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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

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Counterpoint Debating Messianism

Rabbi Posner performed an impor-tant service by explaining the theologi-cal errors and hyper-literalness thatlead too many to deify the LubavitcherRebbe, zt”l. It is critical that leaderswith impeccable Chabad credentialssuch as he speak out on the subject tothose both inside and outside ofLubavitch. Slowly, the relative silenceis being broken by courageous scholarslike Rabbi Posner.Rabbi Posner, however, writes, “Forthe past half century, many ChabadChassidim felt that were Mashiach tobe a person familiar to us all…thebest candidate would be the Rebbe.”This comment is critical in under-standing how Mashichism came to be.While many Lubavitchers agree withRabbi Posner that the Rebbe wasmerely the best candidate to beMashiach, many others would say thathe was the only candidate. Theywould claim that as the scion of theChabad legacy, which represents theonly correct interpretation of theDivine truth known as Chassidut, theRebbe was the culmination of all thegreat souls who preceded him. Hewas the incontrovertible nasi hador,leader of the generation. How couldanyone else be Mashiach? Both Rabbi Posner and Dr. Bergerhave served the Jewish community wellby publicly disputing the claims ofthose who wish to distort our precioustradition. I only hope that more lead-ers follow their lead and teach the con-fused masses the truth about one of thethirteen principles of our holy faith.Gil StudentBrooklyn, New YorkRabbi Posner writes that, “normativeChassidim, who, basing their ideas onwhat the Rebbe had said, do not iden-tify Mashiach.”The truth is that there is generalconsensus in Lubavitch that this is thelast generation of exile and thereforethe Rebbe, this generation’s potentialMashiach, is the true Mashiach. As aLubavitcher, I know of no more thanfour otherwise mainstream Luba-vitchers who do not feel that theRebbe is the final redeemer. I am con-fident that Rabbi Posner could notname enough such Lubavitchers tojustify the term “normative.”Melech JaffeSt. Paul, MinnesotaIn his article, Rabbi Zalman Posneraddresses two major issues—the deifi-cation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe andthe affirmation of his Messiahship—and one minor one—the “often…bla-tant” prejudice that accounts for my“quoting and accepting [my emphasis]mindless criticism” of Lubavitch.Before turning to the subjects thatreally matter, let me comment on theminor allegation, not only as a pointof personal privilege but as a symptomof the distortions that even so soberand ethical a Lubavitcher Chassid asRabbi Posner is capable of perpetratingwhen he sees his movement underattack. Like all my Lubavitch critics,he completely ignores a quotation inmy book* (p. 8) from a review that IIn his article “The Splintering ofChabad” (fall 2002), Rabbi ZalmanPosner mentions those who quoteopinions of Rishonim to suit theirpurposes. Unfortunately, he engages insuch a practice when discussing themenorah.Though the Rambam and Rashiagree that the menorah had straightarms, Rabbi Posner forgot to mentionthat they are alone in this view.Moreover, all depictions of the meno-rah from the time of the BeitHamikdash—including an eyewitnessaccount by Josephus, replicas found inthe Galil, carvings found in archaeo-logical digs in the Old City as well asthe Arch of Titus—show the menorahwith curved arms. Rabbi Posner quotes a Rashi inSanhedrin to defend those who statethat Mashiach may return from thedead. However, Jewish tradition doesnot come from picking individualopinions. Rather, it has always been amatter of what has been deemedacceptable over millennia of Jewishlearning and debate. (After all, thereis even one opinion in the Gemarathat Mashiach will not be an individ-ual, which is certainly not the norma-tive view.) A solitary opinion notwith-standing, a resurrected Mashiach hasnever been part of Jewish tradition.Nor has a straight-armed Menorah.Rabbi Posner therefore cannot denythat the straight-armed menorah hasalways been exclusive to Lubavitchand has become a symbol of themovement. Nachum LammFlushing, New York* The Rebbe, the Messiah, and theScandal of Orthodox Indifference(Oxford, 2001).wrote in The New York Times severalmonths after the Rebbe’s death, thatproves decisively and irrefutably howsympathetic I was to Lubavitch beforeit turned into a movement dominatedby false messianism (or, to put it moreaccurately, before I realized this). Hecites precisely one example of myallegedly oft-demonstrated prejudice,and the credibility of the accusation asa whole is well illustrated by the quali-ty of this example.In my book, I quote an unnameddistinguished rabbi who told me thatthe Rebbe regularly visited his father-in-law’s grave so that when the Rebbedied, it would be a shrine. This rabbialso said that the Rebbe insisted on theuse of atypical menorahs because everynew religion needs a symbol. Thisreport, says Rabbi Posner, shows that Iam aware neither of the fact that Rashispeaks of Caleb’s prayer at the grave ofAbraham nor of the sources in theRambam and Rashi that describe thespokes of the menorah as angled ratherthan curved. “How seriously can thereader take Berger after gaffes likethese? Maybe Berger and his ‘distin-guished rabbi’ should learn moreChumash with Rashi.”This is the third time that publishedcritiques by Lubavitch rabbis havecited this paragraph of the book as anexpression of my own views about theRebbe. In the previous instances I haveresponded by quoting the few sen-tences without comment. Here I willpreface the quotation by noting thatsubstantial portions of the book, forreasons explained in the introduction,are written in the form of a memoirdetailing my own education over thepast years regarding both the Lubavitchmovement and its critics. At one pointin the narrative, I describe reactions tomy exchange in Jewish Action with thecritics of my first article on this subject.[See “JBU: The New Messianism,” falland winter 1995.] First I detail “themost gratifying reaction,” expressedboth orally and in writing by ProfessorIsadore Twersky. And then comes thefollowing paragraph, which I quotehere in its entirety:At the same time, a distinguishedrabbi in the Traditionalist Orthodoxcommunity contacted me to express hislongstanding hostility toward Lubavitch.This was my first direct, personal experi-ence of the scathing, sweeping, almostbreathtaking denunciation of the move-ment in some quarters. The Rebbe, I wastold, had regularly visited his father-in-law’s grave so that it should already beestablished as a shrine when he himselfwould be buried nearby. He had his fol-lowers construct and display giant meno-rahs of an atypical sort, insisting on theview that the spokes of the originalmenorah were straight rather thancurved, “because every new religionneeds a symbol.” I did not quite knowhow to react and eventually came torealize that for all his sympathy to myargument, this rabbi saw nothing signif-icantly new in the latest developments.To him, Chabad had long been a speciesof religion clearly outside the boundariesof Judaism (p. 62).In significant measure, this paragraphwas intended to illustrate my dawningrecognition that I could not expectmeaningful, public support even frompeople whose criticisms of Lubavitchwere far more hostile and of muchlonger standing than mine. In anyevent, it is self-evidently a report ofassertions that I regarded as remarkableexamples of breathtaking hostility. Inrecounting this conversation to severalpeople over the years, I noted that thisrabbi, who is a well-known talmidchacham, had made three commentsabout Lubavitch, only one of which Iconsidered correct (that the militaryterminology encouraged by the Rebbewas intended to fulfill the Maimo-nidean criterion that the Messiah wouldfight the wars of God). In the para-graph under discussion, I did notrecord the assertion I believed to becorrect precisely because I wanted toillustrate a stunning level of hostility; Ihad already recorded the assertion earli-er, also in the name of a “distinguishedrabbi” (p. 9), indicating that I was per-suaded of its likely validity. I shouldprobably conclude with the obvious:this rabbi’s views, however one evaluatesthem, do not demonstrate his unaware-ness of the passages in the Rambamand Rashi, which he knows quite aswell as Rabbi Posner does.And so we move to the issues thatmatter. To say that they matter is tounderstate their significance grievously.I am not sure that words can capturehow much they matter.Rabbi Posner speaks of “deifiers” ofthe Rebbe. He explains that they resttheir case on a misunderstanding ofthe Rebbe’s assertion that a rebbe ofthe highest order is the Essence andBeing—Atzmut uMahut—placed in abody, and he goes on to set forth hisunderstanding of this formula. InRabbi Posner’s view, it means that sucha rebbe, though he is not God (or, inanother formulation, not “synony-mous with God”), he is “one withGod;” he has so nullified his ownessence that there is no separation“between him and Him,” and hisphysical body “did not conceal Godwithin man.”The precise distinction betweenbeing synonymous with God and onewith God is by no means self-evident.If there is no separation between himand Him, if he is one with Him, isthat not the same as saying that he ispart of Him? Does this raise questionsabout the unity of Him of the sortthat Jews have traditionally raised withrespect to the Christian trinity? How-ever one responds to these questions, Ihope that Rabbi Posner’s presentationof what he sees as the standard beliefsof his movement will help to lower thereader’s instinctive resistance to theassertion I shall soon make about theextent of avodah zarah within theLubavitch community.In my book, I formulated this pointas follows: The language of Chabadtheology “begins at the precipice of avo-dah zarah, so that the tiniest steptoward literalism hurls the believer intothe abyss” (p. 103). A key questionthen is whether or not a significantnumber of Lubavitch Chassidim haveleaped into that abyss. Rabbi Posnerasserts that “the deifiers were sharplycondemned by Lubavitch rabbanim and
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Spring 5763/2003 JEWISH ACTIONSpring 5763/2003 JEWISH ACTIONtheir words repudiated…. [They] aresmall in number and enjoy littlerespect. They act without the supportor approval of any individuals of staturewithin the Lubavitch community.”In order to evaluate this assertion, wemust know what Rabbi Posner meansby “deifiers.” If he means those whouse a liturgical formula calling theRebbe “our Creator” and the like, thenhe is quite correct. In many cases, how-ever, Lubavitch Chassidim refrain fromcalling the Rebbe “our Creator” notbecause they deny his Divinity but forother, less fundamental reasons. Mybest assessment is that they considerthe flat assertion that the Rebbe is Godto imply at least one of the followingfalse beliefs: 1. The Rebbe is a deityunto himself rather than a manifesta-tion of the one true God. 2. God doesnot extend beyond the Rebbe. 3. TheRebbe was intrinsically Divine fromthe moment he entered the world.Notwithstanding their denial of suchbeliefs and their consequent avoidanceof the crude declaration that the Rebbeis God, many of these Chassidim affirma series of propositions that make themunequivocal adherents of a theology ofavodah zarah.My book provides chapter and versedocumenting the following assertionsculled from works published by themainstream organs of Chabad, pro-claimed by rabbis in the major yeshivotof the movement and written by impor-tant lay intellectuals. Righteous peopleon the level of Moses and the Rebbeare, in the Rebbe’s formulation, theEssence and Being placed in a body.Their entire being is Divinity. For thisreason the Rebbe is omniscient,omnipotent, incapable of sin and entire-ly without limits. He is an ish haElokimin the sense of man-God, not merelyman of God. When you speak to himyou speak to God. It is permissible tobow to him in worship precisely becausehis entire being is Divinity. He isimmortal in principle because only alimited entity can die, and so even hisbody must continue to exist. I devotedconsiderable effort in the book todemonstrate that this sort of theology,even in an essentially monotheisticframework, is no less avodah zarah thanthe essentially monotheistic faith knownas Christianity.Some influential Lubavitch apolo-gists, citing occasional remarks inChassidic writings that virtually noone outside Lubavitch takes literally,argue that the assertions in the previ-ous paragraph do not constitute a the-ology of avodah zarah. Anyone whoagrees with such apologists under-mines Judaism at its core. Anyone whodisagrees with them must recognizethat avodah zarah is rampant inLubavitch, that it has affected the cen-tral institutions of the movement inCrown Heights, Jerusalem, KfarChabad, Safed and elsewhere. Thus, itis a profound error to grant the pre-sumption that a Lubavitch Chassid,whose views have not been deter-mined, is free of avodah zarah. Theassigning of such a chezkat kashrut, orpresumption of acceptability, isresponsible for the likely