Friday, January 27, 2012

Shmuley Christian Zionism and the Rebbe

Shmuley, Christian Zionists and the Rebbe

Guest post by Daniel Friedman

Rabbi of Beth Israel Edmonton and Christian Zionism Scholar at the University of Alberta

Can Christianity and Judaism re-embrace after two millennia? Rabbi Shmuley certainly thinks so. His newest product, Kosher Jesus, aims to revive the historical Jewish Jesus, in an effort to build bridges between the Jewish and Christian religions. And in an age when Israel’s entire legitimacy is under attack, shouldn’t we do everything in our power to stand united with Evangelical Christians, who unconditionally support Israel? This book is the result of the perfect storm – the Hollywood Rabbi, combined with the unprecedented Christian support for Israel over the last decade, combined with the ideological confusion of Chabad since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1994.

The first factor – Rabbi Shmuley’s status as rabbi to the stars is something that’s obvious to everyone. You start with Kosher Sex, which projects you to stardom, you follow that up with Kosher Adultery and before you know it, you’re up to Kosher Jesus. What next? That’s anyone’s guess, but as long as we have Rabbi Shmuley – we can rest assured that he will continue to push the envelope and at the very least, keep us entertained. Don’t get me wrong, personally, I think Shmuley’s a great guy and he must be commended for the amount of good he has done in the world, but first and foremost, he’s a celebrity.

The second factor – Evangelical Christians. Here’s where he is absolutely wrong. Shmuley writes in a Jewish Week op-ed, “At so many public Christian events in support of Israel, pastors refer to Jesus haltingly if at all, afraid to offend Jewish sensibilities, while the Jews likewise are on guard to ensure that they are not accused of being used as props for a covert Christian evangelizing effort. If Jesus can never be mentioned we risk the relationship becoming a fraudulent one, with mutual suspicion growing on both sides.” As a scholar of Christian Zionism, I too am a huge believer that Evangelicals are the best friends we have and we must do everything we can, to encourage their support. But the fact that they do not dare mention the word ‘Jesus’ at a rally in support of Israel is of the utmost significance. You walk into one of these rallies – Shmuley’s right, you can stab a knife through the tension in the room over the Jesus issue. But it’s that tension that is driving the relationship. The fact that every time they get up, they need to convince us that they are our friends, that they love us unconditionally, that they are remorseful for Christian past misdeeds, that they are not trying to convert us – that is what is makes us so powerful in their eyes and in reality. Drop the Jesus tension and we’re done – game over. What’s more, the reason we need the State of Israel is in order to eternally perpetuate our Jewish identity. Once that identity is called into question, because we all can be friends of Jesus, the borders have come down between us and them. Where does that leave the future of the Jewish people? Yes, we need their support, but we need to make those lines of demarcation between Judaism and Christianity abundantly clear, otherwise it will be the beginning of our downfall.

The third factor – Chabad. Following the Rebbe’s death, the Lubavitch movement was in crisis. After years of believing he was the Messiah, what now? What followed was a process of rationalizing how the Messiah could in fact rise from the dead and therefore that the Rebbe could keep his Messianic status. Now, while it may be true that there are traditional Jewish sources to account for such a belief, the problem is that up until now that was not normative Jewish belief. Rather, that was the line that demarcated Judaism from Christianity. Jews believe in a Messiah who comes from the living, Christians believe in a Messiah who comes from the dead. But due to the emotional and psychological crisis that engulfed Chabad, they were able to use the traditional interpretive process to find sources that justified their ongoing belief in the now-deceased Rebbe as Messiah, and it was irrelevant to them that they had crossed over the demarcation line between the two religions. That was all fine for many years and Chabad has gone on to grow and continue to do the wonderful work they do in outreach.

Fast forward eighteen years and enter Rabbi Shmuley in 2012, who says, well if we can employ that investigative and interpretive process vis-à-vis the Rebbe, let me take a look at Jesus and see who he really was. And all hell breaks loose. Now I’m not saying that this was how Shmuley came up with the idea. I believe that he sincerely wanted to build bridges with the Christian community. But the previous taboo for traditional Jews of engaging with Jesus had effectively been removed in Lubavitch. And while he presumably made no conscious connection, there is no doubt that due to his affiliation with Chabad, he saw no objection to the discussion. And that’s why Chabad has gone ballistic over Shmuley’s latest book, with pronouncements of heresy and excommunication from prominent Chabad rabbis. For years, they paid scant regard to his antics, simply dismissing him as an individual, no longer connected to the movement. But now they realize what their eighteen year old silence has wrought. If Shmuley can’t distinguish between Kosher and Jesus, then where does that leave the rest of Chabad?



