Is the Lubavitcher Rebbe the Messiah?

BY RABBI BRUCE WARSHAL

A few months ago I was walking in Times Square in New York City and there were two Chabadniks handing out literature proclaiming that the Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, was the Messiah (Moshiach). They were in competition with a guy up the street with a sign proclaiming the end of the world and that Jesus will save us if we believe in him.

Being a curious person, or maybe just a contentious one, I approached the Chabad-Lubavitchers and asked how the Rebbe could be the Messiah since he died in 1994 and was buried in Queens? They responded that he really wasn’t dead and that the person buried in the grave in Queens was his father-in-law. I walked away amused and a little irritated that these jokers were there in the name of Judaism. Last month my wife, Lynne, and I were in the subterranean 42nd Street subway station and another Chabad Chasid was distributing literature. Not to offend him, heaven forbid, I took what he was offering. It is this handout that I want to discuss. Hold on to your seats, because this stuff is amazing (that’s a polite adjective for ludicrous).

ADVERTISEMENT
The Muny - Camelot ad


“America’s efforts to safeguard peace around the world are critical elements in actualizing the redemption, as proclaimed by the prophet of our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe king Messiah (Moshiach) shlita (who lives forever)… America can be proud…in meriting the blessing of exceeding success with which the Rebbe king Messiah shlita blessed the U.S. armed forces in their holy mission in Iraq.” Never mind that Schneerson has been dead 13 years but is able to bless this latest war, making it a holy mission. No one told these people that it has not been a success. The rest of the country seems to understand that, but it hasn’t gotten to Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn yet.

There’s more: On Jan. 31, 1992 the United States and the Soviet Union signed a bilateral nuclear disarmament treaty. The next day the Rebbe declared this the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of peace. Most important, “the Rebbe king Messiah shlita (who lives forever) stated that the decision of the superpowers to abolish nuclear armament production and establish a new world order based on justice was a direct result of the rabbinic ruling” (by the Rebbe).

It gets even better: The treaty was signed at the United Nations building in New York City “which is the world capital and headquarters of the Rebbe king Messiah shlita.” And the construction of the building was completed in 1951 (5711), “the same year that Rebbe king Messiah shlita officially assumed leadership.” Here’s the punch line: “The reason the U.N. is situated in New York is that the leader of our generation resides in that city.”

The pamphlet further tells me that the 1991 Gulf War was part of God’s redemption and that it was foretold in Jewish Midrash. Also, the Rebbe prophesied the death of Saddam Hussein in 2007 as well as North Korea’s agreement to limit its nuclear plans in the six-nation talks in Beijing on Feb. 12, 2007. You may not realize that that date corresponds to 24 Shevat on the Hebrew calendar, “the day on which President Bush announced the reduction and nullification of nuclear weapons, 15 years ago. An event mentioned by the Rebbe king Messiah shlita (who lives forever) and referred to as his direct impact on the nations. In summary, there is no doubt that we are standing in the time of the actual redemption, as the Rebbe king Messiah shlita’s prophecies are fulfilled completely, one after the other. Be ready for the rest of the prophecies! They’re coming any second!”

The handout also said that Judaism is against free choice and gay rights. It wasn’t included in the pamphlet, but the Rebbe also denied evolution. If he were alive (I’m sorry, I forgot he still lives) he would be a major proponent of “intelligent design.”

One thing I learned: a woman’s place is in the home. “A home needs to be tidy and organized, but also pleasant looking. The paint should match and the curtains and furniture should look nice…Indeed, this task is the responsibility of the women and girls, who have a better taste for beauty and luxury.”

I was invited to the Messiah’s house at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn for a blessing. If I couldn’t do that I was directed to a Web site where I could ask for a blessing from the Rebbe (who really did die in 1994). There was space on the Web site to explain my personal needs to the Rebbe and I was promised an answer within seconds. It then stated: “If you don’t understand the Hebrew, please write down the volume and page numbers and ask someone from your local Chabad house to translate it for you.”

The pamphlet says it comes directly from 770 Eastern Parkway, so I assume that it is official Chabad doctrine. I am told that there are sophisticated local Chabad rabbis that do not believe the above, but I don’t hear their voices. Until I hear them say that they do not believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah, I assume that they do. I also assume that they believe that the United Nations sits in New York because of the Rebbe, etc.

No responsible Jewish authority would accept the Messianic Jews (Jews for Jesus) as authentic Jews. Is there a difference between Jesus and Menachem Schneerson as the Messiah? Why do we feel comfortable davening with Chabad and not with the Jews for Jesus? Why do we invite Chabad emissaries into our Day Schools and into our Reform and Conservative religious schools to bake matzah? Would we invite Jews for Jesus to bake matzah for our children? And why do liberal Jews build Chabad houses? I think I know that answer — these Lubavitchers remind them of their grandfathers and in some sad way they look upon them as more authentic Jews.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. The pamphlet described above states: “The Rebbe of every generation provides spiritual life force for the whole generation. We, on our part, must do all we can to be ‘connected’ to him, only then can we receive all our physical and spiritual needs from him.” That’s not Judaism. We don’t need Jesus, Menachem Schneerson or any other Chasidic guru to find God. The essence of mainstream Judaism (Orthodox through Humanism) is that we can have a direct relationship with God. The word rabbi means merely teacher. No one stands between a Jew and his or her God. That’s the distortion that Chasidism introduced into Judaism, whether a particular Chasidic rabbi believes that the Rebbe is the Messiah or not.

Upon leaving the subway station the Chabadnik gave me a nice business-sized laminated card with the Rebbe’s picture on it with the words emblazoned “Moshiach (Messiah).” He also gave me a beautiful 9 x 11 colored picture of the Rebbe, with the same message in Hebrew.

Needless to say, I’m not going to put it on my wall.

Rabbi Bruce Warshal is publisher emeritus of the Jewish Journal of South Florida.