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Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Scandal of YU's Offensive Appointment

(hat tip: Guravitzer via shmais.com)
By: Joel Shteir

Posted: 10/8/07
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

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Joshua Schwartz
posted 10/10/07 @ 2:31 AM EST
Yeshiva University is not only "yeshiva" but "university". Prof. David Berger is one of the foremost scholars of Jewish Studies not ony in the USA but in the world and YU is to be congratulated for the appointment. Academic freedom is the cornerstone of any university, and YU should not be an exception. Prof. Berger is entitled to his opinion and he is entitled to publish it. I would suggest that the author of the article delve a little deeper into the corpus of Prof. Berger's work. The courses I took with Prof. Berger in MTA and YC decades ago were among the best of any course in Jewish studies I have ever taken. The correct forum for the author's views are not on the pages of a newspaper, although it is his right to use this forum. However, if he has serious issues with Prof. Berger's views, then let him deal with them as befits a university, for both student and faculty.

Prof. Joshua Schwartz
Bar-Ilan University
(YC-EMC 74)

Rochel
posted 10/10/07 @ 1:45 PM EST
Excellent article! It reflects a concern held by many in the Jewish world, especially in the circles of Torah-true Judaism. Degrading the Chabad doctrine as Dr. Berger does is akin to the contention of Korach and his followers. While many people joined Korach and he seemed to be rather sensible, he was ultimately in error. The similarities are abundant but I will not enumerate them here. Dr. Berger's assertions are simply intolerable.

Mr. Shteir's article is well-written and well-argued, choosing to address the problem of appointing a person like Dr. Berger instead of debating the details of his cause. The comparison of "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" is very relevant since his views will undoubtedly come across to his students in no uncertain terms, just as anti-Israel professors' views seep into their interactions with students. Will YU's students peregrinate the globe pronouncedly anti-Chabad?

That is no laughing matter.

Mosher Wiklower
posted 10/10/07 @ 8:21 PM EST
I heartilly agree with the writer! Dr. Berger has taken things one step too far and is trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater in an attempt to create his legacy.

I have faith that common sense will prevail and that he will be contained

Keep us posted on the developements!

boruch n. hoffinger
posted 10/11/07 @ 8:49 PM EST
B"H
Dr. Berger is probably just jealous.
"One of the greatest halachic deciders of our generation, one of the greatest legal scholars of our time, was Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik," he says. "He gave out a very clear ruling, which clearly brings multiple sources, that those who believe in the rebbe as the Moshiach are acting fully in the scope of Jewish law and in the scope of Orthodoxy."
The Rebbe, MH"M is not G-d, but it's hard to find someone who was so connected.
We know what Pirke Avos says about jealousy.

Avi
posted 10/12/07 @ 2:33 PM EST
Originally posted by
boruch n. hoffinger

B"H
Dr. Berger is probably just jealous.
"One of the greatest halachic deciders of our generation, one of the greatest legal scholars of our time, was Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik," he says. "He gave out a very clear ruling, which clearly brings multiple sources, that those who believe in the rebbe as the Moshiach are acting fully in the scope of Jewish law and in the scope of Orthodoxy."
The Rebbe, MH"M is not G-d, but it's hard to find someone who was so connected.
We know what Pirke Avos says about jealousy.


Was Rav Aharon ZT"L's ruling issued before or after the Rebbe ZT"L was niftar?

stephen tolany
posted 10/14/07 @ 9:16 AM EST

boruch n. hoffinger
B"H
Dr. Berger is probably just jealous.
"One of the greatest halachic deciders of our generation, one of the greatest legal scholars of our time, was Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik," he says. "He gave out a very clear ruling, which clearly brings multiple sources, that those who believe in the rebbe as the Moshiach are acting fully in the scope of Jewish law and in the scope of Orthodoxy."


"boruch n. hoffinger" may not realize that he is just repeating a unfortunate lie that has been circulating for years.

Rav Ahron Soloveichik, ztz"l, actually held the very opposite of what Mr. Hoffinger attributes to him. To be sure, Rav Ahron did not support a campaign against Lubavitch, but this was not because he held that their messianic beliefs were acceptable within Judaism. Rav Ahron's true position on this should be understood in all its nuance.

