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To my family – Kalpana, Louis and Raphael
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Throughout the history of Judaism there have been many claimants to the title of Messiah: Shim’on bar Kosiba, David Reubini, Isaac Luria, Hayim Vital, Sabbatai Sevi and of course Jesus of Nazareth. Time and time again the messianic hopes of Jews have been raised and dashed. For the followers of Jesus of Nazareth and Sabbatai Sevi, the failure of their millennial dreams to materialize did little to quash their messianic fervour. Like some other millennial groups described in the literature (Stone 2000; Dawson 1999), their followers dealt with failure of prophecy by intensifying their messianic convictions. Most recently the Hasidic Lubavitch movement has attracted attention from fellow Jews and others on account of their messianic assertions. One of the largest Hasidic groups worldwide with communities in the USA, Canada, UK, Belgium and Israel, its leader, Menachem Schneerson, died in 1994 without leaving a successor. Although he was 92 years of age, and had been the spiritual centre of Lubavitch for over 40 years, this was no ordinary death. For many years his faithful followers had maintained that he was Moshiach – the Jewish Messiah who would usher in the final Redemption. For them, the fact that he had died before fulfilling his messianic mission was not only tragic, but led them into a significant cognitive challenge. Following his death Lubavitch rapidly split into two groups which we might label messianist and anti-messianist. While some messianists hold that Menachem Schneerson died but is to be resurrected as the Messiah, others hold that he is still alive, but concealed. A small minority assert that he has God-like powers, or even that he is the ‘creator’ himself. The anti-messianists maintain that the Rebbe could have been Moshiach if God had willed it, but they disagree vehemently that as such he could come back from the dead. Some anti-messianists assert that Schneerson was the best candidate for the Messiah in his generation but now that he is dead, they say, that claim is no longer viable. Although statistics are not readily available, it appears that today the messianists constitute a small, but vocal minority in the movement. For the majority
the messianic fervour present strongly before the Rebbe’s death has largely abated. In this book I concentrate on the messianic minority, but with some attention given to the non-messianic majority, so as to illustrate the long-term response of Lubavitch to failed prophecy. A belief in the final resurrection of the dead is normative in Judaism and is set down as Maimonides’s thirteenth principle of faith , but there is little precedent for the view that Moshiach could come from the dead. Not surprisingly such assertions by members of the Lubavitch movement have attracted a lot of derision from the wider Jewish community, some of whom have labelled them as ‘Christians’. This is, according to David Berger (2001), the only time that a ‘second coming Judaism has appeared since early Christianity’. He attacks the Lubavitch messianists as vile heretics, accusing them of undermining classic Jewish teaching about the Messiah and facilitating a Christian missionizing of the Jews. Likewise, in relation to the assertion that Rabbi Schneerson, having died, is still the Messiah, Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, a renowned Orthodox scholar, argues that ‘that could be possible in the Christian faith, but not Judaism’ adding that this was ‘repugnant to everything Judaism represents’ (Berger 2001a: 14). For over 20 years I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork among Lubavitch Hasidim in Crown Heights (USA) and in Stamford Hill (UK), focusing upon their messianic ideas. My own ethnographic research suggests a stark contrast in millennial fervour between the two communities. Whereas in Crown Heights millennial convictions still run high, in Stamford Hill the messianic excitement has largely abated. Chapter 1 is an overview of the social–psychological literature on how religious groups deal with ‘failed prophecy’. The central argument here is that we need to move beyond the traditional perspective on ‘cognitive dissonance’ described by Leon Festinger in his classic book When Prophecy Fails to examine the ways in which ritual and religious experience bolster counterintuitive cognitions. I examine how recent work on performance theory sees ritual as creating a sense of presence, an idea that I shall return to in later chapters when examining the various rituals deployed by the messianists to bring the Rebbe to life. Chapter 2 provides a brief overview of the methodological issues involved in researching millennial groups followed by a discussion of some of the practical issues that I encountered when conducting ethnographic fieldwork among the Lubavitch community. I discuss my role as an outsider in the production of data. Chapter 3 starts with a brief history of Lubavitch before moving onto the contemporary movement. I discuss the precursors to the extreme messianic
convictions in Chabad: the Hasidic doctrine of histalkus; the relationship between the Rebbe and his predecessor; the Rebbe Rayatz; the idea of ‘paradoxical spirituality’ in the Tanya; the Chabad emphasis on outreach as bringing forth the Redemption; and the activities and teachings of the Rebbe himself, which have not only contributed to his ‘charisma’ but also bolstered his followers’ convictions that he is truly Moshiach. There follows a detailed discussion of Lubavitcher messianism describing the increasing messianic excitement and proclamations of the Rebbe’s messianic status prior to his death in 1994 from a stroke. I emphasize the rhetorical strategies deployed by Rabbi Schneerson to persuade his followers that the Redemption had already begun. I then present an overview of the actual events surrounding the Rebbe’s death. Following a description of the Rebbe’s final illness and the immediate aftermath of his death, I describe the division of the community into messianists and anti-messianists, outlining their views . While the former group asserts that the Rebbe is alive and is Moshiach, the latter group maintains that the Rebbe’s death invalidates his messianic status. I propose that there may be some who privately hope that Rabbi Schneerson, having died, will return as Moshiach; it is difficult to know how prevalent this phenomenon is. Chapter 5 discusses the Stamford Hill community in London where I was present at the time of the Rebbe’s death. It will examine various responses that emerged following Rabbi Schneerson’s death, from self-blame, assertions of erroneous thinking, and spiritualization, more extreme responses such as claims of his imminent resurrection, to a complete denial of the fact that he ever died. The current situation in Stamford Hill is discussed and exemplified by a number of case studies. As in other millennial groups which have to accommodate to empirical reality, millennialism has been transformed from the predictive to the explanatory. In the former believers make specific predictions which can easily be disconfirmed. In the latter, millennialism fulfills a rhetorical function in providing an explanation of the current state of disorder and how this can be remedied. The next chapter looks at the Crown Heights community. Here messianic fervour still runs high. Differing messianic ideologies have led to a schizm within the movement. Lubavitcher messianism is put into the larger political context of the movement and the escalating tension between the messianists and anti-messianists is outlined. This chapter describes the ways in which iconography and ritualization (both in the ‘770’ headquarters and at the Rebbe’s grave) and religious experiences provide a sense of the Rebbe’s living presence.
Chapter 7 discusses the messianists in both Stamford Hill and in Crown Heights. A number of individual stories are presented. A significant proportion of the extreme messianic element in Lubavitch derives from the baalei teshuvah , many of whom are Israelis and Russians. I analyse the roles of religious immigration and ethnicity in Lubavitcher messianism emphasizing the fact that newcomers to the movement are attracted to its controversial teachings. I then turn to describe how media technology facilitates extreme messianic convictions. Following a discussion of media as effectively ritual, I discuss how the messianists and the anti-messianists have deployed various communicative methods to reinforce their arguments. The chapter moves on to discuss the role of the internet in Chabad messianism and examines the ways in which notions of ritual are transformed in cyberspace. Chapter 9 examines the similarities and differences between Lubavitcher messianism and the early Christian movement. I focus upon Christianity as a millennial movement which had to face up to the ‘problem’ of the nonarrival of the Kingdom of God. I discuss the role of ritual and religious experience in sustaining a sense of Jesus’ ‘living’ presence in the early movement and in contemporary Christianity. Lubavitch and early Christianity are clearly similar in several respects: the symbolic manipulation of time in relation to the Redemption and the conflation of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ elements in the discourse of both Jesus and Rabbi Schneerson; the similar genres of literature which are used to spread the good news (e.g. miracle stories and collections of originally independent sayings); the resurrection; the idea of the human-divine person; and the ways in which ritual and religious experience are used to bolster followers’ convictions of Jesus’ and the Rebbe’s ‘living’ presence after their physical deaths. I emphasize that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that Lubavitch has been influenced by Christian doctrine. Unlike the early Christians who formed a new religion, Lubavitch has remained within the confines of Orthodox Judaism. In my conclusion I analyse what we can learn from this ethnographic study of Lubavitch. Scholars studying counterintuitive beliefs need to broaden their perspectives and move beyond the cognitive emphasis which typifies discussions in this area. I argue for the role of ritual, emotion and experience in the creation and maintenance of religious convictions and in counterintuitive cognitions generally.
This book has been an ongoing project over the last two years. I am grateful to a number of people for their support: Professor Roland Littlewood, Professor Kate Loewenthal, Dr Tali Loewenthal, Dr Marat Shtetin, Professor Yoram Bilu, Professor Chris Cook, Professor Douglas Davies, Professor Lorne Dawson, Rabbi Odom Brandman, Rabbi Motti Seligson, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin and Dr Simon Cooper. I very much appreciate the patience that my family has expressed towards me during this period of writing. Two books have significantly influenced my thinking: Damian Thompson’s (2005) Waiting for Antichrist: Charisma and Apocalypse in a Pentecostal Church and Jeffrey Shandler’s (2009) Jews, God and Videotape: Religion and Media in America. I thank these authors for stimulating my ideas. Finally I am grateful to all my informants who gave me their valuable time. Some of the material in this book has appeared in Dein, S. ‘A Messiah from the Dead: Cultural Performance in Lubavitcher Messianism’. The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Social Compass, 57 (4), December 2010 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © [TheAuthor(s)]; Dein, S. and Dawson, L. (2008) ‘The “Scandal” of the Lubavitch Rebbe: Messianism as a Response to Failed Prophecy’, Journal of Contemporary Religion 23 (2): 163–80; Dein, S. (2004) Religion and Healing among the Lubavitch Community in Stamford Hill, North London: A Case Study of Hasidism, Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press; Dein, S. (2002) ‘Mosiach Is Here Now: Just Open Your Eyes and You Can See Him’, Anthropology and Medicine 9 (1): 25–36; Dein, S. (2002) ‘The Power of Words: Healing Narratives among Lubavitcher Hasidim’, Medical Anthropology Quarterly 16 (1): 41–62; Dein, S. (2001) ‘What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails: The Case of Lubavitch’, Sociology of Religion 62 (3): 383–401; Dein, S. (1997) Lubavitch: ‘A Contemporary Messianic Movement’, Journal of Contemporary Religion 12: 191–204; Dein, S. (1997) ‘When Prophecy Fails: Failed Messianism among Lubavitcher Hasidim’, in The Coming Deliverer: Millennial Themes
in the World Religions, F. Bowie (ed.), pp. 238–58, Cardiff: University of Wales Press. I am grateful to Taylor and Francis http://www.informaworld. com, to Sage publishers http://online.sagepub.com, University of Wales Press and to The Edwin Mellen Press for giving me pemission to include some of my previously published material.
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When a Prophecy Fails: From Cognition to Performance
Baruch Greenberg is typical of the many messianists who daven (pray) in the downstairs synagogue at ‘770’, the Rebbe’s headquarters. Brought up in a largely non-observant family in Tel Aviv, his close relationship with a Lubavitch rabbi on his college campus motivated him to increase his religious observance. Now 22 years of age, he has lived in Crown Heights with his wife and two children for 5 years and works in a local Jewish bookshop. Although he never personally met the Rebbe, he explained to me that he has always felt close to him. In fact studying the Rebbe’s teachings about the Redemption drew him to Lubavitch in the first place. Like other messianists in Lubavitch he wears a yellow lapel pin adorned with a crown signifying his conviction that Rabbi Schnerson is the Messiah and maintains that the Rebbe’s death was illusory. He recounted the following to me during an interview in 2010: Yes the Rebbe had a funeral but he is not at the Ohel (his resting place). What we see physically and what is reality are different things. Our eyes can deceive us. We learn that great tzadikim (righteous ones) do not die. There are many texts which prove this. The Rebbe is alive but concealed. We cannot see him but I feel his presence strongly in ‘770’. Moshiach has arrived and he is preparing us for the Redemption. You must learn to open your eyes, not your physical eyes but your spiritual eyes, and you will see him.
Millennial Expectations This book describes how one Jewish millennial group has adapted to a failed prophecy. For some years Lubavitch Hasidim held their spiritual leader, Menachem Schneerson, to be the Jewish Messiah who would be
responsible for ushering in the era of the Redemption. His ‘unexpected’ death following a stroke in 1994 led to a crisis of belief. Some anticipated his resurrection and for others his death was purely illusory. A minority within the movement still hold firmly to the belief in his messianic status. These messianists are the focus of this book. Such convictions raise intriguing questions concerning the rationality of believers and the practices that they deploy to maintain such cognitions: How do they rationalize such beliefs? What rhetorical devices are deployed to persuade Lubavitch congregants about the veracity of these convictions? What are the practical consequences of them? A problem for the social science of religion is to account for the fact that religious believers maintain, what appear to non-believers, to be ‘unconventional’, ‘counterintuitive’ or frankly ‘irrational’ beliefs in the face of disconfirming empirical reality. Religious leaders have to actively persuade potential believers as to the truth of their claims and address the discrepancy between their cognitions and reality. A successful movement deploys diverse cultural practices, including various rhetorical strategies and rituals. In attempting to account for contemporary Lubavitcher messianism I move beyond the typical scholarly preoccupation with ‘belief’ and ‘dissonance’ to examine the role of rhetoric, religious experience and ritual in maintaining such counterintuitive convictions. As such I deploy theoretical perspectives from the anthropology and sociology of religion. Millennial convictions in which people anticipate a major transformation of society brought about by divine means appear to be ubiquitous in the world’s major religions. Many different millennial movements have appeared throughout history; they have been found throughout the globe in places as diverse as Asia, Africa and Melanesia. The term Millennium originally referred to a thousand-year period in the New Testament Book of Revelation which would be the period of Christ’s reign on Earth . Contemporary scholars use the term in a broader sense to refer to a belief in earthly salvation without necessarily implying that the Kingdom of God will last one thousand years. Millennialism is always imbued with a compensatory or retributive significance and is characterized by the fundamental belief that at the end of time, God will judge the living and the [resurrected] dead. As Landes (1999) argues, this conviction of ultimate divine justice has provided a potential solution to the problem of theodicy for countless generations of believers − Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists − suffering hardship and oppression; all evil will be neutralized or justified in the fullness of time, and has, therefore, had immense appeal for people in every age. The claim
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is commonly made that the current generation is the most evil to date and that the situation will continue to worsen as time progresses, until the situation reaches a climax and the evil will be eradicated by the final Redemption. The last days are viewed as psychologically, if not always chronologically, imminent . Evil will be eliminated in the here and now rather than in some temporally distant afterlife. Such convictions are semiotically arousing: meaning is bestowed upon current events with the present conflicts and tensions being seen as a struggle between good and evil and its ultimate resolution at the end of time. It is not surprising that Stephen O’Leary in his Arguing the Apocalypse views apocalypticism as a persuasive rhetoric operating through narratives – stories of what is going to happen. In recent times the apocalyptic imagination has been fuelled by a multitude of ‘significant’ historical events. As Rapoport (1988: 200) has argued ‘messianism is always associated with the presence of signs’. Recent signs include the first and second Gulf Wars, the collapse of the Soviet Union, global epidemics such as AIDS and Bird Flu, 9/11 and the rise of militant Islam, increasing crime, family breakdown, and imminent climatic change. Each generation would have no problem naming similar significant social crises . It is reasonable to accept that apocalyptic millennialism, despite its inherent dangers, potentially offers immense psychological compensations; believers find themselves at the centre of the ultimate universal drama and their every act has not just earthly but also cosmic significance. According to Landes (1999), millennialists find cosmic messages in the smallest incident, in every coincidence. Moreover they sense that justice will prevail – the good will be imminently rewarded and the evildoers severely punished. Finally the approach of the end times and the promise of a new world liberate believers from the fear of future punishment by those who now hold power. Such a combination proves irresistible to many: millennial hope literally possesses believers. No matter how often the apocalyptic convictions have been disconfirmed (until present, always), no matter how often the millennial efforts to establish God’s kingdom on earth have led to disastrous results, apocalyptic expectations repeatedly receive new life and each generation holds that they are living at the end of time. A major problem with millennialism is that it is open to empirical disconfirmation and as its history demonstrates, it is overshadowed by disappointment and thus necessitates radical and often unsuccessful ideological work. Berger (1969: 70) highlights the fact that this vulnerability to disconfirmation is millennialism’s great weakness:
There are, to be sure, various cognitive and psychological mechanisms to rationalize empirical counter-evidence. All the same, there remains a theoretical problem in accounting for the fact that Yahweh has not brought the rain, that the parousia is delayed longer and longer, that the alleged Madhi turns out to be another all too mundane ruler, and so on. There are many examples however in the sociological and anthropological literature which suggests that, despite experiencing empirical disconfirmation, millennial beliefs persist among religious groups or may even intensify (Dawson 1999; Stone 2000). In many instances millennialists have predicted cataclysmic events or the dawn of a messianic era only to find that their expectations have been unfulfilled. Throughout the history of Judaism there has been no shortage of figures who have been presumed to be the Jewish Messiah (Lenowitz 2001). In each instance they have failed to achieve cosmic redemption and to guide their followers through the apocalypse to an eternal life free of suffering. Their physical deaths soon put an end to their followers’ messianic fervour. The only two significant exceptions − until recently − were Jesus  and the seventeenth-century messiah Shabbetai Tzevi , whose movements were quickly separated from the mainstream of Judaism. In both instances, despite the fact that their leaders’ prophecies failed to be fulfilled, the movements continued after they died. As I shall discuss below, a similar situation has arisen in Lubavitch.
The Causes and Consequences of Millennialism Social scientists who have examined millennialism generally focus upon one or more of the following themes: believers’ predispositions, the violent nature of millennial fervour and the painful consequences of doomsday prophecies. There is a vast literature that has attempted to account for apocalyptic beliefs in terms of economic, social and psychological causes. The focus of this literature has generally been on audience predispositions (see O’Leary 1994) − the factors that predispose converts to accept apocalyptic claims − typically arguing for the importance of phenomena such as social and economic class (Hobsbawm 1959; Worsley 1968; Cohn 1957, 1993), the experience of calamity (Barkun 1986) or in psychological anomie (Lifton 1985) and cognitive dissonance (Festinger et al. 1956; Stone 2000). Perhaps best known is the work of Norman Cohn (1957) who attempts to understand millennialism as deriving from relative deprivation, and as
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providing emotional compensation for social disadvantage: eschatological fantasies offer ‘emotional compensation for their abject status’ (Cohn 1957: 282). Although experiences of deprivation, anomie and calamity may be important in predisposing actors to accept apocalyptic beliefs, as explanatory frameworks they lack specificity, and they fail to account for the fact that people ‘choose’ apocalyptic beliefs rather than other cognitive strategies for dealing with adversity. Furthermore, the idea of ‘deprivation’ or anomie is imputed to subjects by the researcher. There is no evidence provided which substantiates the fact that subjects themselves feel especially deprived or experience a sense of meaninglessness. As one critic writes ‘the crucial element is not so much whether one is actually oppressed as to whether one feels oppressed’ (Collins 1984). Some millennial groups do resort to violence, either in an attempt by the ‘chosen’ to purge the world of non-believers or in order to force the end, sometimes turning aggression upon themselves (see Cohn 1957, 1993; Wessinger 2000; Hall and Schyler 2000). After witnessing several tragic incidents involving unconventional religions in the past few decades, I would agree with Palmer (2001) who asserts that the dangerous potential and volatility of apocalyptic groups has become an issue of intense concern as we enter the new millennium. I shall not dwell on this issue further here. Rather, I shall concentrate on the third theme, the response to failure of millennial prophecy.
The Problem of Dissonance Messianic prophecies and their failure present followers with a persistent cognitive challenge: the problem of dissonance when beliefs, values or opinions which individuals hold come into direct conflict with the experience of reality leading to feelings of discomfort. The occurrence of such dissonance results in countervailing pressures to seek ways of reducing it. In most instances people respond to dissonance by aligning their beliefs with experience (see Stone 2000: 4). However this is not always the case, especially when the conflicting cognitions derive from strongly held religious convictions. The classic theory for understanding how such dissonance is resolved derives from Leon Festinger, Henry Reicken and Stanley Schachter (1956) whose study of a flying saucer cult was published in When Prophecy Fails. For this group, the Seekers, unequivocal disconfirmation of a prophesized event, in this instance the prediction of a destructive flood and the
subsequent rescue of believers by flying saucers, created a crisis of belief. While the best course of action for believers would have been to discard these ‘incorrect’ beliefs and continue with their former lives, ‘frequently the behavioral commitment to the belief is so strong that almost any other course of action is preferable’, and ‘It may even be less painful to tolerate the dissonance than to discard the belief and admit that one had been wrong’ (1956: 27). To reduce psychological dissonance, Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance predicts that the dissonance produced by disconfirming information will be reduced by adding new cognitions consonant with the set of cognitions most resistant to change. Another way in which such dissonance might be assuaged is by increased proselytization: ‘If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct’ (1956: 28). Festinger argued that for such a process to occur there must be firm conviction; there must be public commitment to this conviction; the conviction must be amenable to unequivocal disconfirmation; such unequivocal disconfirmation must occur; and lastly, social support must be available to the believer subsequent to the disconfirmation. The final condition – social support, is the only truly sociological component of the theory: The individual must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence we have specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, we would expect the belief to be maintained and the believers to attempt to proselytize or to persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct. (Festinger et al. 1956: 28) As Dawson (1999) points out in his comparative study of prophetic movements, whether or not a group survives the failure of prophecy is decisively influenced by the degree of in-group social support available for validating the rationalizations of a failure. It is not so much the size of the group but its degree of solidarity or cohesiveness that has a bearing upon the group’s survival . Festinger’s main contribution was to argue that failure of prophecy does not spell an end to the group or to necessarily diminish a members’ faith. There are many subsequent studies that demonstrate how individuals cling tenaciously to their convictions in the wake of failed prophecy. Believers reaffirm their faith by reinterpreting its substance and meaning. Festinger and his colleagues made this point when first stating their thesis in 1956 but
When a Prophecy Fails
it has remained underdeveloped. As they state, individuals presented with undeniable evidence that their beliefs are wrong ‘will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of their beliefs than ever before’ (1956: 3). Studies post Festinger et al have examined the various strategies deployed by prophetic groups to deal with empirical disconfirmation. A popular model for looking at failed prophecy is that of Zygmunt (1972) who suggests three modes of adaptation to prophetic failure: adaptation, reaffirmation and reappraisal. These patterns of response derive from existing organizational resources. First, believers may acknowledge an error of dating such as occurred among the Millerites. Second, the blame may be shifted to some force inside or outside the group which interferes with the cosmic plan. Lastly, believers may postulate that the event in fact occurred but that it did so not on the material plane, but rather on the spiritual plane, and that it was not, therefore, directly observable to believers. These ideas have been developed by Melton (1985: 21) who argues ‘the denial of failure of prophecy is not just another option, but the common mode of adaptation of millennial groups following a failed prophecy’. He suggests two additional modes of adaptation: social and cultural. In the cultural or spiritualization mode the group tends to reinterpret the promise of a visible verifiable event into the acceptance of a non-verifiable, invisible event. The prophecy has been fulfilled but on the spiritual, rather than on the material plane. However, even so, dissonance may still occur with associated feelings of sadness, fear, bewilderment and disappointment necessitating a reinterpretation of the prophecy. The disappointment is real as is the threat to the group’s ongoing survival. In the social mode, emotional distress is assuaged by placing an emphasis on renewing group ties following disconfirmation (see Tumminia 1998 in her discussion of a flying saucer group). Following disconfirmation of prophecy groups tend to turn inwards and engage in a process of group building. Cultural and social responses to failure exist in a dialectic relationship: for reinterpretation to ‘work’ there must be sufficient social support and likewise, groups may collapse if the leaders fail to provide appropriate reinterpretations, even if there is enough social support.
Criticisms of Festinger’s Theory While his theory might explain how certain groups reaffirm their beliefs, it does not explain why such cognitions are held so tenaciously. Consequently
considerable effort has been made to identify various mechanisms resolving dissonance. Although many studies conducted in diverse religious contexts lend support to the basic assumptions of cognitive dissonance (Bainbridge 1997; Wardie 2000; Poloma 1982; Gager 1975; Dein 2001; Dein and Dawson 2008), the theory has attracted much criticism on both empirical and theoretical grounds. In some instances the behavioural manifestations of dissonance reduction such as increased proselytization do not occur. Stone (2000) argues that studies on failed prophecy post-Festinger indicate that active proselytization is an uncommon occurrence. In most of the case studies discussed in his book Expecting Armageddon: Essential Reading in Failed Prophecy, proselytization did not occur. Similarly Dawson (1999) argues his approach is too narrow and proselytization is only one way of reducing dissonance and by no means the most common response. Melton (1985) points out a number of problems with the thesis – the first problem being that the study’s thesis rests upon historical error. The Millerites cited by Festinger et al. (1956) disbanded after a failed prediction that the world would end in the 1830s. The next problem involves Festinger’s assertion that millennial groups are organized around the prediction of prospective events. This is seen by Melton as a one-dimensional view of millennialism which neglects the presence of a complex cosmology. As he states (1985: 19), ‘the prediction is only one support device for the group, not the essential rafter’. Indeed, prediction often springs from a broad context of belief and disconfirmation provides a ‘test’ which generally strengthens the group concerned. Third, the problem was noted of the researcher’s standard for logic not necessarily being consistent with the internal definitions of the group studied. As Melton argues, unlike psychics in the weekly tabloids, religious groups are not in the habit of making arbitrary predictions. Rather, they try to discern cosmic truths which they conceive in tangible terms consistent with their understanding of spiritual reality. For outsiders, who by definition do not hold to the worldview of the group, specific prophecies and their failures are often the only items of concern, and they may view failure of a major predicted event as a sign of invalidating the group’s convictions. Members of that group, however, have a much broader perspective. Despite this, they still have to deal with the problem of dissonance, although they possess strong motivations to bridge the gap between belief and reality. In addition to contending that Festinger’s approach was too narrow, many writers have claimed that his approach is too positivistic and he presents his subjects as irrational and driven by forces beyond their comprehension. In particular, Dein (2001: 385) argues that he fails to pay sufficient attention to the perspectives and interpretations of followers and
When a Prophecy Fails
the way they try to reason their way through facts and doctrine in pursuit of understanding. Related to this, there have been allegations that scholars have imposed secular empirical modes of thought on the research field while at the same time displaying condescending attitudes towards their subjects (Baumgarten 2000; Tumminia 1998). O’Leary (2000) emphasizes the fact that in order to understand the growth and continued vitality of millennial and apocalyptic groups, even following failed predictions, we must recognize that such groups do not operate from the same premises or worldviews as those of the scientists who study them, and therefore researchers should not impose their modernist scientific epistemology that valorizes falsibility onto apocalyptic subjects. There is a need to reconstruct the group’s own logic and assumptions and belief systems may feature validation logic that helps ensure their persistence. For O’Leary the functional significance of a prediction in an apocalyptic movement cannot be scientific. Rather predictions serve constitutive and normative functions and thus in addition to examining attempts at dissonance reduction, we need to see the whole process of apocalyptic conversion and organizational development as a communicative, and specifically an argumentative process. Prophecies can be said to ‘fail’ in the scientific sense following their disconfirmation, but they may simultaneously succeed from the perspective of the prophet and his followers who may gain a wide variety of benefits − economic, sexual and psychological – in the new social structure created by the prediction and its aftermath. The original prediction may act as a mould, shaping the group and providing structural coherence. Rather than test theories, apocalyptic beliefs provide the basis for new social organizations with unique means of group identification. Thus although cognitive dissonance may provide a useful way of explaining certain dynamics of apocalyptic sects, it obscures or distorts other aspects. Carroll (1979) argues that among the faithful, there is a transcendental dimension to prophecy which secures it from failure. Spilka et al. (2003) assert that for believers failed prophecy entails hermeneutical considerations that render claims to ‘unequivocal’ and ‘undeniable’ falsification problematic. Furthermore, sociologically oriented social psychologists recognize that the notion of what constitutes a radical transformation is socially constructed and therefore from an insider’s perspective, prophecy cannot fail. Others (e.g. Bem 1970: 29) have even argued that cognitive dissonance may be less of a problem for the believer than for the researcher. Unlike belief in science, many believers do not require consistent and frequent confirmatory evidence. Beliefs may withstand the pressure of disconfirming events not because of the effectiveness of reducing strategies but because disconfirming evidence may simply go unacknowledged (Snow and
Machalek 1982). Thus although dissonance may occur, it doesn’t always occur when beliefs are disconfirmed. Finally, the concept of cognitive dissonance refers to a temporary violation in the natural order and consistency of life. It encourages only a synchronic attempt to restore balance as quickly as possible (Tumminia 1998, 2005; Kravel Tovi and Bilu 2008). The theory has been criticized on account of the fact that it ignores the emic perspectives of believers and the power of religious meaning systems to simultaneously sustain illogical and incompatible religious beliefs (Bader 1999; Tumminia 1998; Zygmunt 1972; Kravel Tovi and Bilu 2008). Kravel Tovi (2009) argues that there is a need to move beyond the existing social psychological paradigm of cognitive dissonance to examine cultural strategies for reinventing and reviving meaning in a ruptured religious world. Processes of defining and constructing reality occur constantly. The vitality of a movement depends on the modes of reality that are provided to believers directly and indirectly. Thus the theory of cognitive dissonance (and its emphasis on tension reduction and balance) and subsequent theories of rationalization are inadequate for explaining the complexities, contradictions and ambiguities involved in dealing with a failed prophecy. This is not to undermine the utility of these theories in the short term as ‘first aid’ measures enabling followers to deal with the anguish of failed prediction. This point is echoed by Luhrmann (1991: 272) who argues in relation to cognitive dissonance: The important feature of this theory is that the effort to straighten out inconsistencies in experience and belief resemble an odd-job-man’s repairs. If people notice a mismatch of ideas and experience they do something to make them fit. A few lines later she goes on to state: Festinger’s subjects do not act to promote long term consistency, or even long term self-interest; they act to avoid current cognitive embarrassment, and they do in ways which are sometimes quite damaging to long term self interest.
From Predictive to Explanatory Millennialism Thompson (2005) underscores a point neglected by Festinger: in many instances millennialists steer clear of time specific prophecies or at least
When a Prophecy Fails
become more cautious of them in order to reduce dissonance. Given the fact that millennialists always have to make their convictions consistent with empirical reality, it is far from surprising that in some movements, millennial convictions have moved from predictive to explanatory. In the former, believers make specific predictions which can easily be disconfirmed. In the latter, millennialism fulfils a rhetorical function in providing an explanation of the current state of evil and how this state can be remedied. He notes that ‘predictive’ millenarianism − with its risky time-specific predictions of the end − has been substantially supplanted by ‘explanatory’ millenarianism, which uses apocalyptic narratives to explain features of the contemporary world. Most apocalyptic believers, he finds, are comfortable with these ‘lower-cost’ explanatory narratives that do not require them to sell their possessions and give up their everyday lives. Stephen O’Leary (1994) in his book Arguing the Apocalypse suggests that millennialism is best analysed as a form of rhetoric. The key to understanding millennialism is to examine how its arguments are framed, circulated and managed, rather than speculation (often untestable) about the underlying attitudes that it represents. Additionally he is critical of theories such as Cohn (1993) that attempt to understand millennialism deriving from relative deprivation and as providing emotional compensation for social disadvantage: eschatological fantasies offer ‘emotional compensation for their abject status’ (Cohen 1993: 282). O’Leary focuses upon social practices rather than individual cognition; people must be persuaded that the world is coming to an end: It comes as no surprise that sociologists and historians, lacking the perspective of rhetorical studies, should expend so much energy in trying to explain the appeal of apocalyptic discourse by discovering audience predispositions based in conditions of social and economic class, in experience of calamity or in psychological anomalies. It is curious, however, that even those rhetorical scholars who attempt to account for the appeal of the apocalyptic never seriously entertain the hypothesis that people are persuaded by apocalyptic arguments; that is, that the nature of apocalyptic’s appeal should be sought in transactions of texts and audiences. (1994: 11) 
From Belief to Ritual The theory of cognitive dissonance is firmly anchored in the notion that religious people hold specific beliefs. The notion of ‘belief’ within the study
of religions has attracted some criticism. Ruel (2005) argues that the term belief is a Protestant Christian concept that cannot easily be applied to other western and non-Western religions. It carries a lot of theoretical and ideological baggage. Christianity in Western Europe and North America has been dominated by Protestant traditions with its strong emphasis on faith. It is unsurprising that the study of religions in the West has emphasized the interiorization of belief and the associated tendency in traditional studies of religion to look to beliefs and texts as the basis of religions; there is the tacit assumption that religious practices are driven in some way by underlying beliefs. Recent scholarship in cognitive science and anthropology has argued for the embodied nature of cognition, arguing for close relationships between cognition, ritual, emotion and performance . Within social anthropology there is increasing pressure to bring together experiencebased, individualistic approaches with ethnographic research to understand relationships between the individual and culture. Anthropologists have long been interested in the interconnections between belief and experience arguing for the interlinking of cognition and emotion (Dornan 2004; Firth 1948, 1996; Geertz 2000; James 1982; Needham 1972; Turner and Bruner 1986). As Spickard (1991) points out, traditionally social scientists of religion have tended to neglect religious experiences, that is the subjective side of what occurs in religious settings. This has generally been held to be the province of psychology. Following the example set by William James (1902), most sociologists and anthropologists see such experiences as essentially individual; their religiousness is an ‘overbelief’ grafted onto psychological phenomena. Neitz and Spickard (1990) strongly disagree with this position and argue that an adequate sociological theory of religion must account for religious experience. Ritual and shared religious practices are central strategies through which belief and experience are articulated and instantiated. Like many other anthropological terms ‘ritual’ is not really an analytical category, but, rather what is usually called a set of family-resemblances. Although it is possible to list some general properties (e.g. it has no empirical goals, compulsion, rigidity, repetition), not all these features are shared by all such actions that religious people and scholars usually define as rituals. The idea that ritual and religious experience are closely related is hardly new. Pruyser (1968) asserts that the purpose of ritual worship is to stimulate religious experience. Dornan (2004) discusses how ritualistic performances can channel experience based on belief and alter belief in accordance with experience. They allow individuals to trigger religious
When a Prophecy Fails
experiences, acting as a pivot on which participants can frame those experiences within a shared interpretation of perceptions and emotions arising during the ritual. Both cultural phenomenology and neurophenomenology see religious ritual not only in terms of as symbolic performances of culturally salient religious meanings but also as the central mediator in a dynamic feedback loop between shared religious belief and subjective religious (embodied) experiences. She quotes Sapir( 1958: 260) who writes: ‘It is precisely under the stimulation of collective activity as, in the sun dance of the Plains Indians or in the Roman Catholic Mass, that the most intense forms of individual experience are created’. It is the actual practice of ritual that instantiates, reinforces and authenticates belief through subjective experience. The symbols and abstract ideas of the religion do not have the social force of belief unless there is some performative experience aspect to provide meaning and import to the symbols . Catherine Bell (1992: 30–54) has criticized the theoretical assumption of a distinction between what is said and what is done. Furthermore she decries the privileging of belief over action − something which is only partially overcome by an alternative focus on ritual as a mediator of thought through action. She appeals to Bourdieu’s notion of habitus − a term which broadly refers to the cultural context in which people live and practise their lives. For her habitus refers to the set of habitual dispositions through which people ‘give shape and form to social conventions’. Habitus, according to Bell, helps to collapse the distinction between thought and action. Action is thus seen as a form of embodied thought. Her argument which I shall apply in this study is that in order to study beliefs, we must locate them within a wider context within a particular habitus or cultural context and across different contexts, rather than looking at belief statements as abstract words or propositions. In a similar vein, Motz (1998) suggests that combining the study of performance with the study of traditional belief provides a theoretical and methodological framework within which to examine the practice of believing as a way of knowing that articulates the point of intersection of an individual, a group, a text and an abstract concept. Rather than examining belief as an entity, she argues that it should be seen as a practice. A belief exists only because people believe it: it is not an attribute or property but evidence of a process ‘Not only do rituals, narratives, songs and other forms of folklore enable us to discuss and debate belief, but they also generate and perpetuate belief’(p: 350) . Csordas (1993) has argued for a phenomenological paradigm according to which embodiment is the existential ground in which culture and the
self are grounded. He takes the lived body as the methodological starting point, rather than considering the body as a text, a position that has until now been commonly adopted by social anthropologists who adopt a strong representationalist bias whereby social reality is inscribed upon the body. The embodiment paradigm emphasizes perception and practice. He utilizes the term ‘somatic modes of attention’ to refer to culturally elaborated ways of attending to and with one’s body in surroundings which include the embodied presence of others. Through embodied engagement in the world, and through culturally encouraged shifting somatic modes of attention to particular aspects of our bodies, we can explore the relationships between religious experience and the more cognitive functions of religious belief: Images, ideas and emotional and physical associations are all active and present in the experience of a ritual gesture or posture. These gestures and postures express inner attitudes or states, and they correspond to a particular concept of deity or the transcendent. (Csordas 1993: 3)
Performance Grimes (1982) notes that approaches to the study of ritual encompass many different theoretical perspectives, including functionalism, phenomenology and semiotics. For Durkheim, ritual fostered collective identity. Victor Turner (1969) argues that ritual, although sometimes acting as a strategy for building social solidarity, at other times may afford an opportunity for social critique and resistance. His work focuses upon the notion of liminality and communitas, where participants in ritual experience a liminal threshold moment of transition from an everyday profane, structured world to a substantive, sacred, antistructural world of communitas. In the anthropological literature there has been a general lack of consensus concerning the nature of ritual (as thought or action, sacred or profane, embodied or not embodied). However most scholars concur with the view that ritual may provide a shared referent for culture yet allow for the expression of different values, and that ritual can be disruptive rather than unifying. In recent years the study of rituals has moved away from seeing their enactment in terms of structures of representation to seeing them rather as processes of practice and performance (Schechner and Appel 1990; Roseman 1991; Schieffelin 1985; Laderman and Roseman 1996). Rather than conceptualizing ritual as a set of symbols or a structure of meanings
When a Prophecy Fails
which formulate or ‘make sense of’ particular, often problematic, cultural, or psychological situations, from the perspective of performance, rituals are effective on account of their non-discursive, dramaturgical and rhetorical levels of performance. The performative perspective concentrates on experience − near aspects of social phenomena; with actions rather than text, with illocutionary rather than with propositional force and with the social construction rather than the representation of reality. What renders the performance compelling is not primarily the meanings embodied in the symbolic materials but the ways in which the symbolic materials emerge in interactions between actors and the audience (Schiefelin 1985). It is concerned with creating a sense of presence and versimilitude which is able to alter moods, attitudes, social states and states of mind (Schieffelin 1998: 199). Rituals not only reflect everyday and cosmological realities, they construct these in the first place. This position moves from an emphasis on cognition to one of social constructionism. Bell (1997) describes the general characteristics of ritual-like activities which mediate a sense of the sacred: multisensory experience, formalism, traditionalism, invariance and framing, all of which facilitate the production of a sense of an authoritative order that lies beyond the mundane world . Rituals are multisensory performances involving visual imagery and dramatic sounds in which not only is seeing believing, but doing is believing (Moore and Meyerhoff 1977: 223). The power of performance lies in the heightened multisensory experience it affords: participants are literally pulled into a complex sensory experience which can also communicate a variety of messages and generate specific religious experiences by eliciting emotions. Tambiah (1985) describes an inner phenomenological frame of ritual marked by sensory and kinetic patterning. Similarly Talal Asad (1993) holds that religious dispositions are cultivated by bodily actions and disciplines such as fasting and prayer rather than by cultural symbols and conceptual discourse. Some authors such as Alcorta and Sosis (2005) argue that ritual not only serves as a forum for signalling godly commitments: they inculcate religion by generating affirming religious experiences. These ideas echo Emile Durkheim’s theory of ‘collective effervescence’ (Durkheim 1964). Various aspects of ritualistic practice such as music and dancing and repetitive monotony might suppress commonsense perspectives on the world by facilitating the experience of ‘trance’ (Rouget 1985). Ritual acts through transformation of emotional states. For instance in his classic text The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz (1973: 90) observes that ritual transports participants into another mode of existence that relies on the suppression of the commonsense perspective of the everyday world. These
thoughts are echoed by Etzel Cardena (1989: 14) who writes that ritual operates via repetition towards the elimination of critical thought. Thus counterintuitive beliefs may be more likely to be accepted during ritual. In a similar vein, Kovach (2002) suggests that nowhere is the experiential significance of the body more apparent or better documented than in religious behaviour. Catherine Bell (1992: 185) even argues that it is embodiment that gives substance and meaning to religion, noting that, for most practitioners, religion ‘is not a coherent belief system but, first and foremost, a collection of embodied practices’.
Ritual and Time There is however another way in which ritual can be said to ‘work’ involving the symbolic manipulation of time. Rappaport (1992: 25) has argued that ‘in ritual, one returns ever again to that which never changes, to that which is punctiliously repeated in every performance’. Ritual ‘works’ because it evokes the past through an orchestration of symbols. A religious service such as a high mass or a dramatic Christian revival meeting in Christianity combines symbols in diverse media: sight, touch, taste and smell − to create for the duration of the service a kind of religious sub-universe in which these symbols support the religious worldview and render it live for those susceptible to its power. Time and memory are closely connected. Our experience of the present very largely depends upon our knowledge of the past. Furthermore, images of the past commonly legitimate the present social order. Connerton (1992) in his How Societies Remember, treats memory as a cultural rather than as individual phenomenon. He posits that images of the past and recollected knowledge of the past are conveyed and sustained by ritual performances and that performative memory is bodily. Connerton proposes that societies remember in three rather different ways: namely, through inscriptions onto cultural texts (myths, ‘great books,’ monuments); by way of commemorative rituals that engage people in participatory rationality and social action; and via incorporation of social memory into the human body. Every culture, Connerton writes, ‘will entrust to bodily automatisms the values and categories which they are most anxious to conserve. They will know how well the past can be kept in mind by a habitual memory sedimented in the body’ (1992: 102). This view necessitates attention to bodily practices in the construction of social memory.
When a Prophecy Fails
Thus ritual achieves transformations by virtue of its dynamic, diachronic and physical characteristics in contrast to the acting out of tradition or cognitive maps. Specific sites are rendered sacred by virtue of the rituals performed there. It is ritual like activity which gives form to the specialness of a site, distinguishing it from other places in ways that evoke highly symbolic meanings. What makes activities ritual-like is twofold: the way they differentiate some places from others by means of distinctive acts and responses and the way in which they evoke experiences of a greater, higher or more universalized reality. In this chapter I have argued the need to move beyond the cognitive emphasis which typifies studies of prophetic groups, to a position that takes seriously the role of ritual and religious experience in the maintenance of religious belief. In subsequent chapters I shall examine the role of live ritual, and those rituals mediated through television and the internet in constructing a sense of the Rebbe’s continued presence. Before moving on to Lubavitcher messianism, I shall briefly discuss some methodological issues involved in my ethnographic research.
