Hasidic People: A Place in the New World

By Jerome R. Mintz | Go to book overview

28
Lubavitch: The Messiah Issue

The Messiah and the Rebbes

In each generation Orthodox Jews impatiently await the coming of the direct descendant of the House of David who will defeat the oppressor, rebuild the Temple, and reign in Jerusalem. They anticipate as well the war of Gog and Magog that will mark the coming of the messianic era. These beliefs are cornerstones of Orthodox Judaism. 1 Not even the Holocaust has broken the messianic faith of most Hasidic survivors.

Concepts differ on how the arrival of the Messiah can be hastened. One view asserts that when everyone in the community adheres to the Mosaic laws the Messiah will appear; another maintains that the Messiah will come when there is a complete breakdown of social control. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. They exist side by side, one taking precedence over the other according to social conditions. In the Hasidic community, punctilious fulfillment of the commandments is based in part on the assumption that adherence to the laws will promote the coming of the Messiah and the end of the exile. Messianic fervor, however, has never gripped the entire Hasidic community as it had seventeenth-century Jewry, when Sabbatai Zevi's claims led to a collective frenzy of hope followed swiftly by disillusionment and despair. In fact Gershom Scholem argued that in early Hasidism messianic hopes were for a time neutralized. With messianism removed from the center of religious thought, greater emphasis was placed on serving God in exile. 2

While Hasidism may have initially reduced the level of "high Messianic tension," nonetheless, the messianic ideal persisted in Hasidism in sustainable proportions from its inception. 3 A Messiah is said to be born in every generation, and from time to time some Hasidim have professed to know the identity of the Messiah. A number of the Baal Shem Tov's followers apparently regarded him as the Messiah, although the founder of Hasidism had no such illusions himself. 4 Among the early tzaddikim, Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav is said to have thought that he possessed the

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