Religion Wiki

Chabad messianism

34,279pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Add New Page Talk0
Part of a series on</br>

Rebbes of Lubavitch
1. Shneur Zalman of Liadi
2. Dovber Schneuri
3. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn
4. Shmuel Schneersohn
5. Sholom Dovber Schneersohn
6. Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn
7. Menachem Mendel Schneerson
770 Eastern Parkway · 19 Kislev · Ohel
Chabad library · Crown Heights Riot · 11 Nissan
Brooklyn Bridge Shooting · 3 Tammuz
Agudas Chasidei Chabad · Chabad on Campus
Tzivos Hashem · · Kehos · Library
Gan Israel · Sheloh · Jewish Relief Agency
Children's Museum · JLI · Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch
Ohr Avner · Colel Chabad · Kol Menachem
Notable figures
Hillel Paritcher · S. Z. Fradkin · Itche Der Masmid
C. M. A. Hodakov · L. Y. Schneerson · Nissan Neminov
Leib Groner · C. M. Schneerson· Shemaryahu Gurary
Manis Friedman · Yehuda Chitrik · Berel Lazar
Yehuda Krinsky · Z. M. HaYitzchaki · Yoel Kahn
Herman Branover · Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Crown Heights · Kfar Chabad
Hayom Yom · Igrot Kodesh · Tanya · Likkutei Sichos
Tehillat HaShem · Shulchan Aruch HaRav
Bais Rivka · Hadar Hatorah · Yeshivah College
Oholei Torah · Tomchei Temimim · Ohel Chana
Yeshivah Gedolah · Beth Rivkah · Machon Chana
Rabbinical College · Ohr Avner · Mayanot
Mitzvah Campaigns · Chabad house · Mitzvah tank
Tefillin · Noahide laws · Shliach · Public menorah
Chitas · Mashpia · Meiniach · Farbrengen
Nusach Ari · Choizer · Chabadnitze
Related Topics
Strashelye · Kapust · Controversies · Messianism

Chabad messianism, or Lubavitch messianism,[1] is a term used to describe a spectrum of beliefs within the Chabad Hasidic movement regarding their late leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and his purported position as the Messiah.[2] While some believe that he died but will return as the messiah,[3] others believe that he is merely "hidden." Other groups believe that he has God-like powers,[4][5] or is the "creator"[6] while a few negate the idea that he is the messiah entirely. The prevalence of these views within the movement is disputed,[7][8][9][10][11] though very few will openly say that Schneerson cannot be the Messiah.[7] Traditional Jewish philosophy relating to the messiah's identity does not provide clear guidance as to who the individual is and opinions exist that the Messiah exists as a "spark" within the Jewish soul of any individual.[12]

The belief that Schneerson is the messiah can be traced to the 1950s;[13] it picked up momentum during the decade preceding Schneerson's death in 1994,[14] and has continued to develop since his death.[15] The response of the wider Haredi and Modern Orthodox leadership has been almost universally antagonistic to this belief. The issue remains controversial within the Jewish world.[16][17][18]

History of Messianism

Chabad Mashiach Flag

The Chabad messianist flag. The Hebrew word is "Mashiach", meaning "Messiah".

Old Jerusalem Jewish Quarter Beit El Road

The Messianist Flag in Jerusalem

Before Schneerson's death in 1994 a significant body of Chabad Hasidim believed that he would soon become the Messiah by ushering in the Messianic Age and constructing the Third Temple. Books and pamphlets were written containing arguments for the Rabbi's status as Messiah, some of which Schneerson opposed, but some he also encouraged on occasions.

During the later years of his life Schneerson's teachings were interpreted by many to mean that he was claiming to be the Messiah. His death in 1994 did not quell the messianist fervor, as believers found rationales to explain the belief that Schneerson was the Messiah despite having passed on. Some argued that he had in fact not died at all and was still physically present, but in a concealed state. Others argued that even though he had died, proofs existed within Judaism that legitimize the Messiah returning from the dead.

The development of this messianism and its impact on Chabad in particular — and Orthodox Judaism in general — has been the subject of much discussion in the Jewish press, as well as within the pages of peer-reviewed journals.

Early developments

One of the earliest proponents of the idea of Schneerson as the messiah was Rabbi Avraham Parizh. As early as 1952 Parizh printed a poster proclaiming him as the messiah. When word reached the United States that the poster had been seen around Tel Aviv, Schneerson forbade its distribution.[13]

Again, in 1961, in a letter dated Tamuz 5721, Pariz, wrote of Schneerson as having near God-like essence:

Within the holy body of the Rebbe, 'Atzmus Ein Sof baruch Hu' [the essence of infinite God] resides. This tells us that whatever the Rebbe says or writes, 'Atzmus Ein Sof baruch Hu' is saying and writing, so to speak.[19]

According to Aharon Lichtenstein this concept bears resemblance to the Da'as Torah phenomenon present in other Chassidic and Haredi populations following the Holocaust. Where before World War II, leading rabbis authoritatively spoke on religious matters only. Following the war, their authority expanded to encompass more aspects of their follower's lives. The catastrophic social and geographic dislocations caused by the war and genocide increased the authority invested in leading Chassidic and Haredi rabbis.[20] [21]

During Schneerson's life

According to research by Rachel Elior, the expectations that the Rebbe was the messiah built slowly through the 1980s. While she argues that the messianism of Chabad can be traced back to the 1950s and the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, she cites evidence that the 1980s saw an upsurge in messianism. People would write letters addressed to Moshiach instead of the Rebbe, conversations centering around the Rebbe's true identity became more prevalent, and as the Rebbe spoke more and more frequently on the issue of Moshiach, the fervor grew. Elior argues that the development of Chabad Messianism was in response to the holocaust and constituted an attempt by Schneerson to offer an explanation and purpose in the face of such destruction offered "eschatological certainty and messianic purpose — what appeared to be the only rational response from a theological point of view."[22]

According to Paul R. Carlson, Schneerson became more direct about the messianic age during the Gulf War of 1991. Schneerson was quoted in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as telling his followers that it would "herald the coming of the Messiah" quoting from the medrash Yalkut Shimoni: "Humble ones, the time of your redemption has arrived." Other evidence for this included the fall of communism and the mass immigration of Russian Jews to Israel. Carlson cites Rabbi Chaim Bergstein in the Detroit Jewish News as saying "I'm not saying he is or isn't Mashiach, but there is no one as learned this generation."[23]

Menachem Friedman wrote in 1991 that "...the fact that he has no children and has never groomed a successor... renders the issue of continuity in the Chabad dynasty a threatening question. The messianic response is virtually the only one capable of allaying these fears."[24] He added: "...the spread of belief in the Rebbe as the messiah is facilitated by the total absence of checks and balances in Chabad Hasidism. There is no-one offer a word of criticism. Many who surround him are financially dependent on him and consider him a super-human being. Is it any wonder that they are tempted to believe he is the messiah?"[24]

During the late 1980s Chabad rabbis across the United States not only declared the coming of the messiah as imminent, but said that it would be Schneerson. for example, one Rabbi Asher Zeilingold told the press that he "expect[s] the messiah to come at any moment" and that Schneerson "soon will be recognized by God as the saviour."[25]

Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo brought up the issue in 1984 by publishing a booklet declaring Schneerson to be the Messiah.[26] Schneerson responded by writing "It has come to pass that because of his [Wolpo's] activities ... hundreds of Jews have stopped learning Chassidus, and now oppose the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings in actuality."[27]

Anthropologist Vanessa Ochs spent the year of Schneerson's death living among women in the Chabad congregation in Stamford Hill, London. She writes that:

Before his death most of the women I encountered said they believed--or at least hoped--that their Rebbe would not die, but would rather emerge - "rise up" was the expression they used--as the Messiah. In the streets outside 770, I was told, women danced through the night with their tambourines, singing to greet the Rebbe as Messiah, despite his physical death.[28]

By 1992 Chabad Messianism was gaining wide publicity. As the health of their leader deteriorated some Chabad followers became more vocal and explicit in their messianism. Time magazine journalist Lisa Beyer reported on the issue that year, noting that the followers in Kfar Chabad were expecting Schneerson to reveal himself as the Messiah imminently. She reported that Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael had openly declared that Schneerson should reveal himself as such, and arguing that even if he were to die "the leader's death would not disprove his Messianic potential."[29]

A group of Chabad hasidim led by Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui took their message to the streets of Palm Beach County with ten billboards declaring, "Now!! 1900 Years Waiting. It's Here-Messianic Era." Ezagui told the Miami Herald that "...we are declaring through the billboards that the time's about to happen."[30]


