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September 02, 1994 - Image 65

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-09-02

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Religious Squabbling


ivisions between blacks and
Jews were almost equaled
by those within the Jewish
faith itself. On June 12, the
leader of the Lubavitch Chasidic move-
ment, Rabbi Menachem Mendel
Schneerson, died at the age of 92. The
rebbe had built Lubavitch from a small
band virtually decimated by the Holo-
caust to a powerful-satellite connected
world organization of 200,000 followers.
His influence extended well beyond
that number, especially in Israeli
politics and religious life.
Yet, these accomplishments
were clouded by messianic claims
surrounding him in his latter
years. A month after his death,
Alan Nadler, director of research
at New York's YIVO Institute for
Jewish Research, commented that
"there is every indication that a sig-
nificant number of Lubavitchers
are not ready to make... a theolog-
ical and emotional adjustment and
accept the rebbe's death... This is
not the first time a messiah has
died; for Jews, in fact, there has
never been a messiah who has not
Equally schismatic was the Re-
form movement's creation of a $5
million fund to proselytize to un-
affiliated and to gentiles married
to Jews. Many critics found the

idea distasteful and counterproductive.
Professor Jack Wertheimer of the Con-
servative movement's Jewish Theologi-
cal Seminary, for instance, dismissed it
for encouraging "religious mobility" and
treating religion "as yet another re-
placeable shmate, a cheap suit: Try it on
for size — then junk it when the fashion
or mood passes."
But Rabbi Alexander Schindler, head
of the Reform movement's Union of
American Hebrew Congregations, said
Judaism, "from its very beginnings, was
a missionary religion" and that active
proselytizing by Jews would offer "spir-
itual strength to many Americans who
have no religious affiliation, but are
searching for meaning in their lives."
Also splintering Jews was the squab-
ble over New York state's Kiryas Joel
school district, which had been created
to accommodate the handicapped chil-
dren of this Chasidic community. In late
June, the Supreme Court affirmed a New
York appeals court ruling that the school
district violated the "establishment
clause" of the Constitution. The decision
underscored divisions within the Jewish
community over church-state issues. Or-
thodox groups, especially, reacted with

dismay to the 6-3 vote as a blow against
reasonable government accommodation
to the needs of religious groups.
Possibly the brightest spots on the re-
ligious map came from Rome. In late De-
cember, the Vatican and Israel signed
an agreement to finally establish full
diplomatic relations. And in April, the
Pope called Jews "our elder brothers in
faith" and indicated that Jews have a
clear right to return to Israel and to live
in Jerusalem.

Battles of the past and present: Jews (above left) pitted themselves against the NAACP's embrace of Louis Farrakhan (lower left);
evangelist Pat Robertson and ADL head Abe Foxman, (top, left and right) bickered about the Christian Right;
and Steven Spielberg (above) copped best director and best picture for Schindler's List.

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