use of non-kosher meat, wine, tefillin, mezuzot,sifrei Torah and even—God help us—gittin throughout the world.Even after eight years of exposure tothese horrific texts, I trembled as Iwrote the previous sentence, and Iknow full well that even people whohave no doubt that the propositionslisted above constitute avodah zarahwill find it very difficult to digest.Before dismissing it, however, any rea-sonably educated Jew, and surely anyrabbi asked to rule on the matter, isabsolutely obligated to read chapters 8-10 and Appendixes II and III of mybook and articulate to himself in clearand convincing fashion why these terri-ble conclusions do not follow. Becausemost Orthodox Jews are indifferent to“theology,” our religion is imperiledbeyond the wildest imaginings of peo-ple who treat Lubavitch deviations asthe subject of casual humor.I should add that several experiencesand reports that followed the comple-tion of the book have made me all themore concerned about this issue. Adistinguished Lubavitch figure spokein my neighborhood and scandalizedthe rabbi of the synagogue by assertingthat the Rebbe is without limits. Ireceived a message from a CanadianJew reporting that he discontinued hisattendance at a mainstream Lubavitchsynagogue after an announcement wasmade before chazarat hashatz at a Sun-day morning minyan attended both bycheder children and neighborhoodadults, that they should concentrateon the Rebbe. Someone else informedme that he had broken off relationswith a Lubavitch rabbi who, he said, ismore learned than any of his ownroshei yeshivah, when the rabbi toldhim that the Rebbe is omnipresent. An admittedly strange-looking indi-vidual wearing a yechi yarmulkewalked into my synagogue for a week-day Minchah, took out a color photoof the Rebbe, wearing tallit andtefillin, and placed it alongside hisopen siddur as he recited ShemonehEsreh. After I spoke during JewishBook Week in London in early March,I was approached by a sincereLubavitcher Chassid, appearing to bein his late teens or early twenties, whosaid that he had asked his posek if it isacceptable for him to say, “Rebbe, helpme.” The answer was yes. He askedwhat I thought. Like a good Jew, Iresponded with a question: “Do youmean, ‘Help me by asking God tohelp me’ or do you mean, ‘Help meon your own’?” The answer was thelatter. I then asked, “Do you believethat the Rebbe’s entire metzius isElokus?” The answer was yes. Thus, anon-extremist young Chassid in a cityconsidered moderate on this issue isessentially praying to a Divine Rebbe.The moment we say that such beliefsand actions are acceptable, we erasethe boundary between Judaism andChristianity not only with regard tothe messianic faith but also withregard to our essential conception ofGod. All that is left of our religion ismitzvat anashim melumadah (the rotepractice of ritual).Finally, we turn our attention to thebelief that the deceased Rebbe isMashiach ben Dovid. Although RabbiPosner agrees that belief in the Rebbe’smessiahship “involves significant num-bers within the Chabad community,”he describes those who “do not identi-fy Mashiach” as the “normative” [hisquotation marks] group. Admirably,he does not directly mislead us by say-ing that the “normative” group is themajority, though this is perhapsimplied. There is no question, as Idemonstrate in the book, that theMessianists are, in fact, the dominantelement in the movement. RabbiPosner goes on to say that belief in thepossibility of a messiah from the deadis established by one of Rashi’s inter-pretations of the Messianists’ favoritepassage (in Sanhedrin 98b), and soLubavitchers believe that there is noheresy involved in their position.I cannot reiterate the entire argu-ment of the book here, and so I willbe ruthlessly brief. I will not evenaddress the key passage in theRambam that decisively rules out theMessianist position. I will simply sum-marize the two key points that I made.First, the God of Judaism does notsend Mashiach ben Dovid to announcethe Redemption and then to die in anunredeemed world. No Jewish sourcelegitimates such a scenario, and manyvigorously rule it out in contexts thatdefine the contours of the Jewish reli-gion itself. Yet almost all Lubavitchnon-Messianists, apparently includingRabbi Posner, would have us believethat Judaism allows for this possibility,so that one who affirms that it hashappened has not fundamentally vio-lated the boundaries of the messianicfaith. Thus, according to them, Godmay send the true Messiah to theworld to accept a document from agroup of his followers declaring him tobe the Messiah and to declare that thisis definitely the generation ofRedemption, that the leader of hismovement is the Messiah of the gener-ation, that there is a prophet in thisgeneration, that the avodat haberurim(the invisible, cosmic redemptiveprocess) is complete, that the Messiahis already here and all that is necessaryis to greet him, and that the ThirdBeit Hamikdash will descend fromdah zarah is so indigestible thatobservers will do almost anything toavoid it. First they will say that only asmall group believes the Rebbe is theMessiah. Should they be persuaded ofthe falsity of this patently absurdproposition, they move to the positionthat this belief is not so terrible afterall, thereby undermining the messianicfaith of Judaism. When the discussionshifts to avodah zarah, resistance torecognizing the truth about the theol-ogy held by central elements in themovement is even more intense. Worseyet, some who come to recognize thewidespread embrace of this theology inLubavitch begin to say that even suchbeliefs are not so terrible. The unshak-able article of faith is that the majorityof Lubavitch Chassidim must be goodJews. Everything—even Judaismitself—must yield to that faith.David BergerBroeklundian Professor of History, Brooklyn College and the Graduate School City University of New YorkFlushing, New YorkRabbi Posner respondsIn response to Mr. Lamm’s com-ments, whether the menorah branchesare curved or angled is not a halachicmatter, and therefore we need notnegate even minority opinions. Sincethere are no halachic consequences,aside from Rashi and the Rambam,few, if any, Rishonim even addressedthe issue. Moreover, Rav Shach agreedwith the Rebbe in regard to the meno-rah’s appearance. ArtScroll’s SapirsteinEdition of Rashi (p. 339, 341) alsodepicts a menorah with angled branch-es. Thus, it is hardly a Lubavitch issue. Furthermore, there is no evidencethat replicas from ancient times everintended to duplicate the menorah ofthe Beit Hamikdash. The menorahdepicted in the Arch of Titus was cer-tainly not that of the Beit Hamikdash,which stood between six and eight feethigh and was not easily carried. It ispossible that the menorah in the sanctu-ary of the Beit Hamikdash had to haveangled branches while the menorahheaven next to the main headquartersof his movement before the two build-ings move to Jerusalem. And after allthat, the Messiah will die and beburied in an unredeemed world. To aJew loyal to the messianic faith ofIsrael, this should be unthinkable. Inshort, even if the Messiah could comefrom the dead, he could not be a manwho promised the Redemption in hisgeneration and then died with thepromise unfulfilled. To put the matterbluntly, even if the Messiah couldcome from the dead, he could not bethe Lubavitcher Rebbe.Second—and here I reproduce aparagraph that I wrote in response toanother Lubavitch critic—the bookargues not only that a messianic mis-sion interrupted by death is alien toJudaism. It further argues that anypurported descendant of Dovid who isput forth as a messianic candidate andthen dies can surely not be identifiedwith confidence as the Messiah, whichis, of course, precisely what theMessianists do. To do this is to abolishJudaism’s criteria for the firm identifi-cation of such a figure. To put thematter in the language of the beitmidrash, it is to abolish the gedarim(the defining parameters) of one of thefundamentals of the faith. I do notknow whether one who abolishes thegedarim of a fundamental belief butaffirms the belief itself is technically aheretic. I do know that to recognizesuch a person as an Orthodox rabbi,to appoint him to a rabbinic court, tohire him as a principal of a yeshivah oras a teacher of religious studies—todo, in short, what much of mainstreamOrthodoxy is now doing—is to betraythe Jewish religion.I devoted a chapter of the book toexplaining what I see as the scandal ofOrthodox inaction, and I elaborated abit in the May issue of Modern Judaism.One of the most significant impedi-ments to action is clearly the deeplyrooted instinct that people who lookand act like Lubavitch Chassidim mustbe fully Orthodox Jews. The notionthat large numbers of them could beheretics or even practitioners of avo-