By late 1992 a movement to crown Schneerson as "King Messiah" had gained prominence within the Chabad movement and a major rally was organised in Crown Heights where the Rebbe was to be crowned under the leadership of senior Chabad rabbi and youth movement director Shmuel Butman.[31] He organised the rally on January 30, 1993 that was billed as Schneerson's coronation ceremony. Before the rally Butman informed the press that "This will be the coronation of the rebbe as Melech haMashiach (King Messiah)."[32][33] The rally was held on January 30, 1993 and was attended by 8,000 in New York and countless others via satellite link-ups around the world. Butman was forced to backtrack during the event, announcing that Schneerson's appearance did not represent his acceptance of the role of Messiah. He told the 8,000 assembled followers (plus many more around the world watching via satellite) that the event "is not to be interpreted as a coronation."[34]


As Schneerson lay dying in the Intensive Care Unit of Beth Israel Medical Center, some 2,000 followers gathered outside in Stuyvesant Square. Many could be seen singing and dancing — anticipating the end of days. Others were prayerful, some could be seen stroking the wall of the hospital as though it was the Western Wall.[35]

After Schneerson's death

Schneerson's death led to a rethinking of the theology of messianism within Chabad. While the funeral was attended by a few dozen extreme messianists who danced throughout the procession and argued that his death was a required part of the process of him returning as Messiah — most messianists were taken aback.[36] The Washington Post reported from the funeral that the death had left Chabad stunned and in crisis:[37]

Even as his pine coffin was placed in the hearse, a panicked crowd of Lubavitch faithful chanted prayers for Schneerson to rise and reveal himself to be the Messiah for whom Jews have waited since time immemorial.[37]

Within three days of Schneerson's death The Forward was reporting that the movement was splitting over the death with some claiming that he was alive and some claiming that he would be resurrected:

There are some in Crown Heights who say they don’t believe the Rebbe is dead, and others who say that his resurrection is imminent. Some of these resurrectionists, who critics within the movement say are straying far from traditional Judaism, have even taken to sleeping near the Rebbe’s grave in a Queens cemetery, hoping to be the first to see their Messiah rise from the dead.[38]

Schneerson's will proved to be a blow to the messianists as the sole executor was arch anti-messianist Rabbi Yudel Krinsky.[38] The witness to the will was Rabbi Leib Groner an open messianist. While the sums involved in the will were quite small it gave Krinsky custody of many of the important organisations within the Chabad movement and was a bitter blow to Groner.[38]

The appointment of a successor failed to achieve momentum — no individual was designated in the will and Krinsky refused the mantle answering "heaven forbid" when asked if he would accept it; rumors that Rabbi Yoel Kahn was named as a successor in a secret second will came to nought.[38]

Chabad regroups

Within months however, messianism had regrouped and soon became one of the two major forces within the Chabad movement. Many Chabad followers preferred to refer to Schneerson's passing as a mere transition. In time Schneerson's passing began to be known as "Gimmel Tamuz" — the Hebrew date of his death.[39][40]

Schneerson's collected speeches from the last two years of his life were collected into pamphlets and published during his life under the title Besuras Hageula. These especially were distributed by the messianists after his death to bolster the case that he was still the Messiah. These contained some of the strongest comments by Schneerson that the messianic age was imminent. Such evidence — along with other sources and a rabbinic decision declaring Rabbi Schneerson to be the messiah signed by over 250 rabbis — was used to bolster the case for belief in his return.

In his later years, the rebbe repeatedly returned to the millenarian theme that had begun to envelope his writing. For example a U.S.-Russia agreement on nuclear proliferation lead to the Rebbe declaring that this was linked to the biblical prophecy "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore". (Isiah 2:4)[41]

A group of messianists took out a full-page ad in the New York Times in 1996 entitled "The Third of Tammuz is not the Rebbe's Yahrzeit"[42]; in 1998 another Times ad proclaimed that Schneerson

. . .was born to change the world in which we live and lead it to the ultimate redemption as predicted by the prophet. . . Moshiach’s presence and achievements are already manifest. The complete redemption and transformation of the world is imminent.[43]

A messianist publication elucidated the theology as early as 1995:

Since the Third of Tammuz, we are no longer able to physically see the Rebbe King Moshiach. The Rebbe remains physically alive just as before, it is only to our eyes that he is concealed. Therefore, we call this a day of concealment, and many refer to this as the "last test." Just as we know that there is a G-d though we may not see him, so too the Rebbe King Moshiach is here even though we do not see him.[42]

770 Eastern Parkway as the Temple

The requirement that the Messiah must rebuild the temple has led messianists to take 770 Eastern Parkway as a Temple analouge.[42]

Full size replicas of 770 Eastern Parkway have been constructed in Kfar Chabad and in Jerusalem.[44] Other replicas or near-replicas have been built in New Jersey, in Los Angeles, Melbourne, Milano, Rio and Buenos Aires. David Berger cites a senior chabad mashpia in Kfar Chabad, Rabbi Yishvam Segal describing the messianist posiiton of the Rebbe in the world:[45]

We messianists believe that Lubavitch is Jerusalem, the House of our Rabbi in Babylonia[46] [770 Eastern Parkway] is the Temple, and the Rebbe is the Ark of the covenant standing on the "Even HaShetiya" in which the divine being and essence rests.[47]

The centrality of 770 to messianist thought is explained by Chaim Dov Keller. Since one of Maimonides preconditions that a true messiah must fulfill to become "Moshiach Vadai" - "certain messiah" is to rebuild the temple, the messianist must view 770 as the temple to justify their beliefs, since otherwise he failed one of the conditions and thus cannot be the messiah.[42][48] Similarly, another of Maimonides conditions was that "all Israel" be returned to the Holy Land - messianists argue that Chabad adherents constitute "all Israel". The messiah must have "fought the Lord's wars" - Schneerson's predictions of the collapse of the USSR in the 1980s fulfill this criterion in messiant thinking.[42]

Expressions of Messianism

There is a wide range of degrees of messianism within Chabad. The terms mishichist and anti-mishichst are loosely used with many of the later still taking the position the Schneerson is the Messiah, but that he died so the term is potentially misleading. There is considerable dispute regarding the relative strengths of the various factions which is discussed below.

Anthropologist Simon Dein has noted: "Lubavitchers held that the Rebbe was more powerful in the spiritual realm without the hindrance of a physical body. However some have now claimed that he never died. Several even state that the Rebbe is God. This is a significant finding. It is unknown in the history of Judaism to hold that the religious leader is God and to this extent the group is unique. There are certain Christian elements which apparently inform the messianic ideas of this group."[49]

Primary Groupings

In broad terms Chabad is divided into two camps, with a wide range of belief within each camp:


One camp, loosely known as "meshichist", believe that the Rebbe's public words and actions in the early 1990s constituted an almost formal declaration of his messiahship, that he authorised the campaign to publicise this claim, and that this authorisation continues today. They believe that the only obstacle remaining before the final redemption is the fact that the Rebbe's messiahship remains unrecognised by most of the world, and therefore the most important task of all Chabad hassidim ought to be to spread the word and persuade people to accept the Rebbe as the "Anointed King". This group believes in reciting the Yechi slogan. Beis Moshiach magazine is a major organ for views within this camp.

People within this group differ widely in their attitude to the Rebbe's death.

An Eternal Tzaddik

Some meshichists insist that despite appearances the Rebbe did not in fact die on 12 June 1994. They argue that just as, according to the Talmud, the patriarch Jacob did not die,[50] nor did the Rebbe. He therefore remains the messiah just as he was before 1994. These believers refuse to put the typical honorifics for the dead (e.g. zt"l or zecher tzaddik livrocho, "may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing") after Rabbi Schneerson's name. They do not visit his grave, or mark his yahrtzeit. They rely upon Schneerson's statement that the world has entered a new period in its history and that, contrary to what has happened in the past, the leader of the generation will not be hidden "even through burial", but that he would remain alive until the revelation of the Messiah.[51]

However there are many sources that seem to support the idea that a tzaddik's life does not end with his physical demise. In addition to the Talmud's statement about the patriarch Jacob, in the blessing of the new moon, Jews say, "David the King of Israel is alive and well". There is also the Tanya's explanation[52] of the Zoharic statement (III, 71b), "When a tzaddik departs he is to be found in all the worlds more than during his lifetime". The Baal HaTanya explains that the tzaddik's life is "not a physical life, but a spiritual life", and therefore physical death does not affect this state of living.[53]

A resurrected Messiah?

