up to your Lubavitcher neighbor and asking him whether he davens to his
dead rabbi is about as useful as asking a used car salesman whether the
sticker price is a good deal. Just what do you think he's going
to say? Even if he would acknowledge to himself that he does
daven, he can easily justify hiding the information from you because,
after all, he doesn't really "daven", but is, instead, "betten" or,
even better, involved in "hiskashrus".
Similarly, don't expect reliable results from questions like "do you
believe the rebbe is Moshiach?" Which normal Lubavitcher would
put his job or reputation on the line by admitting that to a
misnagid? If he's worried about the consequences, he, too, will
say "no", while thinking to himself, "sure, he might not be moshiach
yet, but he will soon" or "I don't believe he's Moshiach, I know
Ditto for "is your rebbe still alive?"
And who can blame them for being evasive? They know what's at
stake and what has to be done to avoid bad PR just like a mechanech in
a yeshiva katana knows to skip certain sensitive Rashis when teaching
lower grades. Those kids aren't ready for it yet. It's
called self-censorship and everyone does it.
So, when accurate identification is essential, what's to be done?
First of all, be clear about what you want to find out and why.
If you're interviewing someone to know if he's fit to provide you with
shechita or StaM (or provide your wine etc.), his attitude to
hiskashrus is probably the best indicator. If you want to know
if, let's say, his summer day camp (or school) is appropriate for your
child, you will probably also want to know if he's going to be teaching
about his "Moshiach".
should be self understood that a Lubavitcher who believes his rebbe is
Moshiach will certainly find a way to teach about it to anyone within
his sphere of influence. Teaching about Moshiach (i.e., teaching
that he's already here) was possibly the one subject the rebbe promoted
more than any other. And he clearly wanted his followers involved
in its spread as well. Expecting a Lubavitcher to stay off the
subject is like expecting a ben Torah to teach "Yiddishkeit" without
any mention of mitzvos and yiras shomayim! Thinking otherwise is
We'll address hiskashrus
It's preferable for the conversation to take place with at least two
other people present who will understand what's going on and be able to
repeat it later. At the same time, we must consider the
Lubavitcher's feelings and try as much as possible to avoid causing him
Next, ask him how he understands the Rebbe's "atzmus u'mehus" sicha
from 5710 (you might like to have a copy with you). Ask
specifically if he feels the Rebbe was correct when he permitted a
chassid to "betten" his (dead) rebbe because it's the same as speaking
to atzmus HaShem.
If the Lubavitcher replies that it's complicated, ask him to explain
how he understands it, as it's his mindset that we need to understand
If he dismisses the sicha by saying something like "it's no different
then Moshe when the Shechina spoke from his throat", ask if he
understands the huge difference between Shechina and Atzmus (Shechina
is a finite and temporal presence or manifestation of HaShem, Atzmus
is, well, Atzmus. We can't even discuss Atzmus)? Be clear
that you don't accept that as an explanation of the sicha.
If he tells you that the sicha is only advising us to ask a tzadik to
daven to HaShem for us, point out that the rebbe himself, in his
footnote to the sicha, acknowledges that this is an idea that he hadn't
seen anywhere in any books of chassidus. But if it's only about
asking a tzadik to daven for you, why would you need Chassidic
books? What's wrong with Chumash? Didn't Aharon Hakohen ask
Moshe to daven for Miriam?
In any case, you can tell your Lubavitcher, it's perfectly clear from
the whole language of the sicha that the rebbe was equating himself
(and his shver) with Atzmus. This wasn't about davening to
HaShem, but about being HaShem.
We would suggest that unless your Lubavitcher is willing to admit that
the sicha is forbidden to follow (and the rebbe was badly mistaken),
he's probably a card-carrying min. If he does admit it (using
language like "yes, that's always bothered me, too"), then you might
ask him why he's still part of a movement that so widely teaches such
things...and why, if he admits that it's wrong, he encourages other
Jews (including his own children) to live such a lifestyle?
Now what about messianism?
This one's easier. Ask your Lubavitcher whether it's impossible
for Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, after his petira, to be Moshiach
and that Moshiach will therefore have to be someone else. If he
replies "well, you can't say it's absolutely impossible..." then you
can be confident he's a believer.
If he answers that "we don't like to point fingers. We only want
Moshiach to come soon - whoever he is" then he's being evasive.
He hasn't answered your question at all and you have a right to wonder
We believe it's unfortunate, but absolutely essential that modern
Lubavitchers hoping to provide religious services to frum Jews be
subjected to such an examination. But even if you go to the
trouble of questioning him (or her), make sure that you do it properly
and don't simply add to the clouds of confusion already swirling around