Lubavitch & the United Synagogue 2

In January 1992 and again in March 1993, I circularised Ministers and Honorary Officers of the United Synagogue, expressing my concern about aspects of Lubavitch influence within our Organisation.  I am taking this opportunity of continuing the discussion and to reply to a number of questions which my previous memoranda provoked.
 
Some asked how I could justify accusing Lubavitch of being anti-Zionist when they knew of this or that Lubavitch Rabbi who recited the Prayer for the State of Israel or who attended a local Yom-Ha’atzma’ut assembly.  There may be several answers but may I suggest just two.  There might well be an individual Lubavitch Rabbi who does support the state of Israel.  Others may consider that this is a small concession which they are prepared to make in order to gain access and, thereby, wider influence.  Let us look at the facts.
 
In Kfar Chabad, the Lubavitch village in Israel, Independence Day is ignored and treated as an ordinary working day.  An Israeli flag is nowhere to be seen.  Lubavitch do everything possible to discourage their teenage boys from joining the army and this policy continues even after they have completed their studies.  Girls are not allowed to give one year to National Service in Hospitals, Welfare Institutions or other forms of assistance to those in need, this being the usual service offered to religious girls who do not wish to serve in the army.
 
In his book “Crisis and Covenant", Chief Rabbi Sacks writes (p.64) “Even in the early years, between 1860s and 1880s, when most Zionists were Orthodox Jews, most Orthodox authorities were anti-Zionist."  Chief Rabbi Sacks then goes on to say “The most systematic denunciations (of Zionism) was given by the then leader of the Lubavitch Chassidim, R.Shalom Baer Schneerson."
 
In his book “If only my People", the Emeritus Chief Rabbi Jakobovits wrote (p.98) “I was also puzzled by the growing contradictions I detected between the Movement’s (Lubavitch) super-nationalism of uncompromising militancy and its anti-Zionism in withholding any religious recognition from the Jewish State."
 
I believe that these facts establish a prima-facie justification for my allegation that Lubavitch is an anti-Zionist organisation.
 
Some ask why I attack the Lubavitch Movement in the light of their Outreach Programme which brings many Jews back to the practice of Mitzvot.  In fact, I admire their Outreach Programme and the enthusiastic intensity with which they pursue it.  Indeed, I would go even further and express the wish that many other of our Rabbis emulate their enthusiasm.  Nevertheless, I still have reservations.  We must consider whether we approve a programme which teaches, in situations where they think that such teachings will take root:-
                                                                                                                            
a)  That “love thy Jewish neighbour as thyself" or “only Jewish people can be truly altruistic."
 
 In my opinion such teachings are odious and racist.  For the traditional Jewish attitude, I recommend Rabbi Dr.Hertz’s sensitive but forceful commentary in his Chumash: pages 563/4.
 
b)  It teaches that Satan is present at our Synagogue services and can adversely affect those who transgress Jewish custom as interpreted by Lubavitch even though other Orthodox Rabbis interpret the custom differently.  So wrote a Lubavitch Rabbi in his Synagogue’s magazine.  This is a belief in dualism; a belief in the two rival powers of good and evil; between God and Satan.  We must not confuse the Lubavitch concept of Satan who has the power to do evil, with the concept of Satan as he appears in the Bible and our liturgy where he has no intrinsic power but acts only as “prosecutor" as it were, in the Celestial Court.
 
Rabbi Dr. Hertz explains the meaning of the Shema as being that God is One in every possible sense of the word and that the Shema excludes dualism, any assumption of two rival powers of light and darkness, of the universe being regarded as the arena of a perpetual conflict between the Principals of good and evil.  This he attributes to the religion of Zoroaster, the Seer of Ancient Persia.  This dualism is precisely what is taught in the Tanya, the writing of the Lubavitch Movement.
 
c)  That teaches that “Lubavitch is our Jerusalem, the Rebbe’s shul is our Temple and the Rebbe, the Holy Ark containing tablets of God’s Torah."
 
d)  That the cure for Multiple-sclerosis; infertility; serious blood disorder, etc.  Is.......  Check your Mezuzot!   The Torah clearly tells us that the Mezuzah is to remind us of the Mitzvot.  It is not a lucky charm or an Amulet.
 
Chief Rabbi Sacks often quotes that if we show our wisdom and understanding to the Nations who will hear about all our decrees, they will say “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."  I doubt whether they would say this if they were to hear the Lubavitch teachings.
 
Some ask why Lubavitch Rabbis were appointed to the United Synagogue if they are, as suggested, different.  I can only surmise that there must have been communities which urgently required a pastoral minister and may not have been aware of the significant difference between the Lubavitch religious beliefs and the beliefs of main-stream Judaism and brought pressure on the United Synagogue’s Honorary Officers to fill the vacancies.  I do know, however, that because the Honorary Officers had very strong reservations, they entered into a formal agreement with the Lubavitch, that they would refrain from challenging or duplicating our communal establishment, whether in Beth Din matters, Kashrut, Shechita, and so forth. 
 
It is unfortunate that the Honorary Officers did not also have the foresight to forbid Lubavitch Rabbis employed by the United Synagogue from using their close connection with our communities for fund raising on behalf of Lubavitch centres and their other activities.  They should be invited to use their undoubted talents to help raise much needed funds for their own local United Synagogue Community.  They should also be instructed not to encourage our members to attend Lubavitch “Shtebls".  There was once an American expression, no longer in vogue, which went “What is good for General Motors is good for America."  I should not be at all surprised if Lubavitch adopt a similar philosophy, “What is good for Lubavitch is good for the United Synagogue" and, with this philosophy the question of divided loyalty does not seem to cross their minds.
 