Others in this camp accept that the Rebbe did indeed die in 1994, but still believe that he will return as the messiah. They point to various sources in Jewish tradition that can be interpreted as allowing for such a possibility.[54] They also emphasize the belief that the classic meaning of death does not apply to a truly righteous person.[3] In this view Schneerson never "died" spiritually despite his physical death, and is still alive in some way that ordinary humans cannot perceive. Thus they believe that while Schneerson is dead he will later return to be revealed as Messiah.[55]

Folio 98 of tractate Sanhedrin has a strong focus on Moshiach and the Messianic era. Lubavitchers of this camp most commonly cite Sanhedrin 98b as a source of support for the idea of a Moshiach that returns from the dead. Here Rav Nachman says, “If Moshiach will be from the living he is someone like me”, the word "if" seems to imply that Moshiach could also come from the dead. In the next sentence, Rav opines, “If Moshiach will be from the living, then he will be like Rabbeinu Hakadosh, if he will be from the dead he will be like Daniel”, again implying that a belief in a Moshiach that returns from the dead is not antithetical to Judaism. Rabbi Aharon Feldman, in a 2003 ruling argues that Rabbi Schneerson never attained a stature comparable to Daniel.[56] Feldman, as well as Rabbi Zev Leff,[57] are of the belief that in the Mishneh Torah, the only halachic work on the idea of the Moshiach, the Rambam rejects the idea of a potential Moshiach being killed only to return to complete his work.[53] However Lubavitchers clearly hold their Rebbe to have been comparable to Daniel in righteousness[58] and also differentiate between Moshiach dying or being killed.[53]

In a letter addressed to Professor David Berger, Feldman points out that included in the Rambam's qualifications for the Messiah is that he "forces all of Israel to go in the way of [Torah and Mitzvos]...and fights the wars of Hashem...", and Feldman states that Schneerson has not fulfilled these credentials.[59]

Extremist messianism


Some elements within the Meshichist camp go further still, and insist that in order for the Rebbe to be revealed everybody must acknowledge his messiahhood. Those who oppose public declarations of this belief are seen as deliberately delaying his revelation, and therefore must be dealt with forcefully. This group is most common in Safed, and is associated with the Chabad yeshiva in that city. This group also has a presence in Crown Heights and is active at the main synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway. The group are known as the Elokists.

Schneerson as God

A small number of people termed boreinuniks have gone so far as to call Schneerson God. The first record of this was in 1996 when the words "our rebbe" were substituted with "our creator" in a messianist publication.[6][60] These people (Meir Baranes, Ariel Sokolovsky, and two or three others[61][62][63][64]) have been ostracised by all factions of Chabad.

A central source-book of Chabad messianism, Al ha-Zaddikim, collates many proofs for Schneerson's messianic status and argues that it is permitted to kneel before a Rebbe, to pray to him and ask for interventions from him, since "bowing to a man devoid of ego and annulled to the will of God is no different from bowing before God himself."[65]


Another camp, loosely called "anti-meshichist", is strongly opposed to all public claims that the Rebbe is the messiah, though they may not be against the idea itself. All major Chabad organisations, including Agudas Chasidei Chabad and Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, take this position. Kfar Chabad magazine is a major organ for views within this camp.


A larger group within the anti-meshichist camp still believe that the Rebbe will be the messiah, but accept that this is difficult to understand, let alone to explain. They therefore revert to what was Chabad's official policy until the late 1980s, at the Rebbe's direct orders, which was to increase public awareness and anticipation of the messiah while strictly avoiding any speculation as to who the messiah might be.

"No longer the Messiah"

A very small number of preipheral Chabad leaders express the belief that Schneerson was the best candidate for the Messiah in his generation, but now say that people were mistaken to believe that he was the Messiah. Rather, he could have been the messiah if God willed it to be so, but it was not to be. As such, the Messiah will come nonetheless in the person of some other great leader. The only significant exponent of this position is Yechezkel Sofer, of Be'er Sheva. Others, such as Adin Steinzaltz and who held this position are no longer a part of Chabad while Sofer is widely shunned. Shmuley Boteach though peripheral to the movement is another example of a self-describing Chabad adherent who rejects the idea that Schneerson may be the messiah.[66]

Prevalence of Messianism

File:IMG 0293.JPG
The prevalence of the various views listed above amongst Chabad supporters is disputed. According to David Berger in his book The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference and other observers, very few Chabad adherents will say that "the Rebbe wasn't/isn't the Messiah". Some will say that "he might be", but a very large number will say that he certainly is the Messiah. Indeed this appears to most observers to be the mainstream position — the difference between the Messianists and the anti-Messianists being over whether Schneerson is dead or not. Berger argues that:
"...the major institutions in the three primary population centers of Crown Heights, Kfar Chabad, and Safed are either dominated by overt believers in the Rebbe's Messiahship or suffused by that belief."

He notes that in the movement's largest Yeshiva Oholei Menachem, the administration ordered that Yechi be recited. He said that the chief rabbi of Kfar Chabad was "one of the first signatories of a 1998 halachic ruling requiring belief in the Rebbe's Messiahship" as did 250 other Chabad Rabbis. In a sworn affidavit, in a case regarding the control of 770 Eastern Parkway, Rabbi Sholom Kalmanson argued that while "most Lubavitchers believe that the rebbe is the messiah, others believe that while the scenario is possible, it should not be a public position. A very small minority have abandoned the notion that the rebbe is Moshiach."[8]

A Chabad rabbi in Rechovot cited by David Berger argued in a messianist publication that "everyone knows that all Lubavitch Chassidim, despite the differing opinions, believe that the Rebbe is Melech HaMoshiach. This is the most open secret of the last decade."[9]

Berger notes in a recent article for Yated Ne'eman that he is"unfamiliar with a single public declaration formally affirming that Lubavitch chassidim should not accept the belief that the Rebbe is the Messiah."[67]

Schneerson's messianism or divinity is not advocated in any of Chabad's official literature.[68][69]

According to Zalman Shmotkin, director of the website, "People don't actually believe the Rebbe is the Messiah. They say they believe, but really they want, they hope, they pray. But believe this no."[70] Of those who agitate for the belief that the rebbe was or is the messiah, Rabbi Shmotkin, the Chabad spokesman, said Chabad-Lubavitch leaders have “repeatedly condemned them in the strongest possible terms.”[71]

Journalist Sue Fishkoff notes that the idea that most Lubavitchers are messianist is "a claim Lubavitchers say is patently absurd. Here everyone is treading on thin ice, for no one can know precisely how deep Chabad messianism goes. When Berger and other critics claim that it infects the majority of the Chabad movement, they have no greater statistical backing than do those who suggest it is on the decline."[72]

Berger responds that many Chabad messianist are coy about their beliefs ostensibly not to scare people away. He notes that even Menachem Brod, the leader of the moderates in Israel, will not say that Schneerson is not the messiah.

Many of the major institutions of the Chabad movement are controlled by messianists. Berger argues that "that the major institutions in the three primary population centers of Crown Heights, Kfar Chabad, and Safed are either dominated by overt believers in the Rebbe's Messiahship or suffused by that belief." He notes that in the movement's largest Yeshiva Oholei Menachem, the administration ordered that Yechi be recited. He said that the chief rabbi of Kfar Chabad was "one of the first signatories of a 1998 halachic ruling requiring belief in the Rebbe's Messiahship" as did 250 other senior Chabad Rabbis.

According to Berger and others even the most anti-messianist Chabad followers do not currently claim that the Rebbe is not the Messiah. The most senior openly anti-messianist rabbi is Yoel Kahn. Kahn does not however argue that Schneerson is not the Messiah, but does argue that he is dead. In a 2003 proclamation by Kahn[73] "messianists" are condemned for saying Schneerson is alive but not for describing Schneerson as the Messiah. A pamphlet produced by the anti-messianist camp including Menachem Brod makes a similar point[74]

A report in Israeli daily Haaretz in February 2007 confirms Berger's assertions about messianism in Tzfat and in Crown Heights. The article describes daily rituals of tending to Schneerson's chair and praying for his long life in the synagouge at 770 Eastern Parkway, and quotes students in Tzfat and 770 who appear to hold extreme messianist and even Elokist viewpoints.[5]

Prevalence of extremist messianism

The number of Elokist Chabad adherents is thought to be small. Berger notes that "very few chassidim actually pronounce the sentence, "The Rebbe is the Creator", though the number is not as negligible as one might imagine."[75] In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in 2001 Berger explained that in the view of some elokists:

The supremely righteous, of whom the Rebbe and Moses are the chief exemplars, annul their own essence to the point where their entire essence is that of God. It is permissible to bow to them with this understanding. For this reason, the Rebbe is omniscient, omnipotent, and entirely without limits. He is ‘indistinguishable’ from God. Because he is a transparent window for pure divinity, a ‘man-God,’ ‘when you speak to him, you speak to God.’"[76]

Response to Chabad messianism

Schneerson's response

In 1984 Sholom Dov Wolpo published a booklet declaring Schneerson to be the Messiah. Over the course of Sukkot 5745 (1984) Schneerson several times denounced actions that drove people away from Chabad and its message. On Simchat Torah he returned to this theme, saying that those involved were starting a new war against Chabad, even including the eventual messiah, and that he should never have to speak about it again.[77] On Shabbat Bereshit, when Wolpo began singing a song that had long been popular in Lubavitch, which referred to Schneerson as the messiah, he abruptly stopped the singing and ordered that it never be sung again.[78]

In 1985, a year later, Schneerson gave a long talk about moshiach in general and the leader of the generation being the moshiach. Stating "I will not be troubled if one will translate 'Moshiach' literally, i.e. the righteous Moshiach, since that is indeed the truth. The leader of the generation is in fact Moshiach of the generation."[79] This, coupled with Schneerson's frequent statement that ours is the "Last Generation of galut (exile) and it is the first generation of Geulah, the redemption" is one of the arguments put forward that the Rebbe is the messiah. The logic behind this is that if the leader of the generation is the messiah, and this is the last generation, then it follows that he is the "final" redeemer.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Schneerson's talks became increasingly focused on the topic of Moshiach, that Moshiach was about to come, and what was needed to accomplish this. These talks would often take on a sense of urgency. On one occasion, during the rebbes talk at the International Conference of Shluchim, he stated "the work of the Shluchim has already finished, and the only task left is to welcome Moshiach".