Ethnography in Stamford Hill and in Crown Heights
Given the extraordinary claims made by some members of Lubavitch, it is hardly surprising that the Rebbe’s death and its repercussions have attracted a widespread academic audience ranging from anthropologists and sociologists (Kravel Tovi and Bilu 2008; Bilu 2009; Kravel Tovi 2009; Dein 2001; Dein and Dawson 2008; Shaffir 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2001; Heilman and Friedman 2010) to Jewish studies scholars (Ehrlich 2004; Berger 2001a, b; Wolfson 2009; Rosengard 2009), to academics in media studies (Shandler 2009). Fishkoff (2005), a journalist, has written an account of Lubavitch which, although not in an academic genre, describes the role of emissaries in Chabad messianism. Building on the existing literature, this book offers anthropological insights into the messianic convictions of this group. My ethnographic work over the past 20 years has focused upon two aspects of Lubavitch: their healing practices (Littlewood and Dein 1995; Dein 2002, 2004) and messianism (Dein 1997a, b, 2001; Dein and Dawson 2008). An ethnographic methodology has enabled me to build up long-term relationships with members of the community, to examine in detail their messianic convictions and practices, and to examine how messianic ideas relate to the wider social context. Additionally, I was able to examine the discrepancies between what people said and what they actually did. Through my longterm involvement in the community I have been able to look at how these ideas changed over time. By attending religious services I was able to observe first-hand the rituals through which the Lubavitch community was able to construct the Rebbe’s presence. Although their messianic discourse was of obvious interest to me, my focus was specifically on religious experience, and in this respect I have attempted to provide detailed phenomenological descriptions of their encounters with Rabbi Schneerson. My hypothesis is that conviction and experience are inextricably interconnected. As Johnson (1998) points out
Ethnography in Stamford Hill and in Crown Heights
in his discussion of Christian ritual, the very idea of experience is inherently problematic, so much so that historians and social scientists alike typically ignore or suppress it. Experience is, unlike events, connected to individuals as individuals and is inexorably somatic. Because of its inward dimension, analysis of experience necessarily depends on some sort of report from the person doing the experiencing, and is inaccessible except through subjective consciousness and the communication of that consciousness. For these reasons experience is an interpreted reality and is at least partly constituted by the interpretation of the experiencing subject. Language plays a part not only in the communication of the experience to others but also in the shaping of that experience as it occurs. Much of my fieldwork was conducted in Stamford Hill, North East London where I lived with a Lubavitch family for 10 years, during which time I participated in religious events, attended shiurim (study sessions), visited various Chabad Houses, compiled messianic literature and slowly developed a network of friends and families in the community with whom I could discuss messianic topics. Although I never formally became a ‘member’ of Lubavitch (despite much deliberation over whether to join or not), and the fact that I never dressed in Hasidic garb, community members readily accepted an anthropologist in their midst. Many of my interviews were conducted at Lubavitch House (the administrative headquarters of Lubavitch in the UK) and in Beis Menachem (a synagogue in Stamford Hill based in storefront premises in Oldhill Street off Stamford Hill). As well as the time spent in Stamford Hill, I have conducted research in Crown Heights in 1990, 1993, 2008 and 2010. In 1990 I met the Rebbe for ‘Dollars’ – a weekly ceremony where he distributed dollars to his followers. At this time messianic excitement in Crown Heights was running high and I spent much time observing and recording messianic discourse and practices in ‘770’ – the Rebbe’s residence – and the immediate vicinity. Through the aid of an interpreter I was able to understand his public speeches which were always given in Yiddish. It was at the farbrengens (mass gatherings) where the Rebbe expounded on Torah, life and Hasidic philosophy (a ma’amar), punctuated at intervals by singing, dancing and toasting by his Hasidim, that I was able to observe first-hand the interactions between the Rebbe and his followers, especially the messianic discourse. Here the Rebbe would deliver his talks seated at a long table at the front of the room of the synagogue. He would face his male followers who stood before him while women listened from their upstairs balcony. My last visit to Crown Heights was in February 2010 when I attended services at ‘770’ and went along to the Rebbe’s Ohel (lit. “tent”) – the structure built over the resting place of a tzadik, a righteous person.
Stamford Hill and Crown Heights are best seen as one large transnational community or diaspora. Friends and relatives live in, and shuttle between, various points around the globe. As Goldschmidt (2006: 113) points out in relation to Lubavitch, ‘They strive to create a bounded Jewish neighborhood within walking distance of ‘770’, yet conduct their daily lives in spaces that transgress the boundaries of neighborhood and nation state’. Those living in Stamford Hill regularly visit their relatives in Crown Heights and vice versa. The two communities are linked through marriage and study. Marriages are regularly arranged where one member of a couple comes from the UK and the partner derives from the USA. It is commonplace for young men and women in Stamford Hill to go to study in yeshivot in Crown Heights and occasionally for young people from the USA to come over to Stamford Hill to study. Until 1992 it was customary for members of the Stamford Hill community to visit the Rebbe for ‘Dollars’ (usually once a year depending upon financial circumstances). After his death many people continue to travel regularly to the Rebbe’s synagogue in Crown Heights and often combine this with a pilgrimage to the Ohel. In recent years the communities have been connected not just in physical space, but also in cyberspace. Lubavitch has set up a number of websites, providing information about the movement, its philosophy and Jewish practice generally. Today Chabad Lubavitch Media Center maintains some 1100 websites, as well as specialized holiday sites and over 1500 customized sites for local Chabad House. Chabad.org is the flagship website of the movement. As one of the first Jewish internet sites, it was the first and largest virtual congregation. Founded by the late Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen, it has a comprehensive Jewish knowledge base, which includes over 100,000 articles of information ranging from basic Judaism to philosophy. The major categories include the Human Being, God and Man, Concepts and Ideas, The Torah, The Physical World, The Jewish Calendar, Science and Technology, and People and Events. As I shall discuss in Chapter 8, there are now a large number of Chabad websites focusing upon the Rebbe as Moshiach, such as BeisMoshiach.org, Moshiach.com, RadioMoshaich.org, Otzar770.com, Kabbalah.tv and Cabalah. org. These sites not only provide ‘proofs’ of the Rebbe’s messianic status but some provide an opportunity to personally interact with the Rebbe and to obtain advice from him through his text Igaret Ha’Kodesh. I supplemented my ‘live’ ethnographic observations with internet data although I was not directly involved in online interactions with Lubavitch congregants. Some of my fieldwork involved compiling and analysing these sites, performing internet
Ethnography in Stamford Hill and in Crown Heights
ethnography. Today, ethnography is one of the methodologies that is more and more frequently employed in the research of the internet .
Fieldwork among Millennial Groups My relationship with Lubavitch started in 1990 when I attended meetings of Project Return, a weekly meeting held at Lubavitch House with the purpose of bringing secular Jews back to religious observance. After one year I decided to undertake fieldwork as part of a PhD thesis. The start of my fieldwork was made easier on account of the support of key individuals in the community who took me into their fold and introduced me to others. I was always wary of saying or doing anything that could appear antagonistic. Never wanting to appear deceitful, when asked on several occasions why I had not yet become a member, I typically responded that I was still unsure of the fact that their way of life was for me. I was always up front about my motives for being there, which were primarily academic and secondarily religious. Although some informants treated me with suspicion after I explained my anthropological agenda, the majority were generally at ease during my interviews. Ethical issues are central to ethnography, none more so than the question of whether it should be conducted openly or ‘undercover’. In researching for When Prophecy Fails, Festinger and his colleagues posed as believers when examining their flying saucer group, the Seekers. Their methodology exemplified the now outdated and ‘unethical’ phenomenon of covert research. Covert methods violate the principles of informed consent and may invade the privacy of those being studied. Furthermore, in their study, the researchers pretended ‘to be merely interested individuals who had been persuaded of the correctness of the belief system’ (1956: 249). Today such deception would be regarded as highly unethicaI. I was quite open about my research motives and explained to informants before conducting interviews with them that I was writing a book about the Lubavitcher Rebbe . Carrying out fieldwork among a group like Lubavitch was far from easy and posed significant problems at times. As the messianic fervour intensified in the community, I found people increasingly uninterested in my interviews. Initially I wondered if they were offended by my questions but I soon came to realize that my research was of no importance to them since it did not affect them and they had more pressing matters to deal with .
I found the periods immediately preceding and following the Rebbe’s death difficult ones in which to conduct interviews. For the Lubavitch community this was a time of great emotional turmoil. Although many informants stated that the Rebbe would reveal himself as Moshiach, I found it very difficult to probe deeper. It was obvious that many people were anguished by what was happening and I felt diffident about asking whether the Rebbe could die. On one occasion when I enquired whether or not the Rebbe would recover, an informant became angry and shouted at me because of what he perceived to be my doubts. Immediately following his death it was equally difficult to approach people and discuss its messianic implications for fear that they might see my questions not only as intrusive, but also as criticizing their fundamental beliefs. It was often with some trepidation that I broached these issues. Like any study involving participant observation among religious groups, fieldwork among millennial groups raises issues that have been typically described in the literature as insider/outsider problems (see McCutcheon, 1997). These issues are both theoretical and methodological. The notion that someone can get inside another’s belief system and speak with integrity about it exists in tension alongside the notion that only those within a tradition can speak for it. As Knott (2005: 243) points out, the debate rages on between etic and emic, reductionism and belief, anthropology and theology. Is it possible for an outsider to ‘understand’ a religious group? Some have argued for the researcher to be a complete observer in studies of religious groups. This is a stance commonly adopted by sociologists and psychologists of religion. They eschew any kind of participation and research and write about religion from the outside, and frequently deploy questionnaires or structured interviews. In the study by Festinger, Reicker and Shachter (1956) discussed in Chapter I, the researchers attempted to reproduce the complete observer stance in a situation where participation turned out to be unavoidable. Another position, the one which I myself adopted in this study, is the neutral position of the observer-as-participant. Here the researcher is ‘up front’ about their beliefs but simultaneously open to the beliefs of the group under study. I deployed what Ninian Smart (1973: 54) calls ‘methodological agnosticism’, signalling the need for neutrality and the bracketing out of the truth claims and judgements in research on religion. I attempted to provide an objective account of Lubavitcher messianism by highlighting diverse voices from both within and without the tradition. While I agree that it is possible to see things from other people’s points of view without agreeing that they are right, at the same time I recognize that there are
Ethnography in Stamford Hill and in Crown Heights
those on both sides who see neutrality as impossibility. The observer-asparticipant position is well exemplified by Eileen Barker’s (1984) study, the Making of a Mooonie, where she attempted to explore why and how anyone could become a Moonie . Throughout my study I tried to cultivate what Bryan Wilson (1982: 13) refers to as ‘sympathetic detachment’. As he rightly states: this will always be a matter of difficulty, since between sympathy and detachment there will always be a frontier of tension. But sympathy and detachment are not easily balanced. Mixing with a religious group, a sociologist may feel deeply drawn to them and to their activities, and this may be necessary for the fullest understanding of them. But the sociologist needs to remember that his brief is to interpret religion sociologically; his values lie in a scientific discipline, and consequently he must remain at an appropriate distance. Furthermore, no sociologist of religion would succeed in studying religion were he to not appreciate the profound seriousness of the subject matter to its adherents. Wilson thus underscores the importance of sensitivity and respect for informant’s beliefs in this regard. Coming from a secular rationalist background, I began after sometime to see my informants as irrational, sometimes even bizarre, especially when some of the Rebbe’s followers claimed that the Rebbe was still ‘alive’. There were many occasions when I privately thought ‘How could anyone believe this?’ and was consciously aware that I could not allow my own attitudes to influence the interview process. Irrespective of my own views, I felt it imperative to give them a voice and an opportunity to explain their view of the cosmos as they perceived it, to obtain what Geertz (1973) calls an experience near perspective. One of the main problems as a non-believer was entering into a discussion of my own beliefs with my informants and admitting that I personally did not believe that the Rebbe was still alive. When my informants asked me whether or not I personally believed that the Rebbe was Moshiach, I typically responded that I did not know, but qualified this statement by saying that he was a very special man. Occasionally anthropologists come to accept the beliefs of their informants. They become converted to the informant’s way of life and adopt their practices, and this is always a potential risk of being involved in ethnographic fieldwork. There is always a tension between subjective involvement and the dispassionate process of data collection (Flanagan 2001). Just prior to the Rebbe’s death, when the messianic fervour was at its most intense, it was
impossible not to get caught up with the emotional atmosphere. I found myself feeling sad on account of the Rebbe’s illness and excited that something significant was about to happen. Perhaps my sense of excitement was fuelled by the fact that it is rare to be present at the moment when a messianic figure dies. There were fleeting moments when I myself wondered if there was really something in my informant’s messianic convictions. These were soon dispelled following discussion with my academic colleagues. Following the Rebbe’s death it became increasingly difficult to find informants outside of the Crown Heights community who were willing to speak about the messianic fervour prior to 1994. Many people admitted that they had been wrong and were not keen to discuss how they felt while the Rebbe was alive, apart from stating that he was an ideal candidate for the Moshiach, and emphasizing the importance of his works in bringing about the messianic age. I sensed that some felt deeply embarrassed about their previous views and did not press them any further. The overwhelming feeling was that Lubavitch now had to move on, guided by the Rebbe’s teachings. When they spoke of the messianists they referred to them in derogatory ways as ‘extreme’, ‘misguided’ or even ‘frankly mad’. Many spoke of them with positive embarrassment. I was frequently advised to keep myself away from them as they did not represent the true views of Lubavitch. In turn, the messianists pointed out to me that the non-messianists really held the view that the Rebbe was Moshiach but were reluctant to admit it for fear of turning people away. Key members of the movement were influenced by outside funding rather than by the truth. They lacked faith in the Rebbe and to that extent were not really ‘religious’. In one instance a messianist emphatically told me not to use the term ‘dead’ in relation to the Rebbe, arguing (under the influence of several glasses of vodka) that the fact that we could not physically see him did not mean that he was absent from the synagogue. After several more glasses he then shouted in a loud voice ‘You are just like the rest [the anti-messianists] – more interested in money than in truth’. Feeling quite intimidated by him, I quickly terminated the conversation. A few people spoke in a vague way about the Rebbe, typically stating that he had all the qualifications for Moshiach and asking whether or not I knew of a better candidate. I was left with a sense of uncertainty as to whether or not they held him to be the Messiah. At times my informants attempted to convince me as to the veracity of their position and directly asked me what I believed. I responded by affirming my position as an anthropologist and that I was not willing to take sides on the debate.
Lubavitch and Its Messianism
In retrospect the messianic response to the Rebbe’s death was somewhat predictable both given the fact that he was attributed with messianic status during his life, and that other factors existed within Chabad which made it possible to conceive of the notion of a Messiah from the dead. The intense affective relationship between the Rebbe and his followers facilitated a sense of his continuing presence post-mortem. The Hasidic doctrine of histalkus , the notion that a spiritual leader is even more powerful following his physical death, supported the conviction that Rabbi Schneerson was active in the world after his ‘apparent’ passing. The notion of paradoxical spirituality in the Lubavitch mystical text Tanya meant that he could be simultaneously revealed and concealed. But it was the Rebbe’s actions during his life that most contributed to the messianic fervour: the phenomenal success of his outreach programme which aimed to bring forth the Redemption; the discourse about his father-in-law whom he held to be Moshiach, and which his followers took to refer to himself; the Rebbe’s own teachings on Moshiach and the numerous prophecies and ‘miracles’ reported by his followers. These factors not only contributed to his ‘charisma’, but also bolstered his followers’ convictions that he was Moshiach.
Lubavitch Lubavitch is a worldwide movement of Hasidic Jews whose main centre is in New York where its leader, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, resided until his death from a stroke in June 1994. Outside New York the major communal centres are in London, Montreal and Los Angeles, Antwerp, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Like other Hasidic groups such as Satmar and Belz, Lubavitch Hasidim carry the name of the city – Lubavitch – that became the ‘capital’ of their sect. The Lubavitch movement is also known by a second name – Chabad – a name deriving from the movement’s mystical text, the Tanya. Chabad is an acronym of Chochmah, Binah and Da’at- wisdom, understanding and knowledge. It is one of the largest Hasidic movements in Judaism with
over 200,000 adherents while up to one million people attend Lubavitch services at least once a year. The movement comprises a cross-section of people from different countries, cultural influences and theological dispositions. To some extent, while the Rebbe was alive, these diverse elements were united under a common ideology. Since his death the most significant divisions appear to between the mesianists and anti-messianists, although in recent years divisions along cultural lines appear to be reasserting themselves (Ehrlich 2004).
The History of Hasidism Starting as a Jewish pietistic movement in late seventeenth-century Eastern Europe, Hasidism fostered a spiritual revival following the disastrous pogroms initiated by the Cossack Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki between 1648 and 1650 in what is now the Ukraine, and the subsequent invasion of Poland by Russia and Sweden. The Polish Jews suffered from significant loss of population resulting in economic ruin and spiritual despair. Economic and spiritual impoverishment rendered the Jews susceptible to the influence of false messiahs such as Shabbatai Sevi (1626–1676) and 50 years later Jacob Frank. It was in this context that the Baal Shem Tov (or Besht), a wandering preacher and miracle worker, founded the Hasidic movement. Through his stories and parables he taught how the presence of God permeated all of creation. It was an innovative movement in that it appealed to the common man and emphasized religious experience above learning; the untutored Jew could establish a relationship with God through the performance of mitzvot (commandments) and joyous enthusiasm. He did not need to master the intricacies of the Talmud. The idea of devekut  was central, i.e. that one should be attached to God at all times and one’s thoughts should always be on him (Epstein 1959). Hasidism favoured the inner state of the worshipper as the primary value in the service of God, rather than their understanding of the tradition. Prayer, recited with exalted joy and in a state of ecstatic fervour, was encouraged, during which man forgets himself and his surroundings, and concentrates all his thoughts and feelings on union with God. Worship was possible through everyday physical activities such as eating, drinking and even sexual relations could be religious activities bringing the practitioner closer to the Divine. The Hasidic movement never seceded from the main body of traditional Judaism. The Hasidim are simply a group of Orthodox Jews who emphasize a different aspect of the tradition. Originally, they emphasized feelings over
Lubavitch and its Messianism
and above intellect. As Hasidism spread, it became closer to institutionalized orthodoxy. Today, the meticulous following of Talmudic norms and the study of Torah are the main tenets of religious life for Hasidim. Hasidim are considered a sect within a sect on account of their dress and customs which hearken back to an earlier era. Although Hasidic Jews share a great deal with other ultra-Orthodox groups, it is their doctrine of the tzadik , which I shall shortly discuss, which sets clear boundaries between Hasidim and non-Hasidim. Hasidism in general suffered considerable opposition at its inception but continued to grow nevertheless, and split into a number of different sects. It spread rapidly throughout Poland and was introduced to Lithuania by Rabbi Schneur Zalman (1746–1813), who founded the Lubavitch movement there. Throughout the nineteenth century Lubavitch battled to secure economic and political benefits for Jews. The 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson (1880–1950), the Maharitz, led the movement through Stalin’s Communist regime, World War II, the Holocaust and the relocation of Lubavitch’s headquarters to Brooklyn, New York in the late 1940s. He announced that immediate repentance would bring about immediate redemption and that the tribulations of the Holocaust were a harbinger of the birth pangs of the Messiah. America, Lubavitch Hasidim explained, was the mystical ‘lower hemisphere’, a realm in which the Torah had not been given (see Friedman 1994). From 1950– 1994 the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, the son-inlaw of the 6th Rebbe, resided in 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, from where he led the worldwide Lubavitch movement. As this Rebbe commented, his father-in-law’s arrival in America had been part of a messianic mission, a descent to the lowest spiritual sphere, the last stage in the redemptive process . Ehrlich (2004) comments on the fact that the location of the grave of the 6th Rebbe in the United States was a major influence in the transition of Lubavitch from Russia to America and provided a major link between the Maharitz and his successor. Today Lubavitch is one of more than thirty courts that make up the Hasidic world. Like other Hasidim, Lubavitch followers study Torah, Talmud and works of medieval scholars such as Maimonides. The writings of their own Rebbes are incorporated into the sacred canon, particularly the Sefer Tanya written by Rabbi Schneur Zalman. They adopt a literalist approach to the Bible and vehemently reject the theory of evolution. Rabbi Schneerson preached a fundamentalist view of the relationship between the literal meaning of the biblical text and scientific conceptions. Whenever a contradiction is found the scriptural passage is to be read in its clear literal fashion.
The Tzadik or Rebbe A unique facet of Hasidism, and the way in which Hasidim differ from other ultra-Orthodox groups, is the idea of the tzadik or rebbe, a perfectly righteous man who is the spiritual leader of the group and a mystical intermediary between the divine and the community, a position which accords him an unprecedented role in his followers’ lives (Poll 1995; Green 1977). According to Sharot (1987), in the teachings of the Besht and his successor, Rabbi Dov Baer ‘The Great Maggid’ of Mezhirech, the tzadik was an important idea, but not a central focus. The tzadik as an institution developed only after the death of Dov Baer. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the word rebbe in Hebrew is made up of three letters whose initials spell out a Hebrew phrase meaning Head of the Children of Israel. Just as the head is the primary residence of the soul which gives life to all other parts of the body, so too is the Rebbe the Head of the Children of Israel who is the source of life for every Jew. As the ‘root soul’ of his generation he collectively embodies the Jewish People and as their collective physical and spiritual representative, he raises their voice to heaven and may even be able to reverse divine decrees. To the Hasid, the tzadik’s word is final and a true Hasid will therefore show unswerving obedience to him There is a strong collective ethos whereby his followers vie for proximity to him, pray together with him, and eat with him, even eating crumbs from his meal so that all can partake of his holy sustenance. Unlike a rabbi who is hired or appointed by his community, the Rebbe’s leadership is by acclamation although he might be appointed by his predecessor, often a father or blood relative, or in the case of the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, by his father-in-law. Sharot (1987) discusses the three interrelated roles of a tzadik: a cosmic redeemer, a redeemer of the individual soul and an agent of change in the material conditions of the world. He has attained a higher level of devekut than the ordinary Jew, and therefore, they attribute to him profound spiritual qualities. In his cosmic role Hasidim maintain that he is able to rescue the divine sparks from their captivity within the material and evil world. Through his close connection with God he can influence the ‘higher spheres’ to work towards the redemption of the Jewish people and the cosmos. For his followers the latter two roles are often considered more important. A central notion is ‘descent of the tzadik’ from the heights of devekut to redeem the souls of sinners. He could raise and redeem their souls in his subsequent ascent to the divine. So strong was his connection
Lubavitch and its Messianism
with his followers that this redemptive process continued after his death and the tzadik could use this influence to prevent a sinner being sent to hell. In his role as miracle worker, Hasidim hold their Rebbe to be responsible for their material and spiritual well-being and consequently he advises them on medical care, marriage plans, careers and financial predicaments . In return, they are obligated to supply him (and his family) with all their worldly needs . Lenowitz (2001: 199–200) argues for a close relationship between the messianic features in Hasidism and the institution of the tzadik, and sees him as a quasi-divine being performing miracles and cosmic repairs, within whom inhabits the soul of the Messiah. Furthermore, he links the Hasidic Messiah to the Lurianic and Shabbatean messianic figure whose purpose was to repair the cosmos and bring about the end of time. Ehrlich (2004: 17) discusses the unique features of the Lubavitch concept of a Rebbe. Among other Hasidic groups the tzadik is held to descend into the realm of evil to redeem sinners, and through this descent he himself becomes tainted with sin. If the tzadik were free of sin, so they argue, he would have no influence on a sinful world. In his mercy God sent a small sin to the tzadik, enabling him to associate with ordinary men and bring about their personal redemption. Unlike other Hasidic groups, Lubavitch followers maintain, based on the teachings of their founder Schneur Zalman, that the Rebbe perfects himself through his descent into the physical world and in so doing becomes even stronger. His followers hold that he can do no wrong. Thus in order to perfect himself he is concerned with the worldly matters of his followers, his soul is attached to them, yet he remains untouched by the mundane and spiritually damaging aspects of the world. He is able ‘to filter the experiences of the modern world so that Hasidim can understand and keep their faith’. Furthermore, as a person who has attained the highest level of communion with the Divine, his perceptive eye and proper spirit allows him to interpret the Torah to a contemporary situation. The Rebbe’s speech is treated as if it was pure Torah. Like all other Hasidic groups, Lubavitch maintains that there is a profound connection between the Rebbe and his Hasidic followers. This connection is highly affectively charged. The Rebbe’s self and their selves are inextricably linked. Children and newcomers to the movement are taught to recognize his influence and feel his presence in everything that they do. The concept of hiskashrus is central to Lubavitch doctrine . Central to the hiskashrus system in Chabad is the elevation of the Rebbe to super-human dimensions. If this tzadik somehow possesses powers and holiness that transcend normal human limitations, then a Hasid who connects with him can share in, or benefit from those powers. According to
this doctrine an Hasid should constantly think about his rebbe – even a rebbe who has already died – and, from those thoughts, he can be confident that this dead Rebbe can both guide him and ensure that everything will be fine for him in the future. Rabbi Schneerson himself said much (referring to his deceased father-in-law as ‘the Rebbe’) in Igros Kodesh vol. 3: 419–20: A person must, from time to time, think about himself and his position and situation, but the rest of the time it’s better to think about the Rebbe, how he is constantly with his mekusharim (those with whom the Rebbe is bound), and how he leads them through every step. In 1951 the Rebbe explained: The Rebbe is completely connected with his Hasidim, not like two separate things that connect, rather they become completely one. And the Rebbe is not an intermediary which separates rather he is one that connects. Therefore by a Hassid, he with the Rebbe with God are all one . . . Therefore one cannot ask a question about an intermediary since this is the essence of God Himself, as He has clothed Himself in a human body. (Likutei Sichos Vol 2: 510–11) The conflation of the terms intermediary and essence has led critics such as David Berger, Chaim Dov Keller and others to claim that this is a Lubavitch innovation that ‘deifies’ the Rebbe, which would be contrary to accepted norms within the Jewish tradition. Defenders of the authenticity of this doctrine, on the other hand, counter that these reactions are based on misunderstandings of Kabbalistic terminology used by Rabbi Schneerson, and that similar expressions exist throughout Hasidic and Kabbalistic literature. Based on the Zohar, Rabbi Schneur Zalman taught that ‘He who breathed life into man, breathed from Himself. Therefore a person’s soul is truly a part of God above’ (http://www.chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_ cdo/aid/7881/jewish/Chapter-2.htm).
Tanya Unlike other Orthodox Jewish groups, Lubavitch emphasizes the teaching of mystical concepts to all members of the community through its core text the Tanya . Written by the founder of Lubavitch, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, it emphasizes the close relation between the physical and the spiritual
Lubavitch and its Messianism
worlds. It is, as Feldman (2003: 28) says, ‘a comprehensive system of thought describing the intense human desire to attach oneself to God through a lifelong process of spiritual struggle, involving various forms of intellect and emotion’, and it provides a path for the Hasid to follow. A central emphasis in Tanya is on the Jewish people as linking God and his creation – bringing heaven down to earth by revealing God’s purposes in the details of everyday life. Everything that happens is governed by divine providence and every action has a purpose since it is part of a divine plan. Its author attracted much criticism for his endeavour to spread mystical concepts to all, as opposed to a select elite. With the emergence of Hasidism in the eighteenth century, ecstasy was valued above intellect, inwardness over outwardness and spirituality over external behaviour (Lamm 1999). Rabbi Schneur Zalman provides a Kabbalistic psychology whereby man’s personality is described in terms of the ten sefirot . These occur in each level of the soul: nefesh, ruah and neshamah. Within each soul the ten aspects are divided up into two groups: sekhel (intellect) and middot (emotional attributes). The intellect comprises of Hokhman, Binah and Da’at. The affective attributes are love of God, fear and awe of God, glorification of God, etc. The author thus opens up the possibility of attaining knowledge of God by probing the human soul. Lubavitch has always portrayed inner knowledge as a reliable source of knowledge of true, concealed reality. Hasidic philosophy, especially the Lubavitch school, views all physical and psychological phenomena as relative and illusionary; God, the absolute reality in itself, is beyond all physical or even spiritual concepts and boundaries. Lubavitch adheres to the paradoxical nature of the divine presence – a paradoxical spirituality – perceiving the divinity as a mystical unity of opposites, simultaneously revealed and concealed, present and absent, as being and non-being and transcending all constraints of time, place and conventional perceptions of reality (Elior 1998). A distinction is made between ‘the essence of things’ and their ‘appearance’ and between the ‘eyes of the intellect’ and one’s ‘eyes of the flesh’ (Elior 1993). These two modes of perception are always in tension. Consequently, believers must undergo a ‘trial of seeing’ in which sensory experience is denied and instead, they must assume that everything partakes of the essence of God (see Kravel Tovi 2009). Drob (2000) argues that the doctrine of coincidentia oppositorum, the interpenetration, interdependence and unification of opposites, has long been one of the defining characteristics of mystical (as opposed to philosophical) thought. This doctrine, which is an important if not dominant theme in the Kabbalah, achieves its fullest Jewish expression in the philosophy of
the Chabad Hasidim, where it becomes the governing principle for both God and the world. Chabad understands the world in each of these two ways simultaneously: as both an illusory manifestation of a concealed divine essence and as the one true actualized existence. Through these teachings, it is possible to understand how some Lubavitch followers held Rabbi Schneerson to be both revealed and concealed after his death. Although not a major focus, as Rosengard (2009: 95) points out, Tanya is far from void of messianic expectation. The height of creation will be the messianic era and the resurrection where God will find a dwelling place in the ‘lower worlds’. Ritual prepares this world for the advent of the Messiah. All of Rabbi Zalman’s writings on overcoming evil and arousing love and fear of God in order to fulfil the commandments are to bring about the messianic era, when holiness will abound. For Rabbi Zalman, the purpose of God creating the world is the messianic era which Rabbi Schneur Zalman asserts is a ‘well-known fact’ (Tanya Chapter 36). Already in the second chapter he speaks of the different gradations of souls: ‘the souls of our generations who live in the period preceding the coming of the Messiah’ (Tanya Chapter 2). In his discussion of fulfilling the 613 commandments by faith alone, he interprets the quote from Habakkuk 2.4 – ‘the righteous shall live by faith’ – as implying the resurrection of the dead. When speaking of the importance of joy in the performance of mitzvot, he states: ‘Therefore [the man who accepts affliction with joy], merits [to see] the sun going forth in its might-in the world to come’ (Tanya Chapter 26). In Iggaret ha-Kodesh (Chapter 9) and Kuntres Aharon (essay 8) he calls this time ‘the advent of the Messiah’, a time when the act of charity is the principal service which will redeem Israel. The world has already tasted the messianic era at the time the Torah was given, because at that time God filled the earth, just as he will in the messianic era. In the time of the Redemption the nations (i.e. the gentiles) will see his revealed glory (Tanya Chapter 36).
Kiruv The Lubavitch worldview is grounded in the traditional belief that the arrival of the Messiah and of the Redemption is contingent upon human efforts related to the teachings and dissemination of Torah, and meticulous observance of the mitzvot. This derives from the mystical view that all Jews have a divine spark in them which can be ignited. Every individual Jew has the potential to elevate himself spiritually through the performance of good deeds. Hence much of the everyday activity of Lubavitch followers
Lubavitch and its Messianism
focuses around returning non-practising Jews to Orthodox practice – an activity known as kiruv . Although his predecessor institutionalized the notion of mission, it was Rabbi Schneerson who developed the concept in accordance with new socioeconomic realities. Friedman (1994) discusses how, under his leadership, Lubavitch’s mission to non-Orthodox Jewry became its crowning achievement. The Rebbe typically used military symbols to describe his outreach programme, as a war against irreligion which would herald the Redemption: his chief aides were commanders, his followers were soldiers and the movement’s children were organized into the Zivot Hashem, the armies of God. Its leader was Rabbi Schneerson who governed the complex organizational structure from his headquarters in ‘770’. Lubavitch does not wait for individual Jews to choose to become observant – instead they seek them out to restore them to their own nature and roots, even if their performance of mitzvot is seriously limited. Although statistics are not readily available, my own estimate is that about half the membership of Lubavitch comprises ba’alei teshuvah – non-Orthodox Jews – who have become observant. From its inception Lubavitch embraced the concept of ahavat Yisroel – love of all Jews (see Loewenthal 2005). Jewish people have a special relationship with each other. The Rebbe said that ‘when we draw another person close to the Torah with love, which is a result of love for a fellow Jew, this approach affects the person in that he not only learns or thinks about Torah, but he is truly educated by it. He internalizes Torah and perceives its truth’ (Schneerson 28 September 1980). When a Jew sins, the entire Jewish body is affected. Conversely when a Jew performs a mitzvah, the merit is enjoyed by all. Hence, there is a physical urgency to Lubavitch outreach, and Hasidim generally emphasize the importance of disseminating Torah knowledge among the Jewish people. Since his leadership began in 1950, the Rebbe was responsible for sending out emissaries wherever a Jew might be found to further Jewish education and observance. As Berman (2009) argues, the ‘aim’ of such endeavours is to get non-observant Jews to perform mitzvot rather than to bring them to the ranks of Lubavitch, although ideally all followers of the movement want the entire Jewish community to be Lubavitch. The movement is known among the Jewish community for its outreach work, with emissaries (schlichim) travelling across the globe, often to isolated communities where few Jews reside, to bring back Jews to the practice of Judaism by teaching them more about their heritage. Young newly married men were encouraged to leave their hometowns and set up Chabad Houses – Jewish community centres, serving the needs of the entire Jewish community; offering Torah classes, synagogue services and assistance with Jewish education and
practice. The emissary has several roles: providing information on Jewish religion and customs, as well as conducting lectures and hosting outsiders and students on Sabbaths and festivals. This role combines elements of religious fervour with social activism. Under Rabbi Schneerson’s influence the mission programme grew considerably at the end of the twentieth century. It is significant that there are currently over 3000 Lubavitch institutions worldwide and there are Chabad Houses in virtually every state in the USA, and in over 50 countries. Emissaries residing in these locations organize outreach activities, nursery schools, summer camps and Jewish programmes. While other Hasidic groups continue to grow through high fertility rates alone, Lubavitch grows through ‘conversions’ as well. But it is not only to the Jewish world that the Rebbe has appealed for people to perform mitzvot. Throughout the 1980s he frequently spoke on cable TV calling on all people to observe the Torah’s seven Noahide Laws , which apply to all mankind. The Rebbe held that it was the responsibility of the Jewish people to prepare their non-Jewish counterparts for the Redemption. Jews are called to convince non-Jews to act in a way similar to the anticipated perfection in messianic times. In addition to schlichim, the Rebbe initiated the practice of mivtzoim, where rank and file Hasidim take to the streets to encourage Jews to perform mitzvot. Lubavitch is well known for its campaigns, encouraging Jews to ensure that their religious artefacts (such as mezuzot and tefillin) are ritually pure. Another common practice is to invite non-observant Jews to Sabbath meals (Berman 2009). Such outreach practices contrast with other Hasidic groups, such as Satmar, who look upon secular Jews with antipathy. In 1974 the Rebbe initiated a number of campaigns to increase Jewish observance including the giving of tzedakah (charity) and the lighting the Sabbath candles. The phenomenal success of these campaigns not only bolstered the charisma of the Rebbe but contributed to his followers’ convictions that the messianic age was imminent. As Friedman (1994) mentions, behind this activity was a superior bureaucratic organization, employing thousands of persons and imparting social and political strength to its leaders.
A Brief Biography of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson The details of Rabbi Schneerson’s life and death are mired in controversy, with wide discrepancies between the account perpetuated by his followers,
Lubavitch and its Messianism
and the scholarly research. As Fishkoff (2003) points out, as with many world-renowned figures, Schneerson’s early life was mythologized by his followers even in his own lifetime: most of the ‘biographies’ that have been written of him are largely hagiographic. Although constantly in the public eye, there is little known of his private life. Fishkoff mentions the fact that even Yehuda Krinsky, the Rebbe’s private aide from 1957 until his death, admitted that he did not know the Rebbe at all; he never publicly spoke of his own needs, and thus his followers hesitated to express their concerns for his health and comfort. However, as Ehrlich (2004: 34) states, to rely solely on oral and written sources provided by Chabad may be problematic, but to ignore their contrtibution totally would be equally undesirable. Rabbi Schneerson has been described by his followers as ‘the most phenomenal Jewish personality of our times’ (Lubavitch Publication 1989). His followers refer to him as ‘the Moses of his generation’. As a Torah scholar his commentaries fill more than two hundred published volumes. He inspired admiration from several world leaders. Long before Ariel Sharon became prime minister of Israel, he met with the Rebbe to talk about Mideast security issues. Mr. Sharon praised Rabbi Schneerson as a ‘one-of-akind sage’ and a ‘far-seeing strategist’. President Clinton sent a condolence letter to Lubavitch headquarters the day that he died, calling him a ‘monumental man’. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spoke of the honour that the world should give him for ‘the work he’s done, the example he sets and the inspiration he’s given to many, many people’. His face was on the cover of the New York Times Magazine and he was voted ‘the most influential Jewish figure of the twentieth century’ by the readers of the Jewish Chronicle and several online magazines. The Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth called the Rebbe ‘the greatest Jewish leader of my generation’. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the first religious leader to receive this civilian honour. As Heilman and Friedman (2010: 205) comment concerning his popularity among politicians, ‘Even more than the personal and political power this gave to the Rebbe, however, was his sense that his rising international prominence and admiration was another sign of the coming messianic age’. Feldman (2003: 30) summed up the achievements of Schneerson as follows: Menachem Mendel Schneerson has been characterized as a field general rather than a mystic seer. Although his lectures (sichos) are voluminous, he will be perhaps best known to future generations of Lubavitchers as an institution builder, innovator and risk taker. There is no doubt that his years of secular study attuned him to developments in science and
technology and contributed to his interest in the practical side of life, including politics. His special talent was his ability to draw on aspects of modern life without being drawn in by it. Although he inspired many, the Rebbe was not without his critics, engendering controversy for his opposition towards religious pluralism, his aggressive outreach campaigns, and the cult of personality that developed during his lifetime and after his death, which many were deeply opposed to. Other Hasidic courts considered his outreach programme foolhardy. Perhaps no one was more critical of him than Rabbi Shach, a leading Haredi rabbi, who was involved in a number of public disputes with Rabbi Schneerson from the 1970s through to Schneerson’s death in 1994. He is well known for his strident accusations of Chabad’s false messianism. The Rebbe’s biography has been previously discussed in the literature (Hoffman 1991; Fishkoff 2003; Ehrlich 2004; Heilman and Friedman 2010); here I present a brief overview. Menachem Mendel Schneerson was born in Nikolaev in Russia in 1902 to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson and his wife Chanah. From a young age he was singled out as being special (Hoffman 1991). Surprisingly, there is actually little known about him before he assumed leadership of the Lubavitch community. On the day that he was born the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe sent six telegrams to his parents with detailed instructions regarding the infant; his mother was to wash the baby’s hands before he ate. Indeed he never ate in his life without washing his hands. As a child he was well known as a Torah prodigy (a young person with an exceptionally good knowledge of the Torah). At the age of two he was already asking the four questions at the Passover seder. In his cheder (elementary school) his parents were told that he could no longer study with the other children on account of the fact that his talents were so superior to those of the other children; he subsequently began to learn at home with his father. During the short-lived Russian revolution of 1905 he went around to other children distributing sweets and speaking words of encouragement. At 9 years of age he reputedly saved another boy from drowning by jumping into the river and pulling him out. Throughout his life he maintained strict observance of Jewish law, sometimes at great risk to himself. For example in the midst of the Holocaust, while in Nazi occupied France, he required a citron to observe the festival of Sukkos. Unable to find one in France, he travelled across Switzerland and Italy to obtain one from Calabria. As a young man his knowledge of Torah was held to be exceptional. He taught himself several languages – French, German, Italian, Spanish and
Lubavitch and its Messianism
English – in addition to Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic and Russian. He also studied astronomy, physics and other natural sciences. At the age of fifteen he won university contests in mathematics and astronomy. In 1923 he moved to Rostov to become the aide of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Five years later in 1928 he married the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe’s second daughter, Chaya Mushka. In 1933 Rabbi Schneerson moved to Paris to study mechanics and electrical engineering at the Ecole Speciale des Travaux Publics, du Batiment et de L’industrie (ESTP), a Technical College in the Montparnasse district. He graduated in July 1937 and received a license to practice as an electrical engineer. In November 1937, he enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he studied mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939. Following World War II he was decorated by the US Navy for supporting the war effort, by designing self-inflating pontoons. While working for the US Navy, Rabbi Schneerson began assisting his father-in-law, the 6th Rebbe, who appointed him as head of the Centre for Educational Affairs. Through this role he impressed the leaders of the US Association of Chabad Hasidim. Friedman (1994) points out that Chabad historiography tends to conceal the fact that his succession to leadership was not without struggle. There was confrontation between him and Rabbi Shmaryahu Gourary (the Rasshag) who headed the Chabad Yeshiva and who, for many years, had been the 6th Rebbe’s right-hand man. Rabbi Schneerson’s general education was both an advantage and a drawback among defenders of Lubavitch tradition. The demise of the 6th Rebbe pitted the two potential leaders against each other. However, Rebbe Schneerson won out. One year after the passing of his father-in-law in 1950 he became the spiritual leader of Chabad . Friedman further discuss how from the time of his inception as leader it was incumbent upon the Rebbe to provide a mystical explanation concerning the recent Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, two issues with which he had to deal with constantly. For him the Holocaust was a divine mystery which conformed with the birth pangs of the Messiah . In relation to the State of Israel he adopted an anti-Zionist stance, arguing that genuine Jewish life was possible especially if one lives and works in exile; one may only live a full Jewish life in the Diaspora. The ingathering of the exiles to the State of Israel was a process that could only be accomplished by the Messiah. Only following the arrival of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead would Rabbi Schneerson and his father-in-law go to the Land of Israel together. Most importantly for Schneerson, his own departure from Germany and France to America, the ‘lower hemisphere’, that part of the world where the
Torah was not given, signified the last stages before the Redemption. Once the Torah’s mission was completed, the time of the Redemption would come. His home in ‘770’ became a centre which affected the destiny of the whole Jewish people and his destiny and their destiny were inextricably linked.
The Survival of the Rebbe after Death Most Hasidic groups choose a new spiritual leader when their founder or leader dies – often his son or another close relative. Lubavitch is not unique in surviving in the absence of a Rebbe. Two centuries after the death of their leader, Nahman of Bratslav, they have never appointed a successor and are therefore referred to as ‘Dead Hasidim’. They are like moderate messianists in Chabad in that they refer to Nahman in the present tense and re-read his 13 stories from one generation to the next (Pinsker 1995). His intricately carved chair was smuggled over the Russian border and is prominently displayed in the chief Bratzlaver synagogue in the UltraOrthodox Mea Shearim area of Jerusalem where his stories are read each Sabbath morning. His followers do not deny Rabbi Nachman’s death but emphasize his spiritual presence and harbour hopes for his resurrection as the Messiah. They view his teachings as the inspiration for universal redemption. In 1803 he began to refer to himself as the Messiah ben Joseph (the precursor of the Davidic Messiah), and to prepare his disciples for an imminent messianic redemption. Although it is widely held by historians that Nahman saw himself as a messianic figure who would redeem the Jews, as he was dying he was heard to say ‘My light will glow till the days of the Messiah’, indicating that the Messiah had not yet arrived (see Liebes and Stein 1993). Throughout his leadership Rabbi Schneerson emphasized the Hasidic concept of Histalkus. During a speech given in 1985, the Rebbe shared a teaching on the word, commonly translated as ‘passing’, from the sixth Rebbe. The deeper meaning of the term was said to come from its alternate translation as ‘diffusion’, which implies that upon death, ‘the tzadik’s greatness is diffused, through all worlds, just as God’s glory does not depart from the worlds, but rather, is diffused within them, bringing salvation to the world’ (Schneerson 7 August 1985). The death of a tzadik can thus be interpreted, not as a loss for the world, but instead as a spreading of greatness throughout. When a tzadik undergoes histalkus his soul leaves neither the physical realm nor his physical body, but continues to exist
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within them in a more elevated state. Scheiner (http://www.chabad.org/ library/article_cdo/aid/69628/jewish/In-Essence.htm) writes: During the lifetime of the tzadik, only a fraction of his or her vast spiritual identity may manifest itself in the material world. The spiritual style of the tzadik is further cramped in this world by the confinement of his soul to a physical body. After death, however, the soul of the tzadik is stripped of the strictures of physical space. The Rebbe himself stated that his father-in-law was Atzmus, the Kabbalistic term for the indefinable aspect of God, ‘situated in a body’. While the tzadik’s presence may be less tangible after death, his new spiritual form enables him to have greater influence on the world: And the Alter Rebbe (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe) explains, the zohar also means to say that the tzadik is present in this physical world more than during his life on this world. He also tells us that after the departure of the neshemo (soul) from this world, the neshemo of the tzadik generates more strength and more koach (power) to his devoted disciples.(Chabad Newsletter 1994) After Rabbi Schneerson was inaugurated as Rebbe he still regarded his predecessor, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak, as his Rebbe. During the period of his leadership the Rebbe spoke of him as though he were alive, and considered himself as an intermediary only. In 1950, shortly after taking up the role of leadership, he said ‘Those who say that histalkus means that the Rebbe [Rayatz] is removed from us, are wild folk who do not know what they are saying’ (http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/ proceeding-together-1/08.htm). He regularly asserted that the previous Rebbe was still among his Hasidim spiritually ‘for even today the Rebbe issues instructions, as he always did and always will’ (January 1981). When asked to assume leadership of Chabad he stated: ‘The Rebbe responds even now. You need only to ask’, and concluded that ‘the Rebbe leads us to complete redemption’ (February 1981). He openly declared on many occasions that the previous Rebbe was the Moshiach of his generation. The explanation the Rebbe gave on that occasion very directly implied that he himself, as the successor of the previous Rebbe, was the Moshiach of our generation. Such practices set a precedent for his own followers to hold the view that he himself survived physical death.