A journalist interviewed Rav Ahron Soloveichik for an article that appeared in the December 2, 1994 issue of the Forward. When asked if Rabbi Menachem Mendel could emerge from the dead to be the Messiah, Rav Ahron Soloveichik said, verbatim (in quotes), that

"there is no possibility whatsoever [of this]."

"That could be possible in the Christian faith, but not Judaism."

"[The idea is] repugnant to everything Judaism represents."

"[The late Rebbe] can't be the Messiah ---- he is not living ---- a Messiah has to be living ---- a living Messiah, not a dead Messiah."

He characterized the idea as "non-rational".

R. Ahron Soloveichik confirmed that these were his words, in a letter he wrote to the Forward shortly after the article appeared. In the letter, which was printed just three weeks later, in the December 23, 1994 issue, he writes

"Your distinguished correspondent quotes me correctly: "Rabbi Soloveichik, however, was contemptuous, denouncing Rabbi Butman as 'a little fanatical,' someone who 'means well but, out of desperation, conjures non-rational ideas.' The late Rebbe, said Rabbi Soloveichik, 'can't be the Messiah -- he is not living -- a Messiah has to be living -- a living Messiah, not a dead Messiah." All the words of this quotation are perfectly accurate."

====

As said, R. Ahron Soloveichik was not among the supporters of Professor Berger's campaign. But this was not because he held that what Lubavitchers were doing was acceptable in Judaism.

From the rest of his letter, we see that he believed (at least in 1994) that this belief was not widespread in Lubavitch. Over the coming years until his passing, Rav Ahron would be asked many times about Lubavitchers who believed that the Rebbe would return from the grave. He would reply that they should not be considered apikorsim, but rather "shogegim" or "shotim", and that their belief was "shtus".* In short, Rav Aharon Soloveitchik opposed Berger's campaign because he saw messianic Lubavitchers as insane, unwitting transgressors who should be tolerated.

===

Both Forward pieces--the original article of 12/2/94 and Rav Ahron's letter of 12/23/94--are quoted in full at the bottom of the following webpage:

http://moshiachtalk.tripod.com/ras.html

For a scan of the actual newspaper pages in PDF format, see

http://moshiachtalk.tripod.com/ras.pdf

=====

* See, for example, Lubavitcher Rabbi Immanuel Schochet. Even as he rips into Berger's book, Schochet acknowledges that after he looked into the matter he discovered that R. Ahron Soloveitchik's position was that Lubavitcher messianism was "shtus".
(See his review of Berger's book at http://shmais.com/chabad_Detail.cfm?ID=279 )

Nachum Lamm
posted 10/11/07 @ 9:48 PM EST
"The Rebbe, MH"M is not G-d, but it's hard to find someone who was so connected."

What on Earth does that mean?

Steg
posted 10/12/07 @ 2:59 PM EST

So the author of this piece refuses to disclose his own opinion on the matter of whether a dead man is the mashiahh. I wonder if he has something to hide.

Derek
posted 10/14/07 @ 12:24 AM EST
I have a friend who believes that another Jew who died long ago was Mashiach. That friend is a Christian. Would it be close-minded of me not to consider him part of the Orthodox Jewish community?

How about Jews for Jesus? After all, "Messianic Jews" also follow many Jewish traditions and rituals...they just happen to also believe in Jesus as the Messiah. How far is the author of this piece willing to go for the sake of "unity?"

stephen tolany
posted 10/14/07 @ 10:44 AM EST

In my posting above I presented the authentic position of Rav Ahron Soloveichik. His opinion was that Judaism does not allow for the late Lubavitcher Rebbe to be considered Moshiach. He held such an idea to be a Christian idea, something "repugnant to everything Judaism represents". Nevertheless, he opposed taking steps to isolate Lubavitch from the Orthodox community because he saw the problem as one of insanity and unwitting transgression. Moreover, his 1994 interview with and letter to the Forward suggests that his position of toleration was based on his perception that messianism wasn't so widespread in the Lubavitch community.

The false claim----the lie, really----that was cited above by "boruch n. hoffinger" began with an advertisement that appeared in the several Jewish newspapers on June 28, 1996. The following statement, with footnote citations for the sources, appeared with Rav Ahron's signature under it:

"In response to many inquiries about my position on the Lubavitch movement vis-a-vis its Messianic beliefs.