In the early 1990s Hasidim became more vocal about Schneerson being the Moshiach, even submitting a petition to him asking that he reveal himself as the long-awaited messiah.

In 1991 hasidim began singing a new song ("Yechi") proclaiming him to be the messiah. On at least one occasion, the Rebbe appeared to gesture his approval.[80] But a few months later when some chassidim started to sing it, he said that it was strange that he should remain sitting there, and that the only reason he did not stand up and leave was his reluctance to disrupt the brotherly atmosphere of a farbrengen.[81]

After Schneeerson's stroke in 1992, which left him partially paralyzed, it became customary for chassidim to recite the Yechi chant after prayers and at general prayer gatherings for his recovery. Whenever he was present he encouraged this.

In the fall 1992, on Rosh Hashanah, Schneerson was brought to a window constructed on the upper level of the synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway overlooking the main sanctuary. Chassidim sang the full version of Yechi, and he made encouraging motions with his left hand (his right side had been paralyzed by the stroke). On certain occasions; the rebbe made increasingly big signs of encouragement such as on Rosh Chodesh Kislev 1992 (5753); when the rebbe moved his hand back and forth with extreme energy.

Haredi response

The response of haredi gedolim to messianism both before and after the death of Schneerson has been mostly negative, though they differ on the appropriate response and remedy.

Pinchas Hirschprung

Rabbi Pinchas Hirschsprung, Chief rabbi of Montreal, who shared a very close relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and served as Rosh Yeshiva at the Chabad yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Montreal, wrote a lengthy letter about Chabad Messianisim to Baruch Frishman, executive director of Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS), in response to efforts by some Haredi rabbis to decertify Oholei Torah/Oholai Menachem (a major Lubavitch yeshiva in which the messianist belief is proclaimed) from this organization (see below). In the letter Hirschsprung wrote that there was no shadow of a question in halacha about (the permissibility of) the singing and proclaiming of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as the messiah, that it was based on clear passages in the Talmud, Zohar, and Kabalists whom the Jewish people all rely upon for contemporary halacha. He also pointed to the fact that the Rebbe himself used such references on his father in law Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, and that he himself was someone to rely on. He also praised the efforts of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his followers in the task of bringing Jews closer to Judaism, saying "who knows this work better then them".[82]

Elazar Shach

See also: Eliezer Schach: Opposition to the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Elazar Shach, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Ponevezh yeshiva and a leader of Lithuanian Judaism, objected to the call for "forcing" the Messiah's appearance, an idea advocated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.[83]

Shach was the first major Jewish leader to openly criticise Schneerson and Chabad over Messianist fervor. Schach repeatedly and bitterly attacked Schneerson and his followers on a number of issues, among them messianism, describing Schneerson himself as "insane" an "infidel" and a "false messiah".[84]

When certain elements in Chabad actually identified Schneerson as the possible Messiah, Rabbi Elazar Shach advocated a complete boycott of Chabad, its institutions and projects by its constituents. [85] [86]

Pointing to an assertion by Schneerson in a passage dealing primarily with his predecessor that a rebbe is ‘the Essence and Being [of G-d] placed into a body,’ Rabbi Schach spoke of nothing less than Avodah Zara [idol worship]. His followers refused to eat meat slaughtered by Lubavich shochetim or to recognize Chabad Hasidim as adherents of authentic Judaism.[87]

Chaim Shaul Karelitz

Rabbi Chaim Shaul Karelitz, former Chief Rabbi (גאב"ד) of the She'erit Yisrael Kashrut organization of Bnei Brak, wrote, "All know of the battle of gedolei Yisroel, past and present, against the well known movement, which in our generation deviated from the Torah way, and has undermined the principles of religion and faith, and even produced a false Messiah".[88]

Menashe Klein

The Ungvarer Rov, Rabbi Menashe Klein writes in his 17th volume of Mishnah Halachos that people who go about declaring that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is still alive bring his reputation into disrepute, and are therefore “apikorsim.”[89]

Aharon Kotler

Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1892–1962), founder of the Lakewood Yeshivah in New Jersey, was severely critical of Lubavich, in part because of the extreme emphasis on messianism evident even at that time.[90]

Aharon Feldman

Rabbi Aharon Feldman, dean of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College penned a public response to a question from Gil Student asking how orthodox Jews should relate to chabad messianists in 2003. He expresses wonderment at the fact that the "great halachic authorities" have not published rulings on this subject and reluctantly agrees to issue a ruling himself. He makes a clear distinction between what he terms the "Mishichists" and the "Elokists". He rules that it is forbidden to associate with Elokists under any circumstances due to their heresy and they cannot be counted for a Minyan. He rules it is also forbidden to support the mishichists in any way that lends credence to their messianic beliefs though they are not strictly heretics. He argues that although there is a Talmudic source (Sanhedrin 98b) that the Jewish messiah may come from the dead, nevertheless that source indicates that this messianic candidate must be similar to the prophet Daniel; Rabbi Feldman rules that anyone that can believe that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe was similar to the prophet Daniel has entirely compromised judgment and should not be given any leadership position.[56] " is clear that [messianists] are ignorant of Torah, thus, it is impossible to rely on their decisions in Torah matters... One who believes that amongst all those who have ever lived, the late leader of the Chabad movement is the best candidate to be our redeemer shows that he lacks any understanding of Torah values. The rulings of such a man cannot be relied upon in any matter of Torah, and a fortiori he cannot serve as a leader or Rabbi."[56]

In a letter addressed to Professor David Berger, Feldman points out that included in the Rambam's qualifications for the Messiah is that he "forces all of Israel to go in the way of [Torah and Mitzvos]...and fights the wars of Hashem...", and Feldman states that Schneerson has not fulfilled these credentials.[59]

Shlomo Eliyahu Miller

Rabbi Shlomo Miller, a Rosh Kolel (dean) of the Kolel Avreichim Institute for Advanced Talmud Study in Toronto and head of its Beis Din (Rabbinical court), said in an interview, "The belief that Moshiach is in the embodiment of a deceased person is definitely assur (forbidden) and our mosdos must convey this issur to students as part of their education... However, I would not say the Mashichistim are pasul but rather they're very mistaken in an important part of Yiddishkeit. Perhaps, I won't accept such a person as a Rav (you can't be a Rav if you're deluded), or to work as a shochet, but I won't say their shechitah is prohibited... "[91]

Moshe Heinemann

Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Rav of the Agudath Israel of Baltimore and the Star-K kashrus organization, said in an interview, "It's a distortion to say the Rebbe is Mashiach and anything which is not the truth, we can not agree to, even though Chabad in general does many good things."[91]

Dr. Avraham Pollack, president of the Star-K kashrus organization, was asked if the star-k would approve of a chabad messianist shochet. Dr. Pollack answered that we look for ‘Yerai Shomayim’ shoctim and chabad has many of them that are ‘Erlich’, however if one of the shochtim claim openly ‘Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach’ that is definitely a red flag and will most likely not be hired by us.[92]

Elya Svei

Rabbi Elya Svei, one of the roshei yeshiva of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, said in his eulogy for Rabbi Elazar Shach, "Another area in which Rav Shach took the sole initiative and responsibility was in the less than popular task of protesting Messianic proclivities within Lubavitch. Rav Shach assumed the responsibility of decrying this perversion. Rav Shach started to fight this battle alone. He illuminated the truth so that others could also see the posed threat and follow his lead."[93]

Rabbi Svei and others launched an effort to decertify Oholei Torah/Oholai Menachem (a major Lubavitch yeshiva in which the messianist belief is proclaimed) from the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS).[94]

Yehuda Henkin

Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, an American Posek, in a responsa to Gil Student ruled that messianists are merely foolish and need not be shunned but he was more stringent regarding the Elokists:[95] "However anyone who has even a spark of confusion about the boundaries between his Rebbe and an apostate. His shechita cannot be consumed, he cannot be counted for a Minyan and his testimony [in a Beit Din] and his rabbinic judgement is unsound."[95]