  2. How many Chabad people does the author know that are non practicing Jews because of their belief that the Rebbe is Moshiach? Clearly believing the Rebbe is Moshiach does not all contradict Torah True obervence! (the Rebbe himself refred to his deceased father in law, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, as the the Moshiach of our generation!)

    1. Why don't you read again what the auther wrote. He simply says believivg the Rebbe is and must be Mashiach, though with full Torah observance, does effectively narrow the gap between our true Torah idiology and the cristian one. This is a simple fact - it does deffinately shrink the differences between the two ideologies.

  3. That's exactly what I vehemently disagree with. Would we stop wearing kipas because the pope and the Vatican wear head coverings similar to ours? The Talmud does discuss the possibility of Moshiach being from the righteous dead. The main rejection we have with Christianity is the deity that they give their savior and the fact that their savior rejected Torah Shbal Peh or according to some opinions worshiped Avodah Zorah himself.

    1. Look, the point is, Jews throughout the generations never made an issue in believing WHO Moshiach is. We're supposed to believe that he'll come in the right time, but to believe that a certain person is Moshiach and to make an issue and great noise about it - is clearly a cristian idea. Don't fool yourself. And for your information, the Rebbe's Chasidim do very much hold him as a diety, as they daven to him, and towards his picture. My uncle (who's himself a Lubavitcher Chassid) told me how they always davened towards the Rebbe, even when he wasn't in the Mizrach, and when he was ill they davened towards the window of his room!

      We all remember that time when a Chabad child was lost in Israel, and when he was found he said how he prayed to the Rebbe to come save him. And Chabad published the story with great pride...

      And that's not the only new thing the late Rebbe introduced into Chabad Judaism, Like saying the Rebbes Kapital, and now even after his death... did any of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbes had their Kapitel recited after their death??? and the list could go on and on...

      Try not to miss the boat.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. 1) There are countless sources that throughout Jewish history great people were identified as Moshiach. see Talmud Sanhedrin where Dvei Rebbe nominated Rebbe as Moshiach Dvei Chiya named Chiya as Moshiach. See also Rambam Laws of Moshiach where he states that Rabbi Akiva nominated Bar Kochba as Moshiach. There are more recent sources of Chassidish Rabbeim (non Lubavitch) and even Litvish Gadol Hadors who named their Rebbe's/Manhig Hador Moshiach.

      2) I am a lubavitcher from birth. In every movement you have a select few crazies. I know Lubavitch from inside Crown Heights. Has your uncle lived in crown heights? Where is he getting his info from? Yes there are a handful of extremist nuts but by and large the Rebbe is and was never considered a god chas v’shalom!.

      3) Yes during the Rebbe's illness people were facing the room near the balcony where the Rebbe would come out after the Tefillos (1992-1994). That was purely altz Kovod Rabboi as to not have their backs to their rebbe. Ask any sane Lubavicher whether s/he belives the Rebbe is Moshiach they may say yes. But ask them if they believe the rebbe is god and they will respond to you with a resounding NO!! Chas Vshalom!!

      4) The Rebbe is like a father who beseeches mercy from the Aiberstur. The Rebbe to Chassidim is like a Minister closest to Hashem who like any great tzadik beseeches for our well fare. Why the Rebbe? Because he was the one most recent that we can identify with. Will you criticize people who daven at kivei tzadikim in eretz Yisrael and elsewhere? Obviously we are davening to Hashem but the place where the Tzadikim are interred is Admas Kodesh Sacred ground and the Tzadik davens on our behalf as well..

      5) In regards to reciting the Rebbe's Kapital Tehilim; this dates back even during the times of the previous Rebbe. I remember a chasid once told me how his father scolded him for reciting the previous Rebbe's kapital after his death even though he was reciting the present Rebbe's tehilim. He reasoned that you need to direct your Kavod to one Rebbe. But people did recite the Previous Rebbe's kapital even after his demise. And the logic is that again, Tzadikim af bmisason kruim chaim, that the righteous even in the death they are alive. How do you explain the tremendous success that Chabad has on Jewish outreach the world over? People labeled Chabad obsolete after the Rebee’s passing. Look at the accomplishments of Chabad over the last eighteen years! As an example: Are you aware that they are building the world’s largest Jewish Community Center in Dnepropetrovsk Ukraine (the Rebbe’s childhood city-his father was the chief rabbi there before WWII)

    4. I decided I'll try one more time, again...

      1) Those weren't followers who "nominated" their leader, but Torah sages. But the main difference is the obsession, the call that whoever doesn't believe that he's Moshiach is somehow making a mistake. All the examples you mentioned were just as a hopeful thought, not as a strong fundamental belief.

      2) I guess you're so surrounded by it that you don't even realize it. Human worship is everywhere in Lubavitch: Davening to a picture, saying in speeches that we hope the Rebbe helps us... etc. etc. and it's all proudly reported in Chabad media and the like. I haven't seen any such 'nuts' in any other place at all, let alone in such big numbers. The example are so many it would take volumes to numerate.

