Thank You, Chabad

We have much to thank Chabad for – particularly for their work spreading Yiddishkeit around the world, and for bringing fellow Jews back to Torah. I too have much to thank Chabad for personally, for their role in my own spiritual journey. However, most of all, I think we owe Chabad a bit of gratitude for bringing the issues of Mashiach front and center in the Jewish community.

This is particularly true in regard to Chabad Messianism. Many people outside of Chabad circles have assumed that much of the messianic fervor within Chabad has all but fizzled out. However, in a recent blog post, I pointed out that Chabad Messianism is alive and well.

Chabad continues to raise awareness to messianic ideas within Judaism that have mostly been brushed aside and “hidden under the rug,” if you will. Ideas like a resurrected Messiah, incarnation, and miracles. Messianic thought that appears in Jewish history and texts, but have been weeded out due to their sounding too much like “that other guy” (i.e. Yeshua).

Yesterday I came across a particularly interesting blog post at Failed Messiah about a radio talk show that featured well-known modern Orthodox rabbi and thinker, Yitz Greenberg, and Rabbi Sholom Ber Kalmanson, a leading Chabad messianist.

I really encourage you to listen to the radio show. Aside from an annoying Christian guy who called in and probably did more harm than good, the show gives an interesting perspective into Chabad messianic understanding. And, interestingly, the weak responses against some of the ideas Chabad messianists put forth.

Aside from the comments made by the Chabad rabbi, one of the most controversial points in the radio show is when a couple Chabad messianist women called in and repeated over and over again that the Rebbe did not pass away, that he is at this very moment the messiah, and those who do not believe in him will be damned.

Shmarya Rosenberg, at Failed Messiah points out; during one of these calls, the radio host, Zev Brenner, asked one of these women, “Did the Rebbe die?”

She responded, “G-d forbid. The Rebbe is atzmus me’elokus [the very essence of G-d] in a guf [body]. He cannot die.”

“Where is the Rebbe right now?,” Zev Brenner asked.

She said, “All over.” After being pressed by Zev Brenner, she repeated “All over,” and then said, “[He’s in] 770, [he’s] everywhere.”

Shmarya Rosenberg, who is a former Chabadnik, emphasizes that what Zev Brenner heard represents normative Chabad messianist theology. The idea that the Rebbe, no longer confined to his body, is everywhere. That he is omnipresent and almost, but not quite, omnipotent, as well. He answers your prayers and intercedes for you on high, and watches over you.

I would like to again point out, that one of these callers claimed that the Rebbe is “the very essence of G-d in a body”! A claim that over and over again the wider Jewish community has declared “NOT JEWISH.” And yet, it truly is. Those of us who understand these ideas recognize points of legitimacy to these claims. We would only disagree on the “who.”

Anyway, and interesting discussion indeed. What do you think?

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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6 Responses to Thank You, Chabad

  1. judeoxian says:

    I do appreciate how some within Chabad have brought the doctrine of the Messiah back into the limelight. Their "Christology" though, as unconventional as it is within the Jewish world (against those who say the Messiah will be nothing more than a man), does not exactly line up with Apostolic teaching concerning Yeshua. At least from what I have read about it, it seems that these Chabadniks have a somewhat adoptionist idea concerning their Rebbe. That as a man, he so emptied himself (bitul) of his own identity that God's essence was able to fill him up. Christian orthodox on the other hand teaches that Yeshua remained fully man (body, soul, spirit and mind), not just a body that God took over. But I may be WAY off on my analysis of what these Chabadniks actually believe. I haven't studied it in any depth.

  2. Debs says:

    hey, that's awesome! I had a run-in with Chabadniks in Israel about 10 years ago. We went back and forth for mere moments on the issue of the "who" of Moshiach before things got a bit ugly, but one thing that really stuck with me, was when this fierce little frum woman grabbed me by the shoulders and said "remember, you are a daughter of Abraham!" What I think she meant was that "you should be ashamed to believe in Yeshua", but nevertheless the experience watered the seed of my Jewish heritage within me, and has reminded me to keep it alive over the years. And through their music, Neshama Carlebach and Basya Schechter have also done so much to keep my connections to my heritage alive! Baruch Hashem for those loving women…judeoxian, I wonder if when they talk about "emptying himself of his own identity" they mean, not his personality/identity per se, but rather that he so shamed and neglected the yetzir harah, that his will was aligned perfectly with the will of God, and thus God could work through and in him… which is, I think, what Yeshua did as well. Particularly seen in his rejection of "the tempter"'s wiles in Luke 4:1-13, which may have been "the devil" posing in the place of Yeshua's yetzir harah. After all, he was "tempted in every way" (Heb. 4:15), just as we are.

  3. MrMatzah says:

    I love that the Chabad movement is progressive, while also conservative: They always communicate their message in a fresh way, while not moving an inch from their beliefs and ethical standards. I believe the Messianic Jewish movement can learn from this, and G-d willing to the same job – just better 😉 After all, we have the true Moshiach!

  4. Gene Shlomovich says:

    I concur with your thoughts, Joshua. In addition to bringing the excitement and expectation over messiahship back to the front of Judaism, I especially appreciate Chabad's warmth, love, acceptance (even of MJs in their midst, in some cases!) and charity for fellow Jews.

  5. MyGrayce says:

    Hi Rabbi Josh. I appreciate your thoughts. Will have to listen to that interview. Don't let my google id fool you. It's me – Deena – from Portland.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Reb Yosh: This was a great parallel to use. The great difference in most respects is "who." We do have that one great problem that Chabad does not have. At the risk of unintenionally offending some, MJ is associated with millenia of a very Hellenized concept and its corporate defender. What do you think the MJ movement can really do to stress (or better reveal) the intrinsic Jewishness of it, without looking like it's merely a movement to be Jewish? I suppose I'm talking around some of the sensitivities, but I hope you get my gist. Thanks,Dav

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