Friday, August 5, 2011

Speaking at a Chabad House (About Messianism no Less)

In South Pasadena, where Miriam and I are living, there is not much in the way of Orthodox life. We have a Chabad house 3.5 miles away where we pray. It is a small, but very diverse group of people. They have been very good to Miriam in the past and are now very accepting of me. I am happy to be part of this family. While most of the people there became religious through Chabad, as with most Chabad places, beyond the two Chabad rabbis and their families it is not a Chabad community.

A few weeks ago someone put forth the idea to me that, as a Jewish historian, I should give a class on Jewish history possibly on what I am writing about. I am an academic historian, writing about messianism; how many sentences do you think it is going to take before the rabbi pulls the plug on me? Somehow this person managed to convince me to go for it and, even more surprisingly, convinced the rabbi to give me a platform. So this past Sabbath, I gave an "Introduction to Jewish Messianism." I guess the biggest shocker was that over twenty people stuck around in the afternoon to listen to me. It was the sort of lecture that I like giving. It went on for about an hour before tapering off into an informal question and answer session. I took a number of questions while I was speaking, which sent me off on lots of side tangents. The problem with this is that it sometimes makes me difficult to follow. I try to balance this with a sense of humor. If people have no idea what I am talking about they should at least think it is funny, whatever it is I am actually talking about. Well apparently everybody liked my presentation so it looks like we may do this again, perhaps make it a monthly event.

Believe it or not, I do have a plan as to how to keep myself from being too offensive. Keep everything theoretical. I am simply reporting on what is going on in my field. Phrase things in questions. I am simply explaining some of the major debates going on and offering points for consideration. Above all else, I should avoid talking about Chabad messianism. As a historian, I should have no problem keeping things in the eighteenth century or beforehand.

Ok, so I did talk about Chabad messianism. I raised the question of calamity based messianism; do messianic movements come about in response to major physical disasters? Isaac Abarbanel writing three books on messianism several years after the expulsion of 1492 and as the Jews of Portugal were being forcibly baptized sounds like calamity messianism. Jews in Poland responding to the Cossack attacks of 1648 by embracing Sabbatai Sevi in 1666 might be calamity messianism. (Of course, that would still not explain why Jews everywhere else did too.) Why did Chabad in the 1980s and 90s turn messianic? What great physical threat did Lubavitchers living in the United States at the end of the twentieth-century face? If you are going to say that this was in response to the Holocaust then why did the Lubavitcher Rebbe not come out in the 1950s with his "bring Moshiach" campaign? (The previous Rebbe, in the 1940s, started a messianic campaign, but it faded away for several decades.)

So no trouble yet. One of the attendees has asked me if, for my next lecture, I could talk about traditional Jewish claims that there will be no Messiah or that all messianic prophecies were already fulfilled with King Hezekiah and the Second Temple. What could possibly go wrong with this?          


Rosten said...

I suggest several problem with Lubavitch. One was that they don't lay their cards on the table. They held privately for many years the Rebbi was the Messiah but publicly denied it. This in itself reminds me of the behavior of the followers of Shabatai Zvi.

Another problem is weasel words. I have discovered you can never have conversation with a chasid without his changing the meaning of words like Daat Torah, Shulchan Aruch, emuna faith etc .
Another problem is the deep historical connections between Shabatai Zvi and Chasidut. This is not just in major doctrines of Natan the false prophet that were incorporated into Chasidut but the whole spirit of the movement and its official doctrines.
further more the very fact that Lubavtich calls itself Chasidut without acknowledging the major differences between it and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the fact that the successor of Reb Dov of Mezritch, the official appointed heir to Chasidut and the acknowledged leader of Chasidut disavowed the Baal Hatanya and tore his garments when his saw the book the Tanya.
It is like a out of control FBI agent calling himself an FBI agent even after he has been fired.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

> I could talk about traditional Jewish claims that there will be no Messiah

Better idea: as you're well aware Rabbi Hillel in the gemara Sanhedrin says that there will be no Moshiach. Other Chazal then say he's wrong and ask God to forgive him. In "Alo Naale" rav Shlomo Aviner points out that they asked God to forgive him. They did not condemn him. They did not insult him. They did not ban him or declare him a heretic. This could be a springboard for a talk on Jewish tolerance.

> or that all messianic prophecies were already fulfilled with King Hezekiah and the Second Temple.

Should be easy enough considering again that there's lots of material in Sanhedrin to work with.

> What could possibly go wrong with this?

Well the local Shaliach, of course...

Rosten said...

The best way to approach the messiah question is in fact like that fellow mentioned in the opinion of Hillel. The whole 13 principles of faith of the Rambam have been way too hyped up. It is better t take as a basis for Jewish faith the principles of Albo.

tziki kedera said...

rosten...where do u know this story of rhe magid and the tanya...?

Rosten said...

You can read the letters concerning this issue in the book pri haartetz.

The Magid had a disciple he called "the Litvak" that was Menachem Mendal of Vitibsk. This disciple he appointed as the leader of Chasidut after him (if his own son Abraham would not accept the mantel of leadership).
The reason this disciple was called "the Litvak" was because he came from Lithuania.
(Vitbsk is in Lithuania). This is an important point because this is one of the many areas that Lubvicth Chasidim lie about their history and claim the Magid appointed the Baal Hatanya as the leader.
When the Litvak and Abraham Kalisker went to Israel, after a few years the book the Tanya was sent to them. Avraham Kalisker wrote in a letter that when Menachem Mendel of Vitibsk saw the book he torn his garment from mental anguish.
The actual letters that went back and forth at this point can be read in the back of the book Pri Haaretz which is the book that Menachen Mendel of Vitibsk wrote.

Tziki kedera said...

this is shocking...i will look into this and perhaps comment again...izgad ,i know your isrealy ...i met your grandparents...

Tziki kedera said...

this is shocking...i will look into this and perhaps comment again...izgad ,i know your isrealy cousins ...i met your grandparents...

Anonymous said...

If you wouldn't have made one fatal error then your chabad bashing would have gone unchecked, but instead you had to expose yourself by writing a story involving mendel of vitebsk and the tanya. In doing so you have not only discredited yourself but also showed that you think all the readers of this blog to be ignorant and not know the the Tanya was published close to 10 years after the passing of r' mendel.
Also, regarding the letters in the back of pri ha'aretz, assuming you actually read them and didn't just hear about them from someone, maybe you can tell me where these letters are. Because I personally read them and didn't see anything to which you refer. On the contrary a lot of the letters bestow high praise on the baal hatanya, and there are many letters to him which mention no displeasure with anything he did or said.

Rosten said...

Anonymous: Thank you for your comment and yes I read the letters and I am afraid you are doing what Chabad always does: making up false facts to support your lies.
I suggest you take your own advice and read the letters yourself.

thanbo said...

Didn't the Baal hatanya regard RMM of Vitebsk as his own rebbe after the passing of the Maggid of Mezritch? Which would support RMMV being the successor to the MoM, and then RSZofL would have succeeded him after RMMoV moved to Eretz Israel. Which comes, IIRC, from Chabad sources, so I don't see your story as so incongruous.