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December 08, 1989 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Dr. Ismar
Schorsch,
chancellor of
the Jewish
Theological
Seminary,
acknowledges
that his
appeal to
Conservative
Jews to
withhold
financial
support from
Lubavitch has
had little
impact.

data shows that 20,000 Lubavitch Jews live
in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn,
where the worldwide headquarters of
Lubavitch is located in a red brick building
at 770 Eastern Parkway.
There is also a substantial Lubavitch
community in Israel as well as Lubavitch
centers, known as Chabad houses, in
more than 450 cities around the world.
(Chabad is a Hebrew acronym for
Chochma, Binah and Daas, or Wisdom,
Understanding and Knowledge.)
The centers — in places as diverse as
Seattle and Memphis, Honolulu and
Buenos Aires, Berlin and Hong Kong —
largely serve the needs of non-Chasidic
Jews.
"When we get to Mars nobody will be
surprised if there is a Chabad House
there," said Samuel Heilman, a professor
of sociology at. Queens College, City Un-
iversity of New York, who just spent a
year in Israel studying the ultra-
Orthodox.
Firmly at the helm of the Lubavitch or-
ganization is Rabbi Schneerson, whose
87th birthday last April took on all the
trappings of a minor religious festival for
his followers. In New York City, for ex-
ample, 40 "Mitzvah Tanks," specially
equipped Chevy vans, were dispatched in
his honor to circulate through the city.
Chasidim jumped out and began asking
passers-by, "Are you Jewish?" An affir-
mative answer brought an invitation to
step into the Mitzvah Tank to put on a
pair of tefillin or learn about lighting
candles for Shabbat.
Rabbi Schneerson is the seventh in a
line of rabbis that dates back to Rabbi
Shneur Zalman of Lyady, an early Chasi-
dic master born in 1745 who taught a

system of Judaism that was a unique
combination of the intellect and the
spirit. His major philosophical text is
called the Tanya, a book that continues to
be a guiding force for Lubavitch followers
today, some 200 years after it was first
published.
The Tanya was written at a time when
Chasidism came under attack for being
overly concerned with the joy of being
Jewish and not concerned enough with
the responsibility to study, especially the
Talmud. In the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur
Zalman outlines a sophisticated system
of thought relying on three levels of un-
derstanding: Chochma, Binah, and Daas.
In some ways the work helped strengthen
Chasidism as an intellectual movement.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman and his succes-
sors, who lived in the town of Lubavitch
for more than a century, were the victims
of czars and pogroms as well as the Mit-
nagdim, the rational Orthodox Jewish
movement that are the historical rivals of
the Chasidim. Unlike other, more in-
sulated Chasidic groups, the leaders of
Lubavitch and their followers worked
closely with both secular Jews and gen-
tiles. The current Rebbe, Rabbi Schneer-
son, had his dose of worldliness as well.
Before the Second World War, he studied
mathematics and science at the Universi-
ty of Berlin and at the Sorbonne.
Professor Heilman of Queens College
said that the exposure of Lubavitch
throughout its history to different people
and ideas enables it today to reach out
well beyond its own constituency. It is a
talent unmatched among other Chasidic
groups, who have made a virtue of their
insularity.
What distinguishes Lubavitch most

Bearded men and fresh faced young boys pose a striking contrast at a Lubavitch gathering in New York.

-

30 FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1989

,

Photo By Ricki Rosen

from the other Chasidic groups is its out-
reach, whether on the streets with its
Mitzvah Tanks or on cable television
with its broadcasts of Rabbi Schneer-
son's messages or its advertisements in
the New York Times every Friday
alerting "Jewish women and girls" to the
proper time to light Sabbath candles.
While Lubavitch attracts a growing
number of baalei teshuvah — new adher-
ents to Orthodoxy — its major emphasis
is on spreading mitzvot, Jewish good
deeds, among the non-Orthodox. Recent-
ly, Rabbi Schneerson also initiated a
campaign to urge gentiles to observe the
seven laws given to Noah, which include
reverence for one God and injunctions
against adultery, theft and murder. As a
sign of his commitment to those ideals,
the Rebbe is an ardent supporter of a
moment of silent prayer in the public
schools.
The Lubavitch dynasty was passed
down from father to son, or father to son-
in-law, to the current Rebbe, who suc-
ceeded his father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchok
Schneerson, in 1950. The current Rebbe,
however, has no children. Within Lubav-
itch, he is the supreme human authority
and, if there is anyone waiting in the
wings to succeed him, it is a well kept se-
cret.

Messianic Message?

Lubavitch officials, such as Rabbi
Yehudah Krinsky, a top aide to Rabbi
Schneerson, refuse to discuss the issue of
succession, resorting instead to com-
ments like, "This is not a concern for us.
The Mashiach [Messiah] will come."
When asked whether that means that
Lubavitch considers Rabbi Schneerson to
be the Messiah, Rabbi Krinsky re-
sponded: "Our sages teach us that the
Messiah will be a human being who lives
among us. We believe that in every gen-
eration there is a person who has the
qualifications to be the Messiah of the
Jewish people. I don't know of anyone
around now more suitable to fill the shoes
of the Messiah than the Rebbe."
His response is in keeping with a long-
standing tradition for Chasidic Jews to
believe that their own rabbi could be the
Messiah. But such a comment — coupled
with the Lubavitch propensity for dis-
playing large color photographs of the
Rebbe as well as posters with the legend
"We Want Mashiach Now!" — has led to
some criticism that Lubavitch is treading
on dangerous ground by implying that its
leader will someday be revealed as the
Savior promised in the Bible.
Some view the fact that several years
ago Lubavitch built an exact replica of
770 Eastern Parkway at Kfar Chabad,
the Lubavitch village near Israel's Lod
Airport, as an indication that it will be the

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