Who are the “Chabad” Jews?

Chabad is a stream of Judaism founded in 1775 in Russia, and the name “Chabad” stands for Chochma, Bina and Da’at: Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. Many within the movement are waiting for their ‘Messiah’, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to reappear again from the dead, but there are overlaps with Christianity which might feel a bit too close for comfort for some.

“A heated debate in the ultra-Orthodox world about claims that Rabbi Brod used Christian imagery, stating that the wine signifies blood and the bread meat,” screamed the subheading in Haaretz newspaper[1].

The article read: “Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Shach held a difficult ideological battle against Chabad, and it is attributed to him saying mockingly ‘Chabad is the closest religion to Judaism’. Some ultra-Orthodox now claim that religion is secretly Christianity”.

What had provoked some readers of the well-known ultra-Orthodox forum were these words written by Chabad’s spokesman, Rabbi Menachem Brod:

“Let us then draw strength from the faith in the coming of redemption and the anticipation of it. We will eat on the seventh of Passover the ‘Messiah Feast,’ intended to infuse faith in the Messiah’s coming into our blood and flesh, like a meal that becomes our blood and flesh. And may we celebrate the last Passover holiday with the Messiah in the Third Temple.”

The article also said: “Brod is not part of Chabad’s Messianic branch, which believes the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, never actually died and is in fact the Messiah. Yet, the idea of bread and wine turning into flesh and blood is completely Catholic…Those are the main symbols in Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, a supper that even occurred at Passover according to the New Testament”.

Towards the end of the article Rabbi Brod’s attempt to calm the storm is quoted: “The idea that spiritual values enter our body by means of food is an authentic Jewish idea, reflected in eating the sacrificial animals’ flesh in the Temple era, eating the Sabbath and holiday meals, etc.” As the article related, “The feast was originally introduced by the founder of Hasidic Judaism, Rabbi Yisroel Ben Eliezer, also known as Baal Shem Tov, to express the yearning and anticipation for the messiah.”

Rabbi Brod further stated, “The Fifth Admor [spiritual leader] of Chabad, Rabbi Shalom Dovber [Schneerson] taught the drinking of four cups of wine in [the feast]… The Lubavitcher Rabbi explained many times that by eating this [Messiah] meal, faith in the Messiah’s coming becomes part of our entity, as the matza and wine become part of our body.”

by Golan Broshi

[1] 20th April 2012, written by Yair Ettinger, HaAretz