Steven I. Weiss reports on Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's response (at the NYU Rebbe conference) to the presentations of Eliot Wolfson, Moshe Hallamish and Alan Brill:
My main concern in reaction to this admirable presentation of the arcane thought of R' Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is how easy it is to twist it into a radical messianism that is now taking place in meshichistic circles in Brooklyn and especially in Kfar Chabad. Let me recap two of the salient points in the paper and ask whether it might have been better for the Rebbe's "secret of secrets" to be kept secret if only for the spiritual welfare of his flock. […]
Early in his paper, Professor Wolfson avers that "the secret of the secret"…is that "in its most inwardness, the soul is conjoined to divinity…the soul is consubstantial with God," and refers to this as "an insight that significantly closes the gap separating the human and the divine, a gap that is typically assumed to be a basic tenet of Biblical and rabbinical Judaism."
While this is not alien to Kabbalistic thinking, the idea of yichud refers to unification with the sephirot, never — to my knowledge — with the ohr ain sof itself. The adept must therefore steer a careful course between depicting the highest stages of religious consciousness and the erasure of the ultimate gap between God and man. […]
Is this not easy to distort into justification that the Rebbe as Messiah is part of the Godhead? …is it not easy to find in this concept a "source" for a kind of Sabbatian antinomianism and moral nihilism — especially if one believes moshiach has arrived, in the form of Rabbi Schneerson?
I wonder if this distortion could and should have been avoided by responsible leadership of a movement that has not lost its vitality. And that too is a serious question: is the continued vitality somehow connected to the underlying esoteric theology of the movement in its most radical form?
Weiss reports that Wolfson's reaction to this was that Rabbi Lamm's presentation was not "academic." So Weiss retorted to Wolfson:
But I proposed that it is academic, at least as far as moral philosophy is an academic subject, and Wolfson replied "you're right."
Wolfson's "unbiased," "academic" remarks about the Rebbe follow:
“Menachem Mendel Schneerson is larger than life,” said Elliot Wolfson, a professor at NYU and scholar of Chasidism. “To speak of him is fraught with danger.”
And yet that’s precisely what a cadre of academics and scholars of Chasidic thought are attempting to do this week as they tackle a variety of themes related to the Rebbe and his legacy. Coming to NYU’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, from as far as Australia, Israel and the U.K., the academics are presenting at a conference billed “Reaching for the Infinite, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Life, Teachings and Impact.”
A collaborative effort by Professor Lawrence Schiffman of NYU, Professor [and Chabad rabbi] Naftali Loewenthal from the University of London and Professor Elliot Wolfson, the conference will examine the various facets of the Rebbe as scholar, mystic, leader and teacher.…
Anticipating the magnitude of the enterprise, Professor Wolfson suggested in his [opening] remarks, that the more one learns about the Rebbe, the more they understand how much more is yet to be known. Indeed, trying to get to know the Rebbe, he said, is ultimately an attempt of “Reaching for the Infinite.”
Something is very rotten in NYU.