Zev Leff

Rabbi Zev Leff was asked if the Lubavitcher Rebbe is Moshiach. Rabbi Leff answered, "The Lubavitcher Rebbe is no longer alive. The Rambam says very clearly that if someone claims to be Moshiach and he dies before he builds the Temple and brings all Jews back to Eretz Yisrael, then it is clear that he was not Moshiach. So according to the Rambam the Lubavitcher Rebbe cannot be Moshiach... Also, even if people will claim to have found sources that seem to say that Moshiach can be somebody who died and will come back from the dead to become Moshiach, those sources are not obviously what the sources means because for 2,000 years one of our objections to Christianity across the board was that the concept of a dead Moshiach who comes back to be Messiah is not a Jewish concept."[96]

Leff was also asked the following: "May one eat in a restaurant whose proprietor feels that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the moshiach, if it is under a widely accepted hashgacha? Furthermore, is it permitted for a person to daven in a shul where the majority of the congregants feel that the Rebbe zt"l is moshiach, and perhaps participate in the recitation of Yechi?" He answered, "The restaurant really depends on who the supervision is and if it is a reliable supervision. Even if the proprietor is not Jewish, certainly if he is Jewish and has wrong ideas about Yiddishkeit, you can eat in that restaurant. On the other hand, to daven in a shul where the majority have crooked ideas about Yiddishkeit and recite things that have no place as part of the davening, better not to daven in a shul like that."[97]

Satmar Rebbe

According to anthropologist Robert Eisenberg who studied the relationships between the various Hasidic groups in New York Satmar Hassidim hold extremely hostile views towards the Lubavitchers in general viewing them as "damaged goods" and "idolaters" on account of their beliefs concerning Schneerson.[98] He notes that following Schneerson's death, the Rebbe of Satmar was said to have commented "Now we have to wait for the real Messiah."[98]

Chaim Dov Keller

One of the first commentators to document the development of Elkoist thought was Rabbi Chaim Dov Keller. In a 1997 article he asks of the Lubavitch movement: "Will it be set back on a true course to reach out and bring Jews closer to HaShem and His mitzvos, or evolve into a huge messianic cult whose purpose is to propagate the divinity and worship of the Rebbe?"[42]

Yaakov Kaminetsky

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky expressed concern in the early 1980s that what he regarded as Lubavitch's nascent personality-centric thinking could morph into something more objectionable. He advised Bezalel Landau not to publish a few chapters in a book he had written on the Vilna Gaon[99] that dealt with his opposition to Hasidism as such material could split families, pitting husband against wife. He noted that he should keep them in reserve in case "someone was to do an ugly thing" a reference that Kaminetsky's son says[100] refers to the Chabad movement.[101]

A certain Jew in Toronto came to Rabbi Kamenetsky and told him, "Rabbi, I have decided to stop the work at my business on the Sabbath and try to be Shomer Shabbat in my house as well. The reason for my decision was because Chabad people revealed to me that soon their Rebbe will be revealed as the Messiah. I said to myself, 'How will I appear when the Messiah comes, and I am desecrating the Sabbath?'" Rabbi Kamenetsky responded, "Don't believe them. The messiah, to our disappointment, is still not omed lavoh. . . Even though we hope every day that the Messiah will come, it is incorrect to believe what they told you, that the messiah will come in the very near future. It is on us to believe that even though the Messiah delays, we still have hope that he will come." After the man left, those present asked Rabbi Kamenetsky, "Why did our teacher withhold this Jew from keeping Shabbos? Now, after our teacher has nullified the words of the Chabad people, he will for sure continue to desecrate Shabbos?" Rabbi Kamenetsky responded, "This understanding of the Chabad people is an imaginary understanding, that its benefit will be outweighed by its detriment. In the near future, when this Jew sees that the assurance has not been fulfilled and the Messiah has not come, he will begin to desecrate the Sabbath again. More than this, until now he believed with simplicity and certainty in the coming of the messiah, and if he is to be disappointed, he will lose one of the important foundations in Judaism — the belief in the coming of the Messiah."[102]

Avraham Ravitz

Rabbi Avraham Ravitz, head of Israel's Degel HaTorah party, is quoted as saying, "If it were not labeled Jewish, you would say it is a cult. The Rebbe has great influence, and his movement has many followers. But it is a strain on Judaism and a strain on Israel."[103] Regarding the arrival of the messiah: "When he comes, he comes. It's crazy to force the Messiah to come by selling him like Coca-Cola, with jingles and stickers and billboards."[104] "They don't want to bring the Messiah, they want to bring their rebbe as the Messiah. Chabad has become a cult."[105]

Yaakov Weinberg

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, a rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, told an enquiring student (even before the Rebbe's death) that he should pray alone rather than in a Chabad synagogue because 'they pray to a different deity [eloah]'.[106]

Religious Zionist response

Shlomo Aviner

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the Rosh yeshiva of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem and the rabbi of Bet El, was asked "Is the last Lubavitcher Rebbe the Moshiach (Messiah) as many Chabad Chasidim claim", and Rabbi Aviner leaves open the possibility that the Rebbe will be resurrected and then become the Moshaich, concluding however that in the meantime, one cannot say he is the Moshiach. "It is clear that he will arise during the resurrection of the dead, and it is even possible that he will arise before others and perform salvations, as our Rabbis wrote. In the meantime, however, a proclamation regarding the Redemption before the Redemption does not make him Moshiach."[107]

Modern Orthodox response

Rabbinical Council of America

In 1996 the largest Orthodox rabbinic grouping in the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America approved the following resolution. The resolution read: "In the light of disturbing developments which have recently arisen in the Jewish Community, the Rabbinical Council of America in convention assembled declares that there is not and has never been a place in Judaism for the belief that the Messiah will begin his mission only to experience death, burial and resurrection before completing it."[108] Berger felt that the RCA resolution was a very significant turning point for his cause, as he recounts in his book that after the resolution was approved, "the thunder-bolt struck."

Ahron Soloveichik

File:Aaron soloveichik o.jpg
In 28 June 1996, The Jewish Press published a paid advertisement signed by Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik. follows.

"Before the passing of the Rebbe, I included myself among those who believe that the Rebbe was worthy of being Moshiach. And I strongly believe that had we, particularly the Orthodox community, been united, we would have merited to see the complete Redemption. Insofar as the belief held by many in Lubavitch - based in part on similar statements made by the Rebbe himself concerning his predecessor, the Previous Rebbe, including prominent rabbanim and roshei yeshiva - that the Rebbe can still be Moshiach in light of the Gemara in Sanhedrin, the Zohar, Abarbanel, Kisvei Arizal, S’dei Chemed, and other sources, it cannot be dismissed as a belief that is outside the pale of Orthodoxy. Any cynical attempt at utilizing a legitimate disagreement of interpretation concerning this matter in order to besmirch and to damage the Lubavitch movement that was, and continues to be, at the forefront of those who are battling the missionaries, assimilation, and indifference, can only contribute to the regrettable discord that already plagues the Jewish community, and particularly the Torah community"

Many messianists believe that Soloveichik defended their position and bring him as a source to back up their arguments. The letter was a reversal of Soloveichik's previous position on the matter. In 1994, Soloveichik had told The Forward that Schneerson "can't be the Messiah — he is not living — a Messiah has to be living. A living Messiah, not a dead Messiah." He had also expressed shock at the idea that anyone could suggest that the Messiah could be from among the dead noting that "that could be possible in the Christian faith, but not Judaism" adding that this was "repugnant to everything Judaism represents."[109]. Reb Aron altered his view after carefully reviewing all the mentioned sources, that were shown to him by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg of Buffalo, NY.