Some ask whether I am being sincere when I claim that I try to maintain a genuine friendship with those Lubavitch Rabbis and followers known to me personally, whilst attacking their theology so fiercely.  The answer is Yes, I am being sincere.  To think that one cannot differ strongly and fundamentally with a friend, is, in my opinion, and with respect, immature.  I gain nothing personally from this argument which is purely “Leshem Shamayim."
 
I am supported in this approach by both the Emeritus Chief Rabbi Jakobovitz and Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey M.Cohen, who, in their respective books “If only my People" and “Horizons of Jewish Prayer" give fulsome praise to the Lubavitch Outreach Programme whilst, at the same time, criticising many other aspects of their activities and beliefs.
 
One of our Rabbis has suggested that the growth of non-Orthodox Jewish communities in the UK could well be as a direct result of Lubavitch messianic hysteria and their fundamentalistic approach to Judaism.  Some historians suggest that similar developments have happened in the past.  For example:-
 
The false messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, who died in 1676 was the central figure of Shabbateanism; the messianic movement which evolved after his death.  This movement developed into an anarchic religion and permeated all strata of Jewish communities, including a number of Rabbis, to a remarkable extent.  The blasphemous benediction “Praise be to thee, O Lord, who permittest the forbidden," came to be considered by these radicals as a true expression of their religiosity and they behaved accordingly.
 
According to Gershom G.Sholem, in the year circa 1850, the consciousness of this link between Shabbateanism and the Reform Movement was still alive in some quarters and in circles close to the modern Reform Movement, a very remarkable and undoubtedly authentic tradition has it, that Aron Shorin, the first pioneer of Reform Jewry in Hungary was, in his youth, a member of the Shabbatean group in Prague.  It was early in the 1800s that the Modern Reform Movement began in Europe, possibly as a reaction to the Shabbateans.  The Shabbatean Movement started its slow decline following the death of Eva Frank in 1816.
                                               
According to letters which appear in the press from Lubavitch Rabbis, and from Newspaper reports, it now appears that the Lubavitch Movement is trying to play down the concept of the Rebbe being “King Messiah" and is projecting him as a remarkable man, whose continued life deserves to be prayed for.  But when the inevitable end comes, who will be there to counsel his young and gullible followers, brought up on the propaganda which, at enormous cost, promoted Rabbi Schneerson as King Messiah.  Will there develop a Movement following the Rebbe’s passing similar to that which followed the passing of Shabbetai Zevi?
 
 It would be a worthwhile exercise to read about the Shabbeteans and Frank (Jacob) in any Jewish Encyclopaedia.  They and Lubavitch derived their mystical beliefs and teachings from the same mystical source and it is worrying to realise how similar is their basic theology.
 
There have been newspaper reports stating the Lubavitch Movement has grave problems; that it is riven with factional splits leading to a struggle between two camps with implications which are impossible to foresee.
 
Any Organisation, particularly a charity organisation, which has a multi-million dollar turnover each year with capital assets to match and which does not have the built-in system of public accountability, can be affected this way.  What effect these troubles will have on the United Synagogue only time will tell.
 
To my mind, there are strong similarities between the Lubavitch Movement and an Insurance Company which operated in this country many years ago.  This Insurance Company marketed an investment which was too good to be true.  The investment appeared to grow almost daily.  Naturally, the public showed great interest in investing in the product and the Company’s representatives, who, on the whole, were genuine and honest persons, were happy for their product was comparatively easy to sell and they received their due reward.  Many cautioned against the product, but, in the climate of enthusiasm, the caution went unheeded.  It was only when the Management of the Company proved to be a “false messiah" and the product proved to be “fool’s gold" that the Company collapsed; the public was chastened and the Company’s representatives bewildered.  Lubavitch for the past many years have been selling a product which is too good to be true.  “Moshiach Now" and “Instant Redemption".  Lubavitch Rabbis, the Movement’s representatives, found the product an easy one to sell to a section of the population and they are happy with their perceived achievements.  We will now have to see what will happen to the Movement when the Rebbe proves to be just mortal.
 
In response to my last memorandum, one of the phone calls which I received came from a Rabbi who confided to me that many Rabbis agreed with many of the views which I express, but, since I was a layman unknown to them, they could not support me publicly.   If this is so, I should be grateful if these Rabbis would step forward and take on the task for which they are better qualified and which they should be able to do much better than I.  Another reason for their not giving public support could be that they are aware of the vilification which our Emeritus Chief Rabbi received when he dared to criticise some of the Lubavitch pronouncements and which he describes in his book “If only my People" (p.98).  Unfortunately, this vilification continues.
 
I am aware that both our Chief Rabbi and the Honorary Officers of the United Synagogue are presently confronted with many problems.  I would, however, ask them to give some thought to the concern which I express in this memorandum, or else they may wake up one day to find that part of the United Synagogue has been alienated from us and its loyalty directed elsewhere.
 
July 1994
 
P.S.   It is now some five years since I wrote the above Essay and, whilst, according to newspaper reports, Lubavitch is going from strength to strength financially, it is still too early to know what their future holds.  We know that in Israel, England, the USA and other parts of the world there are groups who express, quite vocally, the opinion that the Rebbe is not dead, just hiding.  There are many others who also share this belief but express the view in a low key.  We read of internal dissention amongst the hierarchy of the Movement and only time will tell whether Lubavitch will revert to being accepted by all as a mainstream Jewish Movement.  There are many great rabbis, currently, who do not consider them as such.
  
July 1999