities and began to live for the first time in groups larger than an extended family or band. They tried to make sense of their world and to communicate in a non-literate society important information to their children and grandchildren in ways it would be remembered without writing – through myth.

Our unique contribution to these early myths was to emphasize the power of God over the powers of the demigods, stars and other natural forces. It was to bring God into this world. Most cultures viewed the Creator or Sky God as being too remote, unknowable and unreachable to be dealt with – hence the pantheons of the ancients. Jews returned God to this world where we are commanded to make a home for him, both in our hearts and in our actions. We are also commanded to carry this message to the nations of the world.

But we do neither, instead obsessing over ridiculous minutia in halakha and defining ourselves down in the process. Worse yet are the lies and corruption, the stealing and fraud, the Abramoffs and the Lanners, the Balkanys and the Kolkos, rabbis Lau, Amar and Metzger, Elyashiv and the seemingly endless list of other black hatted and black garbed fools we call leaders.

So there you have it. I no longer believe in the mesora as preached in Orthodoxy. I follow halakha for the most part due to simple inertia. I find little religious inspiration in Judaism. Yet I still believe in God the Creator who many billions of years ago made room for specks of dust like us and started the process that brought us – and brings us – into being.

Think of the words of the marvelous Eric Bazilian song made famous by Joan Osborne:

What if God was one of us / just a slob like one of us / just a stranger on the bus / trying to make his way home…

God is in exile because we put Him there. He’s with those poor children as their rabbi fondles their penises and as other rabbis lie to cover it up. He sits in the fraudulent beit dins and in the special assemblies called to fake non-existent lunch programs. He was there with Abramoff as he stole from poor Indians and gave to rich Jews and He was there when rabbis looked the other way. We, all of us, those who stole and those who lied, those who abused and those who covered up, and those who just closed their eyes and would not see – have turned God into a lonely old man riding a bus, a liar, irrelevant, lost.

I can’t bring God home, but I can stop covering for and associating with those who abuse Him.

That is what I believe.

9 responses to “My Contact Info, Bio & Credo

  1. rabbichaimmoshe

    1)you take credit for a matter that was done by the israeli government that was done by their ownn investigation of the matzav as well as the collective work of many others.i don’t believe that it was your intervention on this matter as i told you this was a concern of mine and voicing it to a
    man of influence, i was told that he was in a secret meeting with the pm and the pm indicated that they were doing whatever possible to save ethiopian Jews. about a month or so later we heard of operation moses. i believe many people were involved in raising the awareness of their plight not just you.
    that being said the Rebbe responded to you but decided not to send it. it remained unsent. that it was subsequently published is a matter between you and the one’s who published it not between yourself and the Rebbe.
    what was sent in thought to you was that as arule the Rebbe encourages people to do what they can do and avoid those matters that are in the hands of powerful people which we usually can’t influence. the same is true of the ethiopian Jews.
    the people capable of doing something were few and it was to those men to whom your attention should have been focused if you could get the attention of those power brokers who would petition the israeli pm the president of the usa and the strongman of ethiopia.
    furthermore i know clearly that Reb Moshe was upset that they were brought to israel. he was of the opinion that they must be brought to the us as they posed unbelievable social problems for themselves and other Jews…
    i believe that your energy to save others should be used for that purpose. your anger with the Rebbe comes from your general veneration of him.
    and if he isn’t perfect must you attack him?
    use your pen to help others as you did with the falasha.
    your negativity is a sickness that will destroy you in the end. i write this to you as a brother not as an enemy..
    chaim moshe

  2. Again, as I noted on the other post, leave your comments on the main site, not here. The main site is up.

    As for the rest of what you write, your ignorance of halakha is astounding. Rav Moshe supported the rescue even when it became clear EJs would be brought directly to Israel. Why? Halakha 101. Saving lives is more important than other considerations.

    Your friend’s “private meeting” with the PM is interesting. The PM said the same thing six months before that. And many other times over the years (of course, with different PMs, too).

    The American government facilitated and apid for the rescue. The Israelis flew the planes and worked the ground. What you don’t understand is that the Israeli participation in the rescue was not a willing participation, and the leaks that ultimately killed the rescue can be traced directly to Shimon Peres, the PM at the time, and other Israeli government leaders.

  3. Your comments brought tears to my eyes. I cannot disagree with the facts you have seen and the things you have experenced, but know that it is still a limited view of the Jewish world. There are fanatic haredim, and fanatic liberals. There are corrupt “religious” people of every stripe as well, but then, they are not truly religious, are they?
    There are those on either end who not only cover their immorality with religious trappings but sometimes celebrate that immorality as being religion, obscenely expensive bar mitzvah celebrations, for example.
    But that is not the heart and soul of Judaism. And if you didn’t already know that in your own heart and soul you would not feel the pain that you do.
    I believe, as you suggest, that our mesora is the passing down of our people’s accumulated wisdom and knowledge about how to seek G-d and live holy and righteous lives. It’s not perfect. It reflects the best that each generation had to contribute to it. It was continually being refined until Orthodoxy reacted to the extremism of Reform by digging in its heels by becoming extremely resistant to change. Now one side of the spectrum has lost it’s vitality, and the other it’s authenticity.
    I believe it’s up to caring Jews to create a vital passionate Judaism for today’s world. We cannot afford to lose people like you, But you may need to step back and take a look at the world from a different viewpoint than Chabad/Haredi. The Jewish road is very wide, you can find a place on it.

