In a major blow to a decade-long campaign to play down divisions within the Chabad-Lubavitch ultra-Orthodox movement, the sectâs Israeli leadership appears ready to publicly distance itself from a significant messianic strand within the movement.
The unexpected development has been forced on the Chabad leadership by a spreading tide of anger toward the movement this week, after a rabbi from the messianic strand declared that, were Israel properly run, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be âhanged from the gallows.â
Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe, a Chabad educator and author, launched into a tirade about Israelâs negotiations with Palestinians at the conference of a right-wing organization he runs, S.O.S. Israel.
âThe terrible traitor, Ehud Olmert, who gives these Nazis weapons, who gives money, who frees their murderous terrorists, this man, like Ariel Sharon, collaborates with the Nazis,â Wolpe said on Wednesday, January 2, in remarks that were shown on Israeli television news.
A Chabad spokesman in Israel, Moni Ender, lashed out at Wolpe for his comments.
âThis is not Lubavitch. Rabbi Wolpe is talking by himself. We have nothing to do with him. He makes dirt for Chabad,â Ender said.
Wolpe is the most popular leader of the messianic strand of Chabad, which holds that the 1994 death of the Lubavitcher rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson did not challenge the belief held in parts of the sect that he was the messiah. Wolpe was the first rabbi to go public with this position in 1994. A conflict has festered since then between followers of this belief and others, who present themselves as the mainstream and who reject such overt messianic claims.