A long-expected split within the ultra-orthodox Chabad-Lubavich Jewish movement over messianic beliefs may be in the wings, and politics as much as religion may be the most immediate cause of such a schism, reports Forward.com (Jan. 9).
A long-standing conflict in the Chabad-Lubavich ranks over the status of its leader, Menahem Schneerson, with a group holding that he is the messiah, came to the surface recently when one of the leaders of the dissidents declared that, were Israel properly run, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be “hanged from the gallows.” Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe, the most popular leader of the messianic strand of the movement, made this statement, along with other critical remarks, when speaking about negotiations with the Palestinians at a right-wing gathering.
The Chabad is said to occupy a privileged place among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox groups, being the only major Hasidic group whose members serve in the army. Its rabbis are also considered informal chaplains. Wolpe’s comments have raised the ire of Chabad leaders and spokesmen, with one claiming that his remarks have done such damage to the sect’s reputation “that it could be necessary to publicly declare that the messianists cannot act or speak on its behalf,” reports Nathan Jeffay. Immediately after Schneerson’s death in 1994, a rabbinical court ruled that the movement should not split in two, nor should the two factions undermine each other.
In the wake of Wolpe’s remarks, an Israeli politician has urged all Chabad activists to be banned from Israeli army bases. Such threats to Chabad activity could force the group to declare the messianists separate from the movement. The organization might be willing to expel the messianists if it means retaining its influence in Israel. And if the Israeli heads of the international movement made such a statement, the U.S. Chabad would likely fall into line.
The messianists have tended to promote hardline and right-wing positions in Israel, holding that such views are integral to their belief that the rebbe is the messiah.