Throughout his leadership Rabbi Schneerson would regularly visit the grave of his father-in-law. Lubavitch adherents hold that Schneerson’s ability to ‘speak’ with the departed Rebbe accorded him both authority and legitimacy. This practice continued throughout Schneerson’s career until his stroke in 1992, which ironically he had at the gravesite of Yosef. Visiting the graves of the deceased to plead for intercession is common practice among Hasidim generally; conversation with the deceased in the form of a written plea placed upon the grave is part of Hasidic custom. This model of devotion to the deceased Rebbe continued following Schneerson’s death, and as I shall later describe (in Chapter 6) his followers travel to his gravesite to seek intercession for their needs. Rather than choosing a new Rebbe, they rely on his teachings to guide their lives. As Friedman (1994: 343) points out, the pilgrimage to the Rebbe’s grave was not merely a traditional act of visiting the graves of the righteous, but rather a reflection of a unique situation preceding the messianic arrival. Many years after the previous Rebbe had passed away, and the Rebbe had assumed leadership of the movement, the Rebbe’s humility was said to be so great that he very rarely referred to himself directly. On many occasions he would merely speak of himself as the continuation and emissary of the previous Rebbe. The Rebbe’s own followers were perfectly able to decode what was really meant. It was understood that on the many occasions when the Rebbe spoke of the previous Rebbe, his father-in-law, he was actually talking about himself, or at least implying that each statement could equally apply to himself.
Prophecy Rodney Stark (1991) discusses the importance of prophetic experiences in religious movements. Not only can they confirm the conventional religious culture but they facilitate the creation of novel religious forms: ‘genius often enters in the form of creative individuals who will sometimes create profound revelations and will externalize the source of this new culture’ (p. 244). Prophecy indicates a close relationship with the Divine and as such it can bolster the charisma of those who express it. The Rebbe was well known for his prophetic utterances. Maimonides maintains that Moshiach will be a prophet whose prophetic ability will be close to the level of Moses, who ‘spoke to God face to face’ . However, some classic sources (quoted in Lubavitch literature), such as Midrash Tanchuma, even suggest that Moshiach’s prophetic abilities will
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actually surpass even those of Moses, to which all other prophecy has thus far been subservient. There are many stories in the Lubavitch community documenting the Rebbe’s prophetic ability. For instance, a week and a half before the Six Day War in 1967, he predicted a great victory and asked that this victory be publicized (Kfar Chabad vol. 762: 20). In 1985 he announced that the fall of communism was imminent, and two years later he asked his followers to build homes and prepare jobs in Israel for the masses of Jews who would be leaving Russia (Sefer Hisvaduyos 5745 vol. 3: 96). His predictions were confirmed when in 1989 the Iron Curtain fell. During the first Gulf war in 1991 he predicted that Israel would be the safest place to be, that there would be no need for gas masks, and that the war would be over by Purim (Kfar Chabad vol. 442). He advised people to travel confidently to Israel, and assured them that they would be unharmed. His predictions on each occasion were subsequently confirmed. According to Maimonides, two correct prophecies are sufficient for a person to be considered a true prophet (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Basic Principles of the Torah, 10.5). His followers hold that Moshiach must be a proven prophet, just like the Rebbe. It was a short step for them to use his supposed powers of prophecy to affirm his messianic status (Katchen 1991; Shaffir 1993). As one rabbi said ‘The Rebbe has told us as a prophet that Moshiach is here and that the Redemption is now. All we need to do is to open our eyes and see the changes that are taking place and how these changes fulfil the ancient prophecies of redemption from the written and oral Torah’.
Miracles Miracles, events which stand outside the ordinary processes of nature, indicate divine intervention in the world and as such they are part of the attraction of faith. For his followers, Rabbi Schneerson was held to be a repository of miracles: it appears that the role of the Rebbe as miracle worker was not as prevalent in the Lubavitch movement until the ascension of the seventh Rebbe (Fishkoff 2003). Every decision concerning health, wealth, education and marriage involved the Rebbe. On a daily basis faxes were sent to ‘770’ requesting his advice and blessings on different matters. His followers regularly flew to Crown Heights to consult him and ask him to intercede on their behalf. Each Sunday around 6000 people would attend a ceremony called ‘Dollars’ where the Rebbe would give each
supplicant a blessing and a dollar to symbolize charity. On some occasions, as many as 11,000 people passed by one by one, during which the Rebbe stood interacting with each one in their own language and according to their concerns. His followers regularly spoke of his ‘superhuman endurance’. One elderly woman asked the Rebbe how he could stand for so many hours while she was exhausted after waiting in line for just two hours. The Rebbe replied, ‘When you’re counting diamonds, you don’t get tired’. Despite the fact that he had suffered from severe sciatica he was still able to stand for hours to receive his followers. When he suffered his first major heart attack in 1978 during the Simchat Torah services, he reputedly held in the pain until the end of the service so as not to ruin the celebrations. Those visiting him frequently spoke of his ‘piercing eyes’ and ‘penetrating gaze’. Furthermore many reported the distinct feeling that, at the time that the Rebbe was speaking to them, his concentration was focused solely upon them. Visitors came from a variety of backgrounds, Lubavitch and non-Lubavitch. Some, like myself, were non-Orthodox Jews. Occasionally non-Jews would visit him. Like other pilgrimages reported in the literature, motivations for visiting him varied . For some it was a desire to become more Orthodox and explore their Jewish identities, for others it fulfilled their need to have a ‘spiritually uplifting experience’. Most however expected to receive a blessing from him and those visiting frequently recounted his miraculous powers. Visitors often spoke of the emotional impact that the experience had upon them. They held that he could see into their very souls. Terms such as ‘galvanizing’ were frequently deployed to express the Rebbe’s influence upon them. Whatever he said to them, most were left with the feeling that he had touched their lives in some way. The emotional intensity of their interaction with him led many to the conviction that he possessed superhuman powers. Much of my earlier fieldwork in Stamford Hill involved compiling ‘miracle stories’ which usually focused on health, finance, marriage, childbirth and education (Dein 2002): Mrs Potash was deeply concerned about the whereabouts of her lost brother Mordechai, a twenty-seven year old man whom she had not seen for several months. The police had been looking for him in connection with fraudulent activity in which he allegedly had been involved. She had heard from a friend that he was somewhere in New York but she had no further information about the exact location. She arrived in New York but had no idea where to begin looking. She visited a family friend,
Lubavitch and its Messianism
himself a member of Lubavitch, who advised that she visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe. ‘This tzadik’ he explained, ‘is a famous miracle worker. Many people come to his door to ask for his blessing. Go to him. God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye.’ After waiting six hours at Dollars, she stood in front of the Rebbe looking very trepidatious. She burst into tears, and without her saying a word, the Rebbe said ‘It’s forbidden to give up hope,’ almost as though he understood what was on her mind. Distraught, she called a taxi to take her to her friend’s house. The taxi driver asked her what was wrong and inquired if he could be of any help. She started to talk about her brother. ‘What is he like?’ asked the taxi driver. Mrs Potash took out a picture to show him. He went pale and started shaking. The brother in fact lived in the flat upstairs from his own! Another story: Rabbi Nifield, a 60 year old man, suffered from longstanding angina. Despite medical treatments his chest pain persisted. Feeling ‘worn out’ by pain he wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe responded by asking him to check his mezuzah. Following a meticulous examination by a scribe, the word lev (heart) was found to be scratched on the text of the mezuzah. Mr Nifield held that the physical defect in the Hebrew writing of heart caused his physical chest pain. Once the parchment was replaced he reported that his chest pain disappeared. Thus, according to him, the physical and spiritual worlds are closely related . In line with their belief in his persisting influence, Lubavitch Hasidim maintain that after his death the Rebbe is still able to advise his faithful followers who still write, fax or e-mail him for advice relating to health, wealth, marriage or education. If anything, he is now even more accessible than before his ‘apparent’ passing. Believers are urged to open his voluminous 29 volume collection of letters (Iggaret Ha Kodesh) at random in their quest for guidance. These often, they testify, accurately address their specific problems and provide an automatic reply from Rabbi Schneerson. Those who are unable to understand the Rebbe’s response are urged to consult a Chabad expert who will interpret the passage. Before submitting a request to the Rebbe through Iggaret Ha Kodesh, petitioners are instructed to wash their hands, put on a waistband (as is regularly done before prayer) and then to focus upon a picture of him while writing their request. This ritualistic preparation ensures a deeper connection with the Rebbe.
A Lubavitch man wrote to the Rebbe about his 80-year-old mother who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a few weeks to live. He asked the Rebbe for a blessing that she should recover. He inserted the letter into a copy of Iggaret Ha Kodesh and opened the page which stated ‘you should believe and make a party’. This man explained that joy through making a party ensures that the person receives blessings since when a person is happy, God is more likely to grant their request. The woman subsequently made a complete recovery (interview by the author in ‘770’ in 2010). Now that the Rebbe is dead, many Lubavitch adherents attribute miraculous powers to certain ritual objects touched or blessed by him. For instance, according to a story reported by Fishkoff (2003), a childless woman was finally able to conceive a child when she drunk wine that had been blessed by the Rebbe. Several members of the Stamford Hill community reported that water from the Rebbe’s mikvah (bath) had healing powers.
Lubavitcher Messianism The idea of a universal redemption, heralded by a global leader called Moshiach (‘the anointed’) is a basic tenet of the Jewish faith. The concept of the Messiah in Lubavitch Hasidism is defined in the writings of the founder of the sect, Schneur Zalman of Liady, and ultimately based on the writings of Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and codifier. In accordance with traditional Jewish teachings, there is an obligation to hope for and await the Messiah, and even to demand his coming. All observant Jews invoke Moshiach in their daily prayers, as they do when reciting grace after meals. Waiting for Moshiach and anticipating his coming is not simply a virtue, but is a religious obligation, akin to following the other commandments. Those who subscribe to Maimonides’ principles of faith will uphold principle twelve, to ‘believe in the coming of Moshiach, and though he may tarry, I will continue to wait’. Jewish teaching holds that the Messiah will be fully human and that there will be a potential messiah in every generation. In terms of the qualifications of the Messiah, Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah states: If a king arises from the house of David who studies the Torah and pursues the commandments like his ancestor David in accordance with the written and oral law, and he compels all Israel to follow and strengthen it and fights the wars of the Lord – this man enjoys the presumption of being the messiah. If he precedes successfully, defeats all the nations
Lubavitch and its Messianism
surrounding him, builds the Temple in its place, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, then he is surely the Messiah. But if he does not succeed to this extent, or is killed, it is evident [literally, known’] that he is not the one whom the Torah promised; he is, rather, like all the complete and righteous kings of Israel who have died. . . . All the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and the Ishmaelite [Muhammad] who came after him were for the purpose of straightening the way for the king messiah and preparing the entire world so that all will serve the Lord together, as it is written (Zephaniah 3.8), ‘For then I will make the peoples pure of speech, so that they all invoke the Lord by name and serve Him with one accord. (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11.4, in the uncensored version.) According to Hasidic doctrine, in each generation there is a potential messiah. The tzadik himself does not realize this potential. Because of mankind’s sins, many such tzadikim have passed away. They did not merit that the messianic spirit was conferred upon them. Although they were fit and appropriate for this, the generation was not fit. To hold that a tzadik is a potential messiah is a normative Hasidic belief. Hasidim emphasize that only God knows whether a person is the actual Messiah, and He will reveal this to mankind in His own chosen time. Given the Rebbe’s success in bringing non-observant Jews back to Judaism it is not surprising that his followers attributed him with messianic status. The role of messianism in early Hasidism remains contentious. As Rosengard (2009) asserts, traditional historiography as represented by Scholem and Buber downplay the importance of messianism in early Hasidism. Scholem (1971) recognized some messianic elements in early Hasidism, but argued that the apocalyptic (acute) elements had been neutralized as a reaction to the Shabbatean debacle; Hasidic messianism was more a utopia in a distant future than a current reality. Ehrlich (2000: 114) writes that messianism was not all that visible in early Hasidism because it was spiritual rather than political thus making it possible for Hasidism to remain within traditional Judaism. From his perspective the Rebbe’s preoccupation with Moshiach represented a radical change from earlier Chabad generations. Mor Altshuler (2006: 193–212) adopts the opposite position arguing instead that the astounding growth of Hasidism in the first four decades of its existence was a direct result of messianic activity. Moshe Idel similarly argues that messianism was important in the early movement. Even if references to the Messiah are scarce, they are far too frequent in early Hasidism to be ignored. Moreover, the fact that early Hasidism fostered several messianic figures indicates that the movement was not devoid of a messianic element.
The messianic career of the 7th Rebbe has been previously discussed (e.g. Elior 1998; Ehrlich 2004). Here I summarize the main issues. Elior argues that the messianic fervour of Chabad can be traced back to the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe said in 1927: ‘We are entering a new era in our time . . . and I do not mean spiritual revelations, I mean actually greeting Moshiach. I am not giving an extended period of time for this, it will be in my lifetime’ (Sefer ha-Sichos 5687, pp. 121–2). In 1939 he added: ‘We can tangibly see that this is the generation preceding Moshiach . . . Moshiach is already here, he is beyond the wall, he who has good hearing can already hear him, he who has good sight can already see him.’ Elior cites evidence that the 1980s saw an upsurge in messianism. People would write letters addressed to Moshiach instead of the Rebbe, and conversations centring on the Rebbe’s ‘true identity’ became more prevalent. As the Rebbe spoke more and more frequently on the issue of Moshiach, the fervour grew. Elior argues that the development of Chabad messianism was in response to the Holocaust and constituted an attempt by Schneerson to offer an explanation and purpose in the face of such destruction, which gave ‘eschatological certainty and messianic purpose – what appeared to be the only rational response from a theological point of view’. In a similar vein Wolfson (2009) argues that messianism has been central to Chabad from its late eighteenth-century origins. Its founding premise was that spreading Chabad teachings would hasten the End Time, a doctrine that assumed accelerating urgency when traditional Judaism came under attack from secularism during the next century, and even more so when the Nazi assault on the Jewish people forced the sixth rebbe, Schneerson’s father-in-law, to flee Europe and resettle in the United States. Rabbi Schneerson had always viewed the educational–religious projects in Chabad as a means of hastening the Redemption , and saw their success as a clear indication that the preparatory work for bringing forth the Messiah had been completed. All that was necessary was for his followers to ‘polish up the buttons on their uniforms’ (Ravitzky 1996: 195). Ravitzky (1993) points out that Lubavitcher messianism is one of prosperity – it has flourished under conditions of prosperity, with a feeling of success and conquest. It is fuelled by various ‘positive’ historical events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the exodus of its Jews and the positive outcome of the 1990–1991 Gulf War. As Ehrlich (2004: 86) notes, the messianic element had always been strong in Chabad teachings, but Rabbi Schneerson used messianic ideology more markedly to consolidate his power and influence and to enthuse
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his followers. The anticipation of the arrival of the Moshiach furthered the commitment and productivity of the movement’s adherents, and it is clearly evident that the messianism surrounding the Rebbe was one of the strongest forces in the consolidation of his Hasidic following, and in the expansion of the following both in size and influence. Messianism imbued Chabad with cosmic significance, it became the driving force for its outreach programme and unified the movement behind an overarching ideal. Similarly Ravitzky (1994: 313) asserts that what differentiates contemporary Chabad is its placement of messianic concerns at the focus of religious consciousness and religious life. It is marked by ‘clear expressions of concrete, acute messianic tension, unparalleled in latter day Judaism’. Rabbi Schneerson’s concern for the redemption of the Jewish People was evident even as a young child. In 1956, 5 years after his inauguration, he wrote to the President of Israel, Yitzchak ben Tzevi: From the day I went to cheder [primary school] and even before, the picture of the final Redemption started forming in my mind – the Redemption of the Jews from their last exile, a Redemption in such a way that through it will be understood the sufferings of exile, the decrees and the destruction. And all will be in a way that with a complete heart and full understanding it will be said on that day, Thank you G-d for Chastising me. From the outset the Rebbe’s discourses were highly messianic. Throughout his leadership there was a pervasive theme in his writings – Moshiach and the Redemption. As Shochet (1999) points out, the Rebbe was fired by an unceasing and all-encompassing anticipation of the Messianic redemption, the ultimate destiny for humankind and the ultimate purpose for God’s creation. His frequent outcry of ‘Ad matay-Until when? How much longer?’ springing forth from the very core of his heart and soul would move even the most indifferent among those who heard it. Loewenthal (2005) notes that his first discourse, said on 10 Shevat 1951, when he formally accepted leadership, expounded the opening lines of Bati LeGani , seeing them as empowering him and his generation, and giving them the possibility and hence responsibility to bring the Messiah. He stated at this time: It is this that is demanded of each and every one of us of the seventh generation. Although the fact that we are in the seventh generation is not the result of our own choosing and our own service, and indeed in certain ways is perhaps contrary to our will, nevertheless ‘all sevenths are precious’.
We are now very near the approaching footsteps of Moshiach, indeed, we are at the conclusion of this period, and our spiritual task is to complete the process of drawing down the Shekhinah . . . into our lowly world. Shortly afterwards in 1952 the Rebbe said: ‘Moshiach is about to arrive . . . And not only the younger of the group but the eldest of the group – in his lifetime Moshiach will come.’ (Edited and published in Likutei Sichos vol. 1, p. 263.) In 1969 on the day preceding the twentieth anniversary of the previous Rebbe’s passing, the Rebbe called for the completion and initiation-ceremony for ‘Moshiach’s Sefer Torah’, a Torah scroll designated for Moshiach. This ceremony was seen by the Lubavitch community as a significant development in the Rebbe’s attitude towards Moshiach’s imminent arrival – now making Moshiach a tangible reality. In the early 1980s Lubavitch began a ‘We-want-Moshiach’ campaign to popularize the belief that the arrival of the Messiah was imminent. The campaign increased in momentum over the next few years, with frequent advertisements appearing in Jewish newspapers across Europe, Israel and America about the topic of Moshiach. One popular advertisement entitled ‘Draw your own conclusion’ stated: These are amazing times. The Iron Curtain has crumbled. Iraq is humbled. The people of Israel emerge from under a rainstorm of murderous missiles. An entire beleaguered population is airlifted to safety overnight. A tidal wave of Russian Jews reaches Israel. Nations around the world turn to democracy. Plus countless other amazing developments that are taking place in front of our eyes. Any of these phenomena by itself is enough to boggle the mind. Connect them all together and a pattern emerges that cannot be ignored. The Lubavitcher Rebbe emphasizes that these remarkable events are merely a prelude to the final redemption. The era of Moshiach is upon us. Learn about it. Be part of it. All you have to do is to open your eyes. Inevitably, you will draw your own conclusion. Although Moshiach was always a favourite topic of discourse for the Rebbe, on 11 April 1991, the contents of his discourse changed from his usual thoughts to an injunction: ‘What more can I do to motivate the entire Jewish people to actually bring about the coming of Moshiach? All that I can possibly do is to give the matter over to you now, immediately. I have done whatever I can: from now on you must do whatever you can.’
Lubavitch and its Messianism
In September 1991 the Rebbe stated that only if Jews believed with absolute certainty that the Messiah would come as redeemer, would such an event occur. When the Jewish New Year was approaching, he said, ‘When the divine service of the Jewish people over the centuries is considered as a whole, everything that is necessary to bring about redemption has been accomplished. There is no valid explanation for the continuance of the exile.’ The Rebbe himself stated on many occasions that the Messiah is already here and that the process of redemption is beginning to unfold. Given the Rebbe’s charisma within the movement it is hardly surprising that his followers believed him (Pace 2007). From 1991 until the Rebbe’s death in 1994 there was increasing messianic excitement throughout Chabad communities in the USA, the UK and in Israel. The publication of messianic literature increased, more advertisements appeared in national newspapers, and public meetings were held where Schneerson’s followers propagated the idea that Rabbi Schneerson was Moshiach. Schochet (1999) states: The theme of Moshiach and redemption was especially prominent in all of the Rebbe’s talks during the last three or four years before a terrible stroke stilled his powerful voice. During that period he urged everyone to do all they can to hasten the redemption. He proclaimed that the time for redemption is near, drawing attention to the fulfillment in our times of the signs predicted by our tradition to point to an imminent coming of Moshiach. He urged, begged and pleaded that everyone do all in his or her power to hasten this event by means of self-improvement, by intensified study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, by strengthening love, harmony and universal brotherhood among ourselves and, last but not least, by making the world aware that ‘the time of redemption is near.’ Two factors facilitated the attribution of messianic status to Schneerson. The fact that he had no children and never groomed a successor rendered the continuity of Chabad a threatening question. As Friedman (1994: 353) argues, the messianic response was virtually the only one capable of allaying these fears and suspicions. Second, there was a total absence of checks and balances in the movement, as such systems are difficult to apply in groups with charismatic leaders. In other Hasidic sects, elders and family traditions tended to moderate any extreme demands made by the Rebbe. Not so in Chabad where these factors were essentially neutralized.
As the Messiah campaign grew in intensity, other ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups, who were not sympathetic to the Lubavitch cause, publicly criticized group. Lubavitch theology has always created some strong opponents within Judaism. This opposition began long before Schneerson became the leader of Lubavitch and can ultimately be traced back to the sect’s founding, when anti-Hasidic mitnagdim  conspired to have Rabbi Schneur Zalman arrested and thrown into a Russian Tsarist prison. The messianic fervour in the 1980s and 1990s certainly accentuated this opposition. An article written by Rabbi Eliezer Schach in 1988 denounced Schneerson as ‘the madman who sits in New York and drives the whole world crazy’. In February 1992, Rabbi Shach, himself an eminent Rabbi, branded the Lubavitcher Rebbe as a heretic, who harboured messianic pretensions. The Satmar Hasidim have been particularly strong opponents of Lubavitch within the Hasidic world. At the time of the Rebbe’s death, one of his greatest rivals in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world, the Satmar Rebbe, said ‘Now we have to wait for the real Messiah’.
Just One Moment from the Redemption: The Rhetoric of Already In Chabad eschatology the arrival of Moshiach is integrally tied to the notion of the Redemption and all that it entails: utopia, the rebirth of the dead, the end of persecution and anti-Semitism, and the joyful gathering of all Jews in Israel. There will be no more war, famine, envy, competition or poverty. The Rebbe held that the Redemption was imminent, and in many ways had already begun. But he never stated a specific time for the arrival of Moshiach. His thinking reflected a strong element of realized eschatology. He spoke of the messianic banquet as being in some sense already spread before us. Ehrlich (2004: 86) comments: While it is likely that Schneerson himself believed that the Moshiach could and would come, as have many exponents of messianic euphoria through the centuries, the enthusiasm that the messianic hope imbued in the populace had an almost messianic and redemptive effect in itself. The coming of the Messiah and the beginning of the Messianic Era were for him, positive, self-fulfilling prophecies, which were inevitable, but could be brought about even more quickly through the power of positive
Lubavitch and its Messianism
messianic thinking, consciousness and action. Sometimes the Rebbe spoke of Moshiach’s imminent arrival, at other times he spoke as though he was already here. Through conflating terms like already and imminent he persuaded his followers that they were already living in the redemption; his symbolic manipulation of time blurred the boundaries between the present and the future. His followers were persuaded that they were living in the time of the Redemption and a sense of urgency was engendered. These ideas were expressed in a number of statements: Moshiach is already here. He stands behind our wall. In a higher world there is rejoicing already: he has already come, down here, however, he is waiting for the Jewish people to repent, to do teshuvah. (Sefer Ha Sichos 5701: 81) Moshiach is standing on the other side of a wall that is already cracked and crumbling. He is watching through the windows, peering through the crevices. And it surely goes without saying that a glance from Moshiach gives a person the energy that he particularly needs to complete the required preparations so that he can be privileged to greet Moshiach. (Talk of the Rebbe 25 Nissan 5745) Nearly 20 years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced: ‘Our Sages have described the Redemption as a feast’ (Sichos Shabbos Parshas VaYeitzei, 5752 1991). ‘To echo this analogy: the table has already been set, everything has already been served, and we are sitting together with Moshiach. All we need to do is open our eyes’ (Talmud, Pesachim 119b). According to one messianic publication : On numerous occasions, when referring to the Redemption, the Rebbe said ‘that the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach will come in actuality, immediately.’ The word that the Rebbe uses for ‘immediately’ is ‘MiYaD’ in Hebrew. The Rebbe explained the significance of this word. It is an acronym for the names of the last three Chabad leaders. The Rebbe says that he starts in the order of the Rebbe closest to us: ‘M – Moshiach, Menachem is his name [the Rebbe’s name]. Y – Yosef Yitzchok, the previous Rebbe, the 6th Chabad Rebbe. D – DovBer, the second name of the 5th Chabad Rebbe.’ The Rebbe stated many times that this is the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption. Even though the Jewish people are still in Galut (exile), the Geulah (redemption) is imminent. In the present state
of exile the divine sparks have fallen to their lowest point, and the divine countenance is masked beyond perception. The world is full of tribulations: economic crises and lack of morality where governments are corrupt, there is world poverty and children no longer respect their parents or their elders. This situation is about to end and mankind is on the threshold of the Redemption and the messianic arrival: there will be a world devoid of hate and greed, a world free of suffering and strife, a world suffused with the wisdom and goodness of God. The darkness is now at its most extreme and this is the generation that would hear the approaching footsteps of Moshiach. In virtually every talk the Rebbe gave, every letter he wrote, and every action he initiated, the theme, the sign-off and the objective was the coming of Moshiach and the attainment of the Redemption. For him it was in ‘770’, not in Jerusalem, that the Redemption would begin . In his discourse, Bati Legani, he informed his followers that Moses was the seventh generation from Abraham. In that generation, the world experienced an unprecedented revelation of Godliness at Mount Sinai, when the Jewish nation received the Torah. So, too, our generation is the seventh of Chabad Rebbes, and as such, this generation brings the revelation of Godliness to its ultimate fruition, a perfect world with the existence of only good. By the mere fact that we are the seventh generation, we merit to draw into the world the essence of the Divine presence on a higher level from that which existed at creation before the sin of the Tree of Knowledge. Yanki Tauber (2004), the editor of Chabad.org writes: The Rebbe often quoted Maimonides, who more than 800 years ago had said: a single deed, a single word, even a single thought, has the power to tip the scales and bring redemption to the world. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 3.5) The Rebbe explained: because the basic nature of our world is perfect and good, our every good action is real and enduring, while every negative thing is just that – a negative phenomenon, a void waiting to be dispelled. Hence the common equation of evil and good with darkness and light. Darkness, no matter how ominous and intimidating, is merely the absence of light. Light need not combat and overpower darkness in order to displace it – where light is, darkness is not. A thimble full of light will therefore banish a roomful of darkness. No matter how dark the world may seem or feel, light is just a single action away. As a final preparation for Moshiach, people should learn the Torah topics concerning King Moshiach and Redemption. These are found in many places in the written and oral Torah.
Lubavitch and its Messianism
He further said: One should especially learn these topics from the teachings of Chassidus, and especially in his Torah (the Chassidic discourses and Likkutei Sichos) of the leader of the generation – as a foretaste, example and preparation for the learning of the Torah of Moshiach. How will the world be when Moshiach comes? A prominent member of the Chabad community, Rabbi Eli Touger, summarizes the Rebbe’s views on the imminence of the Redemption on his website Moshiach.com: To explain: It has become almost a cliche to say that our society is undergoing a transition of enormous scope as radical, discontinuous changes are causing the existing frameworks of technology, economics, education, and politics to give way to new definitions. As we survey the changing horizons of contemporary life, it is possible to recognize certain patterns in process. These patterns, it can be argued, parallel and are precursors of the trends that will characterize the era of Moshiach. By no means is our world messianic at present. On the other hand, many of the motifs that will distinguish the era of the Redemption can already be recognized in our contemporary society. Quoting Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12.5): In that age, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God. . . . ‘The world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the ocean bed.’ (Isa. 11.9)
Did the Rebbe Himself Maintain that He Was Moshiach? Did the Rebbe himself maintain that he was Moshiach? This is a difficult question to answer. Whereas the anti-messianic majority within the Lubavich community now maintain that they misinterpreted the Rebbe’s statements and erroneously concluded that he was Moshiach, the messianists hold that the Rebbe unequivocally asserted his messianic status. While Rabbi Schneerson was alive, he encouraged his followers to work for the perfection of this world in order to hasten the Messiah’s coming.
The Rebbe refrained from any open, explicit proclamation of his own messianic identity, taught that public relations must be conducted in a manner that would win acceptance, and continued to encourage leadership roles for people who were known to oppose the messianists. A long-time aide reported that the Rebbe once told him, ‘The man who is the Messiah has to have this revealed to him from above and at present this has not been revealed to me.’ Though in his last years the Rebbe tolerated and even appears to have encouraged the singing of the formula declaring his messiahship – ‘May our Master, Teacher, and Rabbi the King Messiah live forever’ – he also remarked that he should really leave the room when the slogan was sung and remained only because leaving would do no good (Berger 2001b). In the 1980s he expressed strong criticisms of people who published messianist material, and he made a similar remark as late as 1991. On one occasion, he is reported to have responded to a petition addressed to him in his capacity as the Messiah by saying, ‘When he comes I will give it to him.’ In the early eighties when Schneerson heard that children at a summer camp were singing songs proclaiming ‘the Rebbe, our Messiah’, he quickly stopped them. On Shabbat Miketz 5752, when a song focusing on the Rebbe as the Messiah was sung at the Hasidic gathering, the Rebbe was very negative to this, saying ‘I should get up and leave’. The messianists and anti-messianists have interpreted the Rebbe’s statements in differing ways. Before the Rebbe died his followers almost unanimously held him to be Moshiach. For the anti-messianists his subsequent death invalidated this position. In retrospect, some have argued that the Rebbe’s message was misinterpreted. The Rebbe did not categorically state that he was Moshiach, it was his followers who erroneously did this. What the Rebbe actually did was to establish an air of expectancy. His statements were really expressions of hope rather than assertions of concrete facts. Loewenthal (2005) cites Rabbi Yoel Kahn in this respect: An important step was now taken by Rabbi Yoel Kahn, who for over forty years had been the leading transcriber and communicator of the Rebbe’s teachings. Two weeks after the passing of the Rebbe, Rabbi Kahn published an article in the Israeli based Chabad magazine ‘Kfar Chabad’. This spoke collectively of the mood of the Lubavitch movement, and of the tone Rabbi Kahn’s own enthusiastic articles which had appeared in the months before the Rebbe passed away. The key point was the author’s admission that he and others had extrapolated from the Rebbe’s words in an erroneous way. They should have stopped at the point where the Rebbe stopped, and not taken any steps further. ‘I and my colleagues
Lubavitch and its Messianism
erred by adding to the Rebbe’s words certain ideas which seemed to be implied [but which he had not said]. . . . Even when the Rebbe says two things which seem to imply a third thing (like one plus one equals two) – we cannot say whether that third thing is correct. Certainly we should not publicise it in the name of the Rebbe’. Here in effect was a key admission. The Rebbe had spoken repeatedly and intensely about the imminence of the Messiah, and about the importance of preparing oneself and the world for the Redemption. But he had not overtly claimed to be the Messiah. His followers had extrapolated: one plus one equals two. And in this, wrote Rabbi Yoel Kahn, especially faced with the passing of the Rebbe, they had gone too far. In contrast the messianists have taken Rabbi Schneerson’s statements as literal expressions of fact. As Berger (2001b: 23–30) points out, many of Schneerson’s statements were highly suggestive of his presumed messianic status. The Rebbe himself unqualifiedly proclaimed the imminence of the Redemption; encouraged the cry, ‘We want Moshiach [Messiah] now!’; and strongly implied that he would be the redeemer. Among such statements were these: that his deceased father-in-law, whose soul he was believed to have shared and who was consequently understood as a surrogate or code for the Rebbe himself, was the prince (nasi) of this generation and would redeem us; that the prince of the generation was the Messiah of the generation; that this was the generation of the Redemption; that the metaphysical process of separating the sparks of holiness from the domain of evil had been completed; that the Messiah had already been revealed, and all that remained was to greet him; that the messiah was coming right away; that ‘the time of your redemption has arrived’; that the final Temple would descend from heaven to a spot in Crown Heights adjoining Lubavitch headquarters, and that only then would the two buildings be transferred to Jerusalem; and finally that the messiah’s name was Menachem. In the early 1990s almost all Lubavitchers were convinced that Rabbi Schneerson was Moshiach. Messianic fervour ran high in Chabad communities and the Rebbe’s followers eagerly awaited his revelation and the arrival of the long awaited Redemption. As Heilman and Friedman (2010) note, the Rebbe’s followers could easily make a case for Rabbi Schneerson being Moshiach; his scholarship both religious and secular, his access to world leaders and increasing fame, his piety and his powers of prophecy all provided proof of his messianic status. Then he died.
The Death of the Rebbe
In March 1992 the Rebbe suffered a stroke which rendered him speechless and paralysed him on the right-hand side of his body. Despite his profound incapacity to look after himself, his followers described the stroke as ‘mild’. Following this, he was unable to give ‘Dollars’, but his followers continued to write to him for blessings. His secretary would read the letters to him, following which he responded by moving his head up or down. In ‘770’, he would be seen frequently, but unpredictably, at prayer services, sometimes twice a day and sometimes less than once a week. In order to ensure that his followers would be present when he made a public appearance, his followers carried ‘Moshiach’ bleepers which flashed “M H M is on the platform” (meaning Melech ha Moshiach − King Moshiach). A number of post-hoc explanations were given for the Rebbe’s illness, derived from various biblical and Talmudic sources. These explanations referred to the writings of Maimonides to argue that the Rebbe himself had chosen to become ill and had taken on the suffering of the Jewish people. It was a process he had to go through before revealing himself. The Rebbe was, as Maimonides had described, ‘A man of pains and acquainted with sickness. Indeed, he has borne our sickness and endured our pains’ (Isa. 53.4). Lubavitchers attempted to restore the health of the Rebbe by the recitation of Psalms. Every day his followers were encouraged to say extra Psalms. Shortly after his first stroke a Sefer Torah (scroll containing the text of the Torah) was written in New York and every Lubavitch Hasid was asked to donate a dollar towards a letter. The aim of writing this was to perfect the Rebbe’s soul and, in turn, his body. This was explained to me by a prominent Lubavtich Rabbi (in private conversation) in the following way: All Jewish souls are tied to the Rebbe’s soul. In the Torah there are 600,000 words (328,000 complete words and 272,000 incomplete words). In the world there are 600,000 general souls (each divides up into many
The Death of the Rebbe
more souls). These general souls are linked to the Rebbe’s soul. By writing a perfect Torah, the Rebbe’s soul becomes perfect again and this will affect his body. The Rebbe must first undergo a descent into the realms of evil to redeem the souls of the sinners. This descent on the spiritual plain is associated with physical sickness. The Rebbe’s stroke did little to detract Lubavitch followers from their messianic convictions. In 1992 the messianist faction formed the International Campaign to Bring Moshiach. This group was led and funded by members of the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights and Montreal, and messianic propaganda escalated. More signs could be seen outside Lubavitch homes and offices, there were more bumper stickers, and billboards and full page ads in major tabloids appeared proclaiming Schneerson as Moshiach. Letters were sent to the Rebbe addressing him as King Messiah and whenever he appeared in the synagogue in ‘770’ his followers sang yechi adoneinu – ‘Long live our Rebbe, our master, teacher, and King Messiah, forever and ever’. Discourse relating to the Messiah increased rapidly in Lubavitch communities in America and in Europe. Although some Lubavitch followers were reluctant to publicly admit it, many held that their leader, Menachem Schneerson, was the Messiah and they were waiting for him to reveal himself. In 1993, a group of women in Brooklyn prepared to crown the Rebbe, an event which other members found shameful. There was much excitement in Lubavitch communities and many people spoke of the Messiah being in their midst and of the Redemption being imminent. Some even slept with their clothes folded under the bed so that they would be ready to greet the Messiah should he arrive while they were asleep. Since the Rebbe was aphasic, unable to speak, statements issued in the Rebbe’s name were filtered through his aides. They themselves were divided as to the extent to which his messianic status should be publicized. Yehuda Krinsky, secretary of Chabad’s three major institutions, sole executor of Schneerson’s will, and the person regarded today as the movement’s head, emphasized discretion, whereas Lieb Groner, another senior aide, was more willing to accept the messianist standpoint. Both stood on either side of the Rebbe’s wheelchair pulling or tugging at if to drag Schneerson towards or away from his follower’s messianic proclamations. Although the leaders of the movement tried, at least to some extent, to quash the public displays, their words and actions reflected a degree of ambivalence. For instance, rather than publicly denouncing the messianic assertions, Krinsky responded to questions concerning Schneerson’s
messianic status by turning the question back on the questioner with the challenge to name a better candidate. Fishkoff (2003) describes the emerging tensions in the movement prior to the Rebbe’s death. In 1993 Rabbi Samuel Butman, the Director of Lubavitch Youth International and head of the International Campaign to Bring Moshiach attempted to take over a celebration of the anniversary of the Rebbe’s forty-third year in power and announced that Schneerson would reveal himself as Moshiach during a ‘coronation’ ceremony at ‘770’. While Butman organized a satellite hook-up and stood downstairs speaking to news media, the Chabad leadership remained upstairs during the celebration. Rabbi Krinsky subsequently met with reporters to downplay the entire evening stating that that night was just the same as any other night. The leadership of Chabad was so angry that they attempted to fire Butman, but he refused to stand down from his position. He developed his own funding sources and board of directors. While he sat in his office sending out messianic proclamations on 770 Eastern Parkway letterheads, Agudas Hasidei Chabad staff sent out counter-faxes warning reporters and Jewish organizations to ignore all communications coming from ‘770’ not issued by themselves. In 1994 the Rebbe suffered a second stroke which rendered him comatose. His faithful followers saw this as a prelude to his messianic revelation and the arrival of the Redemption. As he lay dying in intensive care, several hundred followers assembled outside Beth Israel Medical Centre singing and dancing – anticipating the imminent arrival of the Redemption. Despite various newspaper reports alleging that the Rebbe was ‘brain dead’ or ‘without brain function’, some of his followers continued to hold fast to their belief that he was the Moshiach. When questioned about the meaning of the Rebbe’s stroke, the answers given were: this was lasting proof that he was indeed the Moshiach, and that we are therefore on the threshold of the Messianic era. Messianic propaganda increased in intensity. Thousands of followers slept in the hospital where the Rebbe lay, reciting Psalms in the hope that he would arise. Ehrlich (2004) comments that his final illness led to a split between two groups of aides who differed in their recommendations as to how Schneerson should be treated, with the two camps led by Leib Groner and Yehuda Krinsky. Aides were divided over whether the Rebbe had the same physical make-up as other humans, and if the illness should be allowed to run its course without interference. Krinsky argued that indeed the most advanced medical treatment available should be used in treating Schneerson, while Groner thought that ‘outside interference’ in the Rebbe’s
The Death of the Rebbe
medical situation might be just as dangerous as inaction. They saw his illness as an element in the messianic revelation; interference with Schneerson’s physical state might therefore influence the redemptive process, which should instead be permitted to run its natural course. Even though Hasidim emphasize joy in the face of adversity, Lubavitch followers were very much subdued during the three months leading up to his death. A notice was distributed to Lubavitch communities regarding how people should act at this time, emphasizing that people should continue to learn the Rebbe’s teachings, perform good deeds, give charity and support their neighbours, and recite Psalms. Even when the Rebbe was comatose and attached to a ventilator, his followers continued to write for blessings. His secretary would stand over his sick bed and read them to him. New miracle stories appeared, such as the one below which was circulated around the community shortly before the Rebbe’s death: Dr. Fink, one of the Rebbe’s physicians, was travelling up to a hill in New York. The car in front of him had a trailer attached. Suddenly the trailer came loose and started to roll backwards. Dr. Fink saw a vision of the Rebbe in front of his car, holding the trailer up, giving the physician enough time to escape. It is reported that Dr. Fink had never met the Rebbe before the latter went into a coma. Every day, faxes were received from Beth Israel Hospital in New York, outlining the Rebbe’s medical condition. Slight improvements were taken as signs of imminent recovery and ascension to the messianic role. His medical condition deteriorated considerably during the last two weeks of his life. In May 1994, he developed pneumonia, from which he recovered, and several days before his death, he had a cardiac arrest and was resuscitated. Still his followers did not give up hope and claimed that he would get up from his sick bed and proclaim he was the Messiah. Shortly before his death on 12 June 1994, an announcement was made that his heartbeat had stabilized. Soon after, a message appeared on the bleepers of his devout followers requesting for the congregation to urgently recite Psalms. Then the words Baruch Dayan Ha’emes (blessed be the Divine Judge) were broadcast, signifying that their beloved Rebbe had died. His death was reported in the major tabloids, as well as on radio and television. He was buried next to the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe in Queens. The following statement was published in Lubavitch Magazine in August 1994: Some antagonists had initially predicted a diminishing of Lubavitch activity after the Rebbe’s passing, or even a complete breakdown and collapse of Lubavitch. Thank God, the doomsayers were proven false, and
their bad predictions did not materialize. On the contrary, we are witnessing a worldwide spur of new activities, projects and institutions established in the Rebbe’s honour. The Times newspaper in June 1994 reported the event as follows: The death of the Rebbe, Menachem Shneerson, seventh leader of the Lubavitch Rabbinic Dynasty, brings to a close a remarkable career which culminated in his followers’ claim that he was about to be revealed as the Messiah. His face, with its piercing blue eyes and black Fedora, was familiar throughout with photographs in thousands of shops, offices and homes in the Jewish world. During his 55-year stewardship, the Lubavitch movement was transformed from a practically moribund branch of Hasidism to a powerful and international movement, deploying all the resources of modem communication technology to spread its message. As Marcus (2001: 394) writes: The Rebbe’s death was not supposed to happen, certainly not before the Messiah came to Israel, rebuilt the Temple and brought peace and the knowledge of God to the world ‘as the waters cover the sea’. (Isa. 11.19) His death plunged the Lubavitch community into a state of acute crisis. How could his followers resolve this? For many years they held him to be the long awaited Messiah and many had devoted their lives to propagating these ideas. Far from expecting his demise they were eagerly anticipating the imminent arrival of the Redemption. As he lay dying outsiders predicted mass depression and suicide among members of the movement given their strong attachment and dependency on him. As part of ‘Operation Demise’, police, psychiatrists and trained counsellors were recruited to avert a potential tragedy. Yet it is striking how well Lubavitch coped with the death of the Rebbe and, to the authors’ knowledge, few members defected from the movement as a result of it. Far from diminishing the activity of Lubavitch, in the decade following his death the influence of Lubavitch has continued to grow. Most schluchim reacted to the Rebbe’s death by doubling their outreach efforts and trying to fulfil the mission that their Rebbe had left them. The group now has about 15,000 adherents in Crown Heights alone, near the headquarters for the movement, and it is currently involved in $100 million worth of construction projects around the world. The number of outreach
The Death of the Rebbe
programmes has significantly increased in the past 10 years, with Lubavitch Houses being established in more countries. According to the official Chabad website there are more than 3,300 Lubavitch institutions worldwide (Chabad.org). Lubavitch continues to bring Orthodox Jewish practice into the mainstream consciousness of world Jewry by its emphasis on sending out shluchim. In 2000, 51 new Chabad facilities were established in California alone. There has been a phenomenal expansion into the former Soviet Union: whereas in 1994 the movement maintained emissaries in just eight cities in Russia, by 2002 Chabad had full-time emissaries in 61 Russian cities. In this regard Lubavitch represent one of the rare instances when Festinger’s prediction of increased proselytization after a failed prophecy has come true. Clearly a process of reaffirmation has taken place and the movement has been ‘energized’ since the Rebbe’s death (see Dein and Dawson 2008). Chabad still maintains a powerful presence among world Jewry with Chabad rabbis filling leadership positions in mainstream communities in many countries. At least half the pulpit rabbis in England, Italy, Australia, South Africa and Holland are Lubavitchers (Fishkoff 2003). Since the Rebbe’s death there has been an administrative shift in the movement. There exists now a more corporate structure with policy and budgetary decisions being made by the executive boards of Merkos L’ Inyonei Chinuch (Chabad’s educational arm), Machne Israel (the movement’s social service branch) and Agudas Chassidei Chabad (the umbrella organization for the other two).
