Monday, 5 July 2010

Has the JC become a Lubi ragsheet? I ask because in this week's issue they published a hostile review of The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman. The book is not sympathetic to the Lubi line and not surprisingly the Lubavitchers are far from happy. As usual they've taken to attacking the authors, the reseach, the sources and anything that is inconvenient to the demi-God they've made of the previous Rebbe, assuming we may talk of him in the past tense.

A hostile review of course does not turn the JC into Lubavitchers but it's when you consider who the reviewer is and the basis for his hostility that you begin to wonder. The reviewer is David Klinghoffer who according to Wiki is a BT from reform judaism who in his writings seeks to promote opposition to Darwinian views of evolution. Show me someone with these credentials and neutral to Chabad and I'll consider reconsidering.

I googled the reviewer because after reading his review I was left wondering who he was and why the review was ever published. First it was news to me that 'You hear much less now about the Rebbe-is Messiah concept.' I keep on seeing the Moshiach message regularly and while it doesn't make the headlines because it's been going on for some time I haven't heard anything to suggest that the movement is waning and much to suggest that its following is as strong as ever.

Then there was a paragraph about 'the mystery of why Chabad is now more omnipresent in Jewish life...' Well it isn't a 'mystery' as not many movements set out with Chabad's aims and their resources. It's no mystery that they're doing well in Russia by sucking up to Putin and it's no mystery that they do well in dying communities by commandeering local facilities or pouring in loads of cash to set up rival organisations. But then the Discovery Institute, of which Mr Klinghoffer is a senior fellow, has a link on its website to 'The Real Russia Project' whose goal is 'to offer to offer an accurate picture of life in Russia'. 'Accurate' as in no mention of the murder of critics of the regime, the stifling of the press and the absence of law and order. So success in Russia for instance must truly be a mystery if not outright divine providence.

Another criticism of the book is that the source for many of the damaging insinuations in the book are attributed to a bitter opponent who was also a nephew of the Rebbe. Well, I doubt he wanted them to source their material from 770 who would have maintained that the Rebbe studied at the Sorbonne and which the authors show to be a gross lie. Nothing of this by the way in the review.

But what most stunned me was the following paragraph:
Great men are rare but the Rebbe was one such. I remember the feeling of being torn and abandoned that strangely overcame me the night he died, though I was not aware he had done so and I was not -- and am not - a Chabad follower. Readers of this biography may wonder if the authors have failed to grasp their subject because he inhabited a realm with vaster and deeper spiritual dimensions than they, like squares contemplating a sphere, can fully appreciate.
So according to this reviewer the proof of the greatness of the Rebbe which the authors cannot fully appreciate lies not so much in the Rebbe himself but in the telepathic feelings of the reviewer on the death of the Rebbe. We can debate whether the reviewer could do with some medical assistance but I can't see how the Rebbe becomes implicated in this either way.

I'm not sure what I made of the Rebbe by the end of the review but I have some serious doubts about the greatness of the JC.


Anonymous said...

Try the debate raging on the Seforim Blog.

I don't know if you have read the book. I did and found it dissapointing.

IfYouTickleUs said...

I haven't read the book but from various reviews I take it that it has quite a lot of psychobabble and speculation rather than hard facts. On the other hand the Paris/Berlin years is good old fashioned research by Friedmant over many years.

I did link to the Sefroim blog though I doubt whether any book scrutinised as this one would stand the test. To the Lubees presenting the Rebbe as fallible or even just as a mere mortal must have a Lubee/Rebbe-bashing agenda and so spot a couple of errors, half a dozen 'misinterpretations' and the Rebbe is back on his messianic ass leading us all to redemption. Yechi!

Anonymous said...

Not quite.

Actually Friedman's research may be old fashioned but not terribly good.

Rapoport's critique and his rebuttal of H and F's reply are worth reading even if you haven't read the book.