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Response to Critique - Chapter 4 Part 1
Critique

By Gil Student


Can a Dead Man Be Moshiach?

Critic:
The author agrees that all of these conditions can be attributed to the Rebbe, but he argues that on the same note many other people could qualify to be presumed Moshiach as well.

Response:
This is a puzzling statement by the critic because the author says the exact opposite.

In fact, the Rebbe has not fulfilled any of the criteria for being Moshiach except being a Torah scholar and religious man. (p. 50)

That seems clear enough to this writer.

Critic:
He details the following three tasks which he feels must be, not just partially, but completely fulfilled in order to achieve Moshiach status: 1) compelling all of Israel to walk in the way of the Torah, 2) repairing the breaches in observance, and 3) fighting the wars of G-d. The author contends that the Rebbe has not achieved complete success on any of these fronts.

Response:
This indicates that the critic has significantly misread what the author wrote. The critic seems to be attributing to the author the belief that the Rebbe has begun but not concluded the criteria.

Rather, the author was critiquing a number of different claims without explicitly spelling them out. In effect, the author was anticipating such claims and offering rebuttals before the arguments could be made. Thus, those who claim that the Rebbe began fulfilling the conditions can be countered by asserting that the Rebbe did not complete those criteria. In reality, however, the Rebbe did not even begin fulfilling some of the criteria.

Therefore, when the critic writes:

The author is apparently uncertain as to exactly who qualifies as being addressed by this clause -- whether he must have fulfilled all the requirements for Moshiach status, started to fulfill them, or be a king who started to fulfill them -- but is sure that whatever approach is taken the Rebbe can be ruled out as Moshiach.

He is simply misunderstanding the author’s intent. Rather than just wobbling uncertainly from one view to another, as the critic would have it, the author is anticipating different possible arguments and offering strong counter-arguments.

Critic:
The author is citing this Midrash as confirmation that Moshiach, even in the worst case scenario, will not die, and that in the case where concealment is warranted, the order of events will be quite unlike the order surrounding the Rebbe. He does not however provide any evidence that the ideas expressed in this Midrash have universal consensus.

The critic objects that perhaps this Midrash is not accepted as authoritative. However, the critic has not brought any evidence to that assertion, which leaves it rather hollow. Why should one assume that it is not authoritative? While there are points under dispute on these topics, what evidence is there that the issues emphasized by the author are a subject of disagreement?

Critic:
This Midrash alone does not in any way preclude that Moshiach could arrive in any number of possible scenarios that do not conform to it, and it is certainly not proof that Moshiach will not have experienced death.

Response:
Actually, that is exactly what the Midrash does. It offers two general possibilities of how Moshiach can come as the only possibilities.

Critic:
The author however fails to prove that Maimonides is the final authority on the issues he cites. He also fails to portray these issues as having any bearing on human conduct so that they might have the role of a legal ruling, rather than a subjective prediction of future events.

Response:
The author’s intention is to demonstrate that the entire thrust of Rabbinic literature argues against the possibility of the Rebbe’s being Moshiach. Maimonides is brought as an example, and a particularly important one. Maimonides is important for two reasons. First, he is the only one who explicitly lists detailed criteria for Moshiach. Elsewhere, as in midrashim and disputation literature, these criteria are only implict. Furthermore, the Rebbe himself stated that Maimonides’ rulings on this issue are authoritative.

The critic suggests, without any evidence, that this issue is one in which there is disagreement and that perhaps Maimonides should not be considered the final authority on this matter. However, the critic cannot provide evidence of disagreement with Maimonides (at least not from authorities of remotely similar stature).

The critic also suggests that Maimonides, in his major halachic work Mishneh Torah, may have been merely offering a subjective prediction of future events. The author, however, implicitly accepts Maimonides’ statement in his introduction to the work that it is one of halacha, something that the Rebbe repeatedly emphasized. It is not a work of subjective predictions.

However, the critic is correct here. The author assumed that it was sufficient to claim that Maimonides is authoritative without proving the assertion. Thus, the book is deficient in not anticipating the argument that Maimonides may be only one of many opinions and that the Rebbe’s repeated statements that Maimonides is authoritative on these matters are also not authoritative. The reader is directed to a forthcoming Hebrew work that will provide ample sources on the matter.

Note that the critic writes “Based on the evidence provided in the book, the reader has no reason to view the ensuing discussion as absolute.” He is not interested in whether his claim is correct. His main criticism is that the book did not anticipate his question and answer it. This is a repeated theme throughout the critique. Why did the author not anticipate every question that could be asked and answer them? There are two answers to this.

