Saturday, April 22, 2006

Who runs "770"?

Jpost: A recent court decision has awarded control of the headquarters of Lubavitch Hassidism in Brooklyn to the "non-messianist" Agudath Chasidei Chabad. This ruling, which has elicited considerable coverage in the Jewish media, highlights the tensions between reality and perception that cloud the understanding of this ongoing controversy. The main synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway has been controlled for some time by hassidim who believe not only that the late Rebbe is the Messiah but that he remains physically alive. Slogans proclaiming his Messiahship adorn the synagogue, including the cover of the ark containing the Torah scrolls; worshippers form an aisle through which he marches as services begin, and children point to him as he sits in his superficially empty chair.....This was triggered by a violent confrontation in which such congregants defaced a plaque placed on the exterior of the building by the moderates. The plaque's intolerable offense was that it referred to the presumably living Rebbe with an honorific abbreviation characterizing the righteous dead. In the course of the legal proceedings, the hassidim who control the synagogue argued that they represent the majority of the community and that the court has no authority to intervene in a theological dispute. The judge agreed with the last assertion and took no position on the first; he maintained, however, that he has every authority to rule on a question of property law, and the building in question, he said, clearly belongs to Agudath Chasidei Chabad. Journalists who have asked leaders of the victorious group what changes they intend to institute now that they presumably have the authority to do so have thus far been provided with assurances lacking in specificity. One of the difficulties these leaders face is that believers in the Rebbe's Messiahship indeed constitute a majority of the Crown Heights community, though the percentage who attribute to him continued physical life and/or divinity, while certainly substantial, is more difficult to assess. Moreover, spokespersons for Agudath Chasidei Chabad itself explicitly affirm that there is a real possibility that the Rebbe will reveal himself as the Messiah, and their opponents' assertion that they themselves believe this firmly though covertly may well be correct.....
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