Open Secret

Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson

ELLIOT R. WOLFSON
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 472
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/wolf14630
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    Open Secret
    Book Description:

    Menahem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) was the seventh and seemingly last Rebbe of the Habad-Lubavitch dynasty. Marked by conflicting tendencies, Schneerson was a radical messianic visionary who promoted a conservative political agenda, a reclusive contemplative who built a hasidic sect into an international movement, and a man dedicated to the exposition of mysteries who nevertheless harbored many secrets. Schneerson astutely masked views that might be deemed heterodox by the canons of orthodoxy while engineering a fundamentalist ideology that could subvert traditional gender hierarchy, the halakhic distinction between permissible and forbidden, and the social-anthropological division between Jew and Gentile.

    While most literature on the Rebbe focuses on whether or not he identified with the role of Messiah, Elliot R. Wolfson, a leading scholar of Jewish mysticism and the phenomenology of religious experience, concentrates instead on Schneerson's apocalyptic sensibility and his promotion of a mystical consciousness that undermines all discrimination. For Schneerson, the ploy of secrecy is crucial to the dissemination of the messianic secret. To be enlightened messianically is to be delivered from all conceptual limitations, even the very notion of becoming emancipated from limitation. The ultimate liberation, or true and complete redemption, fuses the believer into an infinite essence beyond all duality, even the duality of being emancipated and not emancipated-an emancipation, in other words, that emancipates one from the bind of emancipation.

    At its deepest level, Schneerson's eschatological orientation discerned that a spiritual master, if he be true, must dispose of the mask of mastery. Situating Habad's thought within the evolution of kabbalistic mysticism, the history of Western philosophy, and Mahayana Buddhism, Wolfson articulates Schneerson's rich theology and profound philosophy, concentrating on the nature of apophatic embodiment, semiotic materiality, hypernomian transvaluation, nondifferentiated alterity, and atemporal temporality.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52031-7
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Behind the Veil Unveiled
    (pp. 1-27)

    In the category of intriguing charismatic religious leaders of the twentieth-century, we can surely count Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), the seventh master of the Ḥasidic dynasty known as Ḥabad-Lubavitch. The second half of the hyphenated term is the Yiddish version of Lyubavichi, the town in Russia where the headquarters of the movement were established by Dov Baer Schneersohn, the Mitteler Rebbe (1773–1827); the first half is an acronym for ḥokhmah, binah, and da‘at, “wisdom,” “understanding,” and “knowledge,” a reference to the three upper aspects of the ten kabbalistically enumerated divine emanations¹ and their corresponding psychological faculties nefesh, ruaḥ...

  6. 1 CONCEALING THE CONCEALMENT: The Politics of the Esoteric
    (pp. 28-65)

    To state the obvious at the outset: insofar as Ḥabad is an actual movement, a social scientific methodology would seem to be especially suitable to studying the seventh Rebbe. Not only is there no need in this case to rely exclusively on a philological-textual analysis, but one could raise serious questions about the legitimacy of adopting such an approach. In my judgment, however, there is still much to be gained from an investigation of this sort. As a scholar who has been intrigued by and written repeatedly on the phenomenon of secrecy, it does not appear to me credible to...

  7. 2 A/VOIDING PLACE: Apophatic Embodiment
    (pp. 66-129)

    In this chapter, i shall consider the nature of the material world and embodiment in Schneerson’s teaching. The proper determination of this topic is critical to an assessment of his messianic vision, for, as we have already seen, the latter is troped as the disclosure of the essence in the physical plane. Ostensibly, it would seem that such a disclosure entails an assault on the esoteric proclivity to resist the indiscriminate dissemination of secrets. And yet the vision is a fulfillment of the promise in the letter of the Beshṭ that the Messiah will appear in the terrestrial realm when...

  8. 3 SEMIOTIC TRANSUBSTANTIATION OF THE SOMATIC
    (pp. 130-160)

    One of the striking features of spiritual practices promoted in the second half of the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first century is the emphasis placed on reclaiming the body for a new vision of fulfillment and healing. An obvious example that comes to mind, by no means the only one of relevance, is the phenomenon of Esalen. Typical of this turn is the comment of Nicholas Gagarin, “What the people at Esalen have got, in the simplest terms, is the body. For 15,000 years civilization has repressed the body. Now, suddenly, it is coming awake.”¹ Although the statement...

  9. 4 MESSIAC TORAH: Hypernomian Transvaluation
    (pp. 161-199)

    The secret of the secret, raza de-razin,that one may elicit from the teachings of the seventh Rebbe is predicated on understanding redemption in the contemplative terms I outlined in chapter 2, a state of enhanced spiritual consciousness characterized as the discernment of the underlying unity of all things. This recognition, however, does not entail the monistic absorption of all difference in the undifferentiated and disembodied One. It is rather the perception of the ultimate indifference, the embodied emptiness, the nothing that is everything in virtue of being nothing. The mystical vision allows one to see the true object of salvation...

  10. 5 FEMALE ENCIRCLES MALE: Gender Transposition
    (pp. 200-223)

    According to ḥabad tradition, the beshṭ instituted a third meal at the closing hours of the last day of Passover known as the messianic banquet (se‘udat mashiaḥ).¹ The rationale for this custom is obvious enough: this