The Rebbe’s Funeral in Queens When the hearse carrying Rabbi Schneerson’s body arrived at Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, his death became a reality and the outpouring grew. The sound of wailing intensified and hundreds of Lubavitch adherents clung to each other for support. The scene was one of complete pandemonium. Orthodox men, praying and crying, pushed over wooden barricades, jostling with police officers for an opportunity to touch the car carrying Schneerson’s body. Thousands of people ran until they could run no farther, some collapsing into sobs. Within a short period of time people were shouting ‘The Revelation Will Come’, expecting him to imminently reveal himself as Moshiach. The Rebbe’s funeral was symbolically ambiguous, to say the least, featuring both torn garments and tambourines. According to one follower, quoted in Marcus (2001):
The funeral itself was a hodgepotch. Some were crying hysterically, some were simply stunned, some felt betrayed, almost everyone was miserably sad. Strangely, many were feasting, singing and dancing, and yet they too were sad. They were certain that any second, the hoax would end and the Rebbe would get up and lead us to the redemption right then. (394) At the cemetery, close aides and relatives recited Kaddish  and El Ma’aleh Rachamim , the Hebrew prayers for the dead. There was no eulogy or special prayers on account of the fact that, as his followers stated, no speech could possibly convey the rabbi’s nature or his meaning to the Lubavitch movement. Unto the early hours of the morning, several thousand followers clambered over tombstones and lined up to get into the sanctuary, where they filed past the Rebbe’s coffin and deposited prayers written on pieces of paper asking for the Rebbe’s intercession on different matters. Shortly after his death some of his followers took to sleeping by his grave in the hope that he would imminently resurrect and usher in the Redemption. Firestone (1994) reports on the response to his passing. The leadership quickly urged the rank and file Hasidim to come to terms with his death, accepting that he was a mortal leader who would live on through his writings and teachings. Rabbi Krinsky, the Rebbe’s spokesman, said the loss should be considered as that of a parent: indeed many followers described the agonizing pain of loss as being more intense than the loss of their own parents. Others, like the influential Rabbi Shea Hecht, chairman of the board of the movement’s National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, noted that Jewish teaching since the time of Maimonides held that the Messiah will be a living human being. That realization will eventually penetrate the movement, he said. ‘We will now go through a very, very difficult, very painful period’, said Rabbi Hecht. ‘We all feel as though we lost a father’, said Rabbi Krinsky, his lapel torn in the sign of Jewish mourning. ‘We feel orphaned, and I think you should give us a chance to wrestle with that, each in our own way.’ The reaction to his death was very mixed. Although many members of Lubavitch started to come to terms with Schneerson’s death, others continued to proclaim him as Moshiach. At ‘770’ a group of mourners sat on the floor or on low stalls, performing the ritual of shiva, the seven days of ritual mourning. Another group told the people not to cry. Crying indicated a lack of faith in the Rebbe and was therefore sinful. Those who shed tears were told that they didn’t really believe that the Rebbe was Moshiach.
The Death of the Rebbe
Within a short period of time his followers asserted that his resurrection was imminent. This was soon to become the dominant theme in Lubavitch. Books were published ‘proving’ that Moshiach could come from the dead. These deployed passages from the Torah, Talmud, Maimonides and the Rebbe’s own writings. The messianists held conventions in various locations where they would watch videos of Rabbi Schneerson and publicly proclaim his messianic status. They set up a website and produced a weekly magazine, Beis Moshiach, to propagate these ideas. The leaders of Lubavitch denounced this magazine as a ‘fringe aberration’, accusing the messianists of fabricating the Rebbe’s quotes and forging ‘770’ letterheads. In 1996 the International Campaign to Bring Moshiach set up a huge billboard beside New York’s George Washington Bridge proclaiming Schneerrson as Moshiach. The mainstream leadership of Chabad responded by placing full-page ads in the New York Times and by calling press conferences to distance the movement from the ‘messianist fringe’, as Krinsky called it. From 1995– 1998 the leadership of Agudas Chasidei Chabad attempted to remove messianism from the public eye by taking down banners in Crown Heights and using legal threats to stop ads proclaiming Schneerson as Moshiach. The Rebbe was childless, and had not designated a successor to assume the leadership in the way that his father-in-law had selected him before his death in 1950. Among those who accepted the reality of his death, there was much discussion about whether there would be a successor. Rabbi Krinsky declined to discuss the succession issue, saying it was premature. But he said that while Rabbi Schneerson had left a will, it did not, as far he knew, include the name of a successor. Since his death, many Lubavitch parents have named their newborn sons Menachem Mendel.
The Politics of Messianism Shortly after the Rebbe’s death Chabad divided into two groups broadly labelled in the literature as messianist and anti-messianist. The prevalence of these views within the movement is disputed and no statistics are available, although extreme messianists appear to constitute a small proportion of the total organization. The major institutions in the three Lubavitch population centres in Crown Heights (USA), Kfar Chabad (Israel) and Tzafat (Israel) are either dominated by overt believers in the Rebbe’s messiahship, or influenced to a considerable extent by this belief (Berger 2001). In Crown Heights messianic elements have taken over the downstairs synagogue in ‘770’, and many of the educational institutions are
highly influenced by them. Outside these centres few assert that he is Moshiach and that he is ‘alive’. Of course there may be some who privately hold that Rabbi Schneerson, having died, will return as Moshiach. It is impossible to know how many maintain this position. Proponents of both camps express themselves very authoritatively. Although Berger (2001) argues that Chabad has turned into a movement based upon Christian doctrine, this is not supported by empirical evidence. My own fieldwork suggests that this is a marginal phenomenon in the UK. Rabbi Schneerson’s messianic status, or divinity, is not advocated in any of Chabad’s official literature. According to Zalman Shmotkin, Director of Chabad.Org, and a spokesman for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, ‘People don’t actually believe the Rebbe is the Messiah. They say they believe, but really they want, they hope, they pray. But believe this no’ (see http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=9558). Of those who agitate for the belief that the Rebbe was or is the messiah, Rabbi Shmotkin, the Chabad spokesman, said Chabad-Lubavitch leaders have ‘repeatedly condemned them in the strongest possible terms’. Fishkoff (2003: 274) emphasizes that the idea that most Lubavitch followers are messianist is absurd: [This is] a claim Lubavitchers say is patently absurd. Here everyone is treading on thin ice, for no one can know precisely how deep Chabad messianism goes. When Berger and other critics claim that it infects the majority of the Chabad movement, they have no greater statistical backing than do those who suggest it is on the decline. The most senior openly anti-messianist rabbi is Yoel Kahn. In a 2003 proclamation by Kahn, messianists are strongly condemned for saying Schneerson is alive. A pamphlet produced by the anti-messianist camp, including Menachem Brod, a senior Chabad rabbi in Israel, makes a similar point. The messianists maintain that the Rebbe’s public discourses in the early 1990s constituted an almost formal declaration and acceptance of his messiahship, that he personally authorized the campaign to publicize this claim, and that this authorization persists today. They hold that they can hasten the Rebbe’s return by persuading as many people as possible that the Rebbe is Moshiach, and they promote these ideas in the street. At the peak of the schism for several years after his death, the consequences of this group’s existence were that yeshivas and seminaries split into two, opposing families that would not intermarry, and two separate factions
The Death of the Rebbe
developed in ‘770’ (see Fishkoff 2003). At one point the organization even maintained two separate budgets in different banks. Many messianists wear yellow lapel pins adorned with crowns, and erect matching yellow flags on the façades of their homes. The views of this group are represented in the Beis Moshiach magazine. ‘770’ has become a prominent symbol of the division in the movement: since the Rebbe’s death Chabad leaders no longer come downstairs into the synagogue in ‘770’, and many who pray in the synagogue no longer go upstairs into the offices of the leadership. However it is important to note that, despite differing ideologies, some members of both groups continue to maintain social ties; even within the same family individuals may hold opposite views. Typically, the messianists speak disparagingly of their anti-messianist counterparts, arguing that they are too concerned about their reputations in the eyes of outsiders to admit that the Rebbe is really Moshiach. In reality, so they hold, everyone in Lubavitch holds the Rebbe to be Moshiach. They demonize the leaders of Chabad, accusing them of being evil and corrupt. In response, the anti-messianists assert that the messianists are an embarrassment to the movement and have sorely misinterpreted the Rebbe’s teachings. Their extreme behaviour has turned people away from Lubavitch. They have attempted to hijack the running of Lubavitch from Agudas Chassidei Chabad. Their motivation to do this derives from jealousy over the fact that the Rebbe did not choose them to head Lubavitch institutions. Many living in Crown Heights are self-labelled messianists. Although some claim that the Rebbe is alive, their behaviour signifies that they are aware that he is not literally alive, for they regularly visit, for instance, his grave-side in Queens to petition him. Others hold that the Rebbe is alive in the literal sense. For them the classic meaning of death does not apply to a righteous person such as Rabbi Schneerson, since his soul was closer to God than that of any other mortal being. One such group, called Tzvatim, derives from Tzafat in Israel. They speak of the Rebbe as though he is still alive, regularly deploy the yechi during prayer services, and wave flags and display stickers in their cars stating that the Rebbe is alive. They have taken over the functions of the main synagogue at ‘770’, including making decisions about where the Rebbe’s chair will be set at prayer services and other Chassidic gatherings. A small number – labelled as elokists – hold that in order for Rabbi Schneerson to be revealed everyone must accept his messiah-hood. Opponents of this view are deliberately holding up the revelation and must be dealt with forcefully. This group has a strong presence in Tzafat but small numbers frequent the synagogue in ‘770’.
The messianists typically refer to the Rebbe’s ‘apparent passing’, a phrase which reveals the questionable ontological status of his death, vehemently reject epithets usually ascribed to the dead, such as ‘may his memory be for a blessing’, and frequently use titles wishing him a long life. Different terms are deployed to refer to his continued existence. Some refer to resurrection − the Rebbe has risen from the dead and therefore is even more powerfully at work than before − whereas others refer to his ‘occultation’ or ‘concealment’. Despite the fact that he cannot be seen he is still held by his followers to be aware of their desires and to know their thoughts. Most importantly he is held to influence the physical world. Using the term yechi for the Rebbe has become a major bone of contention. For the messianists it is quite acceptable to deploy the term yechi (he lives), whereas more ‘mainstream’ congregants disapprove strongly. They are prohibited by the leadership from using it when speaking of Schneerson. One year after his death messianists were referring to his ‘death’ as Gimmel Tammuz (the Hebrew date of his death) and spoke of the fact that he was alive but concealed. For them this is a day of celebration that should reaffirm the messianic status of Rabbi Schneerson (Heilman and Friedman 2010). One Messianic publication from 1995 titled ‘Moshiach Lives Eternally’ (http://www.moshiach.ru/english/moshiach/4508.html) states: Since the Third of Tammuz, we are no longer able to physically see the Rebbe King Moshiach. The Rebbe remains physically alive just as before, it is only to our eyes that he is concealed. Therefore, we call this a day of concealment, and many refer to this as the ‘last test’. Just as we know that there is a God though we may not see him, so too the Rebbe King Moshiach is here even though we do not see him. A very small minority of Lubavitchers even maintain that the Rebbe is an incarnation of God. They have incorporated the term boreinu (our creator) into the yechi verse. They mainly derive from Tzafat in Israel where yeshivah students are taught that the Rebbe has divine qualities. A messianist catechism published in Tzafat describes the Rebbe, who is still physically alive, as in charge ‘of all that happens in the world. Without his agreement no event can take place. If it is his will, he can bring about anything and who can tell him what to do? . . . In him the Holy One Blessed be He rests in all His force just as He is . . . so that this becomes his entire essence’ (see http://www.infochabad.com/index.php?page=on_ false Messianism, Idolatory and Lubavitch). Another Israeli publication (Peninei Geullah) reported approvingly that the Rebbe was addressed after
The Death of the Rebbe
his apparent death as ‘Honored Rebbe, the Holy One Blessed be He. The Rebbe is the conjunction of God and human. The Rebbe is God, but he is also physical’. Ariel Sokolovsky, a Moldova-born Lubavitch rabbi based in Portland, Oregan, publishes a website – RebbeGod.blogspot.com – where he refers to Schneerson as ‘Rebbe – Almighty’ among other adulatory sobriquets. In 1996 an issue of Beis Mosiach stated: ‘The Rebbe is in essence the being of God enclosed in a body, he is by nature omniscient and omnipotent and all material and spiritual blessings flow from the Rebbe’. The article went on to say: ‘The Rebbe is, in fact, the boss over nature. He delivers a symphony of countless harmonised details of particular divine providence and has an effect past, present and future in his pocket. So who is elokeinu (our God)? The Rebbe, Moshiach, that’s who.’ Not surprisingly these new beliefs have attracted a lot of derision from the wider Jewish community and, on account of their proclamations of the imminent resurrection of Schneerson, some have labelled the messianists as ‘Christians’ (Berger 2001a). For this is, according to Berger, the first time that a ‘second coming Judaism’ has been born since early Christianity.
The Views of the Anti-messianists Another camp, loosely called ‘anti-messianist’, is vehemently opposed to all public claims that the Rebbe is the Messiah (although it is difficult to establish their private views and indeed they have not pressed for a ‘replacement’ Rebbe in the 16 years since Rabbi Schneerson’s death). Berger (2006) argues that the hallmark of moderation, indeed of ‘anti-messianism’ in Lubavitch is not rejection of the belief that the Rebbe is the Messiah, but acceptance of the reality of his physical death as well as opposition to publicizing the messianist belief, or incorporating it into religious ritual. Members of this group vary in their attitudes towards this messianism: from lack of involvement with the messianists, to vociferous attacks on their practices. All major Chabad organizations, including Agudas Chasidei Chabad and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, as well as the majority of shluchim, oppose the publicizing of messianic beliefs about Rabbi Schneerson. The establishment leadership in the United States and Israel officially opposes overt messianist propaganda, and emissaries are less influenced by messianism than are the main population centres in Brooklyn, Israel and elsewhere. There are, however, varied opinions concerning the Rebbe’s messianic status. Some anti-messianists hold that the Rebbe could have
been Moshiach if God had willed it, but they disagree vehemently that Moshiach could come from the dead. For them Schneerson was the best candidate for the Messiah in his generation but now that he is dead, they say, that claim is no longer viable. They appear to accept the Rebbe’s death as final. As one anti-messianic Lubavitch member stated to me shortly after the funeral: ‘Sure I felt disappointment, but you have to move on.’ They however hold that the Rebbe, although physically dead, still has a spiritual influence on the world. One of the most prominent anti-messianists is Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutch. Originally a Chabad rabbi and archivist in Chabad, he was crowned as the Liozna Rebbe by a group of dissident Lubavitch Hasidim in a ceremony on 5 December 1996 at their synagogue on 45th Street in Brooklyn. The name Liozna Rebbe, after the Russian village that spawned the movement, was chosen in preference to calling himself the Lubavitcher Rebbe, thus avoiding the wrath of the messianists. Fervently against the notion of Schneerson as Moshiach, he wrote a controversial multivolume biography of Schneerson that was banned by the Crown Heights rabbinical court. The mainstream organization, in formal statements and otherwise, has strongly discouraged its members from identifying the Rebbe as Moshiach and from publicly promoting this claim. In 1996 Agudat Chassidei ChabadLubavitch stated: With regard to some recent statements and declarations by individuals and groups concerning the matter of Moshiach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of sainted memory, let it be known that the views expressed in these notices are in no way a reflection of the movement’s position. While we do not intend to preclude expressions of individual opinion, they are, in fact, misleading and a grave offence to the dignity and expressed desires of the Rebbe. The Central Committee of Chabad rabbis in the United States and Canada condemned similar pronouncements in 1998, stating that ‘the preoccupation with identifying the Rebbe, [may merit protect us], as Moshiach is clearly contrary to the Rebbe’s wishes’(quoted in Canadian Jewish News, 24 December 1998). It is probably accurate to state that for many members of Lubavitch, nearly 16 years after Rabbi Schneerson’s passing, much of the messianic intensity has died down. This is not to undermine the fact that people still expectantly wait for the arrival of Moshiach, but for many it has ceased to be
The Death of the Rebbe
a pressing issue. Many Lubavitch followers still speak of their feeling the Rebbe’s continuing spiritual presence. Every home has at least one ornate large picture of the Rebbe and discourse about him is still very much in evidence in synagogues, homes, schools and camps. A whole generation of children is being brought up to feel an attachment to Rabbi Schneerson and to recognize his central importance in their lives. Every year more and more volumes of the Rebbe’s teachings, entitled Sifrei Igros Kodesh, have been produced by The Lubavitch Publication Society and are seen as signposts for his followers, and as a way to communicate with him. These teachings provide comfort and guidance for Lubavitch adherents. They derive from them what they understand to be specific instructions. Increasing numbers of young couples dedicate their lives to spreading his teachings through emissary activities. As Heilman and Friedman (2010: 23) assert, they now access the him through his voluminous texts ‘keeping the Rebbe alive by continuously plumbing and internalizing the messages that were in the copious literature built up of texts their rebbe’s had left them’. The young are particularly encouraged to study and assimilate them as a way of experiencing the Rebbe whom they never met while he was alive. In summary, both the messianists and the antimessianists are strongly committed to furthering the Rebbe’s mission. Let us now examine in more detail how the Rebbe’s death and subsequent events have influenced messianic convictions in Stamford Hill and in Crown Heights. I shall begin by discussing the response in the Stamford Hill community.
Messianism in Stamford Hill
Stamford Hill is an area of three square miles in the London Borough of Hackney, which is located to the north of London between Stoke Newington and Seven Sisters. It is populated by Hasidic Jews, West Indians and a number of Irish and Cypriot families. From the 1880s onwards many Jews moved into the area to escape the poverty of the East End of London. Jewish families came to the area from other areas of London, refugees in their own way, from bombing and post-war clearances for new housing. The area comprises the largest Hasidic community in Europe, and it is referred to as the square mile of piety, reflecting the many Jewish men seen walking in their traditional clothes on their way to and from worship. There are approximately 20,000 Hasidic Jews living there . Their style of dress and worship reflect historical links with particular areas of Eastern Europe. Many have international connections with other congregations around the world. Satmar is the largest of these congregations with five directly associated synagogues; Belz, another large community, also has several synagogues. In the surrounding vicinity there are over 50 synagogues and many observant Jews in the neighbouring areas of Stoke Newington, Upper Clapton and Tottenham identify with Stamford Hill. The Hasidim have their own schools, bookshops and kosher food shops. They wear eighteenth-century frock coats and black hats and are the only British Jewish group still to speak Yiddish. Children generally attend Jewish private schools which are segregated between boys and girls. Family size is often large: Haredi families have on an average 5.9 children, almost 2.5 times the average for England and Wales, and many families live in overcrowded flats. At present, there are approximately 300 Lubavitch families who reside in Stamford Hill. Apart from Stamford Hill, there are now Lubavitch Centres in Central London, Hamstead Garden Suburb, Edgware, Golders Green, Ilford, Buckhurst Hill, Southgate and Wimbledon. The Stamford Hill community is very close-knit and members have multiple social ties to other
Messianism in Stamford Hill
members of the community and usually to other Lubavitch communities worldwide. There is a strong sense of community expressed by Lubavitch Hasidim, and several people cited this as a reason for joining the movement. As one rabbi stated: ‘Lubavitch gives me a strong sense of belonging. When something goes wrong there is always support available even from people whom you do not know very well.’ Much of the daily life of the community centres around Lubavitch House in Stamford Hill. This is the headquarters of Lubavitch in the UK, and hosts a wide range of activities and facilities, including educational and vocational activities; youth and children’s activities; synagogue, religious study and celebratory activities; swimming; outreach; and other special facilities such as the library and bookshop. As part of ‘Project Return’, weekly meetings are held where non-practising Jews are invited to attend and learn in an endeavour to bring them back to orthodoxy. I spent much time before the Rebbe’s death attending meetings at Lubavitch House and interviewing members of the community about messianism. There is great emphasis placed upon members of the community studying Tanya and regular shiurim are organized at Lubavitch House . The Stamford Hill community is largely isolated from the outside world − mixing with gentiles is rare, except for business purposes. The justification given within the ultra-Orthodox community for segregation from non-Jews is that through friendship and intimacies, the temptation to stray from the law could become irresistible, and hence the precaution of segregation. There is strong gender segregation in the community and the domestic role of women is emphasized. About 40 per cent of the men have trained as rabbis, the others work as teachers, shopkeepers, businessmen and professionals including accountants and lawyers. Many of the women teach in local jewish schools, others work in small businesses, in professions or in secretarial roles. Increasingly because of financial pressures women work outside the home. Unmarried men and women of adult age are forbidden to mix together unaccompanied. From the age of three, boys and girls are taught separately. Lubavitch followers explain this segregation as a protection of the sanctity of the family. Children are generally taught in religious schools. In 2007 there were 18 Jewish day schools in Stamford Hill catering solely for strictly Orthodox children. Some children have a predominantly Jewish education, and from the age of 13 boys generally attend yeshivot (Jewish seminaries) where they study Torah, Talmud and Hasidut (including the voluminous writings of the Rebbe). Lubavitch men dress in black suits consisting of a waist-length jacket, a white or blue shirt and a black Borsalino felt fedora. Married women wear
a sheitel (wig) with their hair cropped short. Hasidic residence, family life and education are totally determined by Talmudic law. There are fixed rituals for living one’s daily life, according to Talmudic teachings. Life centres around festival days and the Sabbath. So strong are the religious sentiments that not only religious affairs, but secular activities as well are controlled and directed by religious prescription and authority. English is the first language used by the majority of British and American Lubavitch adherents, although some still converse in Yiddish. Music plays an important part in religious life. Like many other Hasidic groups, Chabad attaches importance to singing Hasidic nigunim (tunes), usually without words, and following the precise customs of their leaders.
The Messiah Campaign in Stamford Hill Anyone visiting the Stamford Hill community today would find it difficult to imagine the intense messianic fervour there in the early 1990s prior to Rabbi Schneerson’s death. Like other Lubavitch communities in Europe and America, almost everyone there held the Rebbe to be Moshiach and anticipated the imminent Redemption. During this period Moshiach was the major topic of conversation. Although many Lubavitch followers privately admitted that the Rebbe was Moshiach, the ‘official’ response of Stamford Hill Lubavitch Hasidim, when asked whether the Rebbe was Moshiach, was to carefully stop short of claiming outright that the Rebbe was, or would shortly be revealed as, the Moshiach. When questioned by outsiders the invariable reply was threefold: all Jews are required to believe in the coming of the Messiah, the Talmudic sources say that the Messiah will arise from among the people, and ‘do you know of anyone alive today who fits the bill better than the Rebbe?’ Discourse about the Messiah was closely linked to discussions of the imminent Redemption. For some, there would be radical changes in the world: current events signified that this process had already begun. Several people mentioned the fact that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 without any bloodshed was an ‘obvious’ sign of the imminent redemption. One prominent rabbi whom I interviewed in Lubavitch House in 1990 stated: You can see changes occurring in the world. There is still war and famine. Only God will change that. But in some ways the world has become better. There is more freedom to practise religion in many parts of the world. Rich nations are supporting poorer nations financially. Medical
Messianism in Stamford Hill
technology is improving. These are signs that the Redemption has already begun. We will not see such radical changes until Moshiach comes but we can taste the Redemption now. Another Lubavitch follower reported to me in 1991: Today, only one person fulfils the criteria for Moshiach. This is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. If pressed, all Lubavitchers will say he is Moshiach. There is no other candidate. We are nearly out of our predicament now. Many miraculous things are happening, such as the fall of Communism. Redemption is not yet here but we are in the beginnings of it. There is some debate among Lubavitchers concerning the Moshiach campaign. What is the best way to conduct it? Some say we should not say the Rebbe is Moshiach. I disagree with this. I feel that Lubavitchers must say that the Rebbe is Moshiach. I personally feel one cannot talk about one without the other. If you are seriously minded, there is nothing wrong with saying the Rebbe is Moshiach. It will not turn people off. The Rebbe’s proclamation of Moshiach’s imminent arrival in 1991 led to increased messianic fervour among the Stamford Hill community. Messianic discourse became increasingly prominent. A frequent discussion centred on whether people would still have bodies at this time. Rabbi Reuben, one of the most vocal proponents of the Moshiach campaign articulated his utopian vision:
I think that we will have bodies but people will no longer die. There will be no more illness. We will not need to eat anymore. The pavements will be covered with gold. There will no longer be poverty but I believe that people will still have bank accounts. Life will definitely be better than now. We will be much closer to God. The messianic excitement intensified over the next 2 years. Many people voiced the opinion that the Rebbe would soon reveal himself as Moshiach. Classes were regularly held in Lubavitch House focusing upon the Rebbe’s teachings about Moshiach and providing proofs that he was Moshiach. Despite his profound incapacity to look after himself many members of the Stamford Hill community continued to visit him in ‘770’. In April 1993, a ‘Moshiach Awareness’ caravan tour was held in Stamford Hill. A motorcade of three specially prepared caravans known as ‘Mitzvah Tanks’ embarked on a tour around Britain to provide information about the concept of Moshiach, and its significance for Jewish life and belief.
It was launched by the (non-Hasidic) Mayor of Hackney, while a Hasidic band offered musical entertainment. A public discussion was held on the grounds of Lubavitch House which focused on a number of messianic issues, including one talk entitled ‘Taking the first steps towards miracle making’. The atmosphere was highly charged; men and women were singing messianic songs, some dancing to the music. Pictures of the Rebbe with the inscription Moshiach underneath were prominently displayed. Young Lubavitch men and women distributed literature with ‘proofs’ of Rabbi Schneerson’s messianic status. I was invited into one of the mitzvah tanks to lay tefillin. While inside a young man explained to me that the Rebbe would soon reveal himself as Moshiach and the Redemption was imminent. He suggested that my own performance of mitzvot could in itself could tip the balance and bring about the coming of Moshiach. Although the majority of my informants maintained that Rabbi Schneerson was Moshiach, others were not so sure. Mr Zeitlin, a 45-year-old Hasidic man and a member of Lubavitch for 16 years, stated shortly after the Rebbe’s first stroke in 1992: I suppose I am a heretic! Of course the Rebbe may be the Mosiach, but so may another Rebbe. In every generation there is a potential Moshiach. The Rebbe is the most likely candidate, he’s done as lot for Judaism, bringing people back etc. I think people want to be convinced about the Rebbe. Ten percent are convinced, eighty percent want to be convinced and ten percent are not sure. People go around with the group and follow whatever is said. They are like automatons. I prefer to have my own ideas. The Rebbe may be Moshiach but I am unsure. I hope he is. Although people say that he is better, I don’t feel he is communicating with anyone. While most Stamford Hill Lubavitch followers appeared to be preoccupied with messianic issues, others concentrated on more mundane matters. Sarah Levine, a 50-year-old married woman originally of French descent, working in a Lubavitch nursery, had the following to say: I cannot come to terms with the fact that the Rebbe is the Messiah. If Moshiach comes will he be the Lubavitcher Rebbe? I think he will be a Jew. I think a lot of this messianic behaviour is strange. They were even talking about making a crown to crown the Rebbe as Moshiach on his anniversary. This would have cost thousands of dollars. My son is embarrassed to go to ‘770’. He does not think it is the right thing to do with all this fuss about Moshiach. Hashem (God) dictates when the time is right, he
Messianism in Stamford Hill
must give some sign that the time is right. The people cannot force the Moshiach to reveal himself. I think Lubavitchers have been enforcing this role on the Rebbe. Because of this stress the Rebbe has become ill. I feel I should be a believer. I don’t want to do the wrong thing. If, God forbid, I was wrong, what would be my position? I do not feel the Rebbe can be wrong. People do not entertain the idea that the Rebbe could die. Outsiders ask who will follow him? Lubavitchers believe that the Moshiach will not die. I believe the Rebbe is only human and will die. I don’t know what will happen then. It frightens me. Where would people be and what would they say. Would they say that they were wrong? Would they say that he is coming back? Although the Messiah campaign is important there are many other problems to worry about in the community. The financial situation is very bad here, many of us are not being paid. If you ask questions you are given the cold shoulder. Lubavitch does not have money for paying its employees. With all this talk about Moshiach, they can’t even behave well man to man. If someone does not believe in all of this, can they call themselves a Lubavitcher? I should not really be saying all of this. It may be a sin. Perhaps the Rebbe knows that I’m criticizing him. Something may happen to me. In his book Wonders and Miracles there are stories about people who have gone against the Rebbe’s advice and have been harmed. Someone was told to close their shop on the Sabbath which they refused to do and the shop burnt down. There is another story about Kappel Rosen, the founder of Carmel College. He unfortunately had leukemia. Someone gave him a copy of Tanya. As soon as he started to read it he got better. He went to the Rebbe and told everyone this story about the Tanya. The Rebbe said you should not have made a big noise about this. Shortly afterwards, he relapsed. There was much consternation in the Stamford Hill community following the Rebbe’s second stroke in 1994. Many of my informants whom I had known for over a decade appeared sad, although it was obvious to me that they were trying to put on a ‘brave face’. I interviewed several Lubavitch members during this time. Although no one publicly discussed the possibility that he could die, and who his successor would be (the Rebbe had no children to succeed him), privately, several people admitted that his death was a possibility. One person said, ‘I know the Rebbe is a great man, but he is human after all and he is about 90 years of age. I think he could die. I hope for the sake of Lubavitch that he does not but we must face this
possibility. If he dies, how will Lubavitchers account for his death, and what will happen to the messianic belief?’ Publicly, however, the ‘party line’ was that this illness signified the imminent arrival of the messianic era and forthcoming redemption. One rabbi stated: The Rebbe is now in a state of concealment. The Jews could not see Moses on Mount Sinai and thought he was dead. They built the golden calf and had a vision of him lying dead on a bier, whereas he was in fact alive and in a state of concealment. The Rebbe is in a state of Chinoplet, a trancelike state where the soul leaves the body. The soul of the Rebbe has to go down to lower realms to drag up the souls of the sinners. He must do this before he declares himself as Moshiach. The spiritual energy required to bring Moshiach is very great and his body is depleted of energy. It is only now that we have the medical technology to keep him alive. We should not be sad. The attitude to adopt is one of Simcha (joy). We are of course sad that the Rebbe is suffering but must be joyful that he is undergoing the process of transformation to reveal himself as Moshiach.
The Immediate Aftermath of the Rebbe’s Death in Stamford Hill I had been anticipating the Rebbe’s death for a few months. Immediately after he died a message was faxed from ‘770’ to the Stamford Hill community which said ‘Blessed be the Divine Judge’, meaning that God had ordained that the Rebbe should die. I arrived at Lubavitch House several hours after the Rebbe had died, having heard the news on a local radio station. The atmosphere was subdued. I was struck by the small number of people there and was told that most of the community had immediately flown to New York for the funeral. Some were praying, others saying Tehillim (Psalms), while others stood in groups talking. I could see no one crying. After an hour, more and more people assembled in the Synagogue. I was able to discuss with them what had happened. There was a distinct lack of leadership; no one knew exactly how to proceed. ‘Do we sit shiva?’ (7 days of ritual mourning), asked one man. ‘The Rebbe is not our immediate family’, responded others. Some answered that it was necessary to sit shiva for several hours only, others suggested a day and others said a week. Everyone agreed that, at the time of the funeral, they should perform keriah (rending garments) and someone was appointed to undertake this task. As the day proceeded, more and more people
Messianism in Stamford Hill
assembled in the Synagogue and attempts were made to establish a satellite link between Lubavitch House and NBC, the American news channel, which was due to broadcast the funeral live. Until the moment of his burial, there was still a feeling of hope expressed by those present. ‘The Rebbe could still arise and proclaim himself as Moshiach’, said one student. With the room completely full with Lubavitch Hasidim, some stood reciting Psalms, some observed the funeral procession by satellite, and yet others tore their clothes. On satellite, a Lubavitch group could be seen dancing and singing in anticipation of his resurrection and the imminent redemption. Suddenly, one man shouted he could hear the shofar (ram’s horn) which announced the arrival of Moshiach. After the burial, some congregants left, others continued to say Tehillim. The following morning everyone was asking why he had died and what it meant for the arrival of Moshiach and the future of Lubavitch. Two days after his death, a statement was made by a spokesman for the Lubavitch movement emphasizing how much good work had been done by the Rebbe and how the community now had the job of bringing forth the coming of the Redemption. In it, he stated: By sharing with us his vision, his hopes and his promises, and by making us active participants in the perfection of God’s world, the Rebbe has empowered us in the way that every parent can hope to empower his or her children. Handicapped as we are now with the loss of his physical presence, we rededicate ourselves to continue to accomplish that which our beloved Rebbe taught through his life’s work for a humanity uplifted by good and a world sanctified and redeemed by God. Around the time of the Rebbe’s death messianic excitement ran high, but even during this period there were substantial variations in the intensity of belief, with a few members of the community expressing doubts about Schneerson’s messianic status. Furthermore, even among the most ardent messianists, there was a discrepancy between what people said and what they actually did in practice; I knew of no one who stopped working or sold up everything in anticipation of the ‘imminent’ redemption . In agreement with Melton (1985: 147), apocalyptic groups in general do not organize their daily lives around millennial prophecy − at least, not to the degree that critics and scholars assume them to. Several responses quickly emerged in relation to his death. These are typical of groups confronting a failure of prophecy: ‘test of faith’; human error; blaming others and spiritualization (see Dawson 1999; Dein and Dawson 2008; Zygmunt 1972; and Melton 1985). No single explanation was
uniformly advanced by his followers. For some, the failure of Schneerson to reveal himself and bring the Redemption could be put down to lack of faith: ‘Its our fault, we did not believe in the Rebbe enough’, said one man. Others stated that their generation did not deserve Moshiach: ‘We did not merit the Redemption to come now, we have not performed enough mitzvot’, articulated one woman. Most emphasized that he still had a major presence in the world and that, without the hindrance of his physical body, his spiritual presence was even greater. Some Lubavitch members, however, admitted that they had been wrong. They admitted that human intelligence was lacking and that they could not understand God’s ways. One Rabbi said: Concerning Moshiach: up till now we thought that we knew the script, the series of events that were going to happen in the process of the revelation of Moshiach. The Rebbe never actually told us a script, but we thought we should make it up. Now we realize we do not know the script. We should try to understand that this is not surprising. The coming of Moshiach is the drawing of the infinite into the finite, this is very difficult. It is quite beyond ordinary reason. It is understandable we do not know the steps that led to this. Everyone expressed a feeling that they must continue, and hope and pray for the messianic arrival and redemption. Although the Rebbe had frequently intimated that the Messiah would come imminently, perhaps they had misread the signs. Almost unanimously everyone agreed that whatever happened, there was a need to have increased faith in God and in the notion of hashgachah pratit . Some however admitted that Schneerson’s death disqualified him from being Moshiach. It did not take long for the overwhelming conviction in the community to be of the opinion that the Rebbe would resurrect and that the Redemption would arrive. I spoke to one 18-year-old congregant who stated: All Lubavitchers believe the Rebbe is Moshiach. We still believe this. It is not impossible that the Rebbe will be resurrected. The Rebbe has great power now. His spiritual presence is even greater now in all the worlds. People still write to him for a blessing, although, of course, they do not get a reply but there is a response. Things are happening. Although no one gave an exact date for Rabbi Schneerson’s return, a few people discussed his anticipated appearance. One Lubavitch member held that Rebbe would come back looking like an elderly man but would be well: ‘I think that the Rebbe will come back to life soon. I think that he will look
Messianism in Stamford Hill
as he did before he died. He will be dressed in the same clothes. He will be well and will be able to speak again. His body will be like it was before his stroke.’ These views were strongly contested by Rabbi Sudak, the leader of the British Lubavitch movement, who soon stated that members of the congregation were no longer to proclaim the Rebbe as Moshiach. This was largely to avoid criticism and ridicule from other Jews and non-Jews. Before the Rebbe’s death it had been customary for all Lubavitchers to sing ‘Long Live the Rebbe, King Moshiach’ at every service. This was now prohibited and public policy became one of discretion. This approach caused some dissension among members. Some felt that this ruling was wrong and that Lubavitch should publicly announce not only that the Rebbe was Moshiach, but also that he was in fact alive and had never died. As I shall discuss below, some ardent messianists set up their own synagogue – Beis Menachem (House of Menachem) where they continued to expound messianic views. While mainstream Lubavitch followers in Stamford Hill hold that the Rebbe has physically died although he still has a ‘strong spiritual presence’, those attending Beis Menachem typically articulate the view that the Rebbe is alive physically.
The Rebbe Could Have Been Moshiach if God Had Willed It Unlike the period preceding the Rebbe’s illness and subsequent death, where there was acute messianic excitement in Stamford Hill, in recent years this has largely subsided; messianism has become once again a ‘cold script’. This is not to undermine the fact that belief about the coming of Moshiach continues to be important (this is a central teaching of Judaism), but messianism has lost both its urgency and its impact on everyday life. In line with the teachings of Maimonides, Stamford Hill Lubavitch adherents continue to hope and pray for his coming and the arrival of the Redemption. For them, the Redemption is something which will certainly occur although no one can know when. Only God knows when this will occur. What is more important is the role of the performance of mitzvot in bringing forth the Messianic age. Chabad still organizes classes to teach people about Moshiach. However today, many Lubavitch congregants study messianic issues online on sites such as Chabad.org, which presents regular discussions about Moshiach and the Redemption. Topics include source texts, the personal qualities of Moshiach, the time of his arrival and the world in the messianic era.
The Rebbe is no longer identified with Moshiach and no date is set for his arrival. However his teachings about Moshiach are regularly published . The discussions generally refer to Maimonides who writes, ‘Neither the order of the occurrence of these events nor their precise detail is among the fundamental principles of the faith . . . one should wait and believe in the general conception of the matter.’ One article on Chabad.org, entitled ‘What is the Jewish Belief About Moshiach?’ written by Rabbi Nissan Dubov, a prominent British Lubavitch rabbi, exemplifies ideas about Moshiach and the Redemption : In general, mankind must strive to perform more acts of goodness and kindness. The Jew is mandated to learn and be aware of the messianic redemption, and strengthen his faith in Moshiach’s ultimate and imminent arrival. Charity is a catalyst for redemption and every day in our prayers we sincerely plead many times for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the in-gathering of the exiles and the return to Torah observance under the leadership of Moshiach. The Lubavitcher Rebbe mounted a worldwide Moshiach campaign to heighten the awareness of Moshiach’s imminent arrival. The Rebbe constantly urged every Jew to prepare himself, his family and his community for the arrival of Moshiach. This can best be achieved by ‘living with Moshiach’; that is, by learning about Moshiach and yearning for his coming. The article then goes on to discuss how the coming of Moshiach is associated with the end of suffering: Initially, there will be no change in the world order other than its readiness to accept messianic rule. All the nations of the world will strive to create a new world order in which there will be no more wars or conflicts. Jealousy, hatred, greed and political strife (of the negative kind) will disappear and all human beings will strive only for good, kindness and peace. In the messianic era there will be great advances in technology allowing a high standard of living. Food will be plentiful and cheap. However the focus of human aspiration will be the pursuit of the ‘knowledge of God’. People will become less materialistic and more spiritual. Below I present a number of interviews I conducted in 2010. I would describe many of my informants as holding the view that the Rebbe could have been Moshiach, but not currently preoccupied with the issue and for whom messianic debates actually play little part in their current lives. A few
Messianism in Stamford Hill
held the view that the Rebbe was Moshiach but agreed that he was physically dead. There may still be some who still privately hope that when Moshiach arrives, it will be the Rebbe. One prominent rabbi in North London suggested that this position was not uncommon. Only a minority, those who generally attended Beis Menachem, held the conviction that the Rebbe was physically alive. I shall describe the latter group in Chapter 7. Although discourse about the Messiah is still prevalent, this no longer revolves around his identity. When the topic of messianism is raised, it is now divorced from discussions of the Rebbe’s messianic status. People still speak of the Redemption but in the vaguest of terms. No one names a specific time. The statements of many informants suggest that millennialism has shifted from predictive to explanatory, emphasizing the close relationship between Moshiach and the end of suffering.
Helen Kossoff Helen Kossoff is a 50-year-old mother of seven children who works at a local Lubavitch school. She was born into a Lubavitch family and grew up in Stamford Hill. Until the Rebbe’s death she had regularly visited Crown Heights for dollars and was especially struck by the Rebbe’s ‘amazing memory’. She emphasized that, despite meeting several thousand people every Sunday for many years, he was still able to remember her each time she visited ‘770’. At the height of the messianic fervour in the 1990s she admitted that she had no doubts that the Rebbe was Moshiach. After all everyone else appeared convinced and so did she. The Rebbe certainly possessed all the qualities to be the Jewish Messiah. However since he died she no longer finds this credible. She recounted the following during an interview in Stamford Hill in 2010. Yes, the Rebbe was a great man. People got very excited in the 1990s about him being Moshiach. I understand why they thought this. But now that he is dead, the excitement in Stamford Hill has died down. Some people still believe it, I personally do not. People here are not really interested in this issue any more. There are far more pressing problems. Lubavitch is very short of money. Teachers have not been paid for weeks. Without money Lubavitch cannot do its important work. This is a far more important issue than whether or not the Rebbe (was) is Moshiach. All Jews are expected to believe in Moshiach and the redemption. No one can know when it will come. I hope that it is very soon. Some held that the Rebbe’s death invalidated his role as Moshiach.
Samuel Fishbein Samuel Fishbein is a 60-year-old man whom I interviewed at home. Born into a traditional Jewish family, not particularly Orthodox, he formally joined Lubavitch at the age of 20 after meeting the Rebbe for yehidut (a private interview). He emphasized that meeting the Rebbe was unlike meeting any other person. He was struck by his perceptive powers and the warmth that he displayed towards everyone whom he met. Married with three children, he works at a local school as a caretaker. His wife Helen was recently diagnosed with severe heart disease and since her diagnosis he has been unable to work. He recounted how in 1991 when the messianic excitement was great in Stamford Hill he indeed believed for some time that the Rebbe could be Moshiach: I think everyone in Lubavitch at that time believed the Rebbe was Moshiach. I remember believing this quite clearly. The Rebbe implied this himself. Yes I thought that the Redemption would come. When the Rebbe died I stopped believing it. After all how can the Rebbe die and still be Moshiach? Only God knows who Moshiach is. We cannot know. We misunderstood the Rebbe. He could have been Moshiach if God had willed it but we were wrong in our assumptions. We all look forward to the Redemption. This is a basic tenet of Jewish belief. There will be a time when evil and suffering will end. Only God knows when this will happen. We can bring Moshiach by the performance of mitzvot. He continued: We can see two opposing processes occurring in the world today. On the one hand there is evil, nation is fighting nation (America and Iraq), murder and killing are rife in the world, there is slaughter in Israel and immorality is everywhere with husbands cheating on their wives. But on the other hand good things are increasingly occurring: the rise of democracy and freedom, nuclear arms are being dismantled, tanks are being converted to tractors and military aircraft airlift food to the famine areas. Nations are generally becoming more civilized and there is less slavery and torture. The human race is undergoing a process of moral maturation just look at the fall of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe which occurred without bloodshed and brought freedom to many. People may still act in an evil way but the nations are united against them. There are atrocities but the world is united in its outrage.
Messianism in Stamford Hill
People’s ideas are changing. These are signs that Moshiach will soon come.