  4. levi drimmer

    i think you are a poor lost soul,
    the fact that you devote so much of your time and energy,bashing chabad.
    shows that you must have very little to live for/and or do.
    lucky for you the rebbe will/has frogiven you for your stupidiity/sinas chinam you grow.
    lucky for us there will still be people here,that will continue to make whatever life you have misearable,and cursed for both you and your family,if they have not already smartly cut themselves off from you.
    in closing as the rebbe always said ”it is never too late”
    and all those who opposed him,and are now following through on his bision ,wethere they are in denial or not,everyone today doing kiruv is doing the rebbes work,and is/will be succesfull only with his blessing.
    if only he would curse as well as bless,today we would have all the ”frum degenerates such as your self swalloed up in the ground”

  5. B”H
    Of course to say that the Freidicker Rebbe only wanted to save books is ludicrous–comes straight from your Yetzer HaRa.
    The Freidicker Rebbe wanted the Jews of Europe to do teshuva, which would save all of them. He didn’t think he could save all the Jews otherwise and there were other movements around trying to save them physically.
    Why would such a Jew-loving man ignore such terrible suffering? You’re saying, then, that he wasn’t such a big Jew lover.
    You’re the one who isn’t the Jew lover.

  6. Well, all I can say is this:

    He only asked for his books (mostly secular books, BTW), his money and his silver goods.

    He did not ask for Jews.

    After being rescued, he wrote the president of the US several times. He never asks Roosevelt to save Jews.

    He divirted money he raised for rescue. Instread, he built his yeshiva with that money.

    And he opposed the work of those “other movements” you mention, and told people not to support them. He railed against the Va’ad Hatzoloh.

    And, to top it off, he was one of the top three anti-Zionists in ther Orthodox community.

    As for my “Yetzer HaRa,” every time I read the comments left by apologists like you, I realize how lucky I am to be out of Chabad.

  7. MichaelK

    When one’s world view is hyperfocused on a single false premise, one sees only a snapshot of reality through a tiny window. Common Sense, willfully excluded by the viewer, screams in protest so loudly that it must be locked away in a prison cell. In order to fill the void, False Hope steps in and stretches this snapshot into a beautiful panorama. No addition to content, mind you, just stretching the tiny picture to the edges, eliminating the borders. As a result, one can comfortably believe it to be the universe in its entirety.

    However, when something from beyond the borders of the snapshot intrudes enough to puncture the false premise, the snapshot’s framework is shattered. It snaps back to size violently, the prison walls crumble, and Common Sense emerges as a starved, pitiful shadow of what it could – and should – have been. The longer it has been imprisoned, the worse shape it’s in. False Hope, coward that it is, can’t be in the same room with Common Sense, so it covers its face and heads for the hills.

    Most people can’t handle the emotional trauma of a shattered world view. Honesty is good medicine, but for people who have spent a good portion of their lives believing a lie, 100% unflinching honesty could be a disastrous overdose. It’s a blow to the ego and self-esteem so powerful that it could drive a person to experience feelings of utter hopelessness. That hopelessness is just a opposing reaction to the end of False Hope, and equally false. But the experience of that moment can have terrible results when one is in the thick of it.

    The solution? A new lie must be constructed to take the place of the old lie. Someone else must be blamed, because the possibility that one did this to oneself seems, at that moment, unbearable. Common Sense is too weak to fight, so it is easily returned to its dank hole without so much as a whimper.

    May you be blessed this 12 Tammuz that you should be forever freed by the truth and never imprisoned by lies again. Neither the falseness of others, nor (most importantly) yourself. Nothing and no one should ever keep you from reaching and experiencing your full potential as a human being. What you experienced was not your fault, but it was your doing. Conversely, while others may have been at fault, they did not force you to experience it.

    Avoiding the truth out of fear can crush you against a cliffside of your own making and cripple you. In other words: if your ass is talking sense, maybe you should get off it – and listen.

  8. B”H

    1. I can no longer be counted as part of a prayer group.
    2. I cannot lead prayers or receive any religious honors.
    3. I have been shunned by members at the request of the rabbis.
    4. Members are urged not to do business with me or to see me socially.
    5. I cannot work in religious-related business.
    6. I have completed rabbinic training but cannot sit for what is the equivalent of my boards.
    7. I have been told that there is no repair for my soul and that I will burn eternally in hell.

    You (and anybody else) are always welcomed at our Tanya class at the Chabad of Upper East Side. Tuesdays at 7pm (check the labels at the doors)

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