The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference

Front Cover
Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001 - Religion - 195 pages
2 Reviews
This book is a history, an indictment, a lament, and an appeal, focusing on the messianic trend in Lubavitch hasidism. It demonstrates how those who affirm the dead Rebbe's messiahship have abandoned a Jewish core belief in favor of the doctrine of a second coming. It also decries the equanimity with which the standard- bearers of Orthodoxy have legitimated this development by continuing to recognize such believers as Orthodox Jews in good standing. This abandonment of the age-old Jewish resistance to a quintessentially Christian belief is a development of striking importance for the history of religions, and it is an earthquake in the history of Judaism. David Berger chronicles this development from a personal viewpoint. He describes the growing concern that impelled him to undertake an anti-messianist campaign - publications, correspondence, and the sponsorship of a Rabbinical Council of America resolution excluding this belief from authentic Judaism. He argues that a large number, almost certainly a substantial majority, of Lubavitch hasidism believe in the Rebbe's messiahship; a significant segment, including educators in the central institutions of the movement, maintain a theology that goes beyond posthumous messianism to the affirmation that the Rebbe is pure divinity. While many Jews see Lubavitch as a marginal phenomenon, its influence is in fact so remarkable that its representatives are poised to dominate Orthodox religious institutions in several major countries throughout the world. This book analyzes the boundaries of Judaism's messianic faith and its conception of God. It assesses the threat posed by Lubavitch messianists and points to the consequences, ranging from undermining a fundamental argument against the Christian mission to calling into question the kosher status of many foods and ritual objects prepared under Lubavitch supervision. Finally, it proposes a strategy to protect authentic Judaism from this assault. David Berger is Professor of History at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, and from 1998 to 2000 was President of the Association for Jewish Studies. He is the author of The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High Middle Ages and co-author of Judaism's Encounter with Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration?.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - nproenza - LibraryThing

Rabbi Berger discusses in this book issues that are critical to Orthodox Judaism. Having attended several Chabad houses, I've never seen the picture of the Rebbe in the Beit Knesset itself, which I ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Berger is one of the loudest critics on Chabad, but certainly, not one of the brightest.
Here's what the late Chabad rabbi, Immanuel Shochet had to say about the book:
The Professor, the Messiah
and the Scandal of Calumnies
By J. Immanuel Schochet
Prof. David Berger's recent book. "The Rebbe, the Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox
Indifference," is the subject of heated controversy. It attacks the Chabad-Lubavitch community,
charging it with false messianism, adopting Christian doctrines, heresy and idolatry.
Unfortunately, professional scrupulosity and a modicum of evidence one expects from an academic,
is missing. For example: on the one hand, Dr. Berger admits that "statistical precision [about the
Chabad community] is elusive, dependent partly on the reading of minds." Yet he insists repeatedly
that "large segments," a "substantial majority" and "mainstream Lubavitch" are guilty of his charges.
In turn, the official leadership of Chabad, which he recognizes to be decidely anti-messianist, is
downplayed to "quite minimal influence on the large majority of Lubavitch hasidim." Is Dr. Berger
really able to read minds?
Dr. Berger rejects pronouncements by two universally respected halachic authorities which support
Lubavitch and condemn the attacks against it. Rabbis Pinchas Hirshprung and Aaron Soloveichik
regard Lubavitch messianism as one side of a legitimate dispute. According to Dr. Berger, their
statements were issued under duress, when they were infirm. In effect he accuses them of violating
the Biblical prohibition not to be afraid of anyone to validate what he deems to be outright heresy.
Surely, then, he must dismiss anything else they said.
The book is a chronicle of Dr. Berger's quixotic battle against Lubavitch over many years. He
complains bitterly that his campaign is ignored by the bulk of orthodox Jewry. The only support he
received was from Satmar, Rabbis Chaim Keller of Chicago and Yaakov S. Weinberg of Baltimore,
disciples of Rabbi Eliezer Schach of Israel, and "distinguished individuals" who remain anonymous.
Except for Satmar, he fails to mention that these rabbis displayed a consistent hostility toward
hasidism in general, and Chabad in particular, for decades before messianism became an issue. Their
offensive statements, with charges of heresy and idolatry, go back at least to the 1950's, a part of
their obsession to resuscitate the historical feud between mitnagdim and hasidim of more than two
centuries ago.
Dr. Berger relates that "heads of non-hasidic yeshivas" shrugged off much of his material "on the
grounds that hasidism in general is idolatry," adding that he does not believe that this was meant
literally. If he were to examine the accessible records he will have to change his mind.
A major concern of Dr. Berger is that the messianists' assumption that the resurrected Lubavitcher
Rebbe may yet be the Messiah, "erases one of the defining characteristics of Judaism in a Christian
world." He cites missionaries who already utilize this assumption to justify their belief in a "second
coming." In other words, he defines Judaism by its differences from Christianity. One would think
that Judaism is defined by its own tradition, predating Christianity by more than a millennium.
Moreover, missionaries keep reprinting books citing numerous passages from Talmud, Midrash,
Zohar, Jewish Bible-commentaries and so forth, to support their claims. Are we now to delete these
passages from our tradition?
Dr. Berger spurns the rabbinic proof-texts cited by the messianists as a "rejected minority position"
which in the face of "overwhelming counter-opinions," have no standing in Jewish law. Thus he
violates a fundamental rule in halachic methodology: in disputes that do not affect actual practice
one cannot say who is right or wrong!
His reliance on arguments in polemical debates is curious. The Talmud


Introduction i
The Crisis of a Movement and the Danger to a Faith
Passing Phenomenon or Turning Point in the History of Judaism?

16 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Bibliographic information