Friday, December 30, 2011

Jews alarmed by Messianic movement boom

SOS fake Messiah. 

Alarm bells have been raised within the Jewish population, in light of the boom in Messianic movements. 

The “Messiah” is different from the prophet, in that contrary to the latter, he does not proclaim himself to be a simple intermediary, but a direct incarnation of the divinity or of another divine principle. 

However, the difference between the two is not always clear. 

Indeed, it is not unusual for some prophets, who have gained a certain notoriety, to declare that they are of divine descent or considered by the followers as the Messiah.

Among those who condemn the risk posed by these Messianic movements, is Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome (the oldest Jewish Diaspora) who aired his opinions in an interview with Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni

“These Messianic movements present themselves to the Jewish world as something new; their mission is aimed solely at Judaism  – Chief Rabbi Di Segni said. 

Judaism does not carry out any missions outside the Jewish community and our traditions are conserved through experimental and ancient mechanisms: schools, synagogues and the family.” 

One element which is new - Di Segni said - is that “outreach” movements, as they are called in America have been widely promoted and are trying to export the religious message. Judaism - he added - is full of cases of pseudo-Messianism, which history has proven to be false, but which nevertheless still have secret followers. 

“History is constantly presenting the Jewish population with fatal challenges, and people try to understand these by asking questions – Di Segni explained. This has occurred on many occasions; important answers have been given to important questions and vice versa; there have been great escapes from reality, great illusions, reinterpretations and movements.” 

These Messianic movements “take a rigid approach to tradition, in the sense that whatever the master says can never be questioned.” Whereas in other Orthodox Jewish denominations of the Jewish faith, there is still a certain pluralism, certain dynamics and there is a contrasting between possible solutions. 

“Here, however, there is a sort of doctrinal toughness – Di Segni underlined. Charisma is personal in that it belongs to the chief. This also applies to Messianic movements. What is most shocking is that in some of these movements, the waiting for the Messiah does not involve waiting for a person but for a principle. There is a great deal of debate over this. Orthodox Judaism tends to favour the idea of waiting for a person over waiting for a principle. The debate is not over yet. But to say that Messianism is an era rather than a person, is an idea that is foreign to Orthodoxy.”

It was also a form of rationalisation, Messianism not as a person but as an era, a concept which Italian Judaism also dabbled in: the most significant Messianism comes from within Christianity. Christians say that Christ is the Messiah, that Christianity is Messianism by definition. Judaism sees the Messianic idea as one of many ideas. It is characterised by a tension, a waiting and Judaism could theoretically exist without the Messianic prophesy being fulfilled. 

“But one of the ways in which Judaism is seen and lived, there are groups in which the Messianic waiting becomes stronger and stronger. And this can either translate into an intense religiosity or into intense politics,” Di Segni explained. 

And there is a great risk in this. Messianism pushes humanity vigorously through history, but without any idea of where this leads to. Marxism and the movements that grew out of it are also political experiences that have a religious, Messianic undercurrent.

“If Messianism gives religion impetus, its impact is positive, but if it becomes an interpretative key, with some people even being conscious of a fulfilled Messianic prophesy, then we are faced with a dangerous situation,” Di Segni warned.

The Hasidic tradition represents a very strong undercurrent in these movements. Hasidism was born in the mid 18th Century as a movement composed of one charismatic leader, who rediscovered the emotive and spiritual dimension of Judaism; this was in contrast, or at least in addition to the intellectual component which had come to dominate throughout the centuries. 

This movement has a great popular impact and is organised through leaders, who become dynastic leaders of groups that are tied to their master, the Rebbe.  But – Di Segni pointed out – even over time, these groups, who also had a significant impact on people, continued to remain closed, they only diffused spirituality within the group. One of the latest ideas was to use the strong influence of this charismatic and authoritative movement, to send people across the world to spread Judaism. 

“It is a type of mission that was rare in past centuries: perhaps there was no need for such missions because Jews had other ways of organising themselves, whilst today, they feel the need for organisation in order to deal with the dispersion of the Jewish faith,” Di Segni said in conclusion.