The first is that there is no end to the possible questions that could be asked. G-d endowed man with a fruitful imagination that has no bounds. To anticipate every question is literally impossible. The second reason is that the book was written to be read. The author tried to take into account the ability of readers on varying levels to read through the difficult textual material. Introducing many technical sidepoints would have made the material even more difficult to read.

Critic:
He claims that if the required activities can be attributed to the Rebbe, there are many other men who would have Moshiach status as well. However, the author gives no reason why multiple persons would not be able to share Moshiach status at the same time.

Response:
This is correct. The author assumed that the reader would be familiar with references to a single Moshiach ben Dovid and would not need to be informed that there will only be one Moshiach.

Critic:
Neither does he rule out the possibility that a narrow definition for the involvement in these activities might be given that would single out the Rebbe.

Response:
Again, the human imagination is boundless. It is impossible to rule out every possible definition. However, the author believes that the Rambam’s words are clear and that anyone who reads them simply, as they should, will know that creative definitions are mere distortions of the Rambam’s intent.

Critic:
The author makes an issue of the word "king" mentioned by Maimonides. He claims that this must be taken in a sense that cannot apply to the Rebbe, but he gives no clear definition of what is in fact meant by this word.

Response:
The critic is correct that the author did not define the word “king”. However, the only definition of the word “king” that would fit the Rebbe would also fit many others. And that is an issue that was already discussed.

Critic:
In fact, the Rebbe had no less status or power than many kings in European constitutional monarchies; whether or not the title "King" appears in his passport is irrelevant.

Response:
This is not a fact; it is incorrect. A king in a constitutional monarchy enjoys a status of king while the Rebbe maintained the status of a religious leader. This should be obvious. It should be added, though, that a king in a constitutional monarchy does not necessarily fit the halachic definition of a king. For example, one does not recite the blessing for seeing a king when seeing the king of England (see Mishnah Berurah 224:12).

Critic:
The author asks in which battle the Rebbe fought in an army. Not every individual who fights in a war wears a uniform, has a military rank, or engages in physical combat. The author's inability to verify that the Rebbe had these experiences certainly does not prove that the Rebbe did not fight in a war of God or any other war.

Response:
This is a proper criticism. The author should have been more specific and asked not only in which war did the Rebbe fight but also which war was fought on the Rebbe’s behalf. The answer to both questions is none.

Critic:
While the author fails to provide the reader with a definition for "wars of God" -- making it difficult to prove that the Rebbe did not fight in them -- he does claim that according to the Rebbe such wars include the extermination of the Amalekites.

Response:
The critic is surely alluding to the position that the “wars of G-d” refers not to wars but to outreach. According to those who espouse this view, the Rebbe fought the “wars of G-d” by sending his emissaries throughout the world to bring Jews back to the fold. This was, not coincidentally, frequently done with military terminology, such as the “armies of G-d” (Tzivos Hashem) and mitzvah tanks. The critic claims that the author did not adequately guard against such a claim.

This is not true. On page 50, the author mentioned this position and argued against it on four fronts. First, if outreach is the “wars of G-d” then the Rebbe did not win the wars because, unfortunately, the majority of Jews are still very far from traditional observance of Judaism. Second, this is not a literal reading of Maimonides’ criteria. Third, if this is the case then there are many rabbis who have fought the “wars of G-d” and have reached the status of presumed Moshiach. Fourth, the Rebbe himself said that these “wars of G-d” include battle against the evil Amalekite nation. A careful reading of pages 50-51 will yield all of these arguments.

It is true that the author did not define the “wars of G-d”, assuming that the defintion of a war is fairly commonplace knowledge. However, the author argued against the most common Meshichist re-definition.

Critic:
Additionally, no evidence is presented to support the author's claim that the Rebbe did not exterminate the remains of the ancient Amalekite nation

Response:
Since the Rebbe did not fight against any nation, it stands to reason that he did not fight, or lead a battle, against the Amalekite nation. While we may not be able to identify any individual Amalekites, nothing has changed in regard to the Amalekites from before the Rebbe was born until after he died. Indeed, this is so self-evident that the burden lies on the Meshichists to explain how the Rebbe destroyed Amalek. One may be certain that the explanation involves allegorizing or mystifying the battle so that the Rebbe need not actually fight against anyone.

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© 2003 Gil Student