Chabad Messianism - History of Messianism - During Schneerson's Life

During Schneerson's Life

According to research by Rachel Elior, the expectations that the Rebbe was the messiah built slowly through the 1980s. While she argues that the messianism of Chabad can be traced back to the 1950s and the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, she cites evidence that the 1980s saw an upsurge in messianism. The Rebbe himself spoke more about purifying all parts of the world through Torah and Mitzvot and bringing Moshiach. People would write letters addressed to Moshiach instead of Schneerson, conversations centering around Schneerson's true identity became more prevalent, and as Schneerson spoke more and more frequently on the issue of the Messiah, the fervor grew. Elior argues that the development of Chabad Messianism was in response to the holocaust and constituted an attempt by Schneerson to offer an explanation and purpose in the face of such destruction offered "eschatological certainty and messianic purpose — what appeared to be the only rational response from a theological point of view."

According to Paul R. Carlson, Schneerson became more direct about the messianic age during the Gulf War of 1991. Schneerson was quoted in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as telling his followers that it would "herald the coming of the Messiah" quoting from the medrash Yalkut Shimoni : Understood by all Lubavitcher chasidim to mean that Israel should not fear in the face of threats by Saddam Hussein against Kuwait and, the threat of chemical warfare against Israel - as mentioned in private talks to chasidim asking questions about the need for gas masks.“The year in which Melech HaMashiach will be revealed, all the nations of the world will be provoking each other. The king of Persia will provoke the king of Arabia . The king of Arabia will go to the King of Edom (the leader of the Christian nations – the president of the United States) to take counsel, and the king of Persia will threaten to destroy the entire world. Moshiach will then say "Humble ones, the time of your redemption has arrived." Other evidence for this included the fall of communism and the mass immigration of Russian Jews to Israel. Carlson cites Rabbi Chaim Bergstein in the Detroit Jewish News as saying "I'm not saying he is or isn't Mashiach, but there is no one as learned this generation."

Menachem Friedman wrote in 1991 that "...the fact that he has no children and has never groomed a successor... renders the issue of continuity in the Chabad dynasty a threatening question. Much earlier though this question was quietly resolved in a talk from the Rebbes home ten days following his wifes death in spring 1988 about establishing a religious court of rabbis whenever questions should arise if the same should happen to "the leader of the generation", meaning to say the Rebbe himself shall remain Rebbe. " He added: "...the spread of belief in the Rebbe as the messiah is facilitated by the total absence of checks and balances in Chabad Hasidism. There is no-one offer a word of criticism. During the late 1980s Chabad rabbis across the United States not only declared the coming of the messiah as imminent, but said that it would be Schneerson. For example, one Rabbi Asher Zeilingold told the press that he "expect the messiah to come at any moment" and that Schneerson "soon will be recognized by God as the saviour."

Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo brought up the issue in 1984 by publishing a booklet declaring Schneerson to be the Messiah. Schneerson responded by writing "It has come to pass that because of his activities ... hundreds of Jews have stopped learning Chassidus, and now oppose the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings in actuality. It appeared to some that the Rebbe finally approved of the declaration of the Rebbe as Messiah at a public talk on the 6th of Iyar 1991 when young Rabbi Dovid Nachshon and others repeated Yechi also on the hebrew date of the 15th of Iyar the Rebbe for the first time encouraged the singing of "Yechi", the slogan about the Rebbe being the Messiah."

In fact, however, several months later on the 4th Cheshvan 5752, at a farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) on Shabbat Parshat No'ach, the Rebbe publicly admonished those who were singing that song. He threatened to leave the farbrengen, and only stayed so that it would not dissipate.

Anthropologist Vanessa Ochs spent the year of Schneerson's death living among women in the Chabad congregation in Stamford Hill, London. She writes that:

Before his death most of the women I encountered said they believed--or at least hoped--that their Rebbe would not die, but would rather emerge - "rise up" was the expression they used--as the Messiah. In the streets outside 770, I was told, women danced through the night with their tambourines, singing to greet the Rebbe as Messiah, despite his physical death.

By 1992 Chabad messianism was gaining wide publicity. When the Rebbe suffered a stroke, some Chabad followers became more vocal and explicit in their messianism as they realized the need for them to spread the message themselves based on a talk of the Rebbe midwinter that year. Time magazine journalist Lisa Beyer reported on the issue that year, noting that the followers in Kfar Chabad were expecting Schneerson to reveal himself as the Messiah imminently. She reported that Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael had openly declared that Schneerson should reveal himself as such, and saying that even if he were to die "the leader's death would not disprove his Messianic potential."

A group of Chabad hasidim led by Rabbi Shlomo Ezagui took their message to the streets of Palm Beach County with ten billboards declaring, "Now!! 1900 Years Waiting. It's Here-Messianic Era." Ezagui told the Miami Herald that "...we are declaring through the billboards that the time's about to happen."

Read more about this topic:  Chabad Messianism, History of Messianism

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