Berger provides a letter from Soloveitchik to a friend in 2000, that resolves the contradiction between his two positions. Soloveichik writes:

To my great dismay. . . publications affiliated with the Lubavitch movement have persisted in stating that I validate their belief that a Jewish Messiah may be resurrected from the dead. I completely reject and vigorously deny any such claim. As I have already stated publicly. . . such a belief is repugnant to Judaism and is the antithesis of the truth. My intent in signing the original letter . . . was merely to express my opinion that we should not label subscribers to these beliefs as heretics. Any statements in that letter which imply an endorsement of their view were not shown to me at the time I signed and I once again repudiate any such ridiculous claim.[110]

Norman Lamm

Other Modern Orthodox leaders have also responded to Chabad Messianism. The trend of messianism itself was criticized strongly by Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor and former president of Yeshiva University. Lamm argues that Schneerson’s statements could be misinterpreted to create a "distortion" leading to "moral nihilism." Lamm further argued that such open efforts to declare Schneerson the messiah would not have been tolerated before his death: "When he was alive, no one would have dared to discuss this."[111] On another occasion Lamm argued “I do not believe that the rebbe thought himself to be moshiach. But I do think he considered himself a possible candidate." Lamm decried the movement’s over-emphasis on messianism and belief that the rebbe is the messiah but simply concealed from view. "To continue this myth of his being moshiach is utter ridiculousness. It is easy for the messianically-oriented to distort the rebbe’s teachings and say “that the rebbe is part of the God-head. That is completely heretical and quite dangerous. I wonder if this distortion could and should have been avoided by responsible leadership of a movement that has not lost its vitality."[112]

Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

The Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb commented on the fragmentaion of the Chabad movement since the Rebbe's death in a July 2007 comment piece for the Jerusalem Post:[113] He bemoaned the fact that "...the Rebbe's great piety, scholarship, and love of Israel should be sullied by such an unacceptable heresy is a grievous tragedy."[113]

"In the absence of a leader, there has been a messianic reaction. Based on fragmentary remarks by the Rebbe himself, many of his followers believe that he is the Messiah, and that he will return from the dead to once again lead his followers, and not only his followers, but all the world, into the Messianic era. The belief is certainly not mainstream Judaism, and in the eyes of many is a blasphemy to Judaism no different from the messianic beliefs of Christianity."[113]

Chaim Brovender

Rabbi Chaim Brovender, president of ATID (Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education), said in an article in the Jerusalem Post:[114]

Although sympathetic to the enterprise of the Rebbe and in spite of the fact that I visited (yechidus) several times, I have never been part of the Habad movement. When this idea began to gain support from within I must admit that it left me cold. After all, the rebbe had many opportunities to announce his messianism which he only alluded to (according to some interpreters). The Rambam says that when the messiah comes we will all know...There is no doubt that the Jewish people (outside of Habad) do not know... I have no way to connect to the notion that the rebbe who died some years ago continues to function as the messiah.In spite of the rebbes obvious greatness, it seems to be another mistake that the Jews have made on this topic.

Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student an orthodox writer and publisher has written and self published a book examining and rebutting the theological claims made by Chabad messianists.[115]

In 2002, Gil Student published a book called "Can The Rebbe Be Moshiach? Proofs from Gemara, Midrash, and Rambam that the Rebbe zt"l cannot be Moshiach."[116] A synopsis of the book goes as follows:

During his lifetime, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. . .was declared by many of his followers to be the Moshiach. . . His death in 1994 should have dashed those hopes. However, many of his followers have advanced the position that even today the Rebbe can still be Moshiach. . . This book is an analysis of this position within the Jewish tradition. This work demonstrates from dozens of texts that according to the authentic Jewish tradition the Rebbe unfortunately cannot be Moshiach.[116]

Israeli Chief Rabbinate

2000 pronouncment

In January 2000, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel released the following announcement:

At the meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel held on 10 Shevat 5760 [17 January 2000], a discussion was held regarding the newspaper advertisement signed by many rabbi shlita requiring that one obey the words of a prophet including the assertion that he is the King Messiah. By agreement of the Chief Rabbis of Israel and the members of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the following decision was adopted unanimously:

In recent days announcements and declarations are being publicized that can confuse and mislead simple people with messianic propaganda that a certain hassidc rabbi is the King Messiah and one should call to him with various proclamations.

We have no intention, God forbid, of diminishing the greatness and the global activities of the Rebbe of blessed memory, but because we are dealing with the foundations of the faith and there is danger in this propaganda, it is necessary to warn against this approach. It is concerning such matters that the Sages said,' Wise men, be careful with your words.'

Individuals who are undesirable in the eyes of rabbinic scholars are exploiting the signatures of Rabbis and turning the simple faith in the coming of the Messiah into propaganda whose end cannot be foreseen. One must be careful and warn people that one must believe in the straightforward faith that the Messiah will come as our Rabbis have taught us, and anyone who adds diminishes.[117]

2007 conversion case

In December 2007 the case of a Chabad educated man attempting to convert to Judaism came before a senior conversion Beit Din to authorize his conversion.[118] During an interview before the panel of 3 rabbis the man espoused messianist views. The panel escalated the case to a group of four of Israel's most senior rabbis, two of whom were Modern Orthodox and two of whom were Haredi for arbitration. The Haredi rabbis were inclined to approve the conversion, while the Modern Orthodox pair were not, ruling that an exponent of messianist beliefs cannot be converted to Orthodox Judaism. Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.[118]

While Binyamin Ish-Shalom an educator at the centre that prepared the man for conversion argued that the beliefs were legitimate, a State Conversion Authority quoted the two opposing rabbis as arguing that Chabad messianism was "beyond the pale of normative Judaism":[119]

They [messianic Chabad Hassidim] attribute to him supernatural powers years after he passed away. That is not Judaism. It's something else.[119]

Responding to the case Shmuley Boteach criticised the rulings, arguing that messianism was not heretical. [120]

This critical message of this rabbinical court is that observance is insufficient. Beliefs also are a necessary component to enter the faith. Has Orthodoxy deteriorated to the point where it is radical to argue that belief is a sin qua non of our faith community? Is observance of halachah as a dry legal code the only thing that matters any more?[120]

Rabbi Seth Farber, head of conversion advocacy group Itim, commented that

I think it could be agreed upon that someone who was observant but continued to deny the singularity of God or God’s omnipresence ought be denied entry through the gates. . .it seems reasonable that someone who assumed [and acted upon this belief] this could be denied.[121]

Progressive response

Philosopher Rabbi David Hartman expressed his concern about the developing messianism early on, while Schneerson was still alive, saying that "the outpouring of Messianic fervor is always a very disturbing development."[122]

Senior Reform Rabbi and humanitarian activist Arthur Lelyveld was also scathing about the messianist trends within the Chabad movement describing the organisation as having a "cult like" atmosphere.[123]

1998 letter

The actions of a Chabad rabbi who was active in the community of expatriate Russian Jews in Milwaukee, by the name of Alexander Milchstein lead to the publication of a response by about 30 Chabad rabbis.[124]

Milchstein had been hired by Yaakov Elman, as a Russian-speaking rabbi to assist him with the influx of Russian-language immigrants, after Milchstein's views became public, his views were denounced by the local orthodox rabbinate in the November 20, 1998 edition of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.[124]

In response to the furore, a group of some 30 Chabad affiliated rabbis calling themselves the "Central Committee of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbis in US and Canada"[125] sent a letter to the local newspaper addressed "To the Jewish Community of Milwaukee, Wisconsin",[124] arguing that Chabad should not be preoccupied with the idea that Schneerson is the Messiah, (but as Berger points out falling short of arguing that Schneerson cannot be the Messiah):

"The deification of any human being is contrary to the core and foundation of the Jewish faith. The various Talmudic, Midrashic and other sources which seem to ascribe superhuman spiritual attributes to certain righteous people, were never meant to be deification and great care must be taken when quoting them. Belief in the coming of Moshiach and awaiting his imminent arrival is a basic tenet of the Jewish faith. It is clear, however, that conjecture as to the possible identity of Moshiach is not part of the basic tenet of Judaism. The preoccupation with identifying the Rebbe as the Moshiach is clearly contrary to the Rebbe's wishes."[126]

Anthropology: Comparisons with early Christianity

Some scholars of religion have made comparison with the development of early Christianity:[6] Anthropologist Joel Marcus writes:

The recent history of the modern Chabad (Lubavitcher) movement of Hasidic Judaism provides insight into the development of early Christianity. In both movements successful eschatological prophecies have increased belief in the leader's authority, and there is a mixture of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ elements. Similar genres of literature are used to spread the good news (e.g. miracle catenae and collections of originally independent sayings). Both leaders tacitly accepted the messianic faith of their followers but were reticent about acclaiming their messiahship directly. The cataclysm of the Messiah's death has led to belief in his continued existence and even resurrection."[127]

Such comparisons are something which makes many Orthodox Jews uncomfortable. Scholar Mark Winer has noted that "The Lubavitcher movement's suggestions that their late rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Messiah, reflect Christian millenarianism"[128]

Anthropologist Simon Dein has noted: "Lubavitchers held that the Rebbe was more powerful in the spiritual realm without the hindrance of a physical body. However some have now claimed that he never died. Several even state that the Rebbe is God. This is a significant finding. It is unknown in the history of Judaism to hold that the religious leader is God and to this extent the group is unique. There are certain Christian elements which apparently inform the messianic ideas of this group."[129]

Some have gone so far as to describe Chabad messianism as halachic Christianity. Judaism scholar Jacob Neusner writes:

A substantial majority of a highly significant Orthodox movement called Lubavitch or Chabad Hasidism affirms that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was laid to rest in 1994 without leaving a successor. . . will soon return to complete the redemption in his capacity as the Messiah. Hasidim who proclaim this belief hold significant religious positions sanctioned by major Orthodox authorities with no relationship to their movement."[130]

Breakaway movement

In protest at Chabad messianism, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch started a split-off group known as Chabad-Liozna. Deutsch has a synagogue and a few followers in the Boro Park district of Brooklyn.[131][132] His actions have made him an unpopular figure within the mainstream Chabad community.[133]


A few non-Chabad Jewish figures have expressed their concurrence with the belief that Schneerson is indeed the messiah. Yaakov Yosef, (son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) and Aaron Leifer, Rabbi of Nadvorna-Safed, both signed a 1998 halachic decree ruling that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Messiah.

