Rabbi Dr. David Berger has written a long review of the three new books marketed as biographies of the late Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson – Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's, Rabbi Chaim Miller's, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's. Each book omits key facts and downplays Chabad messianism, and thanks to Berger, you can see what these three authors intentionally omitted.
Above: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Updated 11:36 am CDT
Rabbi Dr. David Berger has written a long review for Tablet Magazine of the three new books marketed as biographies of the late Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson – Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's, Rabbi Chaim Miller's, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's.
All three of these books are dishonest to some degree.
But one, Telushkin's, is much more so than the others, and Berger's review makes that abundantly clear, including pointing out a quote Telushkin unethically truncated to change its meaning.
Berger's real service, though, is laying out the material these three books dishonestly avoid reporting – what the late Rebbe actually said about the identity of the messiah.
…I must begin with what seems like a digression. The Rebbe’s spiritual, even metaphysical relationship to his father-in-law is a key element in understanding him—and no one will ever grasp it fully. Throughout his discourses, he referred to his predecessor as the prince (nasi) of the generation and periodically noted that he is also the messiah of the generation, but the Rebbe also affirmed that this status is continued through the one who took his place. He also said of his predecessor, “His soul is in me.” Thus, all the Hasidim understood the Rebbe’s depictions of his father-in-law as references to himself.…
Here then is a sampling of statements made by the Rebbe that combined to generate a deep conviction among the Hasidim that he is the messiah. Except in some cases where I provide a link to a website, all of these statements—and many more—appear with precise annotation in one or more of the following Hebrew collections: Ve-hu Yig’allenu (Brooklyn, 1994, translated into English as And He Will Redeem Us [Brooklyn, 1994]); Ha-Tekufah ve-ha-Geullah be-Mishnato shel ha-Rebbe mi-Lubavitch (Kfar Chabad, 1999);Be-Emunah Shelemah ed. by S. Shmida (Jerusalem, 2000); Ha-Nekudah ha-Habadit 2 (Marcheshvan 5764 ).
1. “The Prince of the generation is—‘Messiah’… I have no objection if ‘Messiah’ is interpreted in its straightforward sense—our Righteous Messiah, since this is the truth—that the Prince of the generation is the Messiah of the generation.”
2. “Our Righteous Messiah…my teacher and father-in-law the Prince of our generation.”
3. “My teacher and father-in-law the Prince of our generation, the only Messiah of our generation.”
4. Commenting on the phrase, “They will be redeemed immediately (miyad)”: “So will this happen to us in actual reality, and with actual immediacy, with all the interpretations ofmiyad…and particularly with respect to this generation of ours…For the [three-letter] acrostic of MiYaD represents the three periods associated with my teacher and father-in-law the Prince of our generation in the order of their proximity to us: Mashiach (whose name is Menachem), Yosef Yitzchak, Dov Baer.” The last two are the names of the Rebbe’s predecessors in reverse chronological order. This is the closest he came to an explicit assertion that he is the Messiah, and one can plausibly argue that it is in fact fully explicit.
5. Referring to his father-in-law: “After it has become known that he is a prophet, the people should believe in him, and they should not disparage or criticize him. Their belief should not be in the prophet as an individual, but as a messenger charged with communicating the words of God. This concept has to be publicized to everyone in this generation. It must be made known that we have merited that G-d has chosen and appointed a person who in himself is immeasurably greater than the people of his generation, to serve as a judge, adviser, and prophet to the generation…until the main prophecy, ‘To redemption immediately,’ for ‘Behold Mashiach is coming’ right away in the literal sense (mammash).” (The entire discourse can be read in English here. I have made some modifications in the translation.)
6. There is a rabbinic text that prohibits full-throated laughter in the pre-Messianic age, though not all authorities took this quite literally and observant Jews have generally set it aside. The Rebbe asserted that this prohibition is no longer applicable because it applies only through the moment before the revelation of the messiah. “But since the Prince of our generation [referring explicitly to his father-in-law] was the Messiah of our generation and he was revealed in full force,” it follows that untrammeled laughter is now permitted and even encouraged.
7. Messianists have posted a video of a discourse by the Rebbe after which, as Telushkin noted, he briefly encouraged the singing of the messianist chant. Of perhaps greater interest is the posted section of the talk itself, where someone who understands Yiddish or the Hebrew titles will see the vigorous, unequivocal assertion that this is the generation of the redemption and the last generation of the exile. “The true and complete redemption—without forced interpretations [that would dilute the plain meaning of this depiction—un pshetlakh]” is arriving “right away—literally and literally literally” (in transliteration appropriate for Yiddish—tekef umiyad mamesh umamesh mamesh).
8. The Messiah will proclaim the message that redemption has arrived from the roof of Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. (The Rebbe’s discourse onParashat Hayyei Sarah 5751.) The heavenly Temple will not descend directly into Jerusalem. It will first descend to a spot adjoining 770 Eastern Parkway, and the buildings, along with all other diaspora synagogues, will then be transported to Jerusalem. (The Rebbe’s discourse, published as a separate booklet, titled Mikdash Me’at: Zeh Beit Rabbenu she-be-Bavel.)
9. On two recorded occasions, the Rebbe provided encouraging reactions to representatives of the Chabad women’s organization who had organized explicit affirmations of his messiahship. For one of these, click here.
These are some of the “hints that the Rebbe left” that could be “pick[ed] up” by the Hasidim. There is far, far more along these lines. Not a single one of these citations or anything resembling them appears in these [three] books. Readers of the books would not imagine in their wildest dreams that such material could exist.…
Berger also reports what I have consistently reported for a decade – that the supposed anti-messianists or non-messianists in Chabad are for the most part believers in the idea that the Rebbe will be resurrected and will be the messiah:
…In assessing the size of the messianist sector, we must first understand that within Lubavitch, the term “meshichist” is reserved for people who declare the Rebbe’s messiahship in public and proclaim it in the liturgy. A significant number of these believe that the Rebbe is physically alive. You can be a non- or even anti-meshichist while maintaining the firm belief that the Rebbe will be revealed as the messiah, and many of the Hasidim fall into this category. In light of the sort of passages cited above, it is worth contemplating the obstacles that face a Lubavitch hasid who considers the possibility that someone other than the Rebbe will be the messiah.…
Take the time to read Berger's entire piece. Then add in Chabad's work alongside Vladimir Putin to crush democracy in Russia and its attempts to kasher the Russian takeover of Crimea and the attempted Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine. Add in its attempts to steal shuls in Lower Manhattan, in Vilna, in upstate New York, etc., and so many other examples of truly bad behavior.
No assessment of Chabad or of the life of Menachem Mendel Schneerson is complete – or accurate – without including all this.