Magazine article The Christian Century

Lubavitcher Rabbi Schneerson Dies

Magazine article The Christian Century

Lubavitcher Rabbi Schneerson Dies

Article excerpt

In an apparent break from thousands of years of Jewish theology, a growing number of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's followers are predicting that he, will rise from the dead and proclaim himself the Messiah. Schneerson, the grand rabbi of the Lubavitchers, the more conservative wing of the Hasidic Jewish sect, died June 12 at the age of 92. The rebbe, as he was known, left no successor, and the resulting leadership vacuum has fostered turmoil within his 250,000-member movement.

"One month ago Lubavitchers were not teaching that they expected the rebbe to die and be resurrected. This is not a theological position that was held by anyone, including Lubavitch, until now," commented Orthodox Rabbi Tzvi Blanchard, senior teaching fellow at the Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership in New York. "The one exception [in Jewish history] has been Christians," Blanchard said, noting there is "no connection" between Christian theology and' the new thinking among Lubavitchers struggling to come to terms with their bereavement.

"Traditional Jewish sources have not taught that Moshiach [the Hebrew word for Messiah] is a person who will be born, die and be resurrected," Blanchard said. "You know he's Moshiach before he dies." The ranks of Lubavitchers who believe in a Messiah who will rise from the dead appear to be growing following die death of the leader many believed was the Messiah while he was alive.

As word of the rebbe's death made its way through the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn where the movement is headquartered, some of his followers sat on the curb, weeping openly in the damp night air; others responded by dancing and singing "Our leader, our rabbi, our teacher, our king, long live king Messiah!" The song had been chanted to the rebbe when he was alive. And though the movement's senior rabbis ordered them to stop, fervent followers of the rebbe continued singing his praises,

"Ninety-nine percent of us are still singing "Long live king Messiah! …

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