Reprinted from the January/February 2002 issue of Moment magazine with permission of the author.

Fill in the blanks in the following statement: "It does not matter at all if the physical pulse is active or not, and if various phenomena associated with physical life as we recognize them exist, the physical life of ---- never operated in the manner familiar to us, and that true physical life continues with precisely the same force as before. More than this: ... ---- is the 'master of the house' with respect to all that happens to him and all that happens in the world. Without his agreement, no event can take place, and if it is his will, he can bring about anything, and who can tell him what to do? It follows that if he wills it, he can at any moment cause his physical sense to act in a manner familiar to us, and his failure to do so is solely the result of the fact that it is not his will to do so."

The answer, surely, is clear: the missing word in the above statement must be "Jesus." Perhaps it is a Christian statement, or possibly a Jews for Jesus tract?

Guess again. The correct answer is "Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson," the Rebbe, who died in 1994. The quote is from Rabbi Levi Yitzchack Ginsberg, a religious mentor at the major Lubavitch center in Israel. It was published in a 1996 catechism in Safed, Israel, designed to provide answers about the Messiah and Redemption. (The source of the quote, according to the citation, was Ginsberg's book "Mashiah Akhshav", volume IV, published before the Rebbe's death.) Ginsberg's point needs little clarification: the Rebbe is the Messiah.

This quotation, and many more like it, can be found in a new book, "The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference," (London and Portland: Littman Library, 2001). Author David Berger, an Orthodox rabbi and a professor of Medieval Jewish History at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has carried on a lonely battle to expose and denounce what he says is a mainstream belief among Chabad Hasidim that Schneerson is the Messiah--and that he will ultimately be resurrected to usher in the messianic era.

Berger describes his book as a memoir, history, religious tract, and indictment. It is also a call to arms. "I write...with the hope that this account will awaken believing Jews from their torpor, alert them to the catastrophe that has befallen their faith, and inspire them to take the simple yet difficult steps needed to transform this moment from a turning point into an episode," he writes. "If we do not seize this opportunity, a nearly irrevocable transformation will have been effected, and by the time the truth sinks in, it may well be too late to act."

Chabad-Lubavitch is a Crown Heights, Brooklyn-based Hasidic movement with roots in 18th century Poland. That's where the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, preached Judaism based on the omnipresence of God in all things: Even simple Jews could serve God through inner joy. Many branches of Hasidism developed over the next century, each growing around a particular rebbe and his teachings. The Chabad-Lubavitch sprang from the writings of 18th-century Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who published the Tanya, which is revered by adherents today as containing the key to spiritual awareness. Lubavitch is the Belorussian town where the movement began; "Chabad" is an acronym, deriving from the Hebrew words for wisdom (chochma), intelligence (bina), and faith (da'at).

There have been seven Lubavitcher rebbes since Rabbi Zalman, each designated by his predecessor. Schneerson became the seventh rebbe 51 years ago, and he transformed the movement from a closed Eastern European-oriented community into a highly public movement with a worldwide following. By January 1994, with the Rebbe's health failing, Chabad leadership declared that Schneerson would be the final rebbe. It gave no official reason for the decision, sparking an expectation among some that the Rebbe might be the Messiah. Shortly thereafter, Berger argues, a "persistent messianism" began to take hold among the Rebbe's followers. Today, more than 3,000 Chabad emissaries occupy posts in far-flung locales worldwide, spreading Lubavitch teachings.

On June 17, 1994, days after the Rebbe's death, a full-page ad appeared in the Jewish Press, the Orthodox weekly published in New York City. The text of the ad concluded: "With broken hearts we reaffirm our faith that we will at once witness Techiyas Hameisim [the resurrection of the dead] and we will have the Rebbe lead us out of Golus [exile] immediately, and together we will proclaim, Yechi adonenu morenu verabbenu Melech hamoshiach leolam voed [May our Master, Teacher, and Rabbi, the King Messiah, live forever]."

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