The growing acceptance of Menachem Schneerson as a messiah , even a divine being, among Lubavitch Hasidic Jews is having a deep impact on Judaism the world over, writes David Berger in Commentary magazine (September).
Belief in Schneerson as messiah has grown from a minority position to one embraced by a “substantial majority” of Lubavitchers, or Chabad, Jews, writes Berger. What makes this noteworthy is that these Jews hold important positions in the wider Orthodox community that has not shared these views, not to mention in their own Chabad organization that actively recruit Jews to their cause.
“These [positions] range from the offices of the Israeli rabbinate to the ranks of mainstream rabbinical organizations to the chairmanship of the rabbinical courts in Israel and elsewhere.”
Even non-Hasidic Orthodox leaders now tolerate the new messianic fervor, although Berger claims that the teachings and theories surrounding Schneerson clash with traditional Judaism. The main issue of contention is that Judaism has not traditionally recognized a view where the messiah might come back from the dead with followers hoping for his resurrection. Added to that, Schneerson is increasingly viewed as a divine being rather than a mere mortal — another sticky issue in Judaism.
Berger writes that some messianists take the divinity language figuratively, but it is not difficult to find those who hold a literal understanding of this belief among Chabad teachers and students. Berger concludes that the new teaching may serve to legitimize Christian belief in Christ as the messiah and well as do damage to the “classical messianic faith of Judaism.”
(Commentary, 165 E. 56th St., New York, NY 10022)