This is the concluding part of Yeze’s two-part series on contemporary reactions to Messianic Jews. Yeze blogs at the Rosh Pina Project.
Jewish polemicists in the Middle Ages developed many sophisticated theological and philosophical arguments as to why it was impossible for Jews to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Their arguments have carried on until this day. Messianic Jews argue that in Yeshua, God became a man.
Modern anti-missionaries see this as avodah zarah, the worship of a human being, meaning that Messianic Jews are effectively idolators. Anti-missionaries have also argued that our belief that the death of Messiah could precede redemption of the world excludes us from the messianic faith of Judaism.
Some anti-missionaries use these theological polemics as a justification to exclude and boycott Messianic Jews from Jewish cultural and economic life. As a result, some Jews who believe in Yeshua have accepted that they are no longer Jews any more, as their beliefs place them outside the boundaries of their religion.
As this may entail being disowned by your father and mother, rejected by your friends and denounced by your community leaders, this is often hugely distressing for the individuals involved. So it is then deeplu frustrating to see other Jews fully accepted and integrated into Jewish society despite holding similar theological beliefs.
I welcome the inclusion of all Jews within Jewish society, but it should be fair, no matter what people believe. No Jews are more equal than others. I don’t want to see Chabad excluded, but Messianic Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity included should they choose to participate in Jewish social and community life. Just like Chabad do.
The Chabad-Lubavitch messianists believe that the Rebbe, Moses Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, is the Messiah. They believe his return is imminent, and will usher in the resurrection of the dead and the redemption of the world.
Regarding Chabad messianists, Saul Sadka wrote in Haaretz in 2007:
While it may seem bizarre to describe electrician-cum-rabbi M. M. Schneerson in this way, many of the people seen as messianist view Schneerson as a demigod. They are loathe to state this explicitly, but they will assign him characteristics of God, pray to him and, when pressed, suggest that there is really no difference between him and God. Since the Rebbe was perfection personified, he is greater than any man that ever lived; ergo he is godly – omnipotent, omniscient and unlimited.
Virtually no one within the movement today is willing to deny that Schneerson was the greatest man that ever lived nor that he was perfect.
None have a problem with praying to Schneerson, using his books for divination in place of the Bible. Even amongst those viewed as moderates, “the Rebbe” is often substituted for God in normal conversation, sprinkling their remarks with comments such as “may the Rebbe help you” or “the Rebbe is watching over us.”
Even among the moderate minority, the distinction between Schneerson and God is decidedly blurred. Asking adherents whether Schneerson will return as the Messiah is unlikely to yield a directly negative response.
Yet Lubavitch messianists are still considered Jews by other Jews. Lubavitch messianists are also active in Yad L’Achim, who are supposed to be combatting “idolatry”!
In the UK, Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, the Director of Operation Judaism (a UK anti-missionary office), is also the Director of Lubavitch of the Midlands. Arkush thinks that for a Jew to believe in Jesus is:
“theologically without foundation. You have Jews, and you have Christians. You can’t dance at both weddings.”
So how can Arkush justify his own position within Chabad, the movement which carries so many apparent similarities to Christianity?
And should the Office fo the Chief Rabbi really be working with these “apostates” to keep out other “apostates”?
As detailed on Chabad’s website, Operation Judaism is jointly managed by Lubavitch, the Board of Deputies and the Office of the Chief Rabbi. Chabad’s page in turn carries a link to Jews for Judaism – a U.S. outfit run by Chabad Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz. An offshoot of Jews For Judaism is the Jewish Passion website, which quotes extensively from Maimonides’ writings on the Messiah. The website ostensibly argues against Messianic Jewish claims based on Maimonides’ writings.
Interestingly, Orthodox Jewish historian David Berger argues for the exclusion of Chabad messianists on the same grounds as Messianic Jews are excluded by – as idolators and practicioners of avodah zarah– also based on Maimonides’ messianic writings.
In his book The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference (Litmann Libary of Jewish Civilisations, United States and Canada, 2001), Berger cites the Rambam’s twelfth principle of Judaism and follows it up with a comment:
(p.18) ‘I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may tarry I await him each day, hoping that he will come.
This version of Rambam’s twelfth principle of Judaism has served as a source of faith and consolation for generations of Jews, and, in Christian countries, as a central affirmation of resistance to belief in the messiahship of Jesus.’
Which begs the question: why do Chabad only pay attention to Maimonides to argue that Jesus isn’t the Messiah, and ignore the fact that Maimonides’ messianic writings would equally exclude a Jewish belief in Schneerson as Moshiach?
Berger also takes Orthodox Jewish institutions to task for allowing Chabad-Lubavitch messianism to flourish:
‘Through the criminal negligence of the Orthodox community, Lubavitch messianism has positioned itself to proselytise, spread, and ultimately define the contours of Orthodox Judaism in numerous cities and not a few countries all over the world.’ (p.128)
Indeed: when you compare the organised anti-missionary movement designed to combat Christian and Messianic missionaries (which in the case of Yad L’Achim spills over into violence and intimidation) to the resistance to Lubavitch messianism within Orthodox Judaism, there is simply no comparison.
According to Berger:
‘most Orthodox Jews refuse to believe the true dimensions of the messianist takeover and tell themselves that ignoring it will make it go away.’ (p.27)
‘Virtually all Orthodox Jews, whether they believe in the Messiahship of the Rebbe or not, belong to a profoundly differentreligion from the one they adhered to in 1993.’ (p.3)
So why are Lubavitch messianists kosher and other types of Messianic Jews treif?
And what’s the difference between a Chabad emissary and a Christian missionary?
Is it just a case of same theology, different Messiah?
Berger includes one compelling example which invites further consideration. Regarding Lubavitch messianism, Berger writes:
‘One learned Jew insisted to me that only a few lunatic could maintain this belief, but when I reacted by telling him that people with significant positions in the movement have made such affirmations, he responded, ‘Well, they do cite sources, don’t they?’ The sociology of this response is fascinating’ (p. 173)
Those who argue that Lubavitch messianism, unlike Messianic belief in Yeshua, is a Jewish movement would do well to remember that Christianity was predominantly Jewish for at least two centuries, and Lubavitch messianism has only been around for 15 years. And those who argue that the organised Chabad movement, unlike organised Christianity, has not been corrupted by the trappings of power would do well to learn about the case of Berel Lazar and Vladimir Putin in Russia.
Similarly, some will argue that Lubavitchers still practise the Torah, unlike Jewish Christians. Perhaps, but many Messianic Jews do keep Torah, and are often accused of deceit as a result.
David Berger describes Lubavitch messianism as a:
‘neo-Christian theology in the heart of the Orthodox Jewish world.’ (p.107)
So if contemporary Judaism is heavily influenced by a neo-Christian movement, then why would Orthodox rabbis have a problem with Jewish Christians?
The response of David Singer, Research Director of the American Jewish Committee, in his book review of The Rebbe, the Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indiference was to accuse Berger of being a ‘would-be Torquemada, on the Orthodox scene, demanding a policy of “intolerance” and “exclusion” toward those he deems to be heretical to Orthodoxy.’
So in Singer’s eyes, is everyone who puts boundaries on Judaism a would-be Torquemada?
David Singer’s definition of what constitutes a ‘would-be Torquemada’ would surely render every anti-missionary as one, including the Chabad anti-missionaries such as Kravitz and Arkush.
So perhaps the AJC could get their story straight, and explain why belief in Yeshua as divine resurrected Messiah is a heresy for Jews, but belief in Schneerson as divine resurrected Messiah isn’t.