Moshe Feldberg Moshe Feldberg is a 70-year-old man who is a prominent rabbi in the community. In the early 1990s he was instrumental in organizing classes teaching about messianism. He defined himself as an ardent messianist at the time and had no doubt then that the Rebbe was Moshiach. Following the Rebbe’s death his views have changed: The discussion of the Rebbe as Moshiach is a complex issue. Yes, at one time everyone in Lubavitch, including myself, held this view. But the Rebbe died. We cannot maintain this view now. The Rambam (Maimonides) states that Moshiach cannot come from the dead. We are not like Christians. Once a person dies, he is disqualified from the role of Moshiach. It is our job now to spread the Rebbe’s teachings and to continue our outreach programme. This will certainly bring Moshiach. I hope that it will happen very soon.
Reuben Zaltzer Reuben Zaltzer, a 50-year-old man, has lived in Stamford Hill for over 20 years. He has 12 children and both he and his wife originate from nonOrthodox backgrounds. He now works as a teacher in a local boy’s school. He explained: Before the Rebbe died in 1994 everyone thought that he was Moshiach. We had good grounds for that assumption. According to the Rambam (Maimonides), if someone is knowledgeable about Torah and brings Jews back to Judaism we can legitimately believe that they are a potential Moshiach. But only if they bring in the Redemption and rebuild the Temple can we conclude that they really are Moshiach. So we were not wrong in our assumptions. The fact that the Rebbe died means that he was not Moshiach. He continued: Some members of Lubavitch still believe the Rebbe is Moshiach. For me the identity of Moshiach is not important. I am not concerned about what life will be like after the Redemption. More important is how we can perform the Rebbe’s work to bring Moshiach. That’s what is more important.
If we perform mitzvot Moshiach will certainly come. This is the hope and belief of every Jew.
From Predictive to Explanatory Millennialism Since the Rebbe’s death millennial fervour has all but abated in Stamford Hill. Millennial ideas now play little part in the everyday lives of the majority of the Lubavitch community living there. Following the Rebbe’s death there has been a shift from predictive to explanatory millennialism, to use Thompson’s terminology. People are less interested in the features of the millennium that they’re waiting for than in the circumstances that will give birth to it. Like all Orthodox Jews, Stamford Hill Lubavitch Hasidim hope for, and anticipate, the Redemption, but the identity of Moshiach is no longer a major concern. They typically speak about the messianic age in relation to radical changes in the world – the end of evil, suffering and poverty – and to this extent we might argue that the notion of messianic within the Lubavitch community has shifted from predictive to explanatory. Their discourse reflects present day rather than future concerns; millennial ideas are a lens through which they can understand suffering in the present. The shift to explanatory millennialism is hardly surprising. It is difficult to defend the assertion that the Rebbe is alive given the fact that he was pronounced dead and was buried. In line with rational choice theory (Iannaccone 1997, Thompson 2005), people, including those who are religious, evaluate the costs and benefits of acting in specific ways to maximize the benefits. Over time people modify their religious choices in significant ways varying their rates of religious participation. Religious believers deploy commonsense in working out strategies and analysing consequences and assess ‘the goodness of fit between an item and an explanation’ (Neitz 1987: 79). Lubavitch Hasidim attempt to diminish the tension between themselves and their environment. Today, Stamford Hill Lubavitch has largely undergone a process of bureaucratization. It is run by Aggudas Chassidei Chabad and their British representative Rabbi Sudak, who is an ardent anti-messianist. He has expressively prohibited any public proclamation of the Rebbe’s messianic status, and this has significantly affected the discourse in the community. But the charisma of the Rebbe has not completely gone in this process: even for this group the Rebbe is still held to perform miracles. Even those who do not maintain (at least publicly) that the Rebbe is Moshiach continue to write or email him for miracles.
770 Eastern Parkway
Visitors at the Rebbe’s Ohel
The Lubavitcher Rebbe I am grateful to Rabbi Brandman for providing these photographs.
Ritualizing the Rebbe in Crown Heights
Like Lubavitch communities elsewhere, Crown Heights Lubavitchers’ views on Moshiach are on a spectrum ranging from those who do not hold Rabbi Schneerson to be Moshiach, to those who maintain that he is Moshiach but has died and will return to redeem the world, to those who hold the conviction that he is alive and publicly proclaim him as Moshiach. Here I concentrate upon the latter group and examine their ritualistic activities that engender a sense of the Rebbe’s presence. The Rebbe’s synagogue, the immediate vicinity and his resting place – the Ohel – constitute one large ritualistic-symbolic complex where images of Rabbi Schneerson are ubiquitous . This symbolic environment facilitates the development of religious experiences in his followers which bolster their convictions that he is alive.
Crown Heights Crown Heights is a neighbourhood in the central portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The main thoroughfare through this neighborhood is Eastern Parkway, a tree-lined boulevard extending two miles (3 km) east-west. The area is an ethnic and social melange inhabited by three groups: Orthodox Jews, African-Americans and Haitians. In 2007, of the approximately 150,000 residents in Crown Heights, 90 per cent were of African descent (70 per cent from the Caribbean and 20 per cent of American birth), 9 per cent were Hasidic Jews, and less than 1 per cent derived from Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups. Although ethnic relations are generally cordial, there have been intermittent racial tensions between the different groups. I was repeatedly told that relationships between Hasidic Jews and African-Americans could be tense. In the spring of 2008 some racial tension flared up in a few blocks; however, it never reached to the level of tension that occurred during the Crown Heights Riot of the early 1990s (Goldschmidt 2006; Shapiro 2006).
When the Rebbe was alive, especially as the messianic fervour grew in the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of Hasidim came on pilgrimage to ‘770’ for the Sabbath and holidays. The Jewish population of Crown Heights was about 12,000 in the early 1990s (Goldschmidt 2006), but there were probably about 15,000 Hasidim in the neighbourhood each weekend and up to 25,000 on major holidays staying in the homes of relatives, friends and strangers, some living in overcrowded yeshiva dormitories. Since the Rebbe’s death, Hasidim have continued to visit in lesser numbers, for major holidays and to visit the Rebbe’s grave in Queens. Visitors are generally welcomed by permanent members of the community, although there have been some concerns that the influx of such large numbers of Hasidim may exacerbate local tensions between blacks and Jews. So eager were Hasidim to live close to the Rebbe such that in the 1980s many Lubavitchers approached black homeowners with unsolicited offers to buy their homes, often with cash offers well above market value. These practices angered some black community leaders who accused Hasidim of ‘Zionist expansion’. Tishrei, the seventh month of the Jewish calender, is traditionally a time when Hasidim visit their Rebbe. Kravel Tovi (2009) describes how, during this month, Isreali teenagers, most of whom have never met the Rebbe while alive, flock to ‘see’ him in ‘770’, something they refer to as a ‘journey to the Rebbe’. Throughout this period the neighbourhood and ‘770’ are painted yellow, the traditional colour of the messianic campaign run by Chabad since the 1980s. Yellow flags, posters and stickers announce the imminent redemption and proclaim the late Lubavicher Rebbe to be the Messiah. Regular tours are organized by Chabad where non-observant Jews can visit ‘770’ and the Ohel. One such daylong tour, called A Spiritual Day in Brooklyn, is organized by Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky, religious leader of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe Township, and offers the possibility of writing a letter to the Rebbe, giving charity, meditation, reading the note, tearing it up and requesting a blessing. ‘I’m hoping they appreciate the experience of being able to pray at the graveside of a spiritual giant’, the rabbi said. ‘I want people to have that experience, to bring them closer to God and the Jewish community, and to leave a little bit more inspired (Silverstein ‘http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=195)’. The focus of my fieldwork has been on 770 Eastern Parkway, the administrative centre of the Lubavitch movement. The site is considered especially holy, as it served as the home and offices of the last two Lubavitcher Rebbes. The Rebbe’s synagogue is a regular site of pilgrimage by his followers on account of the fact that it is held to be the Holy Temple and the epicentre of the
Ritualizing the Rebbe in Crown Heights
Messianic arrival. The official name of ‘770’ is ‘Congregation Lubavitch of Agudas Chasidei Chabad’, although it is referred to by several other names throughout the worldwide Chabad community: Beis Moshiach (‘Messiah’s House’) and Beis Rabeinu Sheb’bovel (the ‘Babylonian’ house of our teacher). It is universally referred to by its number, 770, which has the same gematria  as the Hebrew word paratzta (you will spread out). When the Redemption arrives, messianists maintain that ‘770’ will be moved intact to Jerusalem to Mount Moriah. According to them, in the time of the Third Temple, ‘770’ is going to fly over to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and unite with the new Temple. Because of the great value attributed to anything closely associated with Rebbe, Lubavitchers worldwide have constructed replicas or near-replicas of the building. These include replicas in Kefar Chabad and Jerusalem Israel (see Weingrod 1993); at Rutgers University on College Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ; on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, California; in Melbourne, Australia; Milan, Italy; and in Brazil and Argentina. Several artists have also created Tzedakah boxes and Mezuzah cases in the building’s likeness. Joseph Zakon Wineries in New York City makes a wine by the name of ‘Seven-seventy’. Since the early 1990s, tefillin bags displaying an embroidered picture of seven-seventy have become extremely popular among Lubavitch Bar Mitzvah boys. The building at ‘770’ contains a large synagogue, a Kollel (institute for advanced study of the Talmud), and the community’s library. It also houses the offices of the secretariat of the Lubavitch Movement, and other related offices. The organization’s massive publishing programme run by Chabad’s Kehot Publication Society is housed in a number of offices on the top floors of the building. Following the Rebbe’s death in 1994 there was a degree of urgency to spread the Rebbe’s teachings in print and video media. The third floor is devoted to running the Meaningful Life Centre which runs retreats and publishes a weekly newsletter. On the fourth floor is the headquarters of the Jewish Educational Media video department. The Rebbe’s study has become a shrine, sparsely furnished with a clock, a desk, some glass-fronted bookcases, a 1950s era telephone and decorated in a style that is reminiscent of classic old-time Brooklyn. The window facing Eastern Parkway has been rendered bullet proof. Grooms meditate there before their wedding days, and people pray. On any morning when the Torah is read, the worshipers flow from the study out into the hall. There are however some messianists who hold the Rebbe’s study to be private and therefore they do not venture inside. Although the downstairs synagogue has largely been appropriated by the messianists, numerous offices in ‘770’ are considered non-messianic zones.
The Basement Synagogue The synagogue in the basement of ‘770’ can only be described as decrepit, with its peeling paint, dirty linoleum floors, wooden benches and unidentifiable odour. It is here that hundreds of Lubavitch Hasidim commune with the Rebbe on a daily basis. From its inception the downstairs synagogue has served three parallel purposes. It is a place of daily prayer services, a study hall for advanced students and an assembly hall for Chabad gatherings, known as farbrengens. On the northern wall of the sanctuary is a long banner that says in Hebrew: ‘Long Live Our Master, Teacher and Rebbe, King Moshiach, Forever and Ever’. This slogan is also embroidered on the curtain covering the Torah scroll ark. In one corner of the room is a table with photographs of the Rebbe for sale. It has been taken over by the more fervant messianists represented by an organization named Congregation Lubavitch Inc who also control several schools in Crown Heights. Many of those who attend there are Israelis referred to as Tsvatim or Kvutzah. Those opposed to the extreme messianic position refuse to daven (pray) there. There is a smaller synagogue upstairs, the Zal Ha Katan shul where the anti-messianists pray; another group of Lubavitchers regularly daven in the Rebbe’s office on the Sabbath. The different factions in ‘770’ tolerate each other although there have been periodic physical skirmishes. Fighting has erupted after the antimessianists put up a plaque bearing the inscription ‘of blessed memory’, referring to the Rebbe in the past tense. Security guards have been hired to protect the cornerstone and some arrests have been made. In recent years the feud has moved beyond Crown Heights and spilled into the secular court. These acts of vandalism, along with other defacements through the years, have been perpetrated by young Israelis who believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah, and do not appear to be an organized effort. Several young Lubavitch men wrenched the defaced plaque off the wall and tried to replace it with their own, using the honorific ‘Shlita’, an Aramaic abbreviation for ‘He should live for many long years’, which conventionally follows the name of a living sage. Merkos sought an injunction against this group of young Israelis as well as against their supporters. In November 2006, just after the annual emissary banquet, a contingent of the emissaries went to ‘770’ for fellowship and words of Torah. But their farbrengen was disrupted by angry young men who threw benches, prayerbooks and fists at them. One shaliach had his leg broken. The event was described in the local media as the Tragedy in ‘770’.
Ritualizing the Rebbe in Crown Heights
Aggudas Hasidei Chabad has taken legal action to reclaim the downstairs synagogue from the messianists. This issue has attracted much controversy among Lubavitchers, with some arguing that it is a theological issue rather than a property case which can be decided in a civil court. A court decision in January 2008 was favourable to the anti-messianists, despite the fact that the messianists submitted documents showing that they had paid the electricity bills and also that they had paid for the entryway in which the offending plaque was installed. The presiding Justice, Ira Harkavy, of the New York State Supreme Court determined that the only parties with the right to decide what happened at ‘770’ were its owners, two of the movement’s central organizations, Agudas Chasedei Chabad and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (Association of Chabad Hasidim and the Lubavitch Educational Organization). A ruling was made that the two organizations were legally entitled to eject their opponents, an organization named Congregation Lubavitch Inc which was incorporated 2 years after the Rebbe died and whose trustees were elected by the Crown Heights Lubavitch community to run synagogue operations. The four trustees, known as gabboyim, lost the case but were given 60 days to appeal as long as they put up $500,000 bond and paid the synagogue operating expenses. However, to date, the messianists still maintain a stronghold in the downstairs synagogue.
In the Vicinity of ‘770’ The vicinity of ‘770’ can best be considered as one large stage set devoted to displaying images of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. Outside ‘770’ are bookstalls selling Jewish literature including books about Rabbi Schneerson frequently alluding to his messianic status. Lubavitch men stand in groups outside the entrance chatting, some on mobile phones, some waiting for the regular buses which transport the Rebbe’s followers from ‘770’ to the Rebbe’s tomb in Queens. Many of the congregation visit there regularly, and some almost on a daily basis. Although many messianists do not visit the Ohel, arguing that the Rebbe is still in ‘770’, others continue to visit the grave of the Rebbe’s predecessor there. Things have hardly changed since the Rebbe’s death. When I visited Crown Heights in 1993 messianic songs were broadcast through loudspeakers; this is no longer the case. There appeared to be more banners hanging from shop windows. But the messianic fervour in Crown Heights
is still very much in evidence. Throughout the neighbourhood the Rebbe’s pictures proclaim Moshiach’s imminent arrival. In the streets immediately adjacent to the synagogue there are a large number of shop windows displaying pictures of Rabbi Schneerson on them with the words Moshiach inscribed underneath. This image also appears on bumper stickers displayed in cars. Parked on every corner are Mitzvah tanks carrying billboards stating ‘Moshiach is here now. Let’s be ready’. Shops sell souvenirs such as watches with the Rebbe’s face on them. Pictures of Rabbi Schneerson are displayed in front of homes. It is virtually impossible to turn a corner without seeing a picture of the Rebbe. The streets are bustling with Lubavitch men running to and from services, many wearing badges on their lapels with the word Moshiach inscribed on it. Crown Heights has several bookstores selling books on Moshiach including titles such as, ‘Moshiach’ ‘Awaiting Moshiach,’ ‘The Age of Moshiach,’ ‘To Live and Live Again,’ and ‘The Holy Temple’. There are many children’s books about the Rebbe. Also widely available in many stores in and around Crown Heights is Beis Moshiach Magazine, the weekly publication dedicated to bringing ‘the Rebbe’s message of Redemption to the four corners of the Earth’. In Crown Heights, as in other Chabad communities, the Rebbe’s portraits are hung in public spaces, institutions and in private homes. Pictures of Rabbi Schneerson are prominently displayed in every room of the house and bookcases are filled with copies of his teachings and directives. In many households there are photographs of visits to ‘770’ for the ceremony of dollars. Many of the school classrooms have a picture of Schneerson on the eastern wall (towards which Jews pray). Students and children are instructed to ‘direct their hearts and thoughts’ to Rabbi Schneerson, who is ‘omnipotent’ and ‘omniscient’, and will fulfil all of your wishes when you pray to him.
Rituals to Embody the Rebbe The messianists have developed a number of rituals that symbolically construct the Rebbe and reconnect his followers to him. These rituals replace the visual cult that existed around the Rebbe while alive and embody him through various ritual artefacts (see also Kravel Tovi and Bilu 2008; Kravel Tovi 2009; Bilu 2009). Since the Rebbe’s death things have hardly changed in the synagogue which appears stage managed to create the living presence of the Rebbe and gives the sense that everything continues just as it has always done when the Rebbe was alive.
Ritualizing the Rebbe in Crown Heights
Pictures of the Rebbe are to be seen everywhere, his staring eyes signifying the fact that the Rebbe can see into his followers’ innermost selves, a fact commonly mentioned by those who visited him while alive. In the entrance hall there is a DVD playing, which shows the Rebbe distributing dollars. During the month of Tishrei two videotapes are screened every night at ‘770’ (see Kravel Tovi 2009). The first is a recording of one of the Rebbe’s public talks, for instance on the mystical meaning of Succoth. The second video shows the elderly Rebbe after his stroke, paralysed and speechless, watching his Hasidim dance and sing ‘Long live our master, our teacher, and rabbi, the King – Messiah’. The messianic implications are obvious. Inside the prayer hall hundreds of men stand or sit on benches praying or deeply immersed in discussing various Jewish tracts. The activity in ‘770’ in never ending, and the study hall is a continuous hive of activity. Many of the Rebbe’s followers study, pray and even sleep in the synagogue. The sound of men reciting tracts from the Rebbe’s books and other discussions on Jewish literature is ongoing throughout the day and night only to be interrupted by a sudden eruption of loud repetitive clapping and singing of ‘Long live our master, our teacher and our rabbi, King Messiah for ever and ever’, signifying the start of the thrice daily public prayer. Many in the congregation appear to enter a state of ecstasy as the singing intensifies. At the front of the synagogue on the right-hand side of the Ark placed on a stage is the Rebbe’s empty chair covered in red velvet, its cushions unruffled for more than 15 years, and kept as it was during his lifetime. In front of the chair stands the Rebbe’s stander (pulpit) with a cushion resting on top. The Ark itself contains a number of Torah scrolls. In one section there is the Rebbe’s Sefer Torah and next to it a larger one written 40 years ago using charitable donations with the explicit aim of bringing forth Moshiach. Before the daily prayers one of his followers approaches the podium on which the Rebbe prayed, opens out a Persian rug, moves the Rebbe’s chair out from under a desk, uncovers both the chair and his stander and fiddles with his prayer shawls and books as if he were about to walk in and take his seat. At the start of the service the messianists stand on either side of a red carpet, creating a pathway leading from the stairs to the podium. His Hasidim look towards a balcony in the distance as if expecting the Rebbe to emerge and take up his place on a platform just as when he was alive. This is accompanied by loud singing of Hebrew prayer. In major rituals the Rebbe is honoured with uttering the first verse of the prayer and the gaze of the congregation is focused upon the vacant chair. The congregation then recites the subsequent verses. The prayers are followed by singing and chanting with Hora dancing around the central
podium. Men and boys sing ‘Long live our Master, our Rebbe, King Messiah’ as they form conga lines. This has become a routine part of this thrice-daily ritual. The dancing stops abruptly and a sudden hush silences the room. Four young boys each carrying a large yellow flag bearing the Rebbe’s crest then part the dancers and move alongside the platform that supports the Rebbe’s chair and desk. Lifting the flags high in the air they chant: ‘We want Moshiach now! We want Moshiach now! We want Moshiach now!’. At the conclusion of the service the carpet is rolled up and the Rebbe’s chair is again covered. I interviewed several messianists about their experiences during the prayer service. Everyone reported feeling the presence of the Rebbe and a sense of closeness to him . This presence was difficult to articulate in words: it was impossible to see or touch the Rebbe, the presence was ‘spiritual’, but they felt an inner certainty that he was there. What is taught in the Torah is more real than everyday experience. Feeling and knowledge were conflated; when pressed to narrate this experience several people stated that it was impossible to separate their feelings from their knowledge of the Rebbe and proceeded to recount what was taught in Torah about survival of a zaddik after death. Three instances: Menachem, a 30-year-old Lubavitcher, reported his experience of being present during a prayer service: The Rebbe is here with us now. I can feel a definite presence. No, I cannot see him but I feel overwhelmed. You can definitely feel his power. I know that it is he who is leading the service. A few people can see the Rebbe. People tell me ‘just open your eyes and you can see him’. A few spiritually developed people have seen him − in body and in flesh looking as he did before his passing. It’s not happened to me yet. Perhaps one day it will, I don’t know, I hope so. On further questioning he explained that many who attended the services could feel this ‘spiritual presence’. A person could learn to open his eyes by studying Tanya and the Rebbe’s teachings. Eyes referred to both the spiritual and physical sensory organs. He recounted that one man had a video-recording of the late Rebbe walking towards the podium. His Hasidim step aside and suddenly a white shadow appears looking similar to the Rebbe. I was unable to interview this man . Another Rachel Greenberg is a twenty-five-year old woman who lives with her husband and one-year-old son, Samuel, in Crown Heights. Originally from
Ritualizing the Rebbe in Crown Heights
New Jersey, she moved to Crown Heights in 2008 after marriage. She now works part time in a nursery. She remembers visiting the Rebbe for ‘Dollars’ as a young child with her parents and was struck by the Rebbe’s kindness and friendliness. She recounted her experiences at ‘770’: I go to 770 regularly to daven. Sometimes I feel the presence of the Rebbe. It’s like a sense of great connectedness. I can be davening then suddenly I feel the Rebbe connected to me. The best way of describing it is it is like you have a memory of someone whom you have not seen for several years, then you suddenly meet them in person. When I’m connected to the Rebbe it’s spiritually uplifting. When I daven I quietly say yehi. Saying this strengthens Moshiach. The Rebbe as the leader of the generation is present at ‘770’. We no longer have the Holy Temple. ‘770’ is a replacement for this. We are taught that God reveals himself most where the leader of the generation is. That’s in ‘770’ with the Rebbe. David Mendelsson is an 18-year-old man from Tel Aviv who is studying in a Lubavitch Yeshivah in Crown Heights. He had the following to say about his experiences at ‘770’: There is a difference between belief and knowledge. If someone tells you something then you might believe it or not. But when we study Torah and the teachings of the Rebbe, you start to feel the Rebbe with your heart and your brain. At ‘770’ I cannot see the Rebbe but I know that he is here. He is more real than me. When we daven I know that the Rebbe is standing on the platform davening with us.
Farbrengening On the Sabbath and High Holidays there is a farbrengen − a ceremonial gathering of Hasidim − at which, prior to his death, the Rebbe presided and gave his discourses on Hasidic matters, frequently alluding to the ‘imminent’ Redemption. As Heilman and Friedman (2010: 22) comment, ‘ In the past farbrengens provided an occasion to “reconnect with the Rebbe and interact with his colleagues,” in the absence of his physical presence the focus of their attention was their proximity to those who felt his absence most keenly’. Without the Rebbe this ritual offers his followers strength, support and encouragement. Since his death the setting has been kept intact. The Rebbe’s table is kept covered with a white tablecloth and is set with halla
(bread), napkins, a bottle of wine and a wineglass. Alongside the wineglass is a watch to ‘countdown to Moshiach’s arrival’. The Rebbe’s armchair is brought to the table and his Hasidim stand in front of it loudly singing Yehi. The chair itself is considered holy and the Rebbe’s followers touch it with their tallis as they would a Sefer Torah. One young man explained this set up: We continue as before. For us nothing has changed. The Rebbe said this about his father-in-Law and we also believe this. The Rebbe is sitting here during the farbrengen. But we are not merited enough at present to see him. He could reveal himself at any moment. At the conclusion of the meeting, a Hasid cuts the halla and pours wine into the wineglass. These are then distributed among the Hasidim. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) a mobile staircase is placed upon the podium so that the Rebbe ‘can watch from above’ and direct the traditional singing as he had done in previous years. During the Harvest festival (Succoth) a tabernacle is built for the Rebbe with the four spices laid out for him inside. Some eagerly extend their hands to receive the Rebbe’s Lekah (cake), a custom which was carried out when he was alive.
Simcha and Dancing during the Month of Adar The Rebbe taught that in Dvar Malhut in 1992 that joy could bring forth the Redemption. As he explained, through 2000 years of study, the Redemption still has not arrived yet. Joy can overcome all obstacles and overcome divine decrees. Thus messianists maintain that dancing and simcha (joy) can bring about the coming of Moshiach. If God can see that they happy, he is more likely to send him. Consequently there is dancing every night at ‘770’ during the month of Adar. One advert in the entrance of ‘770’ states: ‘When Adar arrives we increase in simcha. From the joy of dancing, according to the words of the Rebbe, we will greet Melech Ha Moshiach (King Messiah) and the Holy Temple will be rebuilt, and he will immediately lead us upright into the holy land.’ During this ceremony a group of 50 young Lubavitchers dance together to the accompaniment of loud Israeli music. They sing messianic songs including the Yehi.
Going into the Rebbe Visiting the graves of deceased Rebbe’s is common practice among Hasidim. For example after the death of Aron Rokeah, the Belz zaddik
Ritualizing the Rebbe in Crown Heights
who died in 1957, his followers made regular pilgrimages to his tomb in Jerusalem to pray together, renew acquaintances, and deposit kvitlim (petitions) while pronouncing their personal supplications. This was followed by a large meal where the men participated in a joyous banquet to praise and honour their Rebbe. It is commonplace for followers of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav to visit his grave once a year on Rosh Hashanah. Just as the Rebbe once visited the Ohel to commune with his deceased father-in-law when he was alive, so too his followers now travel there to commune with him and ask for his intercession for life issues: marriage, business, health and education. Typically women who experience infertility will ask him for a blessing that they may become pregnant. Others plead that a sick child will recover or that a marriage will work. Paradoxically, although they maintain that the Rebbe is alive, some messianists regularly visit the Rebbe’s grave to communicate with him and ask for his intercession. Many vehemently deny that he lies there, and do not visit the Ohel. For some messianists the fact that the Rebbe was last seen at the tomb of the 6th Rebbe renders the Rebbe’s own gravesite a holy place. One Lubavitch adherent explained this paradox: Terms like living and dead do not easily apply to a tzadik. They are not ordinary people. It is possible for the Rebbe to be alive and dead. It is not logical but there is no contradiction. Yes we hold that the Rebbe is alive, but his physical body is in the Ohel and his spirit is there. The Rebbe can be in many places at once both spiritually and physically. His soul is in Gan Eden (Heaven) but manifests itself in the physical world. We cannot understand this. What is important is that we are connected to him. A daily bus takes petitioners from ‘770’ to the Rebbe’s gravesite. During the journey of about half an hour from Brooklyn to Queens a video is played of the Rebbe speaking of the Redemption with his followers ecstatically singing and clapping their hands. In one scene filmed during Purim in 1982, the Rebbe speaks about the importance of simcha (joy) as a prelude to the coming of Moshiach while two young boys eagerly chant ‘we want Moshiach now!’ In recent years the tomb has been expanded and close to it is a Lubavitch house consisting of an ante-room, a kitchen where those leaving the cemetery can wash their hands, and a library and study hall containing a large body of the Rebbe’s numerous talks and published letters. Inside the study hall are rows of tables, resembling the interior of ‘770’. Blank papers and pens are placed on the tables for visitors to write requests to the Rebbe. In the corner is a continuous supply of biscuits and coffee.
Two fax machines churn out a constant stream of requests for blessings from people requesting the Rebbe’s blessings. On an hourly basis, one of the Rebbe’s assistants collects them from the machines to take them to the Rebbe’s grave, where he reads them and deposits them on top of the pile of notes. The pile is over a foot high, evenly covering the 8-foot-square area of the gravesite. About 1,000 faxes come in each day, each from someone hoping that the Rebbe’s spirit will intercede on his or her behalf in heaven. Some Lubavitchers maintain that their deceased Rebbe’s spirit hovers over the gravesite and that his spiritual interaction continues with his followers increases after his death. When a person dies part of the soul remains with the body. For a tzadik the part of the soul remaining with the body is very strong and is melitz yosher – an advocate on high, meaning that the soul can intercede on a petitioners behalf and even overturn divine decrees. Access to the grave is permitted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though the cemetery is officially closed after 5 p.m. and on the Shabbat. On the Sabbath, when driving is prohibited and few other visitors are likely to come, a minyan (10) of male Lubavitch yeshiva students sleeps overnight Fridays at the hospitality centre and spends Sabbath at the grave. Each day large numbers of visitors exit from the Lubavitch House and slowly and silently walk a short distance to the Rebbe’s graveside. There are numerous observances related to visiting the Rebbe’s resting place, such as refraining from food (though not drink) before the visit and removing leather shoes before entering the mausoleum (as did Moses before nearing the burning bush). But most important is the mental preparation of charity, learning and spiritual stocktaking. Prior to entry visitors wash their hands, knock at the door and light candles. After taking off their shoes they enter the gravesite surrounded by walls and take their place among the assembly of people fervently praying, reciting psalms, depositing their note on the ground and requesting the Rebbe’s intercession. Though ohel means ‘tent’, the Ohel itself is like an inverted chuppah (wedding canopy): closed on all sides but open to the heavens. Inside, there is a second inner wall about waist high that dozens of people lean on as they said prayers over the graves themselves. As Heilman and Friedman (2010) point out, the waiting and ritual preparations recall the mental and spiritual preparations required by a true Hasid before approaching their Rebbe. There are obvious similarities between waiting at the Ohel and waiting to see the Rebbe for ‘Dollars’ at ‘770’. One young man from London recounted that following a visit to the Rebbe whom he had asked to help him with financial problems, he shortly afterwards received money from a distant relative in Brazil whom he had never met. Lubavitchers and non-Lubavitchers worldwide arrive, often
Ritualizing the Rebbe in Crown Heights
travelling from abroad, and deposit requests written on paper on the grave. For insiders, this sort of a visit to the cemetery was not ‘going to a grave’. Visitors referred instead to their ‘going into the Rebbe’ (see Heilman and Friedman 2010: 20). Many who visit the gravesite go there in order to feel the spiritual elevation that they originally experienced while visiting the Rebbe while alive. They saw signs, and got impressions that the Rebbe had responded to them, as he did when he was alive. ‘It’s kind of a recharging of your spiritual battery’, said one woman who flew in from Melbourne. ‘I always feel a little more connected.’ Another young Lubavitch man avoided the long lines by visiting the gravesite at 6 a.m. ‘You can come with all your problems and day to day issues. When you come here, you remember how much he encouraged the work that we do’, he said. ‘You feel so rejuvenated’. A visitor from the UK described how he felt ‘spiritually undressed’ at the tomb; he felt that the Rebbe was able to see into his inner self, an experience that many people recounted during their visits when the Rebbe was alive. Many people reported to me ‘miraculous’ experiences at the Ohel. In one instance a woman visited the Rebbe’s gravesite in order to receive a blessing for her twin pregnancy. She had recently been told by her obstetrician that one of her unborn twins would certainly die on account of lack of blood supply. Before going to the gravesite she entered the anteroom only to find a video playing of the Rebbe giving her a dollar when she was pregnant with her first child 10 years ago. This signified to her that both children would survive. She recounted that both twins were subsequently born healthy.
Bringing the Rebbe to Life through Performance So how do the various rituals deployed by the messianists bring the Rebbe to life? They deploy the general characteristics of ritual-like activities which mediate a sense of the sacred: multisensory experience, formalism, traditionalism, invariance and framing which all facilitate the production of a sense of an authoritative order that lies beyond the mundane world (Bell 1997). Like all rituals, those involved do not see themselves as creating specific realities, rather they tend to see themselves as responding to these realities. In the Rebbe’s synagogue the Rebbe is repeatedly brought into existence by the performance of stylized, repetitive and stereotyped performance which literally embodies the Rebbe. The movements of the Hasidim, their making a symbolic pathway for the Rebbe, their deferential posture create a symbolic space in which the Rebbe appears. Their gestures,
words and physical delineations of space and time actually accomplishes what a ritual ought to do, namely shape attitudes. As Bell (1997) has argued, as the body moves about, marking off space and time, it defines even the most complex ritual environment by simple acts such as kneeling, circumambulation and procession. Rappaport (1999) has echoed these sentiments by similarly arguing that the oral and bodily gestures performed in the ritual generate ‘statements’ about reality that communicate both information and attitudes, especially acquiescence to the reality so defined. Furthermore the repetitive singing and dancing induces a state of ecstasy akin to a trance-like state where it is possible to accept alternative realities and literally ‘feel’ the presence of the Rebbe. The structure of the song, the gaps between verses, provides a space in which the Rebbe appears. All of this occurs ‘just as it was’ before the Rebbe’s death, lending a sense that nothing has changed in ‘770’. In Bell’s sense this ritual is characterized by traditionalism − both evoking and legitimating the past. It is the ritual activities performed at the Rebbe’s gravesite which renders it sacred. The hand washing, removing shoes and the lighting of candles render this site special. This is reinforced by the sense of formality. The fact that the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe is buried there next to Rabbi Schneerson signifies a link with tradition when the Rebbe would regularly visit his father-in-law. This ritual evokes both the past and the present. At the Ohel the messianists are ‘cut off’ from everyday reality. Their sense of being inside the tomb – a sacred space in which the Rebbe can be experienced – creates a feeling of separateness from the outside world. The solemn atmosphere reinforces a sense of separation from the joviality of the outside world. The walls of the Ohel create a symbolic space; the fact that the Ohel has no roof further provides a space in which the Rebbe can literally come in from above. The singing at the graveside creates a heightened sensory experience in which the Rebbe appears.
The Convert’s Zeal
Who becomes a messianist? Through my ethnographic fieldwork it soon became apparent that the majority of those espousing extreme views were baalei teshuvah, and had only come to Orthodox Judaism later in life, i.e. they were not born into Orthodox families. Furthermore there is a strong cultural element. The majority of messianists in both locations derive from Russia or from Israel and I shall comment on this finding shortly. I shall begin by describing Beis Menachem.
Beis Menachem Following the Rebbe’s death a number of Messianic Lubavitchers started up a new synagogue in Stamford Hill. This synagogue, Beis Menachem, is based in shop front premises in Oldhill Street between a toy shop and a dry cleaners. In the shop window there is a video playing of the Rebbe giving out dollars and underneath this image there is a sign saying ‘Just open your eyes and you can see him’. Compared to other synagogues in Stamford Hill, Beis Menachem is small, consisting of only one room with a number of tables where those attending sit and study the discourses of the Rebbe. Scattered around are the many volumes of the Rebbe’s writings alongside various editions of Beis Moshiach. The words ‘Together we are working and How! For the Mosiach’s coming right now. By increasing Torah, prayer and charity’ are written on the front wall of the synagogue. Nearby, another slogan reads ‘Mosiach is on his way. Are you ready?’ This synagogue has gained a reputation among ‘mainstream’ (and less fervent messianic) Lubavitchers for being a meeting place where extreme messianists propagate their views. Parked outside the synagogue is a mitzvah tank’, a lorry carrying a slogan ‘Moshaiach is here now, let’s be ready’ inscribed on it with a picture of the Rebbe underneath. The congregation is led by a rabbi who is well known for his messianist views. There are about 40 ‘members’ in Beis Menachem, many of them
were born abroad in Israel or in Russia and derive from backgrounds which were far from observant. Some non-Lubavitcher Hasidim visit the synagogue as do non-Orthodox Jews. On a yearly basis a ‘Messiah Convention’ is held on the 19th of Kislev, the anniversary of the date when Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, was released from prison in 1798. This attracts approximately 100 people from all over the world and involves a farbrengen and public discourses by eminent rabbis on the topic of Moshiach and the Redemption. Beis Menachem publishes a weekly leaflet entitled ‘In Touch’ which outlines the Rebbe’s teachings on various matters and especially about Moshiach. The publication states on the first page of every issue ‘By the time this publication comes out, Moshiach will already be here. So please edit phrases written in the future tense to fit in with the present time.’ An edition in January 2010 discusses how tzadikim never die, citing the example of Jacob who although he was buried, was not dead. Death is illusory and part of our misperception of the physical world. Concerning the passing of our Patriarch Yaakov, the Talmud says: ‘Yaakov our father did not die’. Rashi (a prominent rabbi) explains that although he was mourned, embalmed and buried, that is because of the Egyptians perceived reality, it appeared to them that he had died. However, Yaakov’s true being as it is conceived by the Torah and not bound by the limitations of nature is, ‘he is alive’. Mainstream Lubavitchers adopt a very negative view towards Beis Menachem. Some describe them as crazy or a positive embarrassment to Lubavitch. On several occasions their leader has been called a Christian for worshipping a dead Rebbe, or has been accused of making up a new religion. While members of the mainstream movement are angry with those of Beis Menachem for starting up another group and calling themselves Lubavitchers, members of Beis Menachem constantly criticize other Lubavitchers for not revealing publicly their true beliefs. They argue that mainstream Lubavitchers do not speak the truth for financial reasons: if they were to be honest, Anglo-Jewry would not support them financially any more, for they would be perceived as crazy to argue that the dead Rebbe is still alive.
The Illusory Nature of Reality and the Two Bodies Members of Beis Menachem adhere to the Rebbe’s teachings that physical reality (and death) is ultimately illusory. Reality does not necessarily coincide with the way the eye perceives it. They argue that the Rebbe is
The Convert’s Zeal
‘alive’ in the literal sense but that we cannot yet see him. The problem lies with his followers who need to open their eyes, not their physical eyes, but their spiritual eyes, in order to see him. The fact that we cannot see him is ‘only a test’ for his followers and furthermore the ‘straight path’ to opening our eyes is through learning the writings on Moshiach and the Redemption. In 1992 the Rebbe stressed the need ‘to learn the subject of Redemption, in a way that this will open up the heart and the eyes and the ears that they will understand, see, and feel as simple reality within the physicality of the world – the true and complete Redemption in actuality’ (9 Kislev 1992). According to the messianists our physical body is merely the temporary ‘material garment’ of this world. In the future human beings will undress from this coarse body and will ascend to the body that Adam had before sin and return to the pristine state. Man will shed the ‘garments of flesh’ which conceal the light of the neshoma (soul). Our eyes of flesh see only the coarse, external body. The material fleshly body that we perceive with our eyes, which is merely the ‘external garment’ of this world contains two other bodies: a pure and holy body and a body of intermingled good and evil. Those who are spiritually exalted ‘live’ after their ‘death’ in this second body and in this sense are ‘alive’. The messianists include here Yaakov Avinu ( Jacob), the 6th Rebbe and Rabbi Schneerson who live despite their ‘apparent’ deaths. Typically messianists resort to a number of proof texts to validate their claim that Rabbi Schneerson is alive. The gemora in Taanis asserts that Yaakov Avinu (Jacob) ‘did not die’ (even though the Torah itself testifies to his embalming and burial). Yaakov Avinu didn’t die, but he remains, existing in body and soul. This body is the second body, the ethereal body. This ‘contradiction’ is clarified by Rabbi Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin [Yaakov’s] passing was merely like removing this garment and dressing in another garment of the supernatural world, and this garment was buried but this has nothing to do with death. What does it concern me that as far as this world is concerned there was a burial of the body, in any event according to the truth he didn’t die at all. Another commonly deployed proof text is Folio 98 of Tractate Sanhedrin which has a strong focus on Moshiach and the Messianic era, and is a source of support for the idea of a Moshiach who returns from the dead. Here Rav Nachman says, ‘If Moshiach will be from the living he is someone like me’, the word ‘if’ seems to imply that Moshiach could also come from the dead.
In the next sentence, Rav opines, ‘If Moshiach will be from the living, then he will be like Rabbeinu Hakadosh, if he will be from the dead he will be like Daniel’, again implying that a belief in a Moshiach that returns from the dead is not antithetical to Judaism. Lubavitchers clearly hold their Rebbe to have been comparable to Daniel in righteousness and also differentiate between Moshiach dying or being killed. Almost everyone I interviewed in Beis Menachem claimed that the Rebbe was alive, but sometimes it was impossible to clarify what they meant by this and whether the term related to the physical or spiritual. A few questioned the opinion of the doctors who certified him as dead and stated that their diagnosis might have been wrong. Additionally some spoke of the Rebbe as being in his grave but having his physical body intact and not decomposing since he was a ‘righteous person’. Some informants likened the Rebbe to Moses. They explained that our generation is a direct reincarnation of those coming out of Egypt. One typical statement: It states in the Kabbalah that the final generation will witness Moshiach. The Rebbe has stated that we are the final generation. There is no more waiting. The Jews made a mistake on Mount Sinai. When Moses said that he would go for 40 days the Jews though he meant exactly 40 days and they were convinced by Satan to build the golden calf. Moses was alive but concealed. Similarly the Rebbe is still here but he is concealed. The reason he is concealed is a test. If more people believe this fact, he will be revealed again. His revelation will come about through the performance of good deeds and the singing of yehi.
David Openheimer I first encountered David Oppenheimer at Beis Menachem in January 2010. He is a man in his forties with 13 children. He lives in Israel and was spending some time in the UK visiting Beis Menachem. Both he and his wife are lecturers, and he has written seven books about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was keen to discuss his early life as a secular Jew. Following 3 years in the Israeli army he visited the UK and fell in love with a gentile woman. While he was with her he started to question his Jewish identity. Through friends he was invited to Finland to visit a Lutheran congregation. This was the first time that he read both the Old and New Testaments. He immediately realized that the Old Testament possessed a degree of holiness
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that the New Testament lacked. This stimulated him to examine Judaism further and after several months he decided to become Orthodox and has remained so since that time. A second turning point in his life was when he met a group of Lubavitchers in Tel Aviv while in his early twenties. When they told him that the Rebbe was Moshiach he started to laugh and he openly admitted to me that for some time he found it impossible to believe. He subsequently started to read the Rebbe’s discourses and other Lubavitchers’ writings about Moshiach and soon came to realize that the Lubavitcher Rebbe possessed all the qualities required of the Messiah: I have no doubt that the Rebbe is Moshiach. He has all the qualities for Moshiach. The Redemption has started, we can feel the air of the redemption but we are still in the Galut (exile). I hope that we will soon be in the Geulah (redemption). Only Hashem knows when this will occur. I asked him how the Rebbe could be Moshiach if he had physically died This is not a problem. Yes perhaps the Rebbe died and was buried. This is what our eyes tell us. But we must trust Torah. It is the word of Hashem and cannot be wrong. Our eyes and our feelings can deceive us, but the Torah is infallible. It says in Sanhedrin that Moshiach could come from the dead. So we must believe this.
Mordechai Glatt Mordechai Glatt, a 28-year-old Russian man, left the Ukraine at the age of 15 and moved to Virginia. He became a member of Lubavitch after attending meetings while at college. Over the past 5 years his participation in the group has increased. He recently came to England with a view to setting up a Yeshivah (seminary). He has only been in England for the last few months. He never met the Rebbe while alive. However, he does regularly see the Rebbe in dreams and claims to have experienced a number of miracles which he attributes to the Rebbe. For instance, he needed 20 dollars and thought about the Rebbe. While he was thinking he opened a book of the Rebbe’s teachings and when he closed the book he found 20 dollars on the floor. It was the Rebbe himself who told him in a dream to come to the UK rather than to Israel where he had originally intended to go.
In his words: The Rebbe is not dead, he has never died. You have to do work to see him, you must open your eyes. It is not easy. He is alive and lives at ‘770’. I have not directly seen him myself. In order to see the Rebbe you have to do mitzvot and read the teachings of the Rebbe. You have to open your eyes and you can see him. Only a few people have actually seen him. For instance, I have heard that a Yeshivah student has seen him. One student actually saw him while going into ‘770’. People believe he is dead but, in fact, he has not died. The Rebbe teaches the time has come for the Resurrection. All the Jews will be resurrected. The Jewish bodies have limitless opportunities to become spiritual, more than angels. However, you may not be able to see it. King David is alive, although we cannot see him because he is spiritual. If you go deeper into Chassidus [Hasidic teachings] and believe the Rebbe is the Messiah, you will see these people. Some people can see his physical body. We have, however, physical limits. We know now we are in the Redemption because people are breaking down their weapons. Money is being used for civil purposes. For instance, when President Bush and Gorbachov met up, they decided to cut down on arms. They decided to destroy weapons, which is a sign that the Messiah is here. This is the Messiah’s influence. He then went on to argue that the Rebbe is in fact God The Rebbe does not differ from God in many ways. If you really understand the Torah you can see that the Rebbe is God. I do feel that the Rebbe is actually God. There is no Rebbe. The Rebbe is head of the Lubavitch and also God. You can have a picture of him. We can have an image of God and the Rebbe’s picture is a picture of God. The Rebbe has a physical body but he is God, therefore, he cannot die. People hear this but are scared to talk about it. Isaac Luria actually states that the Messiah is God. There are Talmudic teachings as well, saying that the Rebbe is God. However it is not simple, you have to study for a long time before you understand it.
