NYU is hosting the first academic conference on the Rebbe in the US. Bar Illan held a similar conference three years ago.
The Forward's 'report' from the Bar Illan conference was filed by Yori Yanover, a man with close emotional and financial ties to Chabad. Yanover's report smeared Rabbi Dr. David Berger. Worse yet, nowhere did Yanover or the Forward note Yanover's ties to Chabad or Yanover's previously held anti-Berger views. (Yanover has compared Berger's work to Nazi propaganda and has written worse about Berger himself.)
So, who is covering this year's NYU conference? Steven I. Weiss, the reporter who strongly downplayed Chabad messianism in his coverage of the Rebbe's 10th yartzeit 16 months ago. Weiss is also on record as believing Chabad references to a living Rebbe ("Yechi adonaynu moreynu v'rabaynu melech hamoshiach l'olam voed!" , "The Rebbe, shlit'a", "The Rebbe, he should live many long and happy days", etc. ) to be allegorical and therefore not a problem halakhicly.
Weiss is blogging from the conference and has this to say about Allan Nadler, the only* presenter who can reasonably be called a critic of Chabad:
Is Israeli Politics Ever Out Of The Discussion?
Yesterday, Allan Nadler presented a paper on Mitnagdic Opposition to the Rebbe that quickly became about how the various ultra-Orthodox groups came into conflict, with Israeli politics as part of the conflict; that’s when my eyes glazed over.
At the end of the talk, back into consciousness, Yaakov Ariel of North Carolina — an Israeli — contradicted Nadler not on anything that explicitly furthered knowledge of the main topic, but about Israeli politics.
My eyes glazed over again.”
Nadler is the only critic of Chabad presenting. Weiss has just admitted to ignoring him. (It makes one long for the return of Seth Lipskey.)
So, how academic is this "academic" conference? This is what Eliot Wolfson, one of the three conference organizers has to say:
“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 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 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.”
Rabbi Berger was not invited, apparently because Schiffman, Wolfson and Lowenthal (a Chabad rabbi) consider him to be a "polemecist" against Chabad. Yet those who are academic polemecists for Chabad – like Schiffman, Wolfson, and Lowenthal – fill the schedule. The Rebbe's only biographer was also not invited. (He's on the outs with Chabad.) Schiffman admits to liking his work but, he's not an academic, so no invite.
Bias? It seems so.