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March 30, 2006

FailedMessiah In The Forward

This week's David Klinghoffer's Forward column The Disputation deals with the Matisyahu issue and with Chabad in general. Here, for my money (and ego) is the money quote:

For centuries, the role of the Jewish people as a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6) calling humanity to the worship of the one God was suspended. In our day, thanks to the growing interest of non-Jews in Judaism, that has started to change. Matisyahu may be the best example of a Jew ministering in this priestly role on a mass scale. His efforts, however, have won him Jewish detractors, who prefer that Jews remain anonymous or irrelevant.

Take, for example, the sniping from the peanut gallery coming out of the consistently sour but readable blog FailedMessiah.com: "What Matisyahu does is unseemly. Few, if any, significant poskim (rabbinic legal scholars who rule on Halacha) would approve. But what bothers me more is blatant trading on Kaballah and Hasidut to make money. That this does not bother mainstream Chabad may be because this is what mainstream Chabad has itself done for years."

Indeed, Chabad's efforts have earned the movement its share of enemies. The rabbi at the Reform temple where I grew up used to speak out against the local Chabad emissary; the competition made him nervous. And in the Orthodox world, a few can't forget the imbroglio in the 1990s in which some followers of Chabad's late spiritual leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, let it be known that they expected he would return and reveal himself as the Messiah. Thankfully, that fever dream has subsided.…

I thank Klinghoffer for quoting me. Still, Klinghoffer is wrong on many counts:

  1. I am certainly not opposed to Jews being a light onto the nations in an active fashion. What I and many other critics of Matisyahu are concerned about has been clearly stated on this blog. Being a light onto the nations or a need to remain "under the radar screen" is not one of them.
  2. Klinghoffer ignores the fact that poskim do not allow what Matisyahu does, and that poskim from Chabad, while the Rebbe was alive, told musicians they could not do what Matisyahu is now doing.
  3. Messianism has not gone away, as even any casual observer of Chabad knows, It is dominant in Israel, France, the FSU, and in Crown Heights. Matisyahu himself is a messianist.

Klinghoffer brushes away these facts just as he brushes away Marvin Schick's concern about the lessening religious standards in Chabad, something there is much proof for. He also makes it appear as if Schick is an enemy of Chabad, something that is absolutely false – although, to be fair, Klinghoffer may not know this.

How can Klinghoffer make claims that disregard fact? I'll give you my personal answer. Klinghoffer is a devotee of Rabbi Daniel Lapin, the maverick Orthodox rabbi shunned by many in mainstream Modern Orthodoxy and by most in the haredi world. Lapin has made a career (outside of his business involvements, which have been, in some cases, highly questionable from a legal standpoint) of supporting right wing political causes (he is one of Jack Abramoff's rabbis) and of "kashering" the religious and extremist right*. To do this, one needs to adopt an ends justify the means theology, which is just what Lapin has done. And this theology drives his disciples, as well.

Several years ago, WorldVision launched a campaign to aid those hurt by suicide bombing and terrorist attacks in Israel. The radio commercial had bombs exploding, sirens wailing. Where was the money going? To the West Bank and Gaza, and only to Arabs. I asked WorldVision why. A spokesperson responded by saying (I paraphrase) that WorldVision helps the most at need. Jews can take care of themselves. The Arabs cannot. I asked about the morality of  using terror attacks against Jews to raise money for Arabs. Terror hurts both sides, was the response.

The Salem Radio Network had a joint campaign with WorldVision to fund this very project. Ads for it ran during both the Dennis Prager and Michael Medved shows. In effect, both shows raised money for the extended families of suicide bombers. I contacted both hosts and explained the problem. Both wanted details that involved many hours of research. I did that research (without pay) and sent the information to Prager and Medved. Prager** banned all ads for that WorldVision campaign from running during his show. But what did Medved, whose rabbi-guru is Lapin, do? He increased the ads and began endorsing that very WorldVision project. Why?

