While last week’s 770 decision passed without much comment, the leadership of the movement as embodied by its central organization — Agudas Chasidei Chabad — sees it as a watershed moment allowing it to take on the messianists in the sect with a move they’ve long been hoping for. For them, this isn’t just about the right to keep a cornerstone plaque referring to the late Rebbe as “of blessed memory.”
Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, chairman of the executive committee of Agudas, said in a phone interview yesterday that “There are many things that we have refrained from doing in order to avoid confrontation and in order to avoid unnecessary conflict,” and that now, with the legal decision in hand, they will endeavor to restrict “the access and the over-excessive access by individuals whose beliefs and whose conduct is completely foreign to the Lubavitch movement,” referring to the messianists who’ve been occupying 770.
Responding to the common assumption that the reason why the messianist element within 770 has remained is because of political considerations or a lack of desire to see it gone, Shemtov said “That is completely incorrect; the desire has always been there, but there were considerations that could not have been avoided” before the ruling. Now, he said, Agudas is “weighing the immediate steps to implement the permissions that come with it.”
So, what will 770 look like six months or two years down the line? “770 will look as it should, reflecting the beliefs and the direction of Lubavitch which is all-inclusive, a place for everybody to feel at home and to feel inspired to conduct themselves as a Jew and a Yid should…I think that we are concerned about the prevailing atmosphere and spirit which would be in accordance with the Rebbe’s teaching, and if [the messianist signs are] an impediment, of course” they’d be removed. Shemtov generally sought to downplay the significance of the signs as merely “symbols” and to assert that the more important effort is addressing the messianism itself and the presence and tactics of the messianists within 770, saying “symbols are very important, don’t misunderstand me, but what is more important is what those symbols reflect and what they represent, and why they’re still there.”
As to the signs, “I don’t think they have ever reflected what 770 stands for,” he said, noting “look, Lubavitch went through a very difficult period, and turmoil, and what you are seeing now is the settling of the dust, and people begin to realize what are we really there for.”
We then got into the question of how many messianists there are. I mentioned that I’ve been having an e-mail dialogue with David Berger after he responded negatively to my writing in an article on Matisyahu that messianists are a “fringe group,” with Berger claiming that messianists are actually a majority of the movement.
So, how many messianists does Shemtov think are a part of Lubavitch? “None…how can you justify classifying somebody who is perceived as subscribing to something which is so foreign and consider them part of the movement?” He said messianists are “a loud minority of a minority” and that, further, “I believe that no one has ever come across anyone who is authorized to be a shliach and carry that badge of honor that would in any way imply any of these beliefs, period.”
But what about the statement from Russian shlichim that Berger cites in his book? “I don’t know specifically what you’re referring to, but I can’t believe that such a statement would come out and would not be censured…because it’s the opposite of what we stand for.” This would seem to be worth more discussion and analysis.
So, what specific strategies can we expect to see from the leadership to remove messianists? “It is now in the discussion stages.”
Is the entirety of the Agudas board of the same attitude as Shemtov toward removing the messianists? While Shemtov says they’ve yet to discuss it in light of the decision, “I imagine it’s more or less with the thinking of Agudas Chasidei Chabad.”