A Brief Response To Marc B. Shapiro
by David Berger
In response to Prof. Marc B. Shapiro's recent comments in, "Thoughts on Confrontation & Sundry Matters Part II," Prof. David Berger, submitted the following response to readers of the Tradition-Seforim blog. For the recently-published paperback edition of his book on Lubavitch messianism, which follows the Hebrew translation of his book -- see David Berger,HaRebbe Melekh HaMashiach, Sah'aruriyyat ha-Adishut, ve-ha-Iyyum al Emunat Yisrael (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2005) -- and which includes a new introduction where he responds to earlier criticisms of the book, see David Berger, The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, With a new Introduction (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2008).
This is his first contribution to the Tradition Seforim blog.
Since I've written an entire book about Chabad messianism, there is little point in my rehearsing the arguments here in truncated form. I will make just two brief observations.
First, Prof. Shapiro writes, "Unlike Professor David Berger, it doesn't overly concern me that the belief in a Second Coming didn't exist twenty years ago. After all, Judaism is a developing religion." My point, of course, is not that the belief did not exist twenty years ago. It is that Jews through the ages repeatedly--through both word and deed--rejected the possibility that God would send the Messiah to announce that redemption was imminent, preside over a movement identifying him as the Messiah, and then die in an unredeemed world. In short, Chabad messianism destroys the gedarim, or defining parameters, of one of the ikkarei he-emunah. Since this point was a key argument used against Christianity for untold generations, rendering it false is a betrayal not only of the Jewish faith but of generations of Jewish martyrs.
Second, there is the reality of toleration by rabbinic leaders (my "scandal of indifference"), which for Prof. Shapiro determines not only what Judaism has become but what we ought to accept as legitimate. Now, in discussing Christianity, he goes on to say that the incarnation, or belief that a human being is God, is way over the line. He does not, however, return to Chabad in that part of his discussion, because he would be required to confront his earlier criterion with all its terrible consequences. I have shown that a significant segment of Chabad hasidim (not just a few lunatics) maintain a fully incarnationist doctrine, and yet the rabbis who believe this (including some of Prof Shapiro's "great Torah scholars" who allegedly deserve respect despite their adherence to the "messianic foolishness") are also generally treated as Orthodox rabbis in every respect. The reasons for this indifference are discussed in chapter 13 of my book, and they have little to do with theology. It may indeed be that even this belief will become so legitimated that Judaism will be fundamentally transformed; it is, however, much too early to make such a judgment even about "mere" messianism, and it is beyond irresponsible to look at this development with the cool eye of an analyst without attempting to stem the tide. Historic Judaism is in mortal danger. Let outsiders watch this process in detached fascination. Those of us who care about preserving the faith of our ancestors must take a stand. If we fail, the proper reaction will not be to accept this with equanimity as analogous to the distribution of shirayim; it will be to tear keriah as we mourn the destruction of core elements of our faith.