Friday, January 04, 2008

Converting a Messianist

In a recent article, the Jerusalem Post reported that a potential convert was turned down by a religious court because of his belief that the deceased Lubavitcher Rebbe is the messiah (link). In chapter six of my book Can the Rebbe be Moshiach?, I addressed the issue of whether this belief is heretical. I have since discussed the issue with a number of authorities and the consensus I have found is that they consider the belief wrong, perhaps dangerous, but not heretical (link). In a brief responsum to me not mentioned in that post, and also in a number of articles, R. Shlomo Aviner has also said that Lubavitch Messianism is not heretical (see here: I, II).

But that might be somewhat beside the point. Click here to read moreEven if the belief is not heretical, is it appropriate to convert an individual with such a problematic belief? I have been told an unverified story of someone within the past decade who was allowed to convert to Judaism despite a belief that Jesus is the messiah. The religious court (reportedly Yemenite) ruled that this person's commitment to traditional Jewish beliefs is not undermined by belief that Jesus will rise from the dead and be the messiah. His was not a conventional Christian belief but that Jesus was a pious rabbi whose teachings have been distorted by Christians. I do not see a substantial difference between this belief and that of Lubavitch Messianists. Even if neither are heretical, both are so far out of mainstream Judaism that I question whether we should be converting people maintaining such beliefs. Does the Jewish community really need such crazies?

The Jerusalem Post articles states that "a source in the State Conversion Authority said that at least two leading religious Zionist rabbis ruled that messianic Chabad was beyond the pale of normative Jewish belief." I am not sure whether this means that they consider it heresy or simply so far out of mainstream that those who hold such beliefs should not be welcomed into the Jewish community.

On the other hand, there are large numbers of Orthodox Jews who believe that the deceased Lubavitcher Rebbe is the messiah. The Crown Heights Bais Din has as a member, R. Aharon Ya'akov Schwei, who is an outspoken messianist and there are many other prominent Lubavitch rabbis (such as R. Shalom Dovber Wolpe - link) who espouse this position. Should the Israeli Rabbinate be in the job of disenfranchising entire Orthodox communities?

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