Before the passing of the Rebbe, I included myself among those who believed that the Rebbe was worthy of being the Moshiach. 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 Rabbonim and Roshei Yeshivah, that the Rebbe can still be Moshiach, in light of the Gemara in Sanhedrin, the Zohar, Abarbanel, Kisvei HaArizal, Sdei 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, to besmirch and to damage the Lubavitch movement - that was, and continues to be, in the forefront of those who are battling the Missionaries, assimilation and indifference - can only contribute to the regrettable discord that already plagues the Jewish and particularly, Torah community.

The Torah community should galvanize all of its energies to unite in the true spirit of Ahavat Yisrael, to battle the true enemies of Israel. I repudiate and call for an end to all efforts to discredit Lubavitch or any other legitimate movement within Torah Judaism."

The story behind this letter is as follows. In 1996 the RCA issued a resolution that referenced Lubavitch and declared that it was not possible for Moshiach ben David to begin his messianic mission only to experience death, burial, and resurrection before completing it. In the wake of the RCA resolution, three Lubavitcher rabbis approached Rav Ahron Soloveichik and asked for him to issue a statement that would take pressure off the movement. The three were Rabbi Eliezer Turen (Chicago), Rabbi Yitzchak Singer, and Rabbi Hershel Greenberg (Buffalo). Rav Ahron agreed. Although it is not entirely clear what was said and what transpired, it appears that Rav Ahron's trust was betrayed.

Hershel Greenberg has stated, publicly, that he (Greenberg) is the author of the statement that appeared with Rav Ahron's signature under it. Greenberg claims is that Rav Ahron read the statement over carefully and authorized it to be published over his signature.

Greenberg's account lacks believability in light of what we know: (1) Greenberg himself admits that he worded the entire statement. (2) The statement contradicts what Rav Ahron himself said and confirmed. (3) The statement contains errors. (The cited Zohar passage, Balak 203, refers to Moshiach ben Yosef, not Moshiach ben David. The cited Kisvei Arizal passage does not discuss death, burial, and resurrection at all.) (4) The following week Rav Ahron himself issued the following statement, which appeared in several newspapers:

"I recently lent my name to a statement deploring attacks on the Lubavitch movement which has done so much for the Jewish people through the years. I regret that some may interpret my statement in a way that suggests that I was endorsing specific views or claims concerning Mashiach instead of regreting attacks against Orthodox Jews who might hold this views. I have great respect for the Lubavitcher Rebbe's living legacy and continue to believe that Jewish unity and communal comity by our attacking each other in public."

Given all the facts, it is obvious that Rav Ahron did not read and approve of the initial statement, the written by Hershel Greenberg and issued over his (Rav Ahron's) signature. Intentionally or unintentionally, Greenberg betrayed Rav Ahron's trust and issued a statement containing claims unauthorized by him. All Rav Ahron had agreed to was a statement calling for tolerance of Lubavitch, not a ruling that what they were doing wasn't against the Torah. After the statement was published, Rav Ahron did his best to contain the damage without publicly shaming Greenberg. To the best of my knowledge, this version of the events is the one accepted by Rav Ahron's family and his closest talmidim.

I hope the information I have provided is helpful to people.

mordechai
posted 10/14/07 @ 2:06 PM EST

One poster noted YU is not only a Yeshiva but a University

He is correct

A university has an obligation not to employ an academic fraud. Bergers libel of Chabad shows him not only to be a bigot but an academic fraud. Therefore he should be immediately terminated.

Will YU go and bring in Jimmy Carter next to teach how Israel is an apartheid state. The issue is not only anti semitism but academic honesty.

Yohann posted 10/14/07 @ 2:35 PM EST
An academic should not have such open and virulent hatred against one segement of society. Disagreement is OK, but not the hatred and lack of knowledge that Dr. Berger displays.

Anonymous said...

"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."

This is a mischaracterization of Rabbi Dr. Berger's view. He believes that the majority of Lubavitchers believe that the Rebbe is or will be the Moshiach, and that a substantial minority have heretical views about the Rebbe's divinity in some form or fashion.

Rabbi Berger would concede that only a very small minority would explicitly refer to the Rebbe as a "god".