I believe for the same reason Klinghoffer can so easily ignore fact. The ends justify the means.*** It wasn't worth damaging his (and Lapin's) relationship with the evangelical-owned and operated Salem radio over the WorldVision project, especially because WorldVision is a major powerhouse in the evangelical world and is, not surprisingly, a major advertiser on Salem stations.

Klinghoffer is a follower of Lapin. To the extent that his article reflects that relationship, it is Lapin – and his theology – that is to blame. The same is true for Medved and WorldVision.

If well-meaning Chabad supporters would focus on keeping Chabad within halakha, instead of kashering every instance of deviation from it, Chabad would be in much better shape, and blogs like Failedmessiah.com would not need to exist.
*Evangelical and other Christian Fundamentalist theology, as it impacts the public square, is not necessarily incompatible with Judaism any more than it is automatically compatible. For example, while Judaism frowns on abortion, it does not ban abortion outright and allows (and sometimes mandates!) abortion for a host of reasons related to the physical and mental health of the mother. This is why many poskim (like some of those ignored by Klinghoffer) do not support the anti-abortion movement. Lapin goes beyond this position to, in effect, kasher all but the most blatantly anti-Jewish positions of evangelicals.

**Yes, it is true that Prager is also a supporter of Chabad. But Prager is not Orthodox, and his views on halakha are not close to Orthodoxy's.

***By ends in this case I mean ideological ends, not financial gain. In other words, in this case the ends are "ohr lagoyyim" and the means, Matisyahu and Chabad. Rabbi Lapin considers ohr lagoyyim to be a cornerstone of his public work and ideology/theology.


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I've never been a big fan of Rabbi Lapin, but then again, my party affiliation starts with a capital "D," and I spend most of the year engaged in a personal war on Christmas...

My concern is and has always been that guys like Lapin (and his connection to Abramoff) fit the nefarious Protocols prototype a little more than the rest of the Jewish community should be comfortable with. Here's a tidbit from the Seattle Times with a timeless quote from Medved, too, concerning Abramoff-through-Lapin.

Are we really making good on the nation of priests dealio, however, when the appeal is largely based on the kaballah fad? If anything, Mattisyahu with his mediocre tzitzit-dangling sideshow isn't going to bring the whole world towards Noachide observance...it's reducing Judaism to a second-rate exercise in pandering to pop vanity, Mattisyahu's possibly austere motivations notwithstanding.

Kudos on the reference by Klinghoffer, however misinformed he may be. It's no doubt a sign that what you're doing has value.

You might also not that Klinghoffer works for the "Discovery Institute." This is a Fundamentalist Christian organization with the goal of promoting creation science. It was started by Tim Lahaye of "Left Behind" rapture fame. This is the most aggregious example of the end justifying the means I can think of since the rapture plan for Jews, and everyone else aside from Christians is a a rather nasty one. It is no surprise he promotes Lapid. I just view them as being garden variety "religious right!" personally. I don't have a problem with Matisyahu's quest for fame, though I am into his music.

There are divisions in pre-Millenium Christianity: one major branch of Christian Zionism explicitly teaches that Jews will not have to convert or be um, purified, at end times, and that their Covenant is Eternal. Perhaps Jesus will have reign over the gentiles and the Rebbe for the Children of Israel.

So if Jews are "just now" allowed in the salvation fold all is ok? What about everyone else? Remember 90% of the world is not evangelical.

I appreciate the work you put in to fight the Worldvision project. That info was really shocking... Then again, not so shocking given the pattern of mainstream Jewish leadership (those with the political and financial clout) and their lack in defending Jews over the past century. This seems an unfortunate recurring theme. But I want to say your work there was courageous and a blessing to the Jewish people.

Thank you very much!

Matisyahu left Chabad. Messianist? I think not

My grandfather's store on the North Side sold S'farim and t'fillin, tallis's and all sorts of Judaica, including Jewish magazines and newspapers. When asked why he did not carry the Forward, he replied 'I only carry Jewish newspapers in this store."

Perhaps Jesus will have reign over the gentiles and the Rebbe for the Children of Israel.

Posted by: Paul Freedman | April 01, 2006 at 11:59 AM

Perhaps monkeys might fly out of my butt.

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