The "Yechi" statement

"Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Melech haMoshiach l'olam vo'ed!" (יחי אדוננו מורנו ורבינו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד) is a phrase used by many Chabad Hasidism to pray and proclaim that the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson will be the messiah. It means "Long Live our Master, our Teacher, and our Rabbi, King Messiah, for ever and ever." The phrase can be seen printed in various settings, notably on pamphlets, posters and small prayer cards. It is chanted by many people at the end of daily communal prayers in Lubavitch congregations, including the main Lubavitch synagogue in Crown Heights, "770". Yechi has a complex and controversial history dating back to the mid-1980s and is often viewed as a litmus test to differentiate the messianists from the anti-messianists or non-messianists.

Yechi began as the phrase "Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu Verabbeinu," ("Long Live our master, teacher and Rebbe!") to which the response was a shout of "Yechi" ("May he live!"). It appears to be based on the statement made by Bathsheba, the wife of King David "Yehi adoni hamelech David le'olam," ("May my lord King David live forever!") (Kings I 1:31). When used by Lubavitcher Hassidim, it was originally recited in the presence of Rabbi Schneerson after twelve special verses known as "the Twelve Pesukim" whose recitation the Rebbe encouraged in his teachings.

A child honored with reciting the last verse of the Twelve Pesukim would call out the phrase, to which everyone would respond. This was repeated three times. The response would be accented on the second syllable. After three calls, everyone would chant the word Yechi together in a 2-3-2-3 pattern. This was followed by singing "We Want Moshiach Now".

In 1988 Rabbi Schneerson spoke of the importance of declaring the ancient Jewish cry[134] of Yechi Hamelech ("May the king live") as a prayer to express their desire that the Jewish Messiah should come.[135] Later on, many of his followers began to consider this term synonymous with the above Yechi, using it to refer to Rabbi Schneerson himself.

