(hat tip: Guravitzer via shmais.com)
By: Joel Shteir
This article does not argue whether it is possible, correct or appropriate for the Lubavitcher Rebbe to be considered the Messiah. Therefore, I am going to refrain from mentioning my personal feelings on the matter. Rather, the focus here is going to be on the recent appointment of the new head of Yeshiva College's Jewish Studies Department who, based on several books, essays and lectures, excludes a major Jewish group from Orthodoxy. This new head of YCJS, Dr. David Berger, who authored the book, "The Rebbe, The Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference", David Berger sees himself at the forefront of a mission he intends to spread through the entire Orthodox community. He feels that a majority of Lubavitchers believe their Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who passed away in 1994, to be a god as well as Messiah, and are therefore outside the realm of acceptable Judaism, and must be excommunicated. At Yeshiva University, there is a small group of Lubavitchers, maybe fifteen or so, in addition to the many more students- numbering over forty- who have some connection with the Chabad-Lubavitch community. It would appear that Dr. Berger would want each one of these people to take some sort of oath declaring they do not believe the Rebbe is the Messiah to be considered accepted within Orthodoxy. My question to the Yeshiva Administrators is as follows: how am I, a student at YU, as well as someone with a strong connection to the Lubavitch movement, supposed to understand this appointment and its apparent conflict with the cultural open-mindedness espoused by the University? Let me also relate my hesitation in writing this article. A school's newspaper is usually not the venue to discuss such a delicate and personal matter, but seeing how Dr. Berger has already made his war on Chabad public, I felt publishing it worthwhile- even necessary. When he joined us for Shabbat a few weeks ago, President Joel candidly remarked that he does not see a place for Jews who do not observe "Torah u-mitzvot" on this undergraduate campus. Indeed, Yeshiva would be hesitant to accept a Conservative or Reform Jew to Yeshiva College or Sy Syms because his values run opposite those of the University and its student body. Yet, Dr. Berger, who now holds arguably one of the more important positions in YC and is also making headway into Revel Graduate School, would have me expelled if the power were in his hands for refusing to comply with his inquisition.How am I supposed to view this institution in which Orthodox Jews from all over the world are supposed to be able to come together to be "enabled and ennobled," while YU has appointed someone who has written that he himself is "an advocate of tolerance urging intolerance, a believer in inclusiveness preaching exclusion, an adherent of unity fomenting division?" In the same inaugural Shabbat when the President made his comments, RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Meir Goldwicht said that there is no other yeshiva in the world that has so many different types of talmidim and so many different types of kippot, this being a positive thing. He encouraged each student to study Torah with someone they did not know already. At a place where such closeness is encouraged, where everyone from every background is supposed to be accepted with open arms into the YU community, how can I not feel threatened by the recent appointment in the College?While Dr. Berger may not be teaching a course on why Lubavitchers should be excommunicated, the issue may very well come up in one of his courses, as he holds such a strong belief in the matter. Would he refuse to speak, or as his track record has shown, use the opportunity to spread his views? While I shudder to make this comparison, I feel it is necessary to compare the possibility of Dr. Berger teaching exclusion of Chabad here to the teaching of Israel being an apartheid state in other universities by anti-Israel professors.Yes, there is literature and data to defend the Lubavitch movement. Chaim Rapoport, in his book, The Messiah Problem: Berger, the Angel and the Scandal of Reckless Indiscrimination does a fair job of refuting many of Dr. Berger's claims. My claim is not within the context of the data itself; it concerns the appointment of a closed-minded scholar to an open-minded Yeshiva.I do not want to start a fight, but rather, urge the need for acceptance. Dr. Berger could potentially offer much to the YU community, but only if he does away with his public calls for excommunication of Chabad and instead renounce his inflammatory writings.
Joel Shteir (SSSB '08) is co-President of the YU Chabad Club