      3) Sir, are you crazy? Davening towards the window of the Rebbe "altz Kvoid Raboi"?! and in your own words you say that davening towards the east would be "turning their backs to their Rebbe" so then now they turn their backs to the Makom Hamikdash!!

      4) See #2.

      5) About the Kapitel - I didn't know that, but that's 1 example out of hundreds...

      The success of Chabad outreach: Here you go again with christianized talk. If truth is measured by missionary success than I guess the closer we get to christianity the closer we are to the truth...

  4. I too decided to reply yet again. However if this doesn’t suffice I invite for a chavrusa learning of Tanya and other Chassidic works that may shed light on this issue. My email is if you so wish to contact me.

    1) All the more so. If Torah sages in their day had the foresight to nominate a leader or even be hopeful that their leader is Moshiach that should be an example for other generations. Look, if you believe in the 13 principals of the Ramban then you should believe that Moshiach can and should come any day and the more we wait the closer we are getting to that time. The Rebbe not only was a true pioneer in bringing Yidden to Yiddishkeit he also set a trend that even Misnagdim who opposed the Rebbe's Shitah in the 60's and 70's (that going out on a mitzvah Tank is "Bitul Torah" etc) they now have on their covers of their kiruv magazine titles such as "Watching TV can bring Moshiach" with a photo of a guy with a Mohawk and tattoo wearing Teffilin (See Hitdabrut magazine published this month.) A number of years ago I witnessed a Mitzvah Mobile outside J2 Pizzeria on Broadway in Manhattan. Thinking it was Chabad I was shocked to find that indeed it was bochurim from Yeshiva Shar Yoshuv in Far Rockaway.

    I will conclude this point with a story that took place yet in the previous Rebbes lifetime in the late 1940's. A chosid approached the Kopichnitzer Rebbe who was living in Crown Heights at the time and remarked: "Look what Lubavitcher Chassidim are saying about their Rebbe (the previous Rebbe) that he's Moshiach" (Yes, in every generation Chassidim believed that their Rebbe was going to be Moshiach) to which the Kopichnitzer responded: "What bothers you so that they consider their Rebbe to be Moshiach. I Know I'm not Moshiach. You know that you're not Moshiach. Let them believe that they're Rebbe is Moshiach. As long as he comes soon!"

    2) Misnagdim never appreciated the devotion a Chosid has to their Rebbe. Yes they speak of Kovod rav etc and stand any time someone choshuv comes in a room but true devotion like Chabad Chasidim to their Rebbe, Nah. Just take a look at the countless Shluchim in 3,000 plus centers across the globe how they do the Rebbe's work day in and out of bringing people closer to Yiddishkeit. I believe people such as yourself benefit tremendously from the mesirus nefesh that a young couple in Ho Chi Min City benefit from the Chabad, And look at the true mesiras nefesh that Chabad Chassidim had in soviet Russia during the Communist regime. Do we hear stories of Misnagdishe talmidim opening chadorim or mikvaot only to flee the KGB to another town to open another cheder and mikvah during that era? Are you aware of the hundreds of clandestine chaderim, mikvaoth etc that the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was responsible for and how that lead him to his arrest in 1927? Maybe do your research on Chabad history and you’ll realize the tremendous impact Chabad had on the Jewish world. In addition to all this see number two: No sane Lubavicher davens to a photo of the Rebbe. They may write a pan (a personal note) to the Rebbe asking for advice or a blessing. But praying to the Rebbe? Chas V chalila!!! That’s a fictitious account made up to ostracized the movement.

  5. 3) I personally davened towards Mizrach as the majority of Lubavitchers did. Again, I don’t know what heter they had and even if indeed they davened facing the Rebbe. Perhaps only that their backs weren’t directly facing the Rebbe.

    4) You didn’t respond to the points I put forth. It seems you don’t daven by kivrei Tzadikim. Do you believe the midrash that Yohoshua and Kalev davened by Meroas Hamachpeila when he was sent with the meraglim or that’s considered also idolatrous to you?

    5) You know what's the problem with your thought process about Chabad’s ideology and success? You’re Emunah. Unfortunately when you don’t study Chassidus and getlichkeit you’re Emunah is challenged when concepts such as Moshiach and the Rebbe arise. These ideas are too foreign to you. I don’t blame you because most of the litvishe world that did not have chassidus was challenged by Shabtai Tzvi and other FALSE Messiahs. I would blame you IF you are unwilling to study Chassidic concepts to better understand where Chabad is coming from and if anything Chabad and Chassidus enabled Jewish Life to thrive! Again, I invite you to study Chassidus with me or with whomever you can find and perhaps that may give you some better understanding of what Chabad is all about!!!