Rabbi Noah Shiller Rabbi Noah Shiller is a prominent rabbi in Beis Menachem and an ardent messianist. Heavily involved in rabbinics, outreach and Jewish education since 1990, he has taught in many educational institutions both in the UK
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and in Israel. Originally from Holland and married with five children, he articulated the following: Moshiach is a difficult subject. It defies logic. Many people believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach but do not want to articulate it. People think you need psychiatric help if you admit it. No one denies that the Rebbe’s funeral took place. However we cannot always see reality. Just because he had a funeral it does not mean that he is dead. Everything is possible in the Torah. An elephant can go through the eye of a needle. There are radio waves in this room but we cannot pick them up. Similarly we cannot see spiritual energy when it is here. There are many stories of people who have died and have come back. For instance Judah Ha Nasi [a prominent rabbi] came back to make kiddush (prayer over wine) after he died and was seen as a physical being. I firmly believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach and is not dead. The Rebbe said in 1951 that Moshiach will come in the seventh generation (of Rebbes). We now have enough merit to warrant it. The Redemption has come. If we read Maimonides the signs are here. For instance children are rebelling against their parents and money has no value. The Gulf War was bloodless as the Rebbe prophesied. I have not seen the Rebbe since he was ‘concealed’ but many have.
The Messianists of ‘770’ It is probably true to state that the majority of Lubavitchers attending the downstairs synagogue of ‘770’ are messianists, many wearing the characteristic badge of their lapels with the word Moshiach written in Hebrew. At any one time I estimate that there are a few hundred people there praying and studying. The majority of them are young Israelis. Bilu suggests that their zeal is accounted for by the fact that they derive from the periphery, not just geographically, but also many of them are new ‘immigrants’ to Lubavitch and as such express the enthusiastic devotion of newcomers and penitents. Unlike veteran Lubavitchers, many of them did not meet the Rebbe when he was alive and were less affected by his death and bereavement. Many are Mizrahi Jews. They therefore are more able to adjust to, and interact with, a ‘virtual Rebbe’ . Furthermore newcomers are attracted by the possibility of a new meaningful life and hope for the future (Bilu 2008). Another factor is that many of the Israelis attending ‘770’ derive from yeshivot (seminaries) in Tzafat which are highly influenced by messianic teachings and where
students and their mentors regularly recite the yechi. Tzafat is a centre of believers in the Rebbe’s physical survival. These students have come to New York to study.
Mordechai Heilman Mordechai Heilman is a 40-year-old man whom I met in Crown Heights in 2008. He is fairly typical of the messianists whom I interviewed there. Born in the UK to non-observant parents, he immigrated to America at the age of 22 years following his marriage to Leah, a native American. They live with their seven children in a three bedroom apartment close to ‘770’. Like other messianists he wears yellow lapel pins adorned with crowns, signifying his conviction that the Rebbe is Moshiach. Mordechai first encountered Lubavitchers at the age of 18 while he was at university in Manchester. He recounted how several young boys invited him into a mitzvah tank to lay tefillin. After a brief conversation with one of them, he reluctantly agreed to spend a shabbat with a Lubavitch family. ‘It all developed from there’, he said, ‘I became hooked’. His religious observance increased over several weeks and following his maths degree at university, he came to live with a Lubavitch family in Stamford Hill. He was keen to recount his first encounter with the Rebbe in 1989 whom he met at ‘770’ during the ceremony of ‘Dollars’: It was wonderful. I really did not know what to expect. Initially I was a little trepidatious. I suppose everyone else would feel the same. After all he is such a great man. It seemed like hours that I waited while visitors filed past him. My turn arrived and I could feel my heart beating fast. What would he say to me? I remember shaking hands with him. His piercing eyes seemed like they were looking both at me and through me. He enquired if I spoke Yiddish to which I answered affirmatively. I then told him that my brother was seriously ill in hospital in London. I desperately wanted a blessing from him to heal him. The Rebbe said ‘you should check your tefillin (phylacteries)’. I asked again if he could help my brother and again he reiterated ‘You should check your tefillin’. He handed me one dollar. I felt so close to him for that brief period of time and felt that I had his undivided attention. Despite the fact that he saw several thousand people for dollars I was so impressed by the interest that he showed me. The whole experience was spiritually uplifting. I left a little bewildered and spoke to a local
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rabbi who checked my tefillin. Sure enough one of the strands was worn. My tefillin was replaced and shortly afterwards my brother made a slow but complete recovery. I have no doubt that the Rebbe can perform miracles. After moving to Brooklyn he visited ‘770’ both to study and to attend services. He regularly saw the Rebbe during the thrice daily services but only had an audience with him on two subsequent occasions. Then the Rebbe died. Since his death Mordechai has been involved in producing the Beis Moshiach online website which is devoted to propagating the idea that the Rebbe is Moshiach. Now he frequently prays in the downstairs synagogue at ‘770’ and maintains that the Rebbe is still there although he personally cannot see him. I asked him what the Rebbe’s death meant to him. I have no doubt that the Rebbe is Moshiach. He has all the credentials for this role. I do not believe that he is really dead. Yes, he was buried but how do we know that he is inside the coffin in the Ohel? We cannot use the term dead to refer to the Rebbe, not in the conventional sense. At present he is concealed. We cannot see him but he is still acting in the world. He is in fact even more powerful than before his “passing”. There are still miracles. He knows our thoughts and feelings. The Rebbe says that the time of our redemption has arrived and I believe him. Can you think of a better candidate for Moshiach? When discussing the Rebbe’s gravesite he said: I do not visit the Ohel. I know the Rebbe is not there. He is still alive in ‘770’, I can feel his presence there strongly. I have personally not seen him. Rarely people claim that they can see him there. Some messianists visit the grave. This is to go to the grave of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe is not dead.
Yaakov Birdbaum Yaakov is a man in his thirties who is a baal teshuvah. Born into a traditional Jewish family in North Carolina, he first became interested in becoming more Orthodox after suffering a head injury in 1997 when he was knocked out. When he regained consciousness he thanked God for healing him and slowly increased his religious observance. After ‘trying out’ a number of Jewish groups he joined Lubavitch in 2007 and now regularly attends ‘770’.
He emphasized that one of the factors related to him joining was the fact that he felt very close to the Rebbe although he never met him while alive. Initially he knew very little about the teachings of the Rebbe on Moshiach but through intensive study of his writings and other religious texts he came to the conclusion that the Rebbe is Moshiach. He gave the following account of his experience of the Rebbe: I feel very close to the Rebbe. Just as the Rebbe stated after the death of his predecessor that nothing had physically changed, so too I know that nothing has changed since the Rebbe’s death. My feelings tell me that the Rebbe is Moshiach. Initially I had intellectual doubts but through researching the matter these have gone. I cannot see the Rebbe but I know that he is here. Physicality is not well defined. On Yud Shevat when the previous Rebbe died, the current Rebbe stated that his father-in-law had taken off a garment and had put on another. What we observe is like a garment covering true reality. Thus the Rebbe can be both revealed and concealed. He is definitely here, I can feel him but few can actually see him.
Religious Immigration and Messianism What differentiates messianists from non-messianists in terms of background? Religious immigration might be one possible factor. It is a commonly observed that newcomers to religious groups often hold the group’s doctrines more firmly than those who have grown up with them − ‘the zeal of the convert’. For those new to the movement, the fact that outsiders consider certain teachings to be odd or even extreme frequently renders them more appealing. Furthermore, they are often drawn into the controversial elements of the movements. For example, Hoge (1981: 42), in a study of religious change among American Catholics, found that the attitudes of converts were closer to the doctrinal teachings of the church than those of other active Catholics with religion being more important in their lives. Pond and Smith (2009) discuss the Religious Landscape Survey data from 35,000 American adults conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in 2007 which reveals that when all religiously affiliated respondents are considered together, those individuals who have converted to their faith are more religious overall than are those people who currently belong to the same religion in which they were raised. Across a variety of groups, then, having converted to a faith is consistently correlated with higher levels of religious commitment. At the same time, however, the authors point out
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that even when differences in religious commitment between converts and non-converts are statistically significant, the size of these differences is often relatively modest. It is simply not the case that converts are serious – even zealous – in their practise of their faith while lifelong members are subdued, lukewarm or even secular in their outlook. Bryan Wilson (1966: 207) similarly makes the point that ‘there is certainly a difference between those who are converted to a revolutionist sect, and those who accept Adventist teachings on their mother’s knee’. In relation to Islam, Roy (2004) points out that converts to Islam may be more fundamentalist in their orientations than those born into the movement. The neo-fundamentalists have recast religion outside of cultural contexts. As such, neo-fundamentalists tend to hold idealized notions about Islam. In apocalyptic groups one might expect to find converts to hold millennial doctrines more strongly than those growing up in the movement. Thompson (2005) comments on the fact that a high proportion of converts within a group results in the maintenance of a high degree of tension with the surrounding environment. However this high degree of tension cannot be maintained long term. The birth of a second generation of believers facilitates a process of lowering tension within the group (Stark and Bainbridge 1985: 152; Bainbridge 1997: 81). Those in the second generation may hold less tenaciously to extreme religious views. In an overview of religious immigration and Lubavitcher messianism, Szubin (2000) suggests that messianists derive from the ranks of the baalei teshuvah, those who were not born into Lubavitch and who later in life became more observant. The anti-messianists in Chabad on the other hand usually derive from traditional Chabad families. According to him, those who join Lubavitch later in life are not accorded the same status as those born into the movement. He postulates that the baalei teshuvah attempt to overcome their deficiency in status compared to traditional Lubavitchers through personal connection with the Rebbe. He states (p. 230): ‘The revolutionary character of millenarianism offers new religious immigrants the opportunity to dismantle the elitist hierarchy that marginalizes them and replace it with a messianic culture that is far more egalitarian.’ The experience of being newly religious is a positive transformative experience for the baalei teshuvah. Those who have tasted one spiritual transformation in their lives would naturally crave a second transformation. Millennialism prolongs the excitement of conversion. He quotes one convert who says: ‘Coming into religion is an eye-opening experience which contradicts everything that you previously knew to be possible’: hence the appeal of extreme convictions.
Furthermore, unlike those Lubavitchers born into the movement whose religious practices are based upon tradition and inherit a world view that is inherently historical, the baalei teshuvah are drawn to the present moment. Depicting millennialists typically as conceiving of the future only in the short term, Szubin (2000: 223) states: Baalei teshuvah, particularly recent immigrants, are more prone to see the world in extremes of right and wrong, especially in the spiritual sphere. They tend to be drawn towards activist ideologies which promise revolutionary upheavals rather than gradual evolutions. Thus, the doctrine of millenarianism, which predicts a sudden, if not violent, usurpation of human chaos by divine order, would particularly appeal to Ba’alei teshuvah. The appeal of the present oriented world view for baalei teshuvah is that it accurately depicts religious reality as they experience it. They do not acquire religion through the mediums of tradition, transmission and continuity. Their entire exposure to religion is limited to those thoughts and feelings that they have experienced during their lifetimes devoid of historical prologue. Thus, millenarianism, he asserts, ‘complements this perception, depicting the present generation as the most spiritually significant generation in time’ (2000: 225). Although my data strongly suggest an influence of religious conversion on Lubavitcher messianism, there is a need for future work to examine individual biographies to further understand the role of religious conversion in Chabad and its impact on millennial ideology. Furthermore diachronic studies are required to assess generational differences in religious ideology, especially differences in extreme religious beliefs.
Making the Rebbe Present through the Media
The Media and Lubavitch Recent work in media anthropology conceptualizes media as a form of performative ritual. Grimes (2002) argues that performance-related theories offer the most provocative approaches to the interface of ritual and media. He deploys Richard Schechner’s definition of performance ‘showing of a doing’: in this respect both ritual and media are species of performance having much to do with each other. Like ritual, the power of media lies in its ability to mediate the rhetorical and psychological power of performers and in turn to persuade by argument and suggestion. Both can be in the Turnerian sense as transformative − making a transition from the everyday world to an alternative context. In a similar vein, Rothenbuhler (1993) argues that ritual communication constructs reality through formal rites and ceremonies and is a larger category than messaging behaviour, larger than activities designed to communicate; it includes all ways in which things are done in the saying and said in the doing . Lubavitch has always embraced advances in technology, including the mass media, to propagate its teachings to fellow Jews. The Rebbe taught that science and technological advances were not to be eschewed. Rather, scientific advances reflected God’s work in the world and could therefore be deployed for the benefit of mankind. He urged followers to use tools of modern technology to reach out to all Jews to encourage people at all levels of observance to increase their commitment to the faith. According to the website Chabad. Org, everything in this world was created for a divine purpose. All forms of modern technology can, and should be harnessed to make the world a better place and, in the case of Jews, to spread Judaism in the widest possible manner. ‘No Jew should ever be lost to the Jewish people, no Jew must ever be lonely’ (quoted in The Jewish Week). Under the leadership of the current Rebbe, the Lubavitch publishing houses have brought Torah education to nearly every Jewish community in the world.
Lubavitch was the first Jewish group to deploy the internet as early as 1988. The use of various media to bring forth their deceased tzadikim is far from new in Hasidic groups. Music is considered as a powerful force in Hasidic life with the ability to elevate souls. Hasidim attest to the power of a niggun − a body of paraliturgical, folk and popular melodies, repetitive in nature, and sung to vocables or simple text − to render present its original composer and many state that during such performances they can feel or even see the presence of their Rebbe. Koskoff (2000: xi) discusses how singing becomes the agent through which the singer and those present achieve union with the Divine, become bound to each other and are united with early, more holy tzadikim. Television and internet broadcasts render such ‘seeing’ more modern. Loewenthal (1990) in Communicating the Infinite argues that a communication ethos has been fundamental to Chabad’s mystical philosophy since its inception with its emphasis on making mystical religious experience accessible to the wider Jewish community, and not just to a scholarly elite. This aspiration ‘led to the definition of Habad as a clearly distinguished branch of Hasidism with a unique emphasis on the goal of communication’ (1990: 212). From its earliest stages Chabad was concerned about communicating Hasidic teachings at a distance. Shandler (2009) has provided a comprehensive overview of the use of communications media in Chabad and the discussion below derives from him. For Chabad publicity and spirituality are closely linked. Unlike other Hasidic groups in the USA, Lubavitch has a commitment to visibility in the public sphere, and this commitment is central to their mission of fostering increased religious observance and propagating their messianic ideas. Chabad has always emphasized the visual mode, as portraits of the Rebbe, and video recordings of gatherings over which he presided, have played a major role in his personality cult (Dan 1997). As Shandler (2009: 263) points out, seeing the Rebbe, either in person, or through the mediation of still or moving images was a hallmark in Chabad during Schneerson’s leadership. The Rebbe himself emphasized the spiritual importance of photographs of his predecessor. For instance in Toras Menachem (The Teaching of Menachem), a compendium of public discourses delivered during the first few months of his leadership he stated: Imagine the Rebbe’s face as if you were meeting with him in private; those who have not seen the Rebbe should imagine his face by means of a picture. A picture of the Rebbe is like a vision of his face.
Making the Rebbe Present through the Media
When you are . . . in a state of low spirits, you are advised to connect with the Rebbe by means of a picture of his holy face, and to remember the words heard from the Rebbe Thus visualization is taken to enhance the Hasid’s spirituality. In Crown Heights, as in other Chabad communities, portraits of the Rebbe are hung in public spaces, institutions and private homes, and videos of him are played repeatedly; the Rebbe is rendered omnipresent. Throughout the history of Lubavitch portraits (and latterly photographs) of its leaders have been employed as instruments of establishing authority, consolidating community and facilitating spiritual engagement (Cohen 1998). In the 1970s Chabad communities in London, Montreal and Melbourne were connected to Crown Heights by telephone hook-up for the first live intercontinental version of the Rebbe’s farbrengens. A decade later the Rebbe’s farbrengens were transmitted live via satellite and cable TV. Lubavitch is well known for its telethons − broadcasts lasting several hours which include appeals for charity, celebrity appearances and entertaining performances. On a spiritual level, Lubavitchers hold that every dollar raised by these charity events and each act of support can contribute to the coming of the messianic age. Following the Rebbe’s death, the internet has been widely employed in Chabad’s outreach programme and to spread the Rebbe’s teachings, and, as I shall discuss below, to bolster the conviction that he is Moshiach. There has been no single unified policy on the use of media technology in Chabad; rather individuals and organizations within the movement have deployed technological advances in diverse ways both with, and without, the sanction of the Chabad leadership. Furthermore, although most television broadcasts are aimed towards adults, some are intended specifically for children. These media events increase the public profile of Lubavitch and celebrate the compatability of Chabad’s spiritual mission with the modern world. There is little doubt that the Lubavitch messianic campaign has benefited from the use of modern media technology deployed for this purpose from the arrival of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe in the United States in 1940 through to the death of the ‘current’ Rebbe and continuing into the present. Lubavitch has forged a new spiritual relationship with the Rebbe through innovative and provocative media practices: print advertising, photography, radio, the internet, television and radio which have played a significant enabling role by reembodying the Rebbe. The use of these diverse media enables innovations in religious engagement. Unlike previous technology, video recording and internet images displaying the Rebbe’s
bodily movements and transmitting his voice link the power and authority of the Rebbe’s teachings with the transformative power of being in his presence. This technology has facilitated the convictions and the practices of the messianists by making the claim that Rabbi Schneerson is Moshiach more credible, and has created novel ways of interacting with him. Furthermore they allow his body and voice to be present and renewed. Not only can his followers feel his spirit, but through media technology they can also see his body and hear his voice. He is present when his followers see him standing, sitting, teaching or even walking down the street. As Shandler (2009: 264) says, these elaborate media practices have enhanced the community’s ability to imagine him as the Messiah. Like the ‘miracle of television’, it enabled him to be seen in more than one place at the same time, widely seen, yet immaterial. Furthermore, by creating a sense of presence in his physical absence, these media practices are essential to the continuing survival of Lubavitch, and serve as sources of inspiration and instruction for future generations of Lubavitchers. Heilman and Friedman (2010: 25) similarly comment on the fact that Lubavitch’s attention to visibility as part of its spiritual mission has proven to be a major strategy for enabling the survival of the group following the death of the Rebbe. An unprecedented number of photographs of him along with moving images, many capturing special moments ‘make the Rebbe a virtual presence that anyone can have on screen on demand’. For some who did not see the Rebbe while alive, it is an opportunity to experience him for the first time . For others it is a chance to see him in a new way. The intensifying messianic fervour among Lubavitch from 1990 onwards received coverage in national newspapers. The topic of Moshiach became a major media event where the views of the messianists and their opponents were played out. In the early 1990s a print advertisement appeared proclaiming ‘It’s Ok to get excited about Moshiach’, and went on to state, ‘The Time of the Redemption has arrived’. The advert highlighted the fact that many prominent rabbinic authorities had identified Schneerson as ‘the presumed Messiah’. Readers were exhorted to increase their religious observance, but also, to engage with the advert itself by mailing a coupon to Chabad’s headquarters with the person’s name, address and a list of commitments that one would make to the Rebbe ‘to do something extra to be more ready for Moshiach’. Such commitments included regular Torah study, keeping Kosher and being kind to neighbours. The advert explained that ‘due to the urgency of this matter, we permit newspapers, organisations and individuals to reprint the above distribution’. A free toll number, 1–800-4 MOSHIACH, was provided so that readers could request free literature on
Making the Rebbe Present through the Media
Moshiach. This advert implicitly suggested that responding could hasten the Redemption. When the Rebbe died in June 1994 his funeral procession was broadcast live, allowing the global Chabad community to watch their fellow Hasidim singing and dancing, in anticipation of the Rebbe’s resurrection and the imminent redemption. His words were publicly broadcast by loudspeaker in ‘770’. In the wake of his death press coverage discussed the rifts among community members concerning the Rebbe’s status and the continued leadership of Chabad. Shandler (2009: 257) describes how different factions within the community used print, broadcast and recorded media to propagate their ideas. Such media had previously been employed in outreach efforts. Renowned Hasidic singer Moshe Yess recorded a video Ha Moshiach Is Here and He Will Redeeem Us. This video promoted Lubavitcher messianism through a series of musical performances. Opponents of the messianic movement deployed video to assert their authority as official spokespersons for Chabad, and to articulate their position on his legacy. A video Living the Legacy was produced by the American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington DC. Leaders from the Agudas Hasidei Chabad referred to the Rebbe in the past tense. At the beginning of the tribute, Rabbi Moshe Herson, a member of the governing body stated, ‘The Rebbe is not physically and visibly with us, although unquestionably his spirit is now in the room’. Although some statements by other eminent rabbis were somewhat ambiguous, they all avoided speaking of the Rebbe as Moshiach. These comments were made before prominent religious and political leaders outside Lubavitch. On 31 January 1996 the messianic faction of Lubavitch broadcasted a television programme marking the date when Menachem Schneerson assumed leadership in 1951. The aim of this programme was to declare the Rebbe as King Moshiach, and to pray for his immediate revelation. Shmuel Butman, the chairman of the International Campaign to welcome Moshiach, described during the broadcast how he was ‘inviting the Rebbe to this great farbrengen’. Viewers were shown the Rebbe’s table and his chair. There followed brief footage of the Rebbe entering the same ritual space amid a crowd of Hasidim with a soundtrack of the Rebbe speaking of Moshiach’s imminent arrival. The broadcast then moved on to show a series of live connections with Chabad congregations in Russia, South Africa, Israel, France, Australia and the United States where local rabbis exhorted their congregations to call for the Rebbe to reveal himself as the Messiah. These live segments alternated with vintage audio and video of the Rebbe at his first farbrengen where he discussed Lubavitcher Messianism in front of his enthusiastic followers. The broadcast ended with the display
of multiple images of Chabad communities worldwide chanting ‘Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbenu Melech Hamoshiach L’olom Vo’ed!’ [Long live our lord, our teacher, our master, king messiah forever and ever]. The television performance conflates past and present, and attempts to portray a sense of the Rebbe’s continuing presence to his followers through the properties of television-visibility, simultaneity and versimilitude. These images allowed for a subjunctive engagement with the Rebbe, albeit with his virtual presence. In the week following the telecast, Aggudas Chassidei Chabad responded with a full-page announcement in the New York Times denouncing ‘recent statements and declarations by individuals and groups concerning the matter of Moshiach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M Schneerson, of sainted memory’. They advised ‘the public to exercise discretion when confronted with unauthorized statements in the media or otherwise, concerning the Rebbe and his teachings’. For several years, Rabbi Butman and his followers in the Lubavitch movement had been heralding the day of redemption and identifying the Rebbe as the long-awaited redeemer. After Rabbi Butman’s group placed a billboard beside the George Washington Bridge in 1996 identifying the Rebbe as King Moshiach, or the messiah, other Lubavitchers placed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to distance themselves from those views. As Rabbi Butman explained at a news conference in 1996, ‘The Rebbe did not pinpoint a date. We cannot tell you whether it’s this afternoon or tomorrow morning. But now is now. It’s definitely not going to be long before we see the revelation.’ When asked if billboards were the right vehicles for religion, he said: ‘Everything that was created in this world was created for the service of God. So the billboard was created for the service of God’(Bruni 1996).
Visiting the Rebbe on the Internet Religion has become one of the most popular and pervasive topics of interest online. There has been some discussion of the ways in which the internet facilitates ‘virtual pilgrimage’, where people can simulate a sacred journey for educational, economic and spiritual purposes. Virtual pilgrimages on the internet are important for understanding new ways of being spiritual in the postmodern world. Providing more than information, the audio-visual medium permits new ways of encountering the sacred by drawing upon the symbolic relations of equivalence between their cyberspace sites and real-life sacred ones (MacWilliams 2004).
Making the Rebbe Present through the Media
Benedikt (1991: 1) comments on cyberspace: ‘through its myriad, unblinking video eyes, distant places and faces, real or unreal, actual or long gone, can be summoned to presence’ − something that Walter Ong (1982) refers to as ‘telepresence’. Modern electronic media changes the senses of time and community by enabling speech to be shared in the immediacy of real time . At the centre of most pilgrimages is an intensely visual experience − ‘seeing the visible traces of saints and divine beings in the evocative power of the temple buildings and sacred objects, and in the powerful rituals that take place in the natural splendor of their setting’ (MacWilliams 2004: 230). Thus computer-mediated communication is perfectly suited to evoke a sense of ‘real presence’. The use of the internet by Lubavitch is not new. The website Chabad.org started by Rabbi Yosef Kazen went online in 1993, providing access to texts such as Tanya, images, audio and video recordings. It claims to serve up to a million people a year. Information is available about Chabad philosophy and history, Jewish holidays, life cycle celebrations and religious practices, all available in different languages and targeting different audiences such as women and children. Through the site, people can submit prayers to be read at the Rebbe’s grave, donate to charitable causes, post questions for the rabbi and to shop on various Judaica sites. Links are provided to various Chabad centres across the world that run their own websites. The messianists have utilized the web to provide a number of ‘spiritual’ benefits: educational and ritual. Internet technology enables them to transmit the messianic ideology rapidly around the globe, creating a sense of community and potentially bringing new members to the movement. The sites combine written information with video footage of the Rebbe’s farbrengens and audio recordings of his numerous discourses. Some of the websites contain video clips of the Rebbe distributing dollars and sound recordings of his followers singing the yehi. There are autobiographical accounts of individuals whose lives have been significantly influenced by Schneerson emphasizing his miraculous feats. Many sites provide ‘proofs’ of the fact that the Rebbe is ‘alive’. Surfers are able to post their own responses on the site. A brief survey of the net reveals several sites specifically devoted to Moshiach: www. “Living With Moshiach” Online; www.LongLiveTheRebbeKingMessiahForever.com; Yechi HaMelech.org; Moshiach.tv Blog; www.kingmessiah.com; www.770live.com; www.moshiach.net. www.chabad-uk.com is compiled in the UK and represents the views of Beis Menachem whom I have discussed above. One website http:/seeingtherebbe.wordpress.com contains accounts of Lubavitchers who have personally seen the Rebbe since 1994. As one illustrative example, those visiting the site www.LongLiveTheRebbeKingMessiahForever.com are instructed to ‘Get exclusive content
and interact with Manachem Schneerson’. The site presents a number of statements describing the Rebbe in almost divine terms: Long live our Master Teacher and Rebbe King Moshiach (Messiah) forever and Ever. Yes! His Majesty the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach who lives forever encourages the thousands singing to him the Hebrew words for the above proclamation – ‘Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’rabeinu Melech HaMoshiach Leolam Vaed.’ We have seen his majesty (often strongly) encourage us singing this to his majesty, on an almost daily basis since 1992. There were even a few live televised appearances of his majesty’s encouragement with his majesty’s clear consent. His Majesty is the world leader, appointed by G-d Almighty, who makes this world the best possible place for everyone. This is called the Redemption. The Messiah who lives forever is the greatest person ever and is a prophet also – G-d Almighty speaks through His Majesty! Whenever His Majesty tells the future, it happens! His Majesty’s main prophecy is, that we can already point and say: ‘this one (Messiah) comes.’ We have the privilege and responsibility to heed all of his Majesty’s wonderful advice and instructions, concerning how to lead a fortunate Jewish (other nations – G-dly) life. Indeed, the long awaited Redeemer – Moshiach − of the Jewish people and of the whole world in general, bringing them to their height of perfection, has arrived – the Redemption is literally already here! His Majesty proclaims that immediately G-d Almighty will open our eyes to see the completeness of the true and complete Redemption, which is already here! It is even now possible to submit a question online; a computer program automatically ‘inserts’ this question into the appropriate page of the Rebbe’s writings and provides a written response in terms of a passage from the Igrot Ha Kodesh. Prior to doing this petitioners are requested to wash their hands, write the request in their heart and to decide to become more observant, for example, by laying tefillin. Igrot.com states the following (although in slightly broken English): Igrot Kodesh are the letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach may he live forever which we use to communicate with the Rebbe. You can write a letter to the Rebbe King Moshiach and ask for advice, help etc. and then place your letter into the book and read the answer from the Rebbe. We present for you a special internet project that will help you to get an answer from the Rebbe.
Making the Rebbe Present through the Media
Anyone experiencing difficult moments in his life where he needs good guidance and assistance to be able to manage the routine of his life peacefully. Difficulties are usually personal problems arising from health, relationships, love, family, livelihood, etc. traumatic experience. Today you can get advice, blessing and guidance of the Rebbe Shlita of the messiah through holy fees. Facing the rabbi through this channel respond to instant, accurate answers and receive salvation perfectly without any cost in complete privacy. Those who participate in this online activity report how they feel close to the Rebbe; cyberspace becomes a sacred space. All of this adds to the sense of the Rebbe’s continuing presence.
Re-presenting the Rebbe’s Body Technology has played a significant enabling role in the messianist movement. Videotapes and internet sites have aided the convictions and practices of the Chabad messianists. Not only do they render such claims more credible, but they also provide practices that support and enhance these convictions through representing and rendering the body of the Rebbe present (Imhoff 2009). They provide for a paradoxical situation where the Rebbe is simultaneously absent and present. He is ‘living’ in ‘770’ but he receives his messages at his gravesite. Most importantly for his followers they provide reassurance of the continuing existence of the Rebbe’s body and his voice. As Dawson and Cowan (2004) point out, online religious experience and its offline, real life practices are related. They underscore the fact that internet religion may impact on more conventional forms of religious practice and expression. These authors present a number of studies of individuals and communities which examine how these new electronic forms of mediation actually influence religious practice. There is a need for more and better studies examining who uses the internet, how they are using it and why. Furthermore we need studies of the nature and quality of people’s experiences while participating in online activities. These issues will provide a fertile research agenda for future researchers examining Lubavitcher messianism. In this chapter I have focused upon the role of modern media technology to construct religious experiences among contemporary Lubavitch Hasidim. I shall now examine the role of religious experience and ritual in early Christianity, specifically considering the similarities and differences between Lubavitcher messianism and the millennial experience of the early church.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
In this chapter I discuss the similarities and differences between early Christianity and Lubavitch. Marcus (2001) in an insightful analysis suggests a number of parallels. In both movements successful eschatological prophecies have reinforced followers beliefs in the leader’s authority, and there is a mixture of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ elements. Similar genres of literature are employed to spread the good news (e.g. miracle stories and collections of originally independent sayings). Both leaders tacitly accepted the messianic faith of their followers’ but were reticent about acclaiming their messiahship directly. The cataclysm of the Messiah’s death has led to belief in his continued existence and the conviction of imminent resurrection. My main focus here is with the millennial elements of early Christianity, the anticipation of radical changes in the world, and their parallels with Chabad. In both instances millennial expectations were unfulfilled: ritual and religious experience support a sense of their leader’s continuing presence and bolster the conviction that both have in some ways survived death and will bring about the Redemption. I shall begin discussing the millennial strands in the early Christian movement.
Millennialism in Early Christianity The idea that early Christianity was a millennial movement is by no means new. As Madigan and Levenson (2008) point out, for nearly a century New Testament scholars, following the lead of Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus, have seen both Jesus and John the Baptizer as Jewish eschatological prophets who inhabited a world of Jewish apocalyptic expectation and which was highly influenced by Jewish apocalyptic literature such as The Book of Daniel, The First book of Enoch, The Testament of Moses, The Second Book of Baruch and The Jewish Sibylline oracles .
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
Furthermore, there is strong evidence that restoration eschatology, with a profound of expectant hope of the dawning of a new age was widespread during both the century before Jesus’ death and in the century in which he grew to maturity. Belief in resurrection was commonplace among first-century Palestinian Jews (apart from the Saducees), an idea deeply rooted in the Old Testament scriptures . The idea of resurrection was always closely tied to an expectation of the dawning of a new age, to the belief that God was about to make a new creation and to the vindication of his chosen people. These processes would occur, not in an otherworldly heaven, but on earth. In the Hebrew prophetic literature the messianic scenario includes a number of elements: the ingathering of the Jewish exiles, the reign of a messianic king, a new covenant with the Jews based on a restored commitment to observance of the commandments, a new Temple and the recognition of God by the world’s peoples. The Messiah would be a military and political leader who would subdue great and populous nations. Thus the future Davidic king was expected to usher in radical changes in the world. Landes (1999: 728) underscores the fact that Apostolic Christianity demonstrates many of the key traits of apocalyptic millenarian groups: the imminence of the Lord’s Day of wrath and the coming Kingdom of Heaven, the rhetoric of the meek overcoming the powerful, a leader and a following among common working people, fervent spirituality and radical restructuring of community bonds, large, enthusiastic crowds and a shift from a disappointed messianic hope (Crucifixion) to a revised expectation (Second Coming or Parousia). In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is portrayed as apocalyptic – as delivering a message of the coming end and the need to remain faithful to God in anticipation of the final judgement (Ehrman 2008).
The Imminence of the End Modern-day New Testament scholarship supports the idea that Jesus and his followers held the end to be imminent. Klinghoffer (2005: 63) argues that argues that Jesus expected a dramatically changed world and soon: ‘Truly I say to you there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the son of man coming in his kingdom’ (Mt. 16.28). By this, he meant that the Kingdom would come in or during the lifetime of some of his followers. Likewise, Fredriksen (1999) points out that the earlier the Christian source, the more ‘this worldly’ its apocalyptic vision tends to be,
suggesting that Jesus himself saw future events in literal terms. In a similar vein, Madigan and Levenson (2008: 19) argue that Jesus and his earliest followers lived in a world of imminent apocalyptic expectation . Thus according to some biblical scholars, the earliest Christians thought they were living in the last days. The second coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God are closely tied together. In most Christian theologies, the second coming of Christ is the return of Jesus from heaven to earth, an event expected to fulfil aspects of biblical Messianic prophecy, such as the general resurrection of the dead, the last judgement of the dead and of the living and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth including the Messianic Age. ‘But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come’ (Mt. 10.23). The early Christian church was a community living in daily expectation of the return of Jesus. The author of the Book of Hebrews concurred with this expectation. In Heb. 10.37 he is solely concerned with the immediate future and his expectation that Jesus will return shortly: ‘For yet a little while and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.’ In this verse the author of Hebrews teaches, in accordance with the other New Testament authors, that Jesus would be returning in what was then the near future as time is reckoned in human terms. However the end did not come. Jesus’ own followers thought he would be the one to bring the judgement; he ascended to heaven but would return to judge the earth and bring the kingdom of God’s messiah. They expected it all to be imminent (see Ehrman 2008: 220). Even Jesus himself warned the people of Israel to repent before it was too late ‘for the kingdom of God is very near’ (Mk 1.15). While he was alive it appears that Jesus preached that the end was near and following his death, so did his followers who ‘supposed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately’ (Lk. 19: 11). Like Jesus, the earliest Christians expected the restoration of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple and the re-gathering of the lost tribes. In Mark’s gospel Jesus indicates to some of his disciples that they ‘will not face death’ because they see the ‘kingdom of God having come in power’ (Mk 9.1). According to Mark (13.30) Jesus says that, although no one knows the precise day or hour, he does indicate the end of all things to be sure to come ‘before this generation passes away’. The kingdom was expected before any believers, or at least the first generation, would die. One book of note, the Book of Revelation, contains largely eschatological speculation. Ehrman (2008: 247) notes that the apocalypse of John was written for people living in the author’s own day and anticipated that the
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
end would come in the author’s own time: ‘When the author of revelation expected that Lord Jesus “was coming soon” (Rev. 22.20) he really meant soon, not 2000 years later’. The book is focused on suffering: war, famine, epidemics, natural disasters, massacres, economic hardship and eventually Armageddon. It is unsurprising that people from day one assume its referring to their own time. The book contains chapter upon chapter of earthly disasters before they come to the final battle and the utopian state in which there will be no more pain and sorrow or suffering. This is the arrival of God’s kingdom and those destined to live in it will lead glorious lives forever. The author of the Book of Revelation lived in a time of persecution and suffering. Christians had been put to death in Rome by the Emperor Nero. There were earthquakes, famines and wars. Things were as bad as they were going to get. However, he believed that God would finally intervene on behalf of his people and destroy the forces of evil. Christ would return from heaven in a cosmic show of strength, annihilate every power posed to God and every human being from the emperor on down who has cooperated with them. God’s people would be vindicated and a new kingdom would come to earth. Pain, persecution, anguish, misery, sin, suffering and death would disappear.
Cognitive Dissonance and Early Christianity The application of sociological theories such as cognitive dissonance to early Christianity is not without considerable controversy. Richter (1984: 77–90) has indeed cautioned that the relatively long time scale involved when we consider the development and spread of Christianity is of a wholly different order of magnitude from the relatively brief periods involved in the events upon which cognitive dissonance theory was based. However it is not unreasonable to speculate that the early Christians experienced some cognitive crisis when the anticipated Kingdom of God failed to appear. There is evidence that the early Christian community felt an acute sense of disappointment at the ‘non-event’ of the Kingdom of God. Early Christian apocalyptic millennialism proved an embarrassment to Church leaders who were keen to live harmoniously with Rome. Christian texts such as 1 Clement 23.3–5 (about 96CE) express concern about the delay of the Kingdom: Let that scripture be far from us which says ‘wretched are the double minded, those who doubt in their soul and say ‘We have heard these
things even in our father’s times, and see, we have grown old and none of this has happened. Tidball (1985) questions the fact that early Christianity was a millennial movement at all. For him, the emphasis on millennial character of Christianity was misplaced and Jesus’ role as prophet was overemphasized to the detriment of our understanding of him as a Rabbi and teacher. In a similar vein, Hamilton (2001: 19) asks whether millennial features were prominent in early Christianity and remarks that is does not have much in common with other millennial movements described by sociologists where there is an ecstatic mood, rapid spread throughout the community and the abandonment of normal productive activity. Taylor (1998: 138) notes that Malina (1986), drawing upon the cautions raised by Snow and Machalek (1982), argues that cognitive dissonance theory is inappropriate to the early Christian situation, as the culture accommodated anomalous beliefs and practices without any consciousness of their incompatibility. Our knowledge of the early Christians and their moods and expectations is sparse and it is impossible to settle the argument based upon current information. However, in line with Jewish restoration eschatology which was prevalent in Jesus’ time, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus’ followers did hold expectations about a radically changed world and that these expectations were challenged by his death. In accordance with Festinger et al.’s (1956) assertions it appears that the early followers of Jesus encountered three unfulfilled expectations: a. They held him to be the promised Messiah and were not expecting his subsequent death. A crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. b. They anticipated the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. c. They anticipated Jesus’ second coming after his ascension. A number of scholars have deployed cognitive dissonance theory to early Christianity. Gager (1975) contends that the death of Jesus confronted his followers with a cognitive crisis. This event was profoundly at odds with their millennial expectations. In line with Festinger’s (1956) theory, the followers of Jesus turned to intense missionary activity. On the one hand this resulted in Christianity losing much of its millennial character; on the other hand it played a significant part in ensuring its success. Wernik (1975) has similarly claimed that Christianity largely succeeded because of the failed prediction of Christ’s second coming.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
Jackson (1975) argues that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus has its origins in a failed prophecy; the crucifixion of Jesus cut across his disciples’ expectations of the coming of the kingdom and placed their fate in jeopardy. The death of Christ was a problem for his followers from the beginning and its problematic character persisted thereafter. For the Jews a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. According to him resurrection was a creative response to this disconfirming event of the crucifixion whereby the disciples were able to maintain their faith in a modified form. Jesus’ disciples experienced an acute conflict of cognitions as a result of the crucifixion of their leader. Furthermore, as is generally accepted by scholars, at the centre of Jesus’ message was the dawning of the kingdom of God. Jesus taught that the arrival of the kingdom would see a most radical change in the existing order of things, a change which would be obvious to all (Perrin 1963). The disciples publicly committed themselves to the conviction that the coming of the kingdom was imminent. They proclaimed that the reign of God was very near. According to cognitive dissonance theory it would have been impossible for disciples to hold the cognition that Jesus had a special relationship to the coming of the kingdom along with the cognition he was dead. For his disciples dissonance was not to be reduced by abandoning faith in Jesus. Instead they were ‘forced’ to modify the cognition regarding his death. The belief in resurrection was the result. The disciples were sufficiently strong to survive the shock of the crucifixion. The idea that Resurrection was an adaptive response to the cognitive dissonance resulting from Jesus’ death has recently been argued by Komarnitsky (2009).
Adapting to Failed Prophecy Landes (1999: 728) discusses how the earliest Christians dealt with their unfulfilled expectations: The fundamental problem for early Christianity, as for all apocalyptic movements, was the passage of time, which brought with it profound sense of disappointment and humiliation (II Peter). Jesus had not returned and neither had the anticipated Kingdom of God arrived. Some abandoned the movement (e.g. by returning to observant Judaism). Others dealt with the delay of the Parousia – by organizing communities and rituals which brought proleptically a foretaste of the coming world – the Eucharist, the reading of Revelation. But above all, the passing of time
involved new conceptualizations of time. The End would come, but not now, not even soon, rather in the future, once the tasks assigned by God – especially the spreading of the Gospels to the four corners of the world – were completed. He describes the manoeuvres that were adopted to eliminate subversive millennialism from Christian doctrine: Whereas early Christian writers in the first century assumed a literal millennialism, by the later second century ecclesiastical writers began to be highly critical of millenarian texts (especially Revelation, the only text in the New Testament to explicitly speak of an earthly kingdom). By 150 CE Christianity was no longer an eschatological community and, as a response to Montanist apocalyptic fervour, it was extremely antagonistic towards eschatological movements. At the end of the second century Tertullian reports that Christians prayed ‘for the emperors, for their deputies, and all in authority, for the welfare of the world and for the delay of the final consummation’ (Apol 39.2). Landes (p. 729) continues: Origen, an early 3rd century theologian, argued for an allegorical rather than for a literal understanding of the millennium; others attempted (successfully in the Eastern Church) to eliminate Revelation from the canon altogether. When Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, millenarianism was pushed to the very margins of acceptable Christian thought. In another ploy to delay the end and reap the calming benefits of non–apocalyptic millennialism, theologians emphasized the idea of a sabbatical millennium. This idea combined Genesis 1 (six days of travail, sabbath rest), with Psalm 90 (1000 years is a day in the sight of the Lord), promised the thousand-year kingdom after 6000 years. When apocalyptic prophets announced the imminent end, conservative clerics could counter with the argument that centuries yet remained until the millennium. When the expected end did not come some of Jesus’ followers transformed a horizontal dualism of apocalyptic expectation of life in this age verses life in the age to come into a vertical dualism that spoke instead of life in the lower world verses life in the world above. As Ehrman (2008: 256)
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
says in other words ‘out of the ashes of outer apocalyptic expectation there rose a Christian doctrine of heaven and hell’. The judgement was not something that would happen here on earth in some future cataclysmic event. It would happen in the afterlife after each of us dies. This ‘de-apocalypticized’ version of Christianity is found in the last of the four Gospels written by John. This gospel no longer speaks of the coming kingdom of God for the place where God can rule on earth. What is important for John’s Gospel is not the future of the world, but eternal life in heaven that comes to those who believe in Jesus. Those who believe in him will also experience the rebirth, the birth from above (Jn 3.3): those who are born from above can expect to return to their heavenly home when they leave this life. Jesus is leaving his disciples so they can prepare a place for them an abode in heaven where they will go at death (Jn 14. 1–3). Wilson (2008) discusses how the failure of the Kingdom of God to arrive before Jesus’ death was dealt with by the Apostle Paul in another innovative way. He de-emphasized the idea of Jesus’ messianic role in bringing about a radically changed world, and instead focused upon his role as a human– divine saviour. For him messiahship was a two-stage process. In stage one Christ was the saviour who redeemed those who participated in his suffering and death. The Christ was given a very important present purpose-to save. In stage two, which had yet to occur he would return to destroy evil, conquer death and reward the righteous with eternal life .