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in its courtyard (mentioned in AlHanisim) did not. Regarding whether or not Mashiachcan return from the dead, since Rashi’ssecond interpretation is that he will doso, it remains a possibility and certain-ly does not constitute heresy. Mr. Student says that, “manyLubavitchers would say the Rebbe wasthe only candidate for Mashiach.” Ihave two comments: first, the AlterRebbe, the first Chabad rebbe, oncesaid that Mashiach will be a Misnaged,because if he is a Chassid theMisnagdim won’t accept him but ifhe’s a Misnaged Chassidim wouldaccept him anyway. I presume theRebbe was smiling when he said this.Second, my father, a”h, who was high-ly regarded by the past three rebbes,used to say every Chassid should insistthat his rebbe is Mashiach. EveryLitvak should insist his rosh yeshivah isMashiach. In other words—let him—whoever he is—come, now! A concluding comment to Mr.Student: When Rabbi Yoseph YitzchakSchneersohn sent me to Nashville,Tennessee, in 1949, the Jewish futuredid not look promising. Immigrationto the United States could nevercounter the assimilation in our societyand replenish the shrinking AmericanJewish population. In the 1940s, waybefore the onset of the outreach move-ment, many in the Torah communityattacked us Lubavitchers [for engagingin outreach] saying, “You are going toinfluence them? They will influenceyou.” Fortunately, the rebbes saw thepotential. (But like so many pioneer-ing ideas, Jewish outreach experiencedthe following stages: 1. opposition 2.imitation 3. imitators claiming to bethe inventors.) The Rebbe’s achievements in out-reach, the kind seldom associated withChassidic rebbes, are sui generis, undu-plicated by any current Jewish leader,if ever. These accomplishments alonewould fill volumes. We should focusour attention on the incredible inter-national network of shelichim and theirunduplicated accomplishments—thesemust be part of the heritage of allJews, not only Lubavitchers. Mr. Jaffe notes my contention thatnormative Chassidim “basing theirideas on what the Rebbe had said…donot identify Mashiach.” I must sup-port this statement with an event Iwitnessed about ten years ago. Afterthe Rebbe suffered a stroke, he couldno longer speak but could gesture. Atan international meeting of Lubavitchrabbanim, some questions were put tothe Rebbe in writing. The mazkirut,secretariat, of about five members,were all present to record the Rebbe’sresponses to the various questions. Weasked the Rebbe: “Should the ongoingcampaign to publicize the imminentcoming of the Mashiach be contin-ued?” His answer: “Yes.” We furtherasked: “Should Mashiach be associatedwith a particular person?” His answer:“No.” The refusal of the “normatives”to name Mashiach is in accordancewith the Rebbe’s instructions. Incidentally, I once heard an anecdotethat occurred when the Rebbe was stillrobust. A Chassid with access to theRebbe tried to get him to speak aboutthe identity of Mashiach. As the twowere walking together, the Chassid said,“They say in the street that the Rebbe isMashiach.” Dismissing him, the Rebbesaid, “Don’t you know that the one des-tined to be Mashiach knows nothingabout it until five minutes before he istold, and I haven’t heard anything yet.”Some comments regarding Dr.Berger’s letter: The title of Dr. Berger’sbook, The Scandal of OrthodoxIndifference, is intriguing. Is it indiffer-ence? Is it possible that the rabbisreferred to by Dr. Berger simply dis-agree with him? Are they to be con-demned for such incredible impudence? Dr. Berger’s charge of avodah zarahamong Lubavitcher rabbanim andshochtim is an exercise in hysterics, aswear-you-are-not-and-have-never-been-a-Mashichist, Salem-style witch-hunt. Unlike Dr. Berger, however,while the “indifferent” rabbanim maynot agree with Mashichism, they won’ttar Lubavitch with avodah zarah. Opposition to Chassidus goes back toits birth, well over two centuries ago.Reb Chaim Volozhin, a leading studentof the Vilna Gaon, Reb Itzele, RebChaim Ozer and the Chafetz Chaimwere all Misnagdim, but their opposi-tion was ideological, not emotional,and certainly never tainted with hatred.The following is background materi-al that might be useful: The question,“What is the Jewish attitude to theSecond Coming?” may have differentanswers, depending upon who is ask-ing the question. While medievalJewish scholars rejected the SecondComing, they did so within the con-text of a church debate. Their