Drawing the Line Between Messianic Jews and Chabadniks–and Why that Matters to Zionism

Hannah over at FearNottheGods has a very interesting post up, one that deserves much much more discussion. I started off over in the comments on her blog–and I recognize that I’ve made this argument before–but want to rehash the argument a bit here to see where it can go:

We’re at a time in the Jewish World in which a world empire has set a global culture of sorts towards which most of the world bends. Two thousand years ago it was the Greeks, today it is the Americans–different era, same dynamic.
Jews have, as always, adapted to these times. American Judaism–in particular–is undergoing a revival directly parallel to the general revival in religiosity in the US, one that is highly focused on the commodification of spirituality–the get-what-you-want-when-you-want-it experience of davening-with-the-cool-kids. That in and of itself is totally fine by my book–you should be able to pray any way you want. My question is, however, what is the philosophical basis of these prayer-experiences?

I would argue that what lies behind these prayer experiences is a belief in the divine nature of humans, the universal benevolence of God regardless of background or type, open individual access to the Creator, God’s ultimate acceptance of all of God’s creators without regards to the literal laws of Scripture, and the ideal that the messianic days in which nation should not rise up against nation are close at hand if we want it.

In other words, American Judaism has returned to the Midrash of Jesus.

As I write on Hannah’s blog, it should be noted that the Jews weren’t always against Jesus and his followers. Jesus was a Pharisee, and much of what we think he preached was echoed by great Sages such as Hillel and Rabbi Akiva. It has even been argued that some of the great rabbis– specifically Eliezer– harbored respect for Jesus’s midrash.

The great split began when the Jewish followers of Jesus–the Minim–started preaching that the polity they belonged to (that is, the community that was their primary concern) was not bounded by the Jewish People. At that point, Minim found more in common with the Notzrim — or the non-Jewish followers of Jesus– in that they both believed that certain policies were for the good of the larger collective–called the Flock, which potentially included all of Humanity. The more the Notzrim grew, and the more the School of Jesus moved away from a grounding on Jewish collectivity, the further away this community strayed from the Jewish polity. This occurred for one simple reason: when one values a set of a ideals (religious or “rational”) over the set of human beings bound to one by formal and traditionally held notions of collective responsibility (family, tribe, nation), one becomes willing to act against the self-determined interests of that collective in the sake of the ideal-determined prescribed action.

As such, the prayer “Al’Ha’Malshinim” was added to the eighteen benedictions of the Amidah is called “Al’Ha’Malshinim” and not “Al’Ha’Kofrim’ (translation: “about those who turn-on-us” and not “about those who turn-on-God”), and the break between the two communities continued ever since.

Chabad, as much as elements within them believe in the Rebbe, have never taken themselves outside of the Jewish People. In fact, other than a Messianic belief in a human being (which is entirely rabbinic — the messiah in rabbinic mythology is a man, son of David), Chabad does not–at this point–believe that its political interests are different than the interests of the general Jewish community. Sure, they might disagree–but the bottom line is that their fundamental loyalty is to the Jewish People. Not so with Messianic Jews or Minim, whose fundamental loyalty is to a system of ideals that is larger than one People, a system of ideals that preaches as Jesus did: “Who are my Brothers? You are all my brothers”–that is, a Universalism that denies the importance of bounded, particular collectives.

Where does this put the Satmar? Those who actively aid the enemies of the Jewish People are, as far as I’m concerned, outside of the Jewish People. Those who don’t remain part of the Jewish People, even if they disagree with our current trajectory. Where does that put those not born Jewish who live as Jews? Within the Jewish polity: “your people are my people,” and only later, “your God is my God.”

This distinction, therefore, is directly relevant to the question of Zionism: if Zionism is the movement to fulfill the collective potential of the Jewish People, we need to first identify who is a member of the Jewish People and who is not. In other words, in an age in which there is a defined sovereign Jewish polity that decides its affairs based upon the opinion of its members–through democratic process–we must redefine who is a Jew accordingly.

[crossposted on BoZ]

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