Ritual and Religious Experience in Early Christianity Much discussion of the history of early Christianity focuses upon social, cultural and doctrinal factors emphasizing the economic levels of early followers, the role of women and organizational factors. New Testament scholarship tends to either ignore or pay little attention to religious experience and its role in bolstering convictions of Christ’s messiahship. Luke Johnson (1998) in Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity: A Missing Dimension in New Testament Studies bemoans the reluctance of scholars to come to terms with religious experience and advocates a phenomenological approach. But as Hurtado (2005) states, the success of earliest Christianity and its appeal and credibility in the eyes of converts seems to be heavily connected with its ability to provide religious experiences that corresponded to its rhetoric of being ‘filled’, ‘anointed’ and ‘empowered’ by God’s spirit. For him such experiences were central to innovations in the early movement
especially the cultic veneration of Christ in ways which were otherwise reserved for the God of Israel. This was a unique and completely remarkable innovation in comparison with all else that is known about the traditional Jewish religious practices of the time. He argues that the post resurrection Christic appearances (I Cor. 15. I–11) led Jesus’ followers to the conviction that God had released him from death so that he was really alive, as an immortal and eschatological bodily existence that marked him out in comparison to other religious leaders such as Moses, Abraham or Elijah . He discusses the experiences of Paul including his conversion experience (Gal. I.13–17) and the other multiple visions that he experienced (2 Cor. 12. 2–10) and argues that these experiences resulted in significant innovations in the early movement. There were other New Testament descriptions of religious experiences which played a similar role such as in Acts 7 where the martyr Stephen is pictured as being given a vision of ‘the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’ (verses 55–56). The Book of Revelation contains another visionary scene (Rev. 4.1) describing the appearance of the ‘Lamb’ (Christ) and the veneration given to him along with God (5.1–154). Not only did such experiences facilitate the cultic veneration of Christ as divine, they also led to his followers’ conviction that they were divinely commissioned to proclaim his exalted status and to recognize that the moment of redemption had arrived (see also Komarnitsky 2009). As Czachesz (2007) correctly points out, most studies of early Christianity concentrate on written texts and less attention has been given to rituals. New Testament authors rarely refer to rituals and consequently we know little about their performance. Furthermore, the Reformation emphasis on inner experience and its polemical stance against Judaism and Catholicism has significantly influenced biblical scholars. The early Christian writers emphasized pistis- ‘belief – over and above ritual . Two central rituals emerged in the early church: Baptism and the Eucharist. Paul’s letters, written two decades after Christ’s death, indicate that the rites were there from the very beginning of the movement and people became attached to it by means of these rituals. Although we can never know the experiences of the early Christians during ritual, Johnson (1998) drawing upon New Testament accounts and contemporary anthropological studies of ritual argues that Baptism, the ritual most often mentioned in the Gospels, symbolized a number of things for the early followers of Christ: purification, death, rebirth and resurrection and a new identity. It also fostered the conviction that Jesus who was crucified was now more powerfully alive as ‘Lord’ and capable of contacting
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
humans across time and space. Thus he indirectly argues that this ritual constructed a sense of Christ’s continuing presence in their lives. Throughout the history of Christianity worship has been structurally related to sharing meals. Acts refers to the ‘breaking of bread’ (Acts 2.42), Jesus’ parables image the Kingdom of God in terms of meals, before his death he shares a last meal with his disciples (Mk 14.12–25) and following his death, Jesus appears to his followers in the context of meals (Mk 16.4). Following the reference to prayer over the bread and wine in the Didache, Eucharistic imagery becomes more developed in the second and third centuries to become a formal ritual at the time of the imperial cooptation. Johnson (1998) posits that these meals involve a fellowship with the risen and living Lord Jesus (see also Elert 1966). The discourse on the bread of life in John’s Gospel expresses the conviction that ‘eating the flesh of the son of man’ is a source of eternal life to those who eat because Jesus is the living bread that has come down from heaven. He goes on to argue that the conviction that the risen Jesus was present to his followers at shared meals after his death, not as a vague memory but as a present and commanding presence is stated explicitly by Peter in Acts 10.41–42. For Paul and his readers, when they came together to eat a meal in the name of Jesus or the Lord’s Supper, the power of the resurrected one was present (I Cor. 11.33). Furthermore he argues that this awareness of the power present in ritual made convincing the expectation of Jesus’ future coming. The Eucharist celebrates the presence of the living Christ among his followers, but I would add, the very act of performing the ritual constructs this presence. Thus religious experience and conviction are inextricably linked.
Millennialism in Contemporary Christianity Differing strategies are at work in contemporary Christianity to deal with the fact that Christ has not yet returned. Some look forward to a transformed universe with Jesus the Messiah returning soon – within our lifetimes. Such a strategy is typical of Evangelical Christianity. Others look for spiritual transformations in individuals or redeemed in a heavenly afterlife. These views are found commonly in liberal Protestantism and Catholicism. Such divergence of views reflects the differing attitudes in second-century Christianity (Wilson 2008). As Thompson (2005) notes, in contemporary Christianity, millennial activity has largely been transformed into rhetoric. Although Christians
hold the conviction that Jesus will return, for many the issue of when and how is not important. What is more important is the necessity for moral behaviour. There has been little ethnographic investigation surrounding this topic. Contemporary Christian denominations emphasize millennial ideology to different extents and a comparative overview would be interesting. Here space only allows limited discussion of these ideologies. Millennial ideas in Seventh Day Adventism have moved a long way since its inception. Once overtly apocalyptic, contemporary Adventists have marginalized apocalyptic doctrines (Lawson 1997). Prophecy is integral to the Pentecostal world view. Pentecostal millennial ideas derive from dispensationalism and popular prophecy belief. Among Pentecostals there are varied opinions concerning the importance of millennial ideas. There is some evidence that Pentecostalism has similarly marginalized such ideas and that a minority of Pentecostalists are preoccupied with ‘end times’. In 1994 Elim Pentecostals decided to remove any reference to the millennium from its list of fundamental truths. Poloma (2001: 169) sums up the situation well: While some Pentecostals joined their evangelical and fundamentalist cousins who focus on interpreting the prophetic elements in the Book of Revelation, many more downplay the details of premillennial eschatology. These believers prefer a more practical, utilitarian and personal experience of the prophetic that is born through common experience of the prophetic and nurtured through prophetic myths. Thompson (2005) looks at the members of one religious group with a strong apocalyptic tradition – Kensington Temple, a large Pentecostal church in London – and attempts to understand how they reconcile doctrines of the end of the world with the demands of their everyday lives. He describes a shift from predictive to explanatory millennialism. As some such as Coleman (2000: 66–71) have argued, Pentecostalism emphasizes experience over belief, ‘it mobilises the senses, manipulating images, feelings and ideas in a way designed to integrate the self – mind and body – into a global Charismatic culture’.
Ritual in the Construction of a Sense of Christ’s Presence Today many Christian groups, especially Charismatic Christians, claim to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit around them. Cooke and Macy (2005) argue that Christian rituals are recollections of Jesus but additionally, they actually make present what they symbolize − the presence of the risen
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
Christ. For all Christians this presence is real in the sense that it is experienced by the community as a real force in its life. This presence is ‘real’ but not ‘physical’ in that Jesus cannot be seen or touched. It is the church – the Christian community – that embodies this presence. They go on to state that the original Christian awareness of Jesus’ continuing presence to history after his death was, to quite an extent, lost. Jesus left the earth after his death to return to heaven and Christians await his second coming. For them the language of him ‘ascending’ were metaphorical descriptions of Jesus’ passage into a superior way of life and that the reality of his resurrection implied that he remained present to human history. The rituals of early Christians remembered and made present the now risen Christ so that everyday life became an occasion to continue the work he began during his lifetime and now continues in and through the community − the Body of Christ . However there are no empirical studies specifically addressing religious experiences during ritual and the diverse meanings that celebrants attribute to these experiences. How they actually experience Christ’s presence and its psychosomatic concomitants should be a focus for future research on Christian religious experience.
Parallels between Jesus and the Lubavitcher Rebbe I shall now move on to discuss the parallels between early Christianity in relation to the ways in which they have dealt with their unfulfilled millennial expectations. In both cases believers had to make sense of ‘failed prophecy’. Both groups have dealt with the unfulfilled expectations in similar ways through proselytization, resurrection, spiritualization, deification and ritualization. Marcus (2001) has provided an insightful analysis of the parallels between Chabad and early Christianity. He suggests that contemporary groups such as Lubavitch may shed some light on the ‘messianic consciousness’ of the early Christian movement. This is not to suggest that identical processes occurred, just that there were some similarities, and as I shall later discuss, differences. Furthermore, although these similarities may suggest a Christian influence on Lubavitch, there is no empirical evidence to support this assumption. As Marcus states (p. 382): Despite their otherworldly appearance, however Lubavitchers and other Hasidim do live in the twenty-first century and reflect its influence, and
this is especially true of Chabad, which has attracted into its ranks many Baalei Teshuvah or formally secular Jews and makes adept use of mass communications. Here I discuss some of the parallels.
The Redemption Is Already Here Both leaders spoke of the imminence of the Redemption. For Jesus and the Rebbe this eschatological redemption would be a present and joyful experience. For both a cosmic change had already occurred, the present was conflated with the future and it was merely a matter of becoming aware of it − similar to Paul’s announcement of a momentous alteration of the universe (‘There is a new creation’) and of the new way of seeing necessary to perceive it (2 Cor. 5. 16–17). The Rebbe frequently emphasized the already element in his discourse: All the spiritual tasks God has commanded of the Jewish people have been completed. To borrow an expression of the previous Rebbe ‘We have even polished the buttons and are standing prepared to greet Mashiach.’ The feast of Redemption is prepared, we are sitting at the table together with Mashiach. All that is necessary now is for each of us to open his eyes. (Touger 1992: 139–40) Jesus also used the language of the Messianic banquet to link the present to the future (Mt. 22.1–14; Lk. 14.15–24; Mk 14.25). The Gospel writers present Jesus’ frequent meals with his disciples as a foretaste of the messianic banquet. For both leaders, there was what Marcus (2001) calls ‘intense eschatological impatience’, the idea of imminent redemption blurs with its presence. In the early 1990s the Rebbe announced that the time of waiting was over and that the year of the Redemption had arrived. We may compare this to Mk 1.15: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’
The Idea of Resurrection The most remarkable analogy between modern Chabad messianism and early Christianity is the one between the Christian’s response to the death
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
of Jesus and the way in which Lubavitchers reacted to their Rebbe’s death in 1994. Many Christians regard the resurrection of Jesus as the central doctrine in Christianity. Whereas this belief was only one of many beliefs held about the end of times in Judaism, this belief became dominant within Christianity and soon included an insistence on the resurrection of the flesh only rarely found within Judaism. According to the Apostle Paul, the entire Christian faith hinges upon the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day, and the hope for a life after our own death. He wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (Cor. 15.19–20) Shortly after the death of Rabbi Schneerson assertions of his imminent resurrection were commonplace. Lubavitchers held that the Rebbe would be resurrected with his body intact and not just as a soul. For many his appearance would be identical to his appearance when alive. We are reminded of the Christian view whereby Jesus is resurrected in flesh and not just in spirit. To say the least, any discussion of resurrection elicits extreme criticism from Jews outside (and many inside) Lubavitch who do not accept this ‘second coming Judaism’.
The Use of Old Testament Texts to ‘Prove’ that the Messiah Can Come from the Dead As Komarnitsky (2009) notes, Judeo-Christian groups have commonly anchored their rationalizations in scripture to validate these rationalizations to themselves and to those who might criticize them. Scholem (1973), for example, states that the Shabbatean movement found everything they needed in scripture; they searched scripture for intimations, hints and indications of the extraordinary and bewildering events. The Gospels and the writings of the messianists deploy similar proof texts to reinforce the possibility of a Messiah who suffers, dies and returns from the dead. The messianists bolster their convictions of Shneerson returning from the dead by appealing to a range of eschatological hermeneutics including Isa. 53 on the suffering servant, the passage from Sanhedrin 98b which has a strong focus on Moshiach and the Messianic era and the Talmudic tractate Sukkah. Orthodox Jews outside Lubavitch have strongly contested the messianists’ view that these passages refer to the possibility of a dead messiah.
After the Rebbe’s first stroke in 2001 his followers rapidly resorted to Isa. 53 to ‘prove’ that the Rebbe’s suffering was to be expected and was integral to his role as Moshiach: A man of suffering, familiar with disease . . . Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, smitten and afflicted by God; But he was wounded because of our sins. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by his bruises we were healed. We all went astray like sheep, each going his own way . . . Like a ewe, dumb before those who shear her, he did not open his mouth.(Isa. 53.3–7) Messianic Lubavitchers most commonly cite Sanhedrin 98b as a source of support for the idea of a Moshiach that returns from the dead. Here Rav Nachman says, ‘If Moshiach will be from the living he is someone like me’, the word ‘if’ seems to imply that Moshiach could also come from the dead. In the next sentence, Rav opines, ‘If Moshiach will be from the living, then he will be like Rabbeinu Hakadosh, if he will be from the dead he will be like Daniel’, again implying that a belief in a Moshiach that returns from the dead is not antithetical to Judaism. Another commonly quoted text is Sukkah where there is reference to two messiahs. One is the Moshiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph); the other is the Moshiach ben David (Mesiah son of David). The latter, a descendent of King David is the familiar Messiah who conquers nations and liberates the Jews. The former is a descendent of Joseph, a son of the patriarch Jacob, is a forerunner to the Davidic messiah who prepares for his successor then goes on to die (a theme that derives from Zechariah 12.10). Like Chabad, the Gospel writers attempted to see Jesus’ life and death through the as successful fulfilments of Old Testament prophecies. Mt. 8.17; quotes Isa. 53.4: ‘This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’ Jn. 19.37 quotes Zechariah 12.10 as proof that Jesus, having died is the Messiah: ‘And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.’ In Jn. 19.37 this verse is quoted with a significant change: ‘They shall look upon him whom they have pierced.’
The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Early Church
Christ and the Rebbe as Human–Divine One striking parallel between Lubavitch and early Christianity is the way in which the Rebbe and Jesus are seen as both human and divine. In both instances they gradually underwent a process of deification. In most Christian denominations Christ and God are equated. In the Incarnation, as traditionally defined, the divine nature of the Son was joined but not mixed with human nature in one divine Person, Jesus Christ, who was both ‘truly God and truly man’. The incarnation and the deification of Christ appear to have occurred after his death. Eventually in the fourth century the Christian Church accepted the teaching of St. Athanasius and his allies, that Christ was the incarnation of the eternal second person of the Trinity, who was fully God and fully a man simultaneously. As Klinghoffer (2005) argues, the very earliest layers of Christian literature show the greatest reluctance to attribute anything like divinity to Jesus. Later texts demonstrate increasing boldness in their assertions suggesting that the equation of Jesus with God is an artefact of decades long after Jesus died. Although the three synoptic Gospels use the term son of God in relation to Christ, and Paul goes even further in depicting him as ‘the likeness of God’, we cannot conclude from these statements that his earliest followers saw him as divine. John’s Gospel advances another step describing Jesus as God’s Divine word − the Logos. We can see a gradual process of intellectual evolution occurring. The title ‘son of God’ was used in relation to Jesus. However, as Geza Vermes points out in relation to first-century Palestine, ‘sonship’ in relation to God was attributed to those wonderworking charismatic sages, the Hasidim, and the title conveyed that the person was loved by God, not that he was a heavenly being. When the Rebbe died it did not take long for his deification to occur. As discussed above, within a few months Lubavitchers were speaking of Rabbi Schneerson as ‘His Majesty’. Sixteen years after his death a small group of Lubavitchers continue to refer to him as God. The Rebbe himself taught that a rebbe is essentially God in human form: ‘It is not possible to ask a question about a [Rebbe being a ] go- between , since this is God himself, as he has clothed Himself in a human body (Likutei Sichos II: 510–1). He continued: Just as ‘God and the Torah are one’, means not just that the Jews are connected to the Torah and to God, but literally they are all one, so too
is the connection of Chassidim and their Rebbe, they are not like two things that become united but rather they become literally one . Therefore to a Chosid, him and the Rebbe and God are one entity. Given the already semi-divine status of the tzadik in Hasidism as an intermediary between God and man, it was easy for his followers to attribute him with divine powers, and to hold that he is God himself . He has been made in a human divine figure. What can we conclude from a comparative study of Lubavitcher Messianism and early Christianity? Whilst there is no evidence to suggest a Christian influence on Lubavitch as some such as Winer (2001) and Berger (2001a) have suggested, in both instances rationalizations were needed to answer similar questions i.e. why did the Messiah have to die and can a dead person be a Messiah? I concur with Marcus (2001) who asserts that the examination of contemporary Lubavitch illustrates the ways in which messianism can express itself in a Jewish arena that in some ways parallels that in which Christianity arose and indicates what is possible in a Jewish environment. Although there are similarities between Lubavitch and the early church in terms of their response to the death of their leader, there are significant differences. While the death of Christ led to the formation of a new religion, Chabad has remained very much within the confines of Orthodox Judaism. Although some such as Berger (2001) have called for Lubavitchers to be excommunicated from Orthodox Judaism, arguing that they are not Jewish, let alone Orthodox, as Heilman and Friedman (2010) maintain, even those who hold the most radical messianic convictions, continue to see themselves as Orthodox since they do not deviate in their religious practices and observances.
Conclusion: What Really Happens When a Prophecy Fails?
Lubavitcher messianism is a complex phenomenon. In this book I have focused upon two extreme positions or ends of a spectrum. It is impossible to know how many people still privately hold the Rebbe to be Moshiach or even consider this as a possibility. Some may indeed hold to this position but are wary of voicing their opinions for fear of criticism, ridicule or ostracization from the wider Lubavitch community. Several aspects of the Lubavitch worldview facilitated the identification of Rabbi Schneerson with Moshiach and created a particularly strong prophetic expectancy: the central and controversial role of the tzadik and its messianic implications; the focus on proselytization in the Lubavitch community; and the teachings of Tanya(see Dein and Dawson 2008: 171). The Rebbe’s illness and subsequent death posed cognitive challenges for his followers. They made two predictions that were empirically disconfirmed: that he would recover from his illness and that he would usher in the Redemption. In accordance with cognitive dissonance theory, proselytization increased in the movement and they appealed to a number of post hoc rationalizations to allay dissonance. Rodney Stark (1996: 137) has argued that: Other things being equal, failed prophecies are harmful for religious movements. Although prophecies may arouse a great deal of excitement and attract new followers beforehand, the subsequent disappointment usually more than offsets these benefits. Lubavitch has proved to be an exception to this assertion and the movement appears to be growing. As Friedman and Heilman (2010: 271) comment ‘their ability to establish a presence in so many places and to become well known way beyond the borders of their community is surely a measure of success’.
As previous studies have delineated in relation to prophetic disconfirmation, ‘the impact of a prophetic failure will be shaped by the kind of actions undertaken in service of that prophecy’ (Dawson 1999: 74). Dein and Dawson (2008: 175) argue that the authoritative provision of a plausible rationalization, communicated promptly and persuasively, can offset the cognitive dissonance initially experienced by individuals. If further actions are taken at this juncture to reaffirm the group’s cohesion, such as special rituals, ceremonies, and educational events, the dissonance can be significantly dissipated. Palmer and Finn (1992) propose that the process of rationalization – reinterpretation must begin immediately within the first few moments following the disconfirmation as part of the ritual before sacred time fades into profane time. The very survival of millennial groups is dependent upon their ability to rapidly initiate this process. Rationalization is not enough to maintain millennial convictions at high intensity long term. Other strategies such as ritualization are necessary to sustain these counterintuitive convictions. Lubavitcher millennialism has followed two different trajectories. In Crown Heights millennial fervour is still intense and many in ‘770’ still maintain the conviction that Rebbi Schneerson is alive, that he is Moshiach and that the Redemption has already arrived. This is to be contrasted with the situation in Stamford Hill where for most of the Lubavitch community, millennialism has reduced in intensity.
The Precariousness of Millennialism and Charisma Millennial ideas, like charisma, are inherently precarious: both are vulnerable to empirical disconfirmation. Stark and Finke (2000: 143) drawing upon the earlier work of Stark and Bainbridge (1985) argue that all religious groups can be located along an axis of tension, at one end of which there is serious antagonism between a group and society and at the other end there is compatibility between a group and its environment. Thompson (2005) asserts that the degree of tension between a group and society influences the costs and benefits available to members. The question facing many religious groups is how deviant should we be? Millennial groups begin their lives as high tension groups. There is generally a wide chasm between their convictions and the beliefs of the wider society. The management of such groups requires the exercise of what Weber (1970: 245) refers to as charismatic authority rooted in ‘specific gifts of the body and spirit’; here I include the performance of miracles by the charismatic leader and the exhibition of prophetic powers. As Weber (1970: 249) states:
The charismatic leader gains and maintains authority solely by proving his strength in life. If he wants to be a prophet, he must perform miracles; if he wants to be a war lord, he must perform heroic deeds. Above all, however, his divine mission must ‘prove’ itself in that those who faithfully surrender to him must fare well. If they do not fare well, he is obviously not the master sent by the gods. Religious groups cannot generally maintain such high tension long term and they undergo processes of accommodation to the wider society. Charisma typically undergoes a process of routinization − accommodated to the routines of everyday life. But charisma does not completely disappear during this process: In order for a religious organization to be effective it needs some sort of organizational structure. However, if the routinization processes increases, the original charisma is lost and what is left is an over-elaborate organization or bureaucracy that tends to be self-perpetuating. The key seems to be some sort of balance. The object is to have enough routine to make effective the religious organization but also to maintain a certain amount of charisma as well (Swenson 1999: 248). Throughout the history of Lubavitch, the rebbes have deployed their personal charisma alongside that gained by tradition or office to gain followers. As Heilman and Friedman (2010: 275) point out, following the Rebbe’s death there is only the Rebbe’s writings, video recordings, customs, mission and the charisma endowed upon those older Hasidim who once had direct contact with Rabbi Schneerson. Whether these are enough to sustain the movement, at least in its current form, remains to be seen (see also Ehrlich 2000). Like charisma, millennial ideas often do not remain at their original intensity. Given the tension between millennialists and the wider society, it is unsurprising that millennial convictions undergo a process of accommodation. As I have discussed in Chapter 1, predictive millennialism − the prediction of a new world order, often transforms into explanatory millennialism − in which the main function of apocalyptic prophecy is not to provoke action but to make sense of the present moment in terms of an overarching scheme of history. It is a form of rhetoric. Before the Rebbe’s death it is probably fair to say that all Lubavitch communities were highly millennial, eagerly anticipating the Rebbe to reveal himself as Moshiach and usher in the Redemption. This is no longer the case throughout Lubavitch. For many the Rebbe’s death invalidates the messianic claims.
These counterintuitive ideas abate when they encounter disconfirming empirical evidence. From a rational point of view the Rebbe cannot be dead and alive at the same time. A process of accommodation to empirical reality has occurred.
Ritualizing the Millennium Moving beyond the cognitive focus which is prevalent in empirical studies of millennialism, Balch, Farnsworth and Wilkins (1983) argue that reactions to prophetic failure are shaped less by psychological forces than by social circumstances existing at the time of disconfirmation. The invention of a rationalization opens the way for surviving the failed prophecy, but the rationalization will only be plausible if it finds sufficient social support. As Peter Berger stresses, religious legitimations operate in dialectic with social plausibility structures. This applies even more to sub-cultural contexts, where the group’s internal solidarity is essential to the group’s survival in a hostile social environment. The messianic rationalizations are bolstered by the intense social support in their group. Palmer and Finn (1992) similarly argue that scholars who study prophetic movements should focus upon the social context in which prophetic statements are made. For them the ritual context in which the ‘disconfirmation’ occurs is at least as important in determining the continuation of the movement as the commitment to the belief. Drawing upon Victor Turner’s notion of the ritual process, they see the ‘rite of apocalypse’ as a transformative process, a communal reordering of time and space. The role of the prophet in orchestrating ritual is central here. Although I would concede to the fact that Millerite style millennialism is a one off event and lacks the stereotyped and repeated aspects which are typically taken as the defining characteristics of ritual, as Palmer and Finn (1992: 14) posit, waiting for the world’s end is a symbolic act-‘stylized’, ‘intrinsically valued’ and ‘authoritatively designated’ like other rituals and requires the presence of ritual actors and the organization of sacred time and space. It combines elements of different types of ritual. It is ritual of initiation and implies a birth into a new identity. It is a ritual of meditation in that it often involves techniques to affect altered states of consciousness such as ecstatic dancing and singing. Finally it is a ritual of purification in which participants become morally cleansed and are redeemed. Palmer and Finn assert that for millennial movements to survive, the members must act out their convictions within a microcosm of sacred time
and space. Beliefs, no matter how frequently reinterpreted, deeply felt or highly elaborated are not in themselves sufficient to fuel a movement. The acting out of a predicted event represents a ritualized reaffirmation of that belief and its symbolic fulfilment. Specifically in relation to millennialism Bromley (1997) echoes this view when he argues that ritualization results in a symbolic transformation of the environment. Active transcendent agency is created through trance states that simultaneously distance individuals from the conventional social order, and maintain integration with the transcendent realm.
Ritual, Religious Experience and Belief Religious cognition is inherently precarious and is always subject to the exigencies of lived everyday experience. All religious believers have to deal with contradictions. Although God is held to be perfect, this world and those who inhabit it are imperfect. The question of theodicy – the vindication of God’s omnipotence and loving kindness in the face of evil and suffering continues to be both an intellectual and an emotional problem for believers and raises the issue of whether God takes a controlling interest in his creation. There is no shortage of creative solutions to this ‘problem’ from the idea of evil deriving from the abuse of human freedom, the malign influence of the devil, the limitation of the divine to theodicies stressing the illusory nature of evil and the ‘educational’ nature of human suffering. If the world does not conform to what is taught in religious texts and we cannot see Godliness in the world it is either because God has not fully revealed himself to us yet, or we ourselves are insufficiently spiritually evolved to perceive this fact. There is the idea that the revelation of religious truths is progressive. Finally the contradictions between biblical accounts of nature taken literally by fundamentalists and the findings of modern science provide fertile grounds for academic scientific and theological discourse. Religious faith is buttressed in diverse and imaginative ways. Firth (1996) writes how the ontological argument of Anselm, its reformulation by Descartes, the aetiological and other arguments of Leibnitz and the Thomist arguments from motion are all attempts to buttress religious faith through logical arguments. These intellectual ‘proofs’ for God’s existence which were so important a factor in the eighteenth-century defence of religion have largely been discredited since Kant’s powerful attack on them. Throughout religious history logical arguments for God’s existence have
been supported by appeal to personal experience to reinforce religious convictions. These include both natural and miraculous experiences. Events in the external world support evidence provided on other grounds. For instance the worldwide spread of Christianity is taken as evidence of its validity. Although today the evidence from miracles appears to be in a transitional state, at least within Christianity, with many contemporary Christians maintaining that the miracles described in the scriptures (apart from the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection) are at best allegorical, for others they are to be taken literally, as defying the known laws of science (which they hold to be provisional). Another position is that miracles occurring after the Apostles’ time are not to be given the same credence as those occurring during this period. The existence of miracles attests to the reality of supernatural influence. But it is the third ground of support for religious convictions through religious experience that I concentrate upon here. Social scientists of religion have asked how religious experiences generally, and more specifically perceptions of a sacred or divine presence support religious cognitions. For instance Raymond Firth conceptualized religious belief as a set of ideas more or less integrated by reason but held with conviction that they are true − that they are meaningful in relation to reality. He points out that we can distinguish elements of knowledge, emotion and volitional activity acting upon belief. For him it is the element of emotion in whatever kinds of experience that gives a basis to belief and provides it with a strong flavour of reality (Firth 1996: 15). In this sense he builds on the work of Schliermacher over a century ago. Belief is emotionally based but intellectually supported. Abstract intellectualized ideas are interwoven with actual experiences of being in the world and form a generally coherent picture of the universe and the individual’s place within that universe. It cannot be seen as ‘a passive fixed item of mental furniture but must instead be seen as a mode of action’ (Firth 1996: 16). He focuses on belief as an instrument of personal adjustment to change external conditions based on ‘elaborate intellectual analysis mingled with a statement of what are conceived as results of experience’ (1996: 26). We are reminded of James’ statement that ‘in the distinctively religious sphere of experience, many persons possess the objects of their belief, not in the form of mere conceptions which their intellect accepts as true, but rather in the form of quasi sensible realities directly apprehended’ (James 1982: 64). Many philosophers have argued that it is religious experience that generates religious belief. As Kwan (2006: 640) has cogently argued in his overview of religious experience:
Religion is characterized by the passion that it can arouse. Why is religion capable of such enormous effects on human life? Apart from the fact that religion is about the ultimate concern of human beings, we also need to bear in mind that religion often has an experiential basis. God is not just a hypothesis for the religiously devoted. A few lines later he states: ‘Religious experiences sometimes convey such a heightened sense of reality that the conviction they instil transforms the lives of the experients’ To support this view he appeals to a number of authors who have argued for religious experience being the basis of religious belief, including William Alston’s Perceiving God which was published in 1991. Alston’s overall aim in Perceiving God is to show that we are rationally justified in believing that our apparent direct perceptions of God’s presence (called “M-experiences”) are reliable and thus for the most part veridical. Some theologians have indeed argued along similar lines, asserting that ordinary judgements of truth or objective reality cannot apply to religion. They argue that spiritual reality is somehow different from ordinary reality, and argue for their practice on the basis of ethical or spiritual value. Faith is frequently invoked as for the most part a practical experience. The believer is taught to evaluate his faith by experience and not to worry too much about its rational inconsistency. Rather than being judged by the claims of science or philosophy, they are not evaluated by rational means but rather by the quality of life lived through accepting these metaphysical claims. For both Baelz (1975) and Drury (1972) the claims of religion are confirmed through the experience of accepting them. Others have argued for experience validating convictions. Luhrmann (1991) has appealed to a similar argument in her ethnographic study of British witchcraft. Witches justify their participation in magical rituals through the phenomenological experiences that they invoke. Through these rituals they learn to interpret the world in novel ways. Although they often justify their beliefs about the efficacy (or lack of perceived efficacy from an outsider’s perspective) of rituals by arguing that magic cannot be understood in the same way as other observable empirical phenomena such as moving a table, it is their own internal experience during magical activities which for them provide phenomenological proofs. She includes here meditation, visualization and the use of language. But it is through ritual that religious experiences are generated (Pruyser 1968). Norris (2003) remarks that the physical and emotional dimensions of worship become embodied, personal experience, and each time
a gesture is repeated, it evokes the kinesthetic, proprioceptive and emotional memory of that gesture, compounding and shaping present experience. As David Levin (1985: 215) states in The Body’s Recollection of Being: ‘The sacred language is woven, is insinuated, into the very fibers and bones of the body; ritual gestures encompass religious ideals as well as emotional experiences’. Religious practices are embodied and there is a correspondence between their outer form and the inner state. Social scientists have generally examined counterintuitive convictions with an intellectualistic bias. The ethnographic study detailed here underscores the role of emotion, religious experience and ritual in accounting for the initiation and maintenance of such beliefs. It behooves scholars of religion to obtain detailed phenomenological accounts from their informants. It is only by doing this that the complex links between religion, emotion, cognition and ritual will be understood.
Maimonides, ‘Commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin: Chapter 10’, in Isadore Twersky (ed.), A Miamonides Reader (New Jersey: Behrman House, 1972), p. 422. Lubavitch adherents sometimes deploy the terms meshichistim and antimeshichistim to refer to these two groups. In this book I will use the terms messianist and anti-messianist which are essentially synonymous. Literally ‘masters of repentance’ in Hebrew, the term is used to refer to Orthodox Jews today who were not always Orthodox and who have only recently returned to their faith.
Chapter 1 1 2
See the Book of Revelation 20.1–6. A good example of this psychological immanence within the Jewish context occurs in the Ani Ma’amim prayer written in the medieval period on the theme of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith. The prayer states that ‘I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may delay, I wait daily for his coming’ (translation from The Authorised Daily Prayer Book (London: Collins, 2007), p. 167. The terms millennialism, millenarianism and apocalypticism significantly overlap and cluster around some eschatological focus – the end of the present world. Apocalyptic eschatology holds that in some ways these events are imminent (McGinn 1994: 2) and will be brought about by some kind of superhuman intervention. Apocalypticism – literally that which has been veiled – has most often been applied to catastrophic millennialism and has acquired the connotation both among scholars and the general public of the expectation of imminent catastrophe which will bring about the millennium (Landes 1999: 207). Wessinger (2000) cogently argues how this type of millennialism is responsive to repeated disasters and that millennial beliefs may function to assuage distress and provide salvation. The fact that catastrophic millennialists so often hold that the imminent millennial kingdom will be earthly may result in direct conflict with civil authorities, and they may appeal to a messianic figure or God to overthrow this order. However, messianic fervour is by no means always precipitated by feelings of catastrophe. In some instances it may be heightened by feelings of success, and spread (Ravitzky 1996). Such is the case for groups such as Lubavitch to be discussed later.
Christianity provides an example of a Jewish movement that has survived the disconfirmation of a specific prophecy. I shall discuss this issue in greater detail in chapter 9. For a discussion of Tsevi see Scholem (1973). The response of Shabbateism to repeated prophetic failure and the fact that the movement survived his apostasy to Islam provides some confirmation of Festinger’s (1956) hypothesis. Much of the literature on unconventional beliefs is premised on the assumption that these beliefs are inherently fragile and require various organizational devices to account for their maintenance (Snow and Machelak 1982). The credibility of unconventional beliefs is held to be dependent on the existence of various reality maintaining structures and processes that control, accommodate, or eliminate the omnipresent challenges that derive from the commonsense world. Rationalizations are only plausible if they find sufficient social support. Some scholars have proposed social structures that are required to maintain such tenuous beliefs and protect their respective adherence from cognitive dissonance. Berger and Luckman (1966: 154–5) refer to such social infrastructures as ‘plausibility structures’. They argue that subjective reality is always dependent upon them. However, this position could be criticized. All belief systems, deviant or conventional, sacred or secular rest in part on plausibility structures. In the modern bureaucratic world not only are beliefs and behaviours routinely compartmentalized and segregated: all conventional religions, professions and academic disciplines have their own specialized language and functions to insulate beliefs systems. This helps to distinguish between insiders and outsiders and maintain the boundaries of the system. The analysis of rhetorical strategies among religious groups to engender millennial beliefs is rare. Although there have been some studies of the use of language in charismatic and evangelical Christian groups (Harding 2001; Johannesen 1994; Percy 1996; Csordas 1997), there has been relatively little attention devoted to the use of rhetorical strategies. For instance Raymond Firth conceptualized religious belief as a set of ideas more or less integrated by reason but held with conviction that they are true, that they are meaningful in relation to reality. For him it is the element of emotion in whatever kinds of experience that gives a basis to belief and provides it with a strong flavor of reality (Firth 1996: 15). We are reminded of William James’ statement that ‘in the distinctly religious sphere of experience, many persons possess the objects of their belief, not in the form of mere conceptions which their intellect accepts as true, but rather in the form of quasi-sensible realities directly apprehended’ (James 1982: 64). The idea that ritualization is a strategy for constructing counterintuitive realities has rarely been deployed in the millennial literature. Palmer and Finn (1992), examining the Ottawa-based Institute of Applied Metaphysics, postulate that if millenarian activity is approached not as a set of beliefs, but rather as a collective ritual of initiation into a new type of religious organization, then an important factor in the survival of millenarian movements is the quality of the ritual experience: ‘waiting for world’s end is a symbolic act and it requires the presence of ritual actors and the organisation of sacred time and space’ (1992: 409). Bell suggests that the term ritual should be avoided. Ritual is not a ‘thing’ in the world, rather the term refers to a diverse range of ways in which people behave
and act in the world. She suggests in preference the term ritualization−a term which refers to various culturally specific strategies for setting some activities off from others, for creating and privileging a qualitative distinction between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’, and for ascribing such distinctions to realities thought to transcend the powers of the human actors (Bell 1992: 74). Framing is a term used to describe the ways in which some activities or messages set up an interpretive framework for understanding other subsequent or simultaneous acts or messages. Ritual literally constructs a sense of the sacred by explicitly differentiating this realm from the profane one. Formalism refers to the fact that rituals often employ more formal, or restricted, codes of speech and action than people use in everyday life. In traditionalism a set of activities is made identical to or consistent with cultural precedents. Such traditionalism is a powerful tool of legitimation and includes the near-perfect repetition of activities from an earlier period, the adaptation of such activities in a new setting or the creation of practices that simply evoke links with the past. Invariance denotes a disciplined set of actions marked by a precise repetition and physical control. While traditionalism emphasizes the authority of the past, and subordinates the present, invariance is concerned with ignoring the passage of time altogether and emphasizes the timeless authority of the group, its doctrines and its practices.
Chapter 2 1
As Wittel (2000) argues, the application of ethnography to internet research is appropriate in that ethnography itself is on the move from the geographically defined ‘field’ to the more moving, fluid, ‘network’, which characterizes well the challenge that the internet as a communication technology bears. Garcia et al. (2009) point out that all ethnographies of online culture and communities extend the traditional notions of field and ethnographic study. Traditionally held notions of the fieldsite as a localized space are now outdated. I attempted, as far as possible, to follow the Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association (http://www.aaanet.org/committees/ethics/ethcode. Htm) according to which: Anthropological researchers should obtain in advance the informed consent of persons being studied, providing information, owning or controlling access to material being studied, or otherwise identified as having interests which might be impacted by the research. It is understood that the degree and breadth of informed consent required will depend on the nature of the project and may be affected by requirements of other codes, laws and ethics of the country or community in which the research is pursued. Further, it is understood that the informed consent process is dynamic and continuous; the process should be initiated in the project design and should continue through implementation by way of dialogue and negotiation with those studied. Researchers are responsible for identifying and complying with the various informed consent codes, laws and regulations affecting their projects. Informed consent, for the purposes of this code, does not necessarily imply or require a
Notes particular written or signed form. It is the quality of the consent, not the format, that is relevant.
Some aspects of the case material have been disguised in the text to maintain confidentiality and pseudonyms have been used. Ethical approval has been granted by the UCL Ethics Committee. Shaffir (1991: 76), who conducted fieldwork among Hasidic Jews, also writes how it is possible to misread the responses of participants and gatekeepers as more negative than they are: My suspicion that I was not fully welcomed resulted from a basic misinterpretation. I mistook an indifferent reaction for a negative one. As much as I wished for people to be curious and enthusiastic about my research, the majority could not have cared less. My research did not affect them, and they had more important matters to which to attend.
There are other methodological stances. It is possible to be fully involved in religious activities as participants and write about religion as an insider. Objectivity is not the purpose and critical distance is not the aim. One example is Fatima Mernissi’s (1991) Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry. It is also possible for the researcher to be an observer in their own religious communities − participant-as-observer. These researchers generally adopt a more critical stance than those who are complete participants while remaining of the faith and sharing the benefits of an insider’s knowledge of the beliefs and community practices. An example of this position is Samuel Heilman’s (1984) The Gate Behind the Wall.
Chapter 3 1
The word ‘histalkus’ literally means elevation and is used to refer to the day of departure of a righteous person from this world. See http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/proceeding-together-1/08.htm for a discussion of the concept in Chabad. The word ‘devekut’ means ‘clinging on’ to God, and refers to a deep, trance-like meditative state, associated with the Kabbalistic tradition, which is attained during prayer, study or the performance of the mitzvot. Tzadik, literally righteous person, is a title which is generally given to those who are considered to be righteous, such as a spiritual master or Rebbe. From this point onwards I refer to the 6th Rebbe as Rabbi Joseph Isaac and to the 7th Rebbe as Rabbi Schneerson. In this characteristic, Lubavitch Hasidim share similarities with other haredi groups with their approach towards daas Torah (seeking the input of rabbinic authorities on matters not just of Jewish law, but pertaining to all aspects of daily life). For more on the concept of daas Torah and its modern manifestation, see Lawrence Kaplan, ‘Daas Torah: A Modern Conception of Rabbinic Authority’, in Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, ed. Moshe Z. Sokol (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1992), 1–60.
Different Hasidic groups have varied in the degree to which they emphasize the thaumaturgical role of their Rebbe. Elimelech of Lyzhansk (1717–87) distinguished between two types of tzadikim: the ascetic type who removed himself from this world and concentrated on the purification of his own soul and a second type concerned with helping his followers to change their material and spiritual conditions. While some tzadikim emphasized the spiritual role to a greater degree than others, the majority of tzadikim were involved in the worldly affairs of their followers. Sharot (1987) posits that this thaumaturgical role played an important part in the spread of Hasidism. Literally ‘connection’, hiskashrus refers to the connection of one’s soul to the Rebbe’s soul, and its usage also tends to imply the total unity of the two souls in question. First published in 1797, the latest version of this work, dating from 1814, consists of five parts. Sefer shel Beinonim (‘The Book of the Average Men’) discusses how, through contemplating the greatness of the Creator and the union that a Jew has with Him through the Torah’s commandments, it is possible for a Jew to achieve the love and fear of God required for sincere worship. Sha’ar ha-Yichud ve’ha’Emunah (‘The Gateway of Unity and Belief’) describes how, although the creation is different from the Creator, the two are united. Iggeret HaTeshuvah (‘Letter of Repentance’), also known as the Tanya Katan (Brief Tanya), describes the mystical aspect of repentance that not only results in forgiveness for the sins, but can actually move the repentant to a higher spiritual place. Iggeret HaKodesh (‘Letter of Holiness’.) published in 1814, after Shneur Zalman’s death, is a collection of letters which discusses mystical aspects of certain commandments (such as charity, Torah study, or in general, all commandments concerned with a physical deed). Kuntres Acharon (‘Last Thesis’) is a series of letters in which the author resolved certain apparent controversies in Kabbalah. The sefirot are explained in Kabbalistic literature as the various emanations or manifestations of God. Kiruv, literally bringing close, refers to the Orthodox Jewish outreach movement which attempts to turn secularized Jews towards Orthodox Jewish practice. The seven Noahide commandments prohibit (1) idolatry, (2) blasphemy, (3) homicide, (4) forbidden relations, (5) robbery, and (6) eating meat that was taken from a still-living animal (cruelty to animals), and require (7) establishment of courts of justice. Some scholars have been critical of this rather idealized and insider account of the Rebbe’s background. In an article in Ha’Aretz (2007) Sheleg discusses the views of Menachem Friedman, a noted scholar and expert on Israeli ultraOrthodoxy. According to the latter, after he married a distant cousin, the daughter of his predecessor, they lived far from any Jewish life during much of the 1930s – residing along with her sister and brother-in-law in a non-Jewish suburb of Paris. Acquaintances reported that she was often seen in modern dress and he bareheaded. It ensues that during his 6 years in Berlin (1926–1932), the Rebbe studied philosophy and mathematics for a semester and a half only. While in Paris he acquired only a formal education, taking a two-year vocational course in electrical engineering at a Montparnase Vocational College and achieving only
mediocre grades. He departed for New York, where he spent the war as a worker at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. In order to preserve the family’s distinguished lineage, there were many marriages within the family; some resulted in the birth of children with physical and mental disabilities. The Rebbe’s mentally ill brother, Dov Ber, was killed by the Nazis in a Ukrainian hospital and his memory was subsequently erased from the history of Chabad Hassidism. Another brother of the Rebbe’s, Aryeh Leib, became secular, but Chabad followers continue to portray him as a very pious and righteous man. Heilman and Friedman (2010) argue that Rabbi Schneerson was never completely engaged by his Hasidic upbringing. He preferred the modernizing and secularizing influences that made such significant inroads among young Jewish intellectuals in early twentieth-century Russia and Europe. His ultimate career goal, the authors maintain, was to be a successful engineer. However, after fleeing Hitler to the United States and the court in Brooklyn of his father-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson, he gradually came to terms with the fact that, as a forty that, as a forty-something immigrant with little English, his chances of pursuing a successful secular career were limited. ‘The birth pangs of the Messiah’ refers to the Orthodox belief that the messianic era will be preceded by certain apocalyptic events which act as precursors to it, and which will signify the onset of the Redemption for those who are able to understand these signs. Many such precursors are, in fact, disastrous or dangerous (such as the war of Gog and Magog) but out of the disaster will come the final Redemption. See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, ‘Laws of Kings’, chapters 11 and 12, especially 12.3, and also Laws of Repentence 9.2, which states that the Messiah ‘will be a great prophet, approaching Moses our Teacher’. Reader (2007) discusses the growth of pilgrimage in the modern world. He points out that increased opportunities for travel might be one major explanation for this phenomenon. Other explanations include the search for tradition and cultural identity, the role of religious authorities in their promotion of pilgrimage and the individual in search of meaning, personal quest and miracle in the modern world. Pilgrimages provide new avenues for finding meaning in life, the possibility of encountering the spiritual and the miraculous on a personal level. These traditional opportunities have taken on a special resonance in an age in which modernity and rationalization appear to be limiting individual expression, denying the possibility of the miraculous and transforming the world into a rationalized environment centred on economic purpose. In recent times pilgrims in various traditions are driven less by faith or religious tradition, but rather more by attempts to find ‘meaning’ and to resolve personal problems. The Rebbe’s miraculous feats have been published in a number of texts such as To Know and to Care and Wonders and Miracles. Marcus (2001) cites Joseph Dan (2000), who notes that the material in the miracle collections is not openly messianic, although it presents the Rebbe as endowed with supernatural ability and obviously has the propagandistic aim of increasing his renown. It does not, however, explicitly identify him as the Messiah. At times of sickness, healing occurs through the supplicants’ obedience to his instructions, which usually relate to observance of the Torah; those who are already Orthodox are told to repair their tefillin
(phylacteries), tallit (prayer shawl) or mezuzot, whereas the non-Orthodox are told to begin observing the Sabbath, keeping a kashrut, and observing certain mitzvot. Healing, therefore, occurs as much through obedience to the Torah as it does through the Rebbe’s agency; this is congruent with Chabad doctrine according to which the fulfilment of Torah draws divine energies down into the physical world. Throughout history there has been some division among ordinary Jews and Rabbinical authorities around whether or not the messianic arrival could be hastened through human action. Although belief in the advent of the Messiah is a central tenet of normative Judaism, it has ordinarily been held as a ‘cold script’ oriented towards an unspecified future devoid of personal contours (Marcus 1996; Kochan 1990). There have been periodic outbursts of messianic fervour centred on well-known figures such as Jesus, Bar Chochba and Sabbatai Sevi. Bati LeGani means ‘I have come into my garden’, and is a quote from Song of Songs 5.1, which is a favourite prooftext for both midrashic exegesis and subsequent rabbinic and Hasidic interpretation. Mitnagdim, literally ‘opposers’ refers to those aspects of the Haredi community which viewed the onset of Hasidism with supreme suspicion. The mitnagdim emerged originally around the character of R. Elijah of Vilna (the Vilna Gaon), and were most concentrated in Lithuania. Conceptualizations of temporality and apocalyptic convictions are inextricably linked. This point is amply expressed by Kravel-Tovi and Bilu (2008: 65) who argue: As generators of power and meaning, religious systems manage and monitor temporal resources, enabling believers to live in and out of time (Thompson 1996). Metahistorical and prophetic, religions are future oriented, envisioning an epoch when the human and the cosmic will merge (Farris 1995). This future orientation is amplified in millenarian movements, in which the end of historical time is imminent and the expectations of its coming intensively nurture the religious imagination of devotees (Kochan 1990; Talmon 1968). Because millenarianism is inherently temporally driven (Barash 2000), many of its students have explored its constitutive time dimensions. These include the status of the present as against the future in light of the strong sense of imminence in millenarian movements (Bromley 1997; Clair 1992; Robbins and Palmer 1997; Szubin 2000; Talmon 1968), the time models (e.g., linear vs. cyclic) that inform these movements (Wessinger 1997), and the discursive and rhetorical mechanisms they employ to engender an acute sense of urgency and exigency (Harding 2000). These mechanisms are also activated after a failed prophecy, sustaining the move from the tempestuous rhythm of millenarianism to the decelerated pace of mundane reality (O’Leary 1994, 2000).