rejectionof the Second Coming was a rejectionof the Nazarene. However, as I statedin my article, while to contemporaryrabbanim, the term Second Coming isinnocuous, to Dr. Berger, it hasChristian overtones. Whether or not the Mashichists con-stitute a majority of Lubavitchers is anapparent concern of Dr. Berger’s. Iasserted in my article that there aresignificant numbers of Mashichistswithin the Chabad community, a truestatement by any standard. However,determining whether or not they con-stitute a majority is a far more difficultmatter. Unlike almost every otherOrthodox group, there are no “mem-bers” of Lubavitch. Belzer Chassidimare recognized by their garb, the shulin which they daven, the yeshivot theirsons attend, etcetera. Similarly, inmany Litvak yeshivot, there arestraightforward standards for member-ship: if one is capable of learning, oneis accepted. Lubavitch, however, is acommunity comprised of a broadrange of people including the learned,the newcomer to Judaism and the less-than-observant. Anyone who choosesto call himself a Lubavitcher Chassidcan hardly be challenged. Dr. Berger criticizes the Rebbe forusing militaristic terms like TzivosHashem, the army of Hashem. This“army” is an incentive program foryoung girls and boys, which encouragesthem to do mitzvot and learn Torah.Exciting, fun and successful, the pro-gram involves tens of thousands of chil-dren all over the world. To Dr. Berger,however, the militaristic language is anecho of the future conquests ofMashiach. Dr. Berger is applying his owninterpretation to the Rebbe’s words.Lawyers and physicists have lan-guages of their own and the uninitiat-ed cannot begin to understand whatthey are saying. Dr. Berger provides uswith dictionary definitions of wordslike atzmut and metziut, but he isunaware of the meaning these wordshave for Chabad Chassidim. Dr. Bergernotes that he asked a London Chassidwhether the Rebbe’s metziut (which, inthis context, may roughly be translatedas “existence”) is Elokut, to which thelatter answered yes. But what doesmetziut mean to Dr. Berger? Does itmean the same to the Chassid? Theterm is often used pejoratively byChassidim; it implies ego and denotesa person who is keenly aware of hisown existence. Ego and self-centered-ness are virtually universal flaws, whichdid not taint an Avraham, a Moshe, aHillel, a Reb Yisrael Salanter, a rebbe.(Potentially, every single one of us canattain this level of self-nullification.) Isuggest that this is how the Chassidmight have understood Dr. Berger’squestion: “Is the Rebbe subject to egoinflation or is he totally subordinatedto Hashem?” The Chassid’s answer:totally subordinated. (Jewish Action readers may not befamiliar with the term rebbe as distinctfrom rabbi, as well as what a Chassidis, etcetera. My book, Think Jewish,which was recently reissued, addressesthese, among other points.)Similarly, Dr. Berger misinterpretsthe Rebbe’s own statement. To Dr.Berger, “Atzmut was placed in a body,”implies that God’s essence was placedinto the Rebbe’s body, and somehowthere was a fusion of man and God.To a Chassid, however, it means thatthe physical body of the Rebbe did notconceal God within man. Dr. Berger’s conversation with theLondon Chassid, who, he admits waspossibly a teenager, shows how alienthe ways of Chassidim are to him. Dr.Berger goes on to say how the Chassidasked his posek if it is acceptable to say“Rebbe help me?” To which Dr. Bergerasked, “Do you mean help me by ask-ing God to help or…help me on yourown?” The answer was the latter. First, is it really appropriate todeduce Chabad theology from ateenager? Second, Dr. Berger’s ques-tion is entirely inappropriate andmeaningless to a Chassid. When aChassid is in need (for example, he hasa sick child), he will turn to his rebbe.He does not question the rebbe as tohow he will help. The rebbe can helpin any way that he sees fit—by pray-ing, offering practical advice or givinga berachah, etcetera. Most likely, Dr.Berger’s question—as he meant it—isnot what the young man heard. As an academic, Dr. Berger knowsthat recourse to original statements isimperative. And yet he fails to do thisin regard to the Rebbe. The hundredsof books of the Rebbe’s writings pro-vide extensive background as to howthe Rebbe thought and used language.Equally important are his footnotes,which provide Torah sources for all ofhis statements. Is it acceptable to basehostility on ignorance? JA