Another Side of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
There is little doubt that Chabad Hasidism constitutes one of the most, if not the most, potent Jewish messianic movements in the 20th century. Messianic movements are complex, organic, bipolar creatures. Their power is generated by a mix of charismatic leadership and historical conditions that merge to create a volatile bubbling mix of religious enthusiasm, utopian optimism and, when they fail, foreboding and crushing disappointment. Such disappointment makes them prone to revisionism.
Revisionism is often a pejorative term, referring to a mutation or distortion of an idea. I do not use it that way in this essay. By revisionism I refer to a recalibration of a claim, ideology, or idea when history proves it untenable, in this case, when Chabad's leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who many believed was the messiah, dies. For the movement to survive, it must reassess its central claim and interpret it in a way that both coheres with the present reality and also keeps the original idea alive. In the case of Schneerson, such revisionism gestated in the context of collective mourning and introspection. When Schneerson passed away, 25 years ago this week, more impatient minds offered more radical solutions, such as claiming the Rebbe did not die but is merely occluded, prepared to return at any moment. In some circles, his yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death (the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz), is referred to only as "the events of 3 Tammuz." As is the case in many transitional periods, the status quo had a limited shelf life. The tension between Schneerson's messianic status and the reality of his death was just too great to sustain. Internal Chabad revisions became necessary.
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