See also


  1. also: Habad messianism, Lubavitcher messianism, mishichism, meshichism.
  2. Another 'Second Coming'? The Jewish Community at Odds Over a New Form of Lubavitch Messianism, George Wilkes (2002). Reviews in Religion & Theology 9 (4), 285–289.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Example of Chabad exegesis on the death of a great man
  4. "Mosiach is here now: just open your eyes and you can see him" Simon Dein, Anthropology & Medicine, Volume 9, Number 1/April 1, 2002
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Lubavitcher Rebbe as a God" Haaretz, Saul Sadka, 02.14.07
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Habad’s dead Messiah: A review of The Rebbe, the Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, by David Berger, Judaism magazine - Winter, 2002, Arnold Jacob Wolf
  7. 7.0 7.1 Messianic Excess, David Berger, The Jewish Week, June 25, 2004
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lawsuit Over Chabad Building Puts Rebbe’s Living Legacy on Trial, Nathaniel Popper, The Forward, March 16, 2007
  9. 9.0 9.1 Beis Moshiach 424, 25 Tammuz, 5763, p. 10
  10. The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch by Sue Fishkoff, p. 274.
  12. "Op-Ed: The Moshiach Controversy (2008)". 
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidim Past and Present, M. Avrum Ehrlich, ch.9 notes, KTAV Publishing, ISBN 0881258369
  14. See section "Before Schneerson's Death"
  15. See: "After Schneerson's Death".
  16. Nathaniel Popper (16 March 2007). "Lawsuit Over Chabad Building Puts Rebbe’s Living Legacy on Trial". The Forward. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. 
  17. "After Rebbe’s Death, Lubavitchers Continue to Spread His Word", Matthew Hirshberg, The Columbia Journalist, February 21, 2006
  18. Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco, Peter Schäfer, Mark R. Cohen
  19. Lubavitcher Children Belong In Lubavitcher Schools!, Avrohom Pariz, Tammuz 5721
  20. R. Aharon Lichtenstein, "Legitimization of Modernity: Classical and Contemporary" in Leaves of Faith (Ktav: 2004), vol. 2 pp. 294-298
  21. Feitman, Rabbi Yaakov. "Daas Torah: Tapping the Source of Eternal Wisdom". In: Torah Lives, ed. Nisson Wolpin. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1995. Pg ix-xxviii. ISBN 0-89906-319-5.
  22. "The Lubavitch Messianic Resurgence: The Historical and Mystical Background 1939–1996", Rachel Elior in Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco ed. Peter Schäfer and Mark Cohen, 383–408. (Leiden: Brill, 1998)
  23. Christianity After Auschwitz: Evangelicals Encounter Judaism in the New Millennium by Paul R. Carlson, Xlibris, 2000, p43
  24. 24.0 24.1 Menachem Friedman, "Habad as Messianic Fundamentalism", in Marty, Accounting For Fundamentalism, U of Chicago Press, 1994
  25. "Lubavitch Sect expects saviour at Yom Kippur", Clark Morphew, St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 21, 1988
  26. The Revelation of Melech HaMashiach (King Messiah), "Yechi HaMelech", Sholom Ber Wolpo, "The Committee for Fulfilling the Rebbe's Directives"
  27. The Revelation of Melech HaMashiach, published by The Committee for Fulfilling the Rebbe's Directives.
  28. "Waiting for the Messiah, a Tambourine in Her Hand", Ochs, Vanessa L., Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues - Number 9, Spring 5765/2005, pp. 144-169
  29. "Expecting the Messiah — An Ultra-Orthodox sect says the Redeemer is due to arrive any day now — and he might be an American" Time Magazine, Lisa Beyer, March 23, 1992
  30. "Billboards hold a big message: the messiah is here", Michael Crook and David Hancock, Miami Herald, April 15, 1992
  31. "Letter from Crown Heights", Malcolm Gladwell February 2, 1993 The Washington Post
  32. Mashiach Madness reaches frenzy as lubavitch 'anoint' the Rebbe, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Jewish Telegraphic Agency January 28, 1993
  33. Rabbi to be anointed Messiah, Press Telegram, January 30, 1993
  34. "Rabbi's appearance fails to reveal messiah", Deseret News, February 1, 1993
  35. "The Happy Vigil: As the Lubavitcher rebbe lies ill, his followers dance and sing and envision the end of days", Jonathan Mark, The Jewish Week, March 31, 1994
  36. "What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails: The Case of Lubavitch." Dein, Simon. Sociology of Religion, 9/22/2001.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Death of Lubavitcher Leader, Rabbi Schneerson, Stuns Followers , Laurie Goodstein, Washington Post, June 13, 1994
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 "Battle Among Lubavitch Erupts Over Rebbe’s Will", Jeffrey Goldberg, The Forward, June 17, 1994
  39. "Still waiting for the messiah." Jewish Chronicle 6790, 11 June 1999.
  40. "The Nine Lives of Chabad", Gaby Wenig, The Jewish Journal, July 2, 2004
  41. Besuras Hageula, Schneerson compendium. p. 173
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 42.4 42.5 God Centered or Rebbe/Messiah — Centered, Chaim Dov Keller, The Jewish Observer June 1997. Can be seen here:
  43. Full-page Lubavitch ad for Rebbe Schneerson’s birthday, appearing in The New York Times, April 8, 1998, p. A18
  44. Building 770 in Kfar Chabad: Changing Israeli Landscapes: Buildings and the Uses of the Past, Alex Weingrod, Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 370-387
  45. "On the Spectrum of Messianic Belief in Contemporary Lubavitch Chassidism", David Berger, Yated Ne'eman, July 13, 2006
  46. Note: Babylonia is often used a a surrogate for the entire world beyond the land of Israel in Jewish thought, in reference to the Babylonian Exile
  47. RowID=5&CTopic=3&STopic=4&PHPSESSID=0cd040a6862d1660aa3bf52f6f299ff3 Sichos HaGeula,Chabad Publication
  48. This is dealt with in depth by David Berger, The New Messianism, pp. 35–42,
  49. "Mosiach is here now: just open your eyes and you can see him" Simon Dein, Anthropology & Medicine, Volume 9, Number 1/April 01, 2002
  50. Taanit 5b
  51. Dvar Malchut, Parashat Shoftim, 5751; Sefer Hisvaadiyus 1991 vol. 4 Page 204
  52. Igeret Hakodesh #27b
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 Stephen M. Tolany. "On False Messianism". 
  54. e.g. the Talmud's suggestion (Sanhedrin 98b) that Daniel could be the messiah.
  55. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Ginsberg, formerly of Kfar Chabad Yeshiva, in his book Mashiach Akhshav, volume IV, 1996
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 Public Responsa from Rabbi Aharon Feldman on the matter of Chabad messianism (Hebrew), 23 Sivan, 5763 See also Rabbi Feldman's letter to David Berger:
  57., Question #1174
  58. Dan Goldberg (23 July 2004). "The Rebbe’s man downunder". Australian Jewisn News. 
  59. 59.0 59.1
  60. Sichos Hage'ula 1996, cited in Keller, 1997.
  61. Public condemnation of those who call Schneerson God signed by chabad rabbis
  62. Jolkovsky, Binyamin L., "The "Messiah Wars" heat up: Online gets out-of-line", Jewish World Review, February 19, 1998
  63. A letter by Rabbi Bistritzky condemning the action of Meir Baranes
  64. "Waiting for a revelation", Yair Sheleg, Haaretz, 26 February 2004.]
  65. The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidim Past and Present, M. Avrum Ehrlich, Introduction, page xiii, KTAV Publishing, ISBN 0881258369
  66. Was the decision correct?, Jewish Chronicle, January 18, 2008
  67. On the Spectrum of Messianic Belief in Contemporary Lubavitch Chassidism, David Berger, July 2006.
  68. Chabad Gathering: No Jew Left Behind, The Jewish Week by Jonathan Mark 11/14/2007
  69. Chabad's Global Warming The Jewish Week, December, 2005 by Mark, Jonathan. An online version of this article can be found at [1]
  70. "Years After Death, Messiah Question Divides Lubavitchers" Liz Leyden, Washington Post, June 20, 1999
  72. The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch by Sue Fishkoff, p. 274.
  73. Algemeiner Journal, 19 Adar I, 5763
  74. HaNekudah haChabadit 1 Tishrei, 5764
  75. "The Fragility of Religious Doctrine: Accounting for Orthodox Acquiescence in the Belief of a Second Coming" Modern Judaism, Volume 22, Number 2, May 2002, pp. 103-114
  76. "Jewish Sect Finds Their Messiah", Daniel C. Peterson and William J. Hamblin, Meridian magazine, 2004
  77. Sefer Hisva'aduyos 5745, Vol. 1, p. 465
  78. needs citation
  79. Eve of Simchas Torah 5746, October 27, 1985
  80. video from May 28, 1991
  81. Sichos Kodesh, Parshas Noach 5752
  82. The letter was dated the 13 of Iyyar 5757 (1997), and was printed in the Algemeiner Journal Friday, May 30, 1997
  83. Faith and Fate: The Story of the Jewish People in the 20th century, Berel Wein, 2001 by Shaar Press. pg. 340
  84. Christianity After Auschwitz: Evangelicals Encounter Judaism in the New Millennium by Paul R. Carlson, Xlibris, 2000, p59
  85. Faith and Fate: The Story of the Jewish People in the 20th century, Berel Wein, 2001 by Shaar Press. pg. 340
  86. The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidim Past and Present, M. Avrum Ehrlich, Chapter 10, notes, KTAV Publishing, ISBN 0881258369
  87. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger, 2001, published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization of Portland. Page 7.
  89. Mishneh Halochos vol 17 ch 255
  90. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger, 2001, published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization of Portland. Page 7.
  91. 91.0 91.1 Mishpacha magazine April 2008
  92. Vos Iz Neias - (Yiddish:What’s News?) » New York - Star K Kosher Supervision: Claiming The Rebbi Is Moshiach, Is Not In Our Kosher Hired ‘Shochtim’
  93. Hesped for Rav Shach by Rav Elya Svei Shlit”a at Beis Medrash Govoah, Lakewood
  94. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger, 2001, published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization of Portland. Page 85.
  95. 95.0 95.1 Responsum by J. H. Henkin to Gil Student, 23 Tamuz 5763, published in Bnei Banim Vol IV (Hebrew).
  96. #413 See also #229, 236, 448, 541, 726, 880, and 1174
  97. #373
  98. 98.0 98.1 Robert Eisenberg, Boychiks in the Hood: Travels in the Hasidic Underground (HarperCollins, 1995), pp. 14–15, 232.
  99. Ha-Gaon he-Hassid mi-Vilna, Betzalel Landau.
  100. "He was referring to messianic fantasies simmering in a hasidic circle — in Israel, the adherents of that group had fomented a political feud along hasidic-misnagdic lines — and my father felt that the eventual publication of these chapters would help the general hasidic public shake off the messianics should their fantasy get out of hand. As it turned out, my father's concerns were well founded: a large segment of that hasidic cult did declare its leader to be the Messiah."
  101. The making of a Godol, Nosson Kamenetsky, pp. xxvii–xxviii.
  102. B'Mechitzasam Shel Gedolei Hador, Vol. 2. Jerusalem. by Shlomo Lorincz. Pg. 588
  106. The Rebbe, The Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, David Berger, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001. pg 105.
  108. Christianity After Auschwitz: Evangelicals Encounter Judaism in the New Millennium, Paul R. Carlson, Xlibris, 2000, p69.
  109. "Rabbis Blast Lubavitcher Messianism, Warn Resurrection Talk Echoes Christian Themes", Lucette Lagnado, The Forward, December 2, 1994
  110. HaRebbi Melech HaMoshiach, David Berger, Urim Publications, 2005. p.75, note 7. (The book is an expanded edition and translation into Hebrew of: The Rebbe, The Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference)
  111. "Conference Weighs Rabbi's Legacy" The Forward, Steven I. Weiss, November 11, 2005
  112. "Lubavitcher Rebbe Meets The Academy" The Jewish Week, Debra Nussbaum Cohen
  113. 113.0 113.1 113.2 Orthodox Opinions: The Rebbe's legacy, Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Jerusalem Post Online, June 18, 2007
  115. Can the Rebbe Be Moshiach?: Proofs from Gemara, Midrash, and Rambam That the Rebbe Cannot Be Gil Student, Universal-Publishers, 2002
  116. 116.0 116.1 Details about this book can be seen at
  117. Hatzofeh, 11 Shevat 5760 (18 Jan. 200), 5. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger, 2001, published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization of Portland. Page 128–129.
  118. 118.0 118.1 agreed that he could be converted.Rabbinical Conversion Court refuses to convert Chabad messianist (Hebrew), Avishai ben Hayiim, Maariv, December 26, 2007
  119. 119.0 119.1 Gentile Lubavitcher refused conversion, Matthew Wagner, January 2, 2008
  120. 120.0 120.1 Was the decision correct?, Jewish Chronicle, January 18, 2008
  121. ‘Who Is A Messiah?’ New Twist On Conversions, The Jewish Week, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, September 1, 2008
  122. Expecting the messiah, Lisa Beyer, Time magazine, March 23, 1992
  123. Jewish Arguments and Counterarguments: Essays and Addresses, Steven Bayme, KTAV Publishing, 2002. p260
  124. 124.0 124.1 124.2 Rabbis reach out to next generation of FSU Jews, Andrea Waxman, Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, 2002
  125. Note: No other record of any activity can be found for this group beyond this letter.
  126. Chabad kol koreh
  127. Messianism and Christianity, Joel Marcus, Boston University School of Theology Studies, 2001 - Cambridge Univ. Press.
  128. "Be Ready When the Great Day Comes", Mark L. Winer; European Judaism, Vol. 37, 2004]
  129. "Mosiach is here now: just open your eyes and you can see him" Simon Dein, Anthropology & Medicine, Volume 9, Number 1/April 01, 2002
  130. "A messianism that some call heresy" Jacob Neusner, October 19, 2001, Bard College
  131. Jolkovsky, Binyamin L., "The "Messiah Wars" heat up: Online gets out-of-line", Jewish World Review, February 19, 1998
  132. "Dissidents Name 'Rebbe'," The Forward, December 6, 1996
  133. Heinon, Herb, "Bigger than Death," Jerusalem Post, August 15, 1997
  134. A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson pg.399
  135. Sicha 2 Nissan 5748


Further reading

  • The Jewish Messiahs: From the Galilee to Crown Heights, Harris Lenowitz, University of Utah, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2001).
  • Salvation or Destruction? The Meaning and Consequences of Lubavitch Messianism, Kraut, B., Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, Volume 20, Number 4, Summer 2002, pp. 96–108.
  • Jewish Messianism Lubavitch-Style — an interim report, William Shaffir, Jewish Journal of Sociology 35 (1993) 115–128.
  • The Messiah Problem: Berger, the Angel and the Scandal of Reckless Indiscrimination, Rabbi Chaim Rapoport (Ilford, 2002)

External links

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki