Do any rabbis comment on how to relate to members of the subset of Chabad who believe that the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt"l was the Messiah? For example, do non-messianist Orthodox rabbis generally advise that people interact with messianists in some particular way, or do they generally instruct people to interact with messianists in the same way that they interact with any other Jew?

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    Would the downvoter care to comment?
    – Double AA
    Apr 8 '13 at 22:12
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    "Was"? Or "is"? Two very different questions. (Not the downvoter, BTW) Apr 8 '13 at 23:20
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    @DoubleAA It's supposed to say "Bechezkas Mashiach", and lots of people can have that title. No one believes the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Mashiach, the question is about "was" or "is" "Bechezkas Mashiach". The opposition is to the belief that someone dead can be "Bechezkas Mashiach", others were opposed because they feel that no one should declare anyone to be Bechezkas Mashiach.
    – Ariel
    Apr 9 '13 at 0:58
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    @Ariel "No one believes the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Mashiach." That depends on what the meaning of the word is is.
    – Fred
    Apr 9 '13 at 4:44
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    @Fred Ha! :D But I think Ariel is right. "Is"ers and "was"ers disagree on whether he is/was b'chezkas and whether he will become Moshiach. I don't think anyone actually thinks he fulfills/fulfilled the Rambam's requirements for a vadai. Apr 9 '13 at 5:39

Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, wrote a responsum regarding how to interact with Meshichistim (defined by him as anyone who believes that R Menachem Mendel Schneerson Zichrono Livracha will be resurrected to become the promised Messiah). He writes that they are not considered heretics, and thus their testimony in religious court and their ritual slaughter is valid and they can even count for a Minyan. However, he writes that since their belief is so dangerously wrong, it is forbidden to assist them in publicizing this belief. If one is present when they overtly declare it (such as through the Yechi statement) then one must protest if possible or at least leave the room. Additionally, no one with this belief should be relied upon for religious rulings (psak) as they are certainly lacking in השגה נכונה proper reasoning, and they should not be appointed Rabbis or religious leaders. One should not go to hear them give divrei Torah as their words should be assumed to be in error, and even going to listen can cause others to mistakenly think the wrong beliefs are acceptable.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim responded to the following question:

Q: Is it permissible to Daven in a Chabad Minyan, where they believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah?

A: Yes. A person who errs is still counted as part of a Minyan (And similarly, Ha-Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteiman [sic] answers this question: "Is it possible to Daven with someone who believes in nonsense?!" Be-Zot Yavo Aharon, p. 371).

  • hmm lots of Rabbis say that the belief is 'dangerously wrong' and other similar comments, but I have yet to see one source for this from Chazal/Shulchan Aruch. On the contrary - [as R. Soloveichik mentioned in his letter - ] there are many sources which reference the possibility of such a belief namely:the "Gemara in Sanhedrin, the Zohar, Abarbanel, Kisvei Arizal, S’dei Chemed, and other sources"... so where are the halachic sources which reject this??
    – Danield
    Apr 9 '13 at 22:35
  • @Danield That is not the topic of this question. But seriously? You've never seen any?
    – Double AA
    Apr 9 '13 at 22:38
  • "dangerously" was his word, btw. It's not a full translation, but I tried to maintain key formulations when possible.
    – Double AA
    Apr 9 '13 at 22:45
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    Well you mentioned Rabbi Berger already. Why don't you try his book to start? (I haven't read it myself, but I trust it is thorough.) You can also see the linked responsum in Shalom's answer, which no doubt you saw referenced already. You can see R Gil Student's book and a responsum by R Menashe Klein and look through footnotes (and the names) here, not to mention all those who reject your Gemara etc. as a source. I trust you are capable enough to use that and Google to find whatever you need.
    – Double AA
    Apr 9 '13 at 23:06
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    @Danield: you asked for examples. The best I can suggest is the Rebbe's own work, Likutei Sichos vol. 35 p. 206 n. 6, in which he holds that "the initial work of the Melech HaMoshiach will be before the redemption, as explained in the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 11:4) and certainly before the resurrection (including the righteous who arise immediately, as Chazal say (Yoma 5b) 'Moshe and Aharon with us')." Apr 10 '13 at 14:09

Rabbi Hershel Welcher was asked this question, and he referenced a quote from one of Rambam's letters about someone who was believed to be the messiah, then died; "some were crazy enough to think he was still the messiah after he died." Rabbi Welcher thus ruled that someone who believes a dead man is the messiah is not idolatrous nor an apostate -- he's just a little crazy. (I would assume that because the craziness is localized to one subject of belief and doesn't affect general behavior, we wouldn't call them a shoteh, halachically insane.)

Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin writes similarly Bnei Banim 4:26: "Someone who is mistaken in the identify of the Moshiach is no different than one who thinks Moshiach must have red hair or weigh a certain amount, for all these are vanity and folly (הבל ושטות) but are not heresy."

I also know a pulpit rabbi who wrote to several notable poskim (whose names I won't mention as they may not have wished these letters to be published) who ruled similarly -- "it's wrong but it doesn't affect their halachic status per se", with different degrees of attitude. (See caveats below).

