Rebbe's birthday highlights divisions in Chabad

Dissenting camps within Chabad voiced mutual accusations a day after a huge Sunday night rally, entitled "Reception of the righteous messiah" drew 10, 000 to Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena. "There was an amazing turnout," said Yoni Kahana, one of the organizers of the evening. "Everyone came away with renewed faith in the imminent coming of the rebbe, our messiah. He may not have come on Sunday night. But he will truly be revealed any second." However, leading Chabad figures, among them Menahem Brod, the group's official spokesman, claimed the rally and its organizers were unauthorized. "They are perpetrators of deception and fraud," said Brod. "They have no permission to use Chabad's name in connection with their activities." The event was organized by the messianic elements within Chabad. Participants prayed for the quick revealing of Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson as messiah and a celebrated his 104th birthday. Schneerson died in June 1994. Advertisements for the celebration, which including performances by leading haredi pop stars, such as Ya'acov Shwaki, Perchai Miami and Sephardi singer Yechiel Nahari, called it a "reception for the messiah" and were dominated by pictures of a smiling Schneerson. Both messianic Chabad hassidim and their less messianic mainstream brethren believe that Schneerson's birthday, 11 Nissan, is a special day. But the two camps have different takes on the meaning of the day. For instance, Chaim Galinsky, who writes for a mainstream Chabad news magazine, said it is a day to accept resolutions to do good. "When you accept upon yourself an additional good deed, it has more import," Galinsky said. "The rebbe is the supreme spiritual leader of this generation. I am not saying he is alive, but his soul, which came down into this world on the 11th of Nissan, was a special soul. It lent to this day special powers . So this is a propitious day to increase Chabad's activities." However, more messianic Chabad hassidim like Rabbi Zalman Notik, a spiritual director at Torat Emet Yeshiva in Jerusalem, talked openly of Schneerson as the messiah. "The messiah may come from either the living or the dead," he said. "We believe the rebbe is still with us and is waiting to be revealed. Every mitzva that a Jew does brings us all a little closer to redemption. "And the most important mitzva is to publicize the idea that the rebbe is messiah. Intensifying the expectation of the messiah's coming hastens the actual coming. There is no better day to do this than on the 11th of Nissan." Brod said his main objection to the concert was not the messianic message rather the lax religious environment. "The messianic Chabad hassidim used the evening to demonstrate their strength," he said. "But many of the people who came were just a bunch of young hooligans. There is no real education value to the evening, its just a collection of pop singers." Despite Brod's accusations, organizers were careful to separate men and women and several rabbis, such as Yosef Pizam of Haifa, Yosef Yitzhak Vilshansky of Safed, Gedalia Axelrod and Ya'acov Yosef, son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, gave short speeches.