Moshiach Times, 25 Febuary 2009 http://www.moshiach.ru/english/moshiach/ 4507.html The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, (1860–1920) published Kuntre Uma’ayan, the beginning of which contains a strong polemic against Zionism. Rabbi Schneerson never visited the State of Israel arguing that according to Jewish law, it was uncertain if a Jewish person who was in the land of Israel would be allowed to leave. Despite this, he was well known for his
involvement in Israeli politics, and he publicly lobbied his followers and the Orthodox members in the Knesset to vote against the Labour alignment. These lobbies to persuade Israeli politicians to pass laws on who was a Jew, declaring that only a person born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halakhah was Jewish, caused a major uproar in the United States. As Ehrlich (2004) mentions, Schneerson clearly respected the aggressiveness of the Zionists in establishing their own country, and himself used Zionist and military symbolism in Chabad. Despite the hawkish stance of the Rebbe, Chabad is not a Zionist movement and he refused to call the state by name, claiming that the holy land exists independent of any authority that sees itself as sovereign over the land. Heilman and Friedman (2010: 198) point out that for a long time the Rebbe held the secular state of Israel to be a huge obstacle and challenge to the program of redemption and unlike the religious zionists, he refused to see it as the beginning of the redemptive messianic age.
Chapter 4 1 2
Reported in the New York Times, (quoted in Fishkoff 2003). Kaddish is a term referring to the mourner’s prayer and is recited in all prayer services, funerals and memorials. El Maleh Rahamim is a prayer of remembrance traditionally recited at Jewish funerals.
Chapter 5 1
The estimated total Haredi population in England and Wales ranges between a low of 22,800 and a high of 36,360, with a mid-point of 29,580 representing 11 per cent of the approximately 260,000 Jews in Great Britain (Graham and Vulkan, 2007; Vulkan and Graham, 2008). In 2007, the estimated total Haredi population in Stamford Hill ranged from a low of 10,790 to a high of 18,730, with a mid-point of 14,760. Hasidic groups are estimated to make up 85 per cent of the Stamford Hill Haredi community, with the remaining 15 per cent coming from non-Hasidic Haredi groups. Satmar is the largest of the Hasidic groups representing 27 per cent of the Stamford Hill Haredi population, followed by Belz (23 per cent), Bobov (11 per cent), Vizhnitz (10 per cent), Skver (8 per cent) and Lubavitch 6.5 per cent (Vulkan and Graham, 2008). Shiur means either ‘lesson’ or ‘measurement’. In its definition as a lesson, a shiur can be given on any Torah topic, but is often based around a study of rabbinic interpretation of key biblical passages. In his ethnographic study of millennialism among Pentecostal Christians, Thompson (2005) takes issue with the common assumption in the literature that millennial convictions necessarily result in extreme actions. As Strozier (1994: 145) states, fundamentalists (a term he employs to incorporate Evangelicals and Pentecostalists) ‘feel the dangers of the signs of the end acutely, and their lives alter accordingly’. But as historian Hillel Schwartz (1987: 525) observes, in many
millennial movements members feel less interested in the features of the millennium that they’re waiting for, than in the circumstances that will give birth to it. Neither do most of them ever seem to make practical preparations for the end of the world that they so vividly announce. Hashgachah Pratit is active divine providence, and refers to the belief that God’s supervision and guidance extends to every area of human activity. See for instance J. Immanuel Shochet Living with Moshiach http://www.chabad. org/library/article_cdo/aid/145003/jewish/Living-With-Moshiach.htm. From http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/653896/jewish/What-isthe-Jewish-Belief-About-Moshiach.htm.
Chapter 6 1
In The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theories of Response, Freedberg (1989) discuss the religio-aesthetic response in the history of Western art. As he proposes in his discussion of religious art, the experience of immanence is a universal human psychosensual response to the ‘power of images’. In particular, this response often occurs for worshippers before enshrined images at pilgrimage sites. This response is not only iconic: images can evoke a sense of real presence. A system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other. As Rodney Stark (1991: 241–2) observes in his model of ‘normal revelations’, many common, ordinary, even mundane mental phenomena can be experienced as contact with the supernatural. Dreams, mental visions, impressions and serendipitous occurrences are all regarded as common potential media for receiving prophecy in the sense of the conveyance of a divine message. Lubavitchers varied in their experiences of the Rebbe at ‘770’. A few members of the community spoke of having seen him in a dream. In one instance a Russian man dreamed that the Rebbe had told him to go to the UK to set up a Chabad House. Finding this dream very compelling, he subsequently left New York to visit London. In another instance the Rebbe appeared to a young Lubavitch man while asleep. He told him (the young man) that he should wear a tie. He was bewildered by this request since he rarely wore ties. Shortly after his dream he was approached by an elderly man in the street who was selling ties. The young man reluctantly bought a tie which was similar to the one that the Rebbe often wore. He reported that while wearing this tie he was more successful in recruiting professional Jews to lay tefillin. He assumed that these men were more likely to listen to him if he looked smarter. In a third instance a young woman had decided to undergo a termination of pregnancy, having found out that her unborn baby suffered from severe congenital heart defects. The night before the termination she dreamed that the Rebbe had visited her and said “I came here for you; don’t do this!” She did not undergo the termination and shortly afterwards gave birth to a healthy baby. One website contains reports of Lubavitchers who claim that they have personally seen the Rebbe after his death. According to one report (http://seeingtherebbe. wordpress.com),
The first time was in the year 5756 (1996), in the house of my son Shlomo Zalman, who serves as the Rebbe’s shliach in Sheepshead Bay in New York. He made a farbrengen for the shalom zachor for the birth of his son, my grandson, and me and my daughter-in-law’s mother were in the house. The men sat and farbrenged (talking, singing, making lechayim) in the living room to celebrate the joyous occasion, and we sat in the kitchen while she was busy preparing things for the farbrengen. Suddenly I lifted my eyes and at a distance of about 3–3.5 meters (9–10 feet) I saw the Rebbe MH”M! I was completely shocked, and I wasn’t able to move. I saw the Rebbe for about half a minute. When I calmed down from the excitement, I got up and went to the place where I saw the Rebbe, MH”M, but now I already didn’t see anything. I decided to tell myself: stop imagining things, you were hallucinating. I sat down again in my place and didn’t say anything to anyone. After about five minutes, my daughter-in-law’s mother came to me with her hands trembling all over and she said to me ‘Chavi! You won’t believe it!’ I asked her ‘what happened?’ She replied: ‘I just saw the Rebbe!’ I asked: ‘Where did you see him?’ She answered: ‘I came from the sink to the refrigerator and from the refrigerator I walked back to the sink, and both times I saw the Rebbe!’ ‘Where exactly did you see the Rebbe’, I asked. She pointed to exactly the spot where I had seen Rebbe! I told her: ‘Leah, yes, I believe you, I saw the Rebbe in the same place five minutes ago!’ If only I saw the Rebbe, even 1000 times, I would be convinced I was hallucinating. And if my daughter-in-law’s mother also would see the Rebbe, without confirmation from me afterwards that I also saw, she would think she’s imagining things. But we saw, both of us, in the same place, at the shalom zachor in the Chabad House! According to another report from 2004(http://seeingtherebbe.wordpress. com/2009/12/03/the-photo-from-the-year-5764–2004/), an Israeli child Hillel Cohen took a photograph of the Rebbe’s bima (the raised platform on which the reading desk stands) while visiting ‘770’. When thephotograph was developed the Rebbe appeared to be standing next to Hillel with his back to the picture.
Chapter 7 1
The Rebbe Rayatz stated: At the time of the coming of Moshiach and the revelation of the future, the physical will be more refined, meaning that the physicality of the future will be as it was at the beginning of creation, before the sin of Adam. In the present era there is a physical world mixed with evil. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God garbed them in ‘garments of skin’ which obscure the ‘garments of light’ that originally enclothed them. This sin brought into being
‘a world which is a lie’ which conceals the truth. These ‘filthy’ garments of the skin obscure and conceal. 2
Personal communication, March 2010.
Chapter 8 1
For further discussion of the relationship between media and ritual see Carey (1989), Hoover (2006), Hoover and Clark (2002), Grimes(2002), and Dayan and Katz (1992). Grimes (2002) outlines the multifarious ways in which the two are related: 1) The media presenting a rite; 2) a ritual event can be extended by the media; 3) ritual actions can occur in virtual space, for instance in cyberspace; 4) a media device deployed for ‘magical’ purposes; 5) media documents used to certify a rite; 6) media devices as part of the ritual process; 7) media as a model for ritual activity. Ong (1982) deploys the term ‘secondary orality’ to refer to the fact that in the new electronic media, the divorce between word and image begun by the print culture is reversed. The total sensorium again includes sight, sound, voice, image and music. This stage ‘has striking resemblances to the old [primary oral cultures] in its participatory mystique, its fostering of a communal sense, its concentration on the present moment, and even its use of formulas’; it differs from the old in that it ‘generates a sense for groups immeasurably larger than those of primary oral culture’ (Ong 1982: 136).
Chapter 9 1
The writings of the Jewish historian Josephus (37–100CE) suggest that these prophetic books were particularly popular during this period. Resurrection beliefs are referred to in the Tanakh, but it is unclear whether this relates to the resurrection of the flesh or just the resurrection of the soul or some spiritual body. The first five books of the Tanakh − known as the Torah − make some indications of an afterlife but none of the resurrection. Specific reference to resurrection is made in 1 Kgs 17.17–24, 2 Kgs 4.8–16, 2 Kgs 13.21, Ezek. 37.9–12, 1 Sam. 2.6, Job 19.26, Isa. 26.19, Dan. 12.2. There are however other New Testament writings suggesting that the future kingdom is a purely interior phenomenon. For instance in Lk. 17.20, Jesus says that the kingdom ‘is not coming with signs to be observed’ but rather ‘the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’. In some of Jesus sayings, he appeared not to locate his kingdom on any visible earthly plane, but in the human heart. Wilson (2008) argues that the ideas of the human−divine Christ and the notion of the Messiah’s resurrection and the expectation that he would act as the saviour vehicle derived from models outside Judaism in the mystery religions of the time: like Dionysus or Mithras, heroes who died and rose again to save humanity and where followers could achieve salvation through participation in the hero’s life and death.
Firth (1996) underscores the fact that similar themes of individual and social concern occur at different periods of social history. In the European classical field many of the qualities of the classical gods were absorbed into newer representations of the divine. The death and resurrection of Attis reappeared in that of Jesus. Isis had her parallel in Mary, the mother of God. Among the Tikopia, the principal god, the Sacred Chief, was originally purely human. His death led to his rise to power as spirit in a similar way to that of Jesus. The parallels with Lubavitch whereby the Rebbe is both human and spirit, quasi divine, are striking. The Gospel accounts depict him in a number of ways. Post-resurrection he receives an ambiguous physical substance like other ghosts or spirits. Although he appears as such, his followers yet do not recognize him (Mk 16.12; Jn 20.14–18; 21.1–14); they even regard him as a ghost (Lk. 24.36). Jesus also shows his hands and feet to assure that he really is of flesh and blood (Lk. 24.36–40; Jn 20.26–9). He suddenly appears before his disciples in a house with closed doors or disappears mid conversation (Lk. 24.31; Jn 20.19). In Matt. (28.20), Jesus only makes the simple promise to be with his followers always, to the very end of the age − without any mention of an ascent into heaven. Thus Jesus’ appearances before his disciples is, to say the least, ambiguous (see Czachesz 2007). Finn (1997) discusses the relationship between conversion and ritual in the Graeco-Roman world. He contends that conversion in the Graeco–Roman religion, whether Pagan, Jewish or Christian, was an extended ritual process that combined teaching and symbolic enactment − the cognitive and the performative − and yielded commitment and transformation. This accords with modern-day scholarship on religious conversion which sees it as an extended social, psychological and religious process of transformation rather than as a sudden discrete dramatic event (Rambo1993). Different Christian denominations understand the role of specific rituals in different ways. There is a distinction between more Catholic and Protestant styles of piety in the construction of Jesus and the question as to how this ‘presence’ is understood has divided Christian communities, sometimes violently. The problem throughout the history of Christianity has been to describe a relationship that is ‘real’ but not ‘physical’, The Eucharist, Holy Communion or Last Supper is but one of the ways of imagining him and making him present. The very existence of biblical narratives enhance these possibilities. From the eleventh century onwards Christians emphasized that the same body that Jesus had on earth was something really present in the bread and the wine. Catholics hold to the ‘real presence’ of Jesus as the divine Son brought about through Eucharistic action, traditionally established in the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation. The words of the Eucharistic prayer – ‘This is my Body, this is my blood’ make it so. The consecrated host or bread is traditionally ‘reserved’ in a special container after the Mass and a light shines in the chapel where it is kept. The Protestant world is different. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Cranmer, in their attempts to reform the western European church in the sixteenth century, attacked the very physical understanding of the presence of Christ in the communal worship service. It constructs images of Jesus through biblical texts, hymns and preaching (personal communication, D. Davies January 2010).
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770, significance of 1, 19, 20, 38, 41, 51, 56, 58, 63, 65, 73, 76, 81, 88, 90, 97, 121 and experiences 94–5 messianists 107 vandalism in factions and 90 770live.com 119 adaptation mode 1, 7, 127–9, 149n11 Age of Moshiach, The 92 Aggudas Chassidei Chabad 58, 61, 65, 63, 67, 68, 84, 91, 117, 118 ahavat Yisroel (love of all Jews) 33 Alcorta, C. 15 Alston, W. Perceiving God 145 Altshuler, M. 45 American Friends of Lubavitch Living the Legacy 117 anthropology 4, 12, 14, 21, 23, 113, 130, 149n2 anti- messianists 24, 26, 53, 54–5, 63–9, 84, 90, 91, 111 apocalypse of John 124 apocalypticism 3–5, 9, 11, 45, 77, 111, 122, 123–4, 125, 127, 128–9, 132, 141, 147n3, 152n13, 153n20 see also millennialism Appel, W. 14 Aronson, J. 150n5 Asad, T. 15 Atzmus 39 audience predisposition 4, 11 authority 15, 40, 64, 72, 99, 115, 116, 117, 122, 128, 140, 141, 142, 147n11, 149n11, 150n5, 152n15, 153n17, 154n22 Baal Shem Tov(Besht) 26, 28 baal teshuvah (pl. Baalei Teshuvah) 33, 101, 109, 111–12, 134 Bader, C. 10 Baelz, P. 145 Bainbridge, W. 8, 111, 140 Balch, R. 142 Baptism 130 Barash, M. 153n20
Barker, E. Making of a Mooonie 23 Barkun, M. 4 basement synagogue 1, 57, 63, 65, 76–7, 90–1, 107, 109 Baumgarten, A. 9 Beis Menachem 79, 81, 101–2 Beis Moshiach see 770, significance of Beis Moshiach magazine 63, 65, 92, 101 BeisMoshiach.org 20 Beis Rabeinu Sheb’bovel see 770, significance of belief and ritual 11–14 Bell, C. 13, 15, 16, 99, 100, 149n10 Bem, D. 9 Benedikt, M. 119 Berger, D. 18, 30, 54, 55, 63, 64, 67, 138, 140 Berger, P. 3, 142, 148n6 Berman, E. 33, 34 Beth Israel Hospital 59 Bible 27, 158n7 Acts 2.42 131 Acts 7 130 Acts 10.41–2 131 1 Clement 23.3–5 125 Cor. 15.19–20 135 I Cor. 11.33 131 2 Cor. 5. 16–17 134 2 Cor. 12. 2–10 130 Gal. I.13–17 130 Genesis 1 128 Heb. 10.37 124 Isa. 53 56, 135, 136 Jn. 19.37 136 Jn. 20.14–19, 26–9; 21.1–14 158n5 Lk. 14.15–24 134 Lk. 17.20 157n3 Lk. 19: 11 124 Lk. 24.31, 36–40 158n5 Mk 1.15 124 Mk. 9.1 124 Mk. 13.30 124 Mt. 8.17 136 Mt. 10.23 124 Mt. 22.1–14 134
Bible (Cont’d) Mt. 28.20 158n5 Mk 14.12–25 131, 134, 158n5 Psalm 90 128 see also individual entries Bilu, Y. 10, 18, 92, 107, 153n20 Binah 31 Body of Christ 133, 158n7 Book of Hebrews 124 Book of Revelation 124–5, 130, 132 Bratslav Hasidim 38 Bromley, D. 143, 153n20 Bruner, E. 12 Bruni, F. 118 bureaucratization 34, 84, 141, 148n6 Butman, S. 58, 117, 118 Cabalah.org 20 Cardena, E. 16 Carey, J. 157n1 Carroll, R. P. 9 Catholicism 13, 110, 130, 131, 158n7 Central Committee of Chabad rabbis 68 Chabad see Lubavitch Hasidim Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe Township 88 Chabad Lubavitch Media Center 20 Chabad.org 20, 52, 61, 64, 79, 113, 119 chabad-uk.com 119 charisma 25, 34, 40, 49, 84, 132, 137, 140–1, 148n7 Charismatic Christians 132 Chassidus 52, 106 Chinoplet 76 Chmielnicki, H. B. 26 Chochmah 25, 31 church 110, 124, 125, 128, 130, 132, 133, 137, 138, 158n7 Clair, M. 153n20 Clark, L. S. 157n1 Clinton, B. 35 cognition 2, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, 123, 125–7, 143, 144 cognitive dissonance 6 criticism of 7–10 and early Christianity 125–7 psychological dissonance, reducing 6 Cohen, H. 156n4 Cohen, R. 115 Cohen, Y. 101, 102 cohesiveness 6 Cohn, N. 4–5, 11 coincidentia oppositorum 31 Coleman, S. 132
collective effervescence 15 Collins, A. 5, 147n2 communitas 14 Congregation Lubavitch of Agudas Chasidei Chabad see 770, significance of Connerton, P. How Societies Remember 16 convert’s zeal 101 Beis Menachem 19, 79, 81, 101–2, 104, 106, 119 illusory nature of reality and two bodies 102–4 religious immigration and messianism 110–12 Cooke, B. 132 cosmology 8, 15 counterintuitive 2, 16, 140, 142, 146 covert research methods 21 Cowan, D. 121 Crown Heights 1, 19–21, 24, 41, 55, 57, 60, 63, 65, 68, 69, 81, 87–9, 90, 91–2, 94–5, 108, 115, 139, 140 Csordas, T. 13, 14, 148n7 cultural mode 7 Cunin, B. S. 67 Czachesz, I. 130, 158n5 daas Torah 150n5 Da’at 31 Dan, J. 152n16 Dan, Y. 114 daven (pray) 90 see also prayer service Dawson, L. 4, 6, 8, 18, 77, 121, 139, 140 Dayan, D. 157n1 de-apocalypticized version, of Christianity 128–9 death 1–2, 4, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 32, 34–6, 38–40, 43, 49, 50, 54, 56–69, 71, 72, 75, 76–9, 81, 83, 84, 88, 89, 91, 92, 94, 95, 96, 98, 100, 101, 102, 103, 107, 109–10, 115–17, 122–7, 129–31, 133, 135, 136–8, 141, 151n8, 155n4, 157–8n4 Dein, S. 8, 18, 42, 77, 139, 140 Deutch, S. S. 68 devekut 26, 28, 150n2 Didache 131 disconfirmation 8, 9–10, 11, 127, 139, 148n4 empirical 2, 3, 4, 7, 139, 140, 142 unequivocal 5, 6 vulnerability 3 Dollars ritual 19, 20, 41, 43, 56, 81, 92, 93, 95, 98, 108, 119
Index Dornan, J. 12 Dov Baer, Rabbi 28, 51 Drob, S. 31 Drury, J. 145 Dubov, N. 80 Durkheim, E. 14, 15 Dvar Malhut 96 early Christianity 122 Christ and Rebbe, as human–divine 137–8 Christ’s presence and ritual construction 132–3 cognitive dissonance and 125–7 failed prophecy, adapting to 127–9 imminence of end and 123–5 Jesus and Lubavitcher Rebbe, parallels between 133–4 millennialism and 122–3, 131–2 Old Testament texts 135–6 Redemption 134 resurrection idea 134–5 ritual and religious experience in 129–31 Ecole Speciale des Travaux Publics, du Batiment et de L’industrie (ESTP) 37 Ehrlich, A. 18, 26, 29, 35, 36, 45, 46, 50, 58, 141, 154n22 Ehrman, B. 123, 124, 128 Elert, W. 131 Elimelech of Lyzhansk 151n6 Elim Pentecostals 132 Elior, R. 31, 46 El Ma’aleh Rachamim 62, 154n3 (Ch 4) elokists 65 embodiment paradigm 14 End Time 46 Epstein, I. 26 eschatological fantasies 11 ethics 21, 145, 149n2, 150–1n2 ethnography 18, 149n1 in Stamford Hill and Crown Heights 20–4 Eucharist 127, 130, 131, 158n7 European Moshiach Congress 107 Evangelical Christianity 131, 148n7 exile 37, 47, 49, 51–2, 80, 105, 123 experience near perspective 23 explanatory millennialism 11, 81, 84, 132, 141 farbrengens (mass gatherings) 19, 90, 95–6, 102, 115, 117, 119, 156n4 Farnsworth, G. 142 Farris, N. M. 153n20 Feldman, J. 31, 35 Festinger, L. 4, 5–6, 8, 10, 22, 126, 148n5 When Prophecy Fails 5, 21
fieldwork 21–4 Finke, R. 140 Finn, T. 140, 142, 148n9, 158n6 Firestone, D. 62 Firth, R. 12, 143, 144, 148n8, 158n4 Fishkoff, S. 18, 35, 36, 41, 44, 58, 64, 154n1 (Ch 4) Flanagan, K. 23 formalism 15, 99, 149n11 framing 15, 99, 149n11 Frank, J. 26 Fredriksen, P. 123 Freedberg, D. The Power of Images 155n1 Friedman, M. 18, 33, 34, 35, 36, 40, 49, 95, 99, 138, 139, 141, 151n12, 152n12, 154n22 gabboyim 91 Gager, J. 8, 126 Galut (exile) 105 Garcia, A. 149n1 Geertz, C. 12, 23 The Interpretation of Cultures 15 gemora 103 Gimmel Tammuz 66 Goldschmidt, H. 20, 87, 88 Gourary, S. 37 Graham, D. 154n1 (Ch 5) Green, A. 28 Grimes, R. 14, 113, 157n1 Groner, L. 57, 58 Ha’Aretz 151n12 habitus 13 Halakhah 154n22 Hall, J. 5 Hamilton, M. 126 Ha Moshiach Is Here and He Will Redeeem Us 117 Harding, F. 148n7, 153n20 Harkavy, Ira 91 hashgachah pratit 78, 155n4 Hasidim see individual entries healing 18, 44, 108, 109, 136, 152–3n16 Hecht, S. 62 Heilman, S. 18, 35, 36, 95, 99, 138, 139, 141, 152n12, 154n22 The Gate Behind the Wall 150n4 hiskashrus 29–30, 151n7 histalkus 25, 38, 39, 150n1 Hobsbawm, E. J. 4 Hoffman, E. 36 Hoge, D. 110 Holy Spirit 132
Hoover, S. 157n1 Hurtado, L. 129 Iannaccone, L. 84 Idel, M. 45 Imhoff, S. 121 immanence 147n2, 155n1 incarnation, Christ as 137 informed consent 21, 149n2 intense eschatological impatience 134 International Campaign to Bring Moshiach 58, 63, 117 internet 17, 20–1, 114, 115, 118–21, 149n1 In Touch 102, 107 Jackson, H. 126 James, W. 12, 144, 148n8 Jesus 4, 123–4, 126–7, 129, 130, 132–3, 134, 157n3, 158nn5, 7 as human–divine 137–8, 157n4 and Lubavitcher Rebbe, parallels between 133–4 presence of, and ritual construction 132–3 Jewish Chronicle 35 Jewish Educational Media 89 Jewish restoration eschatology 126 Jewish Week, The 113 Johannesen, S. K. 148n7 John’s Gospel 129 Johnson, L. 18, 130, 131 Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity: A Missing Dimension in New Testament Studies 129 Josephus 157n1 (Ch 9) Kabbalah.tv 20 Kaddish 62, 154n2 (Ch 4) Kahn, Y. 55, 64 kashrut 153n16 Katchen, M. 41 Katz, E. 157n1 Kazen, Y. 119 Kehot Publication Society 89 Keller, C. D. 30 Kensington Temple 132 Kfar Chabad 54 kiddush (prayer over wine) 107 Kingdom of God 129 kingmessiah.com 119 kiruv 32–4, 151n10 Klinghoffer, D. 123, 137 Knott, K. 22 Kochan, L. 153nn17, 20
Kollel 89 Komarnitsky, K. 127, 135 Koskoff, E. 114 Kossoff, H. 81 Kovach, J. 16 Kravel-Tovi, M. 10, 18, 92, 93, 153n20 Krinsky, Y. 35, 57, 58, 62 kvitlim (petitions) 97 Kvutzah 90 Kwan, K. 144 Laderman, C. 14 Landes, R. 2, 3, 123, 127, 128, 147n3 Lawson, R. 132 legitimacy 16, 40, 83, 100, 142, 149n11 Lekah (cake) 96 Lenowitz, H. 4, 29 Levenson, J. 122, 124 Levin, D. The Body’s Recollection of Being 146 Liebes, Y. 38 Lifton, R. 4 liminality 14 Littlewood, R. 18 Living With Moshiach” Online 119 Loewenthal, N. 47, 54 Communicating the Infinite 114 Logos 137 LongLiveTheRebbeKingMessiah-Forever. com 119 Lubavitch Hasidim 1, 25–6, 114, 133 biography of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson 34–7 history 26–8 kiruv 32–4 messianism 44–50 miracles 41–4 prophecy 40–1 Redemption and Moshiach 50–3 and Schneerson’s status as Moshiach 53–5 survival of Rebbe after death 38–40 Tanya 30–2 tzadik (rebbe) 28–30 see also individual entries Lubavitch Magazine 59 Lubavitch Youth International 58 Luckman, T. 148n6 Luhrmann, T. 10, 145 Luria, I. 106 Machalek, R. 10, 126, 148n6 Machne Israel 61 MacWilliams, M. 118, 119 Macy, G. 132
Index Madigan, K. 122, 124 Maharitz 27 Maimonides 27, 40, 41, 56, 62, 79, 80, 107, 152n14 Mishneh Torah 41, 45, 52, 53 Malina, B. 126 Marcus, J. 60, 61, 122, 133, 134, 138, 152n16, 153n17 marriage 20, 41, 42, 43, 95, 97, 108, 152n12 McCutcheon, R. 22 McGinn, B. 145 meal sharing and Christianity worship 130–1 Meaningful Life Centre 89 media, Rebbe’s presence through 113 Lubavitch and 113–21 melitz yosher 98 Melton, J. 7, 8, 77 memory 16, 66, 68, 81, 90, 95, 118, 131, 146, 152n12 Merkos 90 Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch 61, 67, 91 Mernissi, F. Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry 150n4 Messiah 1, 4, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 32, 37, 38, 44–9, 50, 53–5, 57, 59, 60, 62, 64, 67–8, 72, 74, 78, 81, 88, 90, 93, 94, 96, 105, 106, 116, 117, 118, 120–4, 126, 127, 129, 131, 135–6, 138, 147n2, 152nn13–14, 16, 153n17, 157n4 Messiah Campaign 48, 50, 72–6 messianism, in Stamford Hill 70 campaign 72–6 God’s will and Rebbe 79–81 immediate aftermath of Rebbe’s death and 76–9 politics of 63–7 predictive to explanatory millennialism and 84 messianist 1, 2, 24, 38, 53, 54, 55, 57, 63, 64–7, 69, 79, 83, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97, 99, 100, 101, 103, 107–10, 111, 116, 119, 121, 135 methodological agnosticism 22 Meyerhoff, B. 15 mezuzah 43, 89 middot (emotional attributes) 31 Midrash Tanchuma 40 millennialism 2, 111–12, 128, 147n3 causes and consequences of 4–5 in contemporary Christianity 131–2 dissonance problem 5–7 and early Christianity 122–3
Festinger’s theory, criticisms of 7–10 fieldwork among groups 21–4 precariousness of, and charisma 140–2 predictive to explanatory 11, 84 ritualizing the 142–3 weakness of 3 miracles 25, 26, 29, 41–4, 59, 74, 75, 84, 105, 109, 122, 140–1, 144, 152nn15–16 mitnagdim 50, 153n19 mitzvah 33 tanks 73, 92, 101 mitzvot (commandments) 26, 32, 33, 34, 48, 74, 79, 82, 106, 150n2, 153n16 mivtzoim 34 MiYaD 51 Moore, S. 15 Moses 40, 51, 76, 98, 104 Moshiach 1, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 39, 40, 41, 44, 45, 46, 47–8, 49, 50–1, 135, 136 belief about 103–4, 107–9, 110 media and 116 see also under messianism, in Stamford Hill; Schneerson, Menachem ‘Moshiach’ Awaiting Moshiach 92 Moshiach Awareness’ caravan tour 83 Moshiach ben David (Mesiah son of David) 136 Moshiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph) 136 Moshiach.com 20 ‘Moshiach Lives Eternally’ 66 moshiach.net 119 Moshiach’s Sefer Torah 48 Moshiach.tv Blog 119 Motz, M. 13 multisensory experience 15, 99 Mushka, C. 37 Nachman, R. 103, 136 Nahman, of Bratslav 38, 97 National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education 62 Needham, R. 12 nefesh 31 Neitz, M. 12, 84 neshamah 31 neshemo (soul) 39, 103 neutrality, in research methods 22 New Testament scholarship 129 and authors 130 modern 123 New York Times 35, 63, 118 niggun 114 normal revelations model 155n3 Norris, R. 145
observer-as-participant 22–3, 150n4 Ohel 19, 20, 87, 88, 91, 97 experiences at 98–9, 100 Old Testament 135–6 O’Leary, S. 9, 153n20 Arguing the Apocalypse 3, 11 Ong, W. 118, 157n2 Origen 128 Otzar770.com 20 Pace, E. 49 Palmer, S. 5, 140, 142, 148n9, 153n20 paradoxical spirituality 25 Parousia 127 participant-as-observer 150n4 Paul, the Apostle 129, 130, 135, 137 Pentecostalism 132, 154n3 (Ch 5) Percy, M. 148n7 performance 12, 13, 16, 20, 29, 59, 80, 83, 99–100, 104, 109, 114, 115, 117, 118, 130, 140, 141 rituals and 14–16, 17, 26, 32, 33, 34, 62, 74, 76, 78, 79, 82, 84, 113, 131, 150n2, 158n6 Perrin, N. 127 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 110 phenomenological paradigm 13–14 Pinsker, S. 38 pistis (belief) 130 plausibility structures 148n6 Poll, S. 28 Poloma, M. 8, 132 Pond, A. 110 post resurrection Christic appearances 129–30 prayer service 93–4 impact on followers 94–5 predictive millennialism 11, 84, 140 presence, sense of 1, 3, 14, 15, 17, 18, 25, 26, 29, 31, 38, 39, 52, 61, 65, 69, 78, 79, 87, 92, 94–5, 100, 109, 114, 116, 118, 119, 121, 131, 132–3, 144, 145, 155n1, 158n7 Project Return 21, 71 prophecy 1, 4, 5–10, 25, 40–1, 50, 55, 61, 77, 107, 120, 122, 124, 127–9, 132, 133, 136, 139–42, 148nn4–5, 153n20, 155n3, 157n1 prophetic failure, adaptation modes to 7, 127–9 proselytization 6, 8, 34, 61, 111, 112, 133, 138, 158n6 Protestantism 12, 131, 158n7 Pruyser, P. 12, 145 RadioMoshaich.org 20 Rambam see Maimonides Rambo, L. R. 158n6
Rapoport, D. 3 Rappaport, R. 16, 100 Rashi, Rabbi 102 rational choice theory 84 rationalization 2, 4, 6, 10, 135, 138, 139, 140, 142, 148n6, 152n15 Ravitzky, A. 46, 47, 147n3 Rayatz, Rebbe 156n1 Reader, I. 152n15 reaffirmation mode 7 reappraisal 7 RebbeGod.blogspot.com 66 Redemption 1, 2, 3, 4, 25, 27, 28–9, 32, 33, 34, 38, 39, 41, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50–3, 54, 55, 57, 58–9, 60, 62, 72–3, 74, 76, 77–8, 79–80, 96, 81, 82, 83, 84, 88, 89, 92, 95, 96, 97, 102, 103, 105, 106, 107, 109, 116, 117, 118, 120, 122, 130, 134, 139, 140, 141, 152n13, 154n22 Reformation 130 Reicken, H. 4, 5–6, 8, 21, 22, 126, 148n5 religious cognition and beliefs 143–6 religious experience 2, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 26, 87, 114, 121, 122, 129–31, 133, 144–6 religious immigration and messianism 110–12 Religious Landscape Survey data 110 resurrection 123, 127, 133, 134–5, 157n2 (Ch 9) Revelation 127, 128 rhetoric 2, 3, 11, 15, 50–3, 113, 123, 129, 131, 141, 148n7, 153n20 Richter, P. 125 ritual, religious 92–5, 148n10, 158n7 and belief 11–14 Christ’s presence and construction of 132–3 communication 113 experience in early Christianity 129–31 formalism and 148n11 performances and 14–15 shiva ritual 62, 76 and time 16–17 ritualization 87, 148nn9, 10 basement synagogue and 90–1 and embodiment 92–5 farbrengening 95–6 going into Rebbe 96–9 performances and 99–100 simcha and dancing, during Adar month 96 vicinity of 770 and 91–2 Robbins, T. 153n20 Rokeah, Aron 96 Roseman, M. 14
Index Rosen, K. 75 Rosengard, N. 18, 32, 45 Rosh Hashanah 97 Rothenbuhler, E. 113 Rouget, G. 15 routinization 141 Roy, O. 111 ruah 31 Ruel, M. 12 Sabbath 34, 38, 72, 75, 88, 90, 95, 98, 153n16 sabbatical millennium 128 St. Athanasius 137 Sanhedrin 98b 135, 136 Sapir, E. 13 Satmar Hasidim 50 Schach, E. 50 Schachter, S. 5–6 Schechner, R. 14, 113 Schieffelin, E. 14, 15 schlichim (emissaries) 33–4 Kuntre Uma’ayan 153n22 Schneerson, J. I. 27, 30, 37, 45, 46, 55, 152n12 survival, after death 38–40 Schneerson, MM 1–2, 18, 25, 27, 28, 33, 34, 38–9, 46, 103, 135 anti-messianists’ view and 67–9 Bati LeGani 47, 52 biography of 34–7 bringing to life of, and performances 99–100 and Christ, as human–divine 136–7 and Christ, parallels between 133–4 death of 56–69 funeral, in Queens 61–3 Gods will and 79–81 going into 96–9 Iggaret ha-Kodesh 20, 43, 44, 120 Igros Kodesh and 30 immediate aftermath of death of 76–9 Likutei Sichos and 30, 137 through media and Internet 113–21 messianism and 45–50, 72–6 miracles of 41–4, 105 politics of messianism and 63–7 predictive to explanatory millennialism and 84 prophecy and 40–1 on Redemption and Moshiach 50–3 re-presenting the body of 121 rituals and embodiment of 92–5 and status as Moshiach 53–5 Wonders and Miracles 75 Schochet, I. 49
Scholem, G. 45, 148n5 Schwartz, H. 154n3 (Ch 5) Schweitzer, A., The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Ed. John Bowden; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001) 122 Schyler, P. 5 secondary orality 157n2 seeingtherebbe. wordpress.com 119 Sefer ha-Sichos 46, 51 Sefer Torah 56, 95 sefirot 31, 151n9 segregation 70, 71, 148n6 sekhel (intellect) 31 Seventh Day Adventism 132 Sevi, S. 26 Shachter, S. 4, 5, 6, 8, 21, 22, 126, 148n5 Shaffir, W. 18, 150n3 Shandler, J. 18, 114, 116, 117 Shapiro, E. 87 Sharon, A. 35 Sharot, S. 28 Shekhinah 48 Sheleg, Y. 151n12 shiur 154n2 (Ch 5) shiva ritual 62, 76 Shlita 90 Shmotkin, Z. 64 Shochet, J. I. 47 Sifrei Igros Kodesh 69 simcha (joy) 76 and dancing, during Adar month 96 Simchat Torah services 42 Smart, N. 22 Smith, G. 110 Snow, D. 9, 126, 148n6 social anthropology 12 social mode 7 Sokolovsky, A. 67 solidarity 6 internal 142 social 14 somatic modes of attention 14 Sosis, R. 15 Spickard, J. 12 spiritualization 7, 77, 133 Stamford Hill 19–20, 42, 44, 69, 70–84, 101, 108, 139, 140, 154n1 Stark, R. 40, 111, 140, 155n3 Stein, B. 38 Stone, J. 4 Expecting Armageddon 8 Strozier, C. B. 154n3 Succoth (Harvest Festival) 96 Sudak, Rebbe 79, 84 Sukkos 36
survival of Rebbe 38–40, 94, 108, 116 Swenson, D. 141 sympathetic detachment 23 Szubin, A. 111, 112, 153n20
Tzevi, Y. ben 47 Tzvatim 65
Taanis 103 tallit (prayer shawl) 153n16 Talmon, Y. 153n20 Talmud 27, 56, 102 Tambiah, S. 15 Tanya 25, 30–2, 75, 94 Tanya Katan (‘Brief Tanya’) 151n8 Tauber, Y. 52 tefillin (phylacteries) 108, 109, 120, 152n16, 155n3 telethons 115 Tertullian 128 Thatcher, M. 35 Thompson, D. 10, 84, 111, 131, 132, 140, 153n20, 154n3 Tidball, D. 126 time 2–3, 10, 11, 16, 29, 30, 32, 34, 38, 42, 45, 46, 47–51, 55, 62, 73, 74–5, 76, 77, 79, 81, 82, 84, 88, 89, 100, 102, 106, 108, 109, 112, 116, 119, 124, 125, 126, 127–8, 130, 131, 134, 140, 142, 144, 148n9, 149n11, 153n20, 156n1 Times, The 60 Tishrei 88, 93 To Know and to Care 152n16 To Live and Live Again 92 Torah 27, 29, 33, 34, 38, 52, 89, 102, 106, 107, 137, 153n16, 157n2 (Ch 9) Toras Menachem (The Teaching of Menachem) 114 Touger, E. 53, 134 traditionalism 12, 13, 15, 26, 32, 44, 45, 46, 70, 82, 88, 96, 99, 100, 109, 111, 130, 137, 149n11, 152n15, 154n3, 158n7 trance 15, 76, 100, 143, 150n2 transubstantiation 158n7 Tsvatim 90 Tumminia, D. 7, 9, 10 Turner, V. 12, 14, 140 tzadik 27, 28–30, 33, 38–9, 43, 45, 97, 98, 102, 114, 138, 150n3 (Ch 3), 151n6 roles of 28 Tzedakah boxes 89 Tzevi, S. 4
Vermes, G. 137 virtual pilgrimage 118 visualization 115, 145 Vulkan, D. 154n1 (Ch 5)
US Association of Chabad Hasidim 37
Wardie 8 Weber, M. 140 Weingrod, A. 89 Wernik, U. 126 Wessinger, C. 5, 147n3, 153n20 ‘We-want-Moshiach’ campaign 48 Wilkins, S. 142 Wilson, B. 23, 111, 129, 131, 157n4 Wittel, A. 149n1 Wolfson, E. 18, 46 Wonders and Miracles 155n16 Worsley, P. 4 Yaakov 102 Yahweh 4 Yechi HaMelech.org 119 Yeshivah (seminary) 64, 105 yeshivot (Jewish seminaries) 20, 107 Yess, M. 117 Yitzchak, Y. 20, 39, 51 Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) 96 Yud Shevat 110 Zaklikovsky, E. 88 Zal Ha Katan 90 Zalman, S. 29, 30, 31, 32, 50, 102 Iggarot ha-Kodesh 32, 151n8 Iggeret HaTeshuvah (‘Letter of Repentance’) 151n8 Kuntres Aharon 32, 151n8 Sefer shel Beinonim (‘The Book of the Average Men’) 151n8 Sefer Tanya 27 Sha’ar ha-Yichud ve’ha’Emunah (‘The Gateway of Unity and Belief’) 151n8 Zechariah 12.10 136 Zionism 153–4n22 Zivot Hashem 33 Zygmunt, J. 7, 10, 77