As far as "how wrong" is such a position, it's debatable, some rabbis would say eh, they're following a minority opinion in the Talmud that was overruled; and besides, some Talmudic figures saw messianic qualities in their own teachers. Some would say it's more wrong than that.

But the bigger question, as I understand it, is "how dangerous" is such an opinion? Many are seriously concerned about a slide from "he's coming back as the messiah" to "he nullified himself to G-d so much that you can bow to a picture of him" or the like. (For instance, if someone today follows Rabbi Eliezer's opinion, that a Mohel can drive on shabbos if necessary to perform a circumcision -- they're very clearly wrong, that debate was settled 1800 years ago. But there's not much theological or sociological danger of morphing into something that's not Judaism!)

How many Lubavitchers believe exactly what, and what the best approach is to help as many as possible stay within the boundaries of our Thirteen Principles and the Rambam's Laws of the Knowledge [of G-d] ... well those are thorny issues that people debate.

  • would you mind posting a link to the Rambam's letter which you mentioned. I'd be interested to see that. Thanks.
    – Danield
    Apr 9 '13 at 21:44
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    @Danield: It's from the Rambam's Letter on Astrology. After describing the account of a false messiah, he writes "And even now there are some idiots (chasrei ha'daat) there who say that presently he will come back to life and rise." Read it for yourself: kotar.co.il/KotarApp/…
    – Aryeh
    Apr 10 '13 at 14:45
  • @Aryeh, How does Chasrei Hadaas translate to "idiots"? Sounds more "unknowledgable", "uninformed", or "unlearned." Apr 10 '13 at 16:11
  • @HodofHod: idiot, n.: A person without learning; an ignorant, uneducated person (Oxford English Dictionary)
    – Aryeh
    Apr 10 '13 at 20:41
  • @HodofHod This translation uses "dunces". It's all really the same, just a matter of connotation, and I think it's safe to say the Rambam wasn't trying to be politically correct.
    – Double AA
    Apr 10 '13 at 21:19

Based on my comment on the question the the questioner's reply:

... however, if any rabinic authority argues that it is not a problem, that would be a good answer to the question.

... then I suppose the following should suffice for an answer:

[A letter by Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik (published in the Jewish Press); bold font is my own for this answer]

"Before the passing of the Rebbe, I included myself among those who believe that the Rebbe was worthy of being Moshiach. And I strongly believe that had we, particularly the Orthodox community, been united, we would have merited to see the complete Redemption. Insofar as the belief held by many in Lubavitch - based in part on similar statements made by the Rebbe himself concerning his predecessor, the Previous Rebbe, including prominent rabbanim and roshei yeshiva - that the Rebbe can still be Moshiach in light of the Gemara in Sanhedrin, the Zohar, Abarbanel, Kisvei Arizal, S’dei Chemed, and other sources, it cannot be dismissed as a belief that is outside the pale of Orthodoxy. Any cynical attempt at utilizing a legitimate disagreement of interpretation concerning this matter in order to besmirch and to damage the Lubavitch movement that was, and continues to be, at the forefront of those who are battling the missionaries, assimilation, and indifference, can only contribute to the regrettable discord that already plagues the Jewish community, and particularly the Torah community."

Note: I am aware that R. Soloveichik himself disagreed with this belief, but nonetheless - his message is still very clear.

  • 2
    This fulfills the requirements for a valid answer, so +1 from me, though I think many would disagree with R' Aharon's assessment (or at least, perhaps, the way it has been construed by some).
    – Seth J
    Apr 9 '13 at 14:21
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    Where does he say it's not a problem? What is the message that you claim is so "clear"?
    – Double AA
    Apr 9 '13 at 14:53
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    @DoubleAA, my understanding is that "it's not a problem" refers to interacting with such believers, not that the belief itself is not a problem. Although the latter is how some have interpreted his statement, and taken it to extremes, hence my comment above.
    – Seth J
    Apr 9 '13 at 14:58
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    @SethJ Also, I don't know why you say the letter can be interpreted in multiple ways. R A Soloveichik clarified his position in a publicly available subsequent letter (available in part on Wikipedia) which labels the belief as repugnant, ridiculous, and the antithesis of truth: To my great dismay. . . publications affiliated with the Lubavitch movement have persisted in stating that I validate their belief that a Jewish Messiah may be resurrected from the dead. I completely reject and vigorously deny any such claim. As I have already stated publicly...
    – Double AA
    Apr 9 '13 at 16:15
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    This answer is disingenuous on multiple fronts. As DoubleAA noted, this answer abbreviates R. Aharon's thoughts on the issue. More importantly, the quote provided doesn't answer the question. Specifically, R. Aharon criticized those who wish to "besmirch and to damage the Lubavitch movement," not those who are honestly worried if such a movement is heretical. There is a big difference, and R. Aharon, at least from this answer, does not comment on how to relate to messianists.
    – Aryeh
    Apr 9 '13 at 17:55

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