In the Absence of Loving Kindness 2: Between Man and God – by Malki Rose

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series In the Absence of Loving Kindness

By Malki Rose

Over the last few days since my piece “In the Absence of Loving Kindness,” I’ve received a great number of emails from many different people, from all sectors of the community. Some disagreed intensely with my account, suggesting that what the messianists did was so clearly outside of what is permissible in Jewish law, that Rabbi Telsner had no choice but to publicly distance himself from them and their behaviour.

I would like to make abundantly clear that I agree with this completely.

Rabbi Telsner, as leader of the Australian Chabad Community, absolutely had to issue some form of public statement distancing himself and the mainstream Chabad community from these people and their actions.

Because Rabbi Telsner (and many others) believed that the messianists were publicly and blatantly disregarding Jewish Law, he had no choice but to demonstrate in a concrete manner that this was not acceptable practice within the Chabad community, nor was it in keeping with the Chabad message.

In itself, this is not a controversial position among Orthodox Jews. Any leader who fails to respond to a major – and very public – controversy in his community would, after all, be failing in his role as leader.

My initial piece, however, focused on the timing and the method of Rabbi Telsner’s condemnation.

To highlight the absurdity of how this affair was managed, I would like to present the following questions:

Have there ever, in the history of the Chabad community, been other individuals who have done something that demonstrated a disregard or disrespect for halacha (Jewish Law)?

If so, how were these transgressors dealt with by our leaders, if at all?

Is it possible that there could have been a kinder, more compassionate way (in keeping with the great Rabbi Schneerson’s teachings) to have dealt with the messianists as an alternative to advising “that they are to be ostracized by all members of the community,” be excluded from any religious activities or honours and that “one should not speak to them or have any business dealings with them?”

Globally, Chabad members are encouraged to believe that Rabbi Schneerson, although deceased, remains the true King Messiah, although this shows a blatant disregard for Jewish Law, which states that the Messiah must be a living and very mortal man. How then can any leader fault messianists if that philosophy is taken to its very obvious conclusion? If the Messiah is alive, and the messianic era is here, then is it not correct to behave accordingly?

In the light of these previous questions, it is reasonable to ask: were there other socio-political reasons for the treatment of these individuals which had nothing to do with Jewish law at all? If so, what were they?

After 16 years of watching messianists the world over celebrate Rabbi Schneerson as the King Messiah, the sudden objection to the group that was ostracised is difficult to understand. The question must therefore be transformed from “Why have these messianists held a feast on a fast day to celebrate the messianic age?” to, “Why have all the many other Chabad messianists not done the same for the past 16 years?” If they truly believed that Rabbi Schneerson was the Messiah and the messianic age had arrived, their reluctance makes little sense.

In light of the broader messianist worldview, which constitutes a significant proportion of the Chabad community, have the osstracised messianists actually displayed a blatant disregard for Jewish Law?

Because Chabad has been divided theologically since Rabbi Schneerson’s death, and because no Chabad leader in Australia or anywhere else has pronounced decisively on whether Rabbi Schneerson was indeed the Messiah, Rabbi Telsner’s edict may be a case of too little, too late, for some, and too much, but still too late for others.

The time to reel in and “re-educate” those who strayed from mainstream Orthodoxy has long since passed. The messianist stream in Chabad is now well and truly entrenched.

The harshness of Rabbi Telsner’s edict, therefore serves only to demonstrate a failure to act earlier and a lack of compassion when it’s already too late.  It can not act as a deterrent for those whose beliefs are so firmly oriented towards messianism and it does nothing to provide Chinuch (education) for the rest of the Chabad movement, beyond instilling a sense of fear.

Ostracism is not the answer. It sets a dangerous precedent. Rabbi Groner would not have done it and neither would Rabbi Schneerson. Their teaching focused on compassion and education as exemplified by Rabbi Schneerson’s espousal of loving kindness as his movement’s guiding principle.

Judaism distinguishes between two categories of sin:

bein adom l’chaveiroh, (between man and his fellow man)

bein adom l’makom (between man and god)

The public castigation and ostracism of a small group of messianists seems to show a preference for policing matters between man and God, while a multitude of sins committed by men against fellow men goes unchallenged. The only remaining question is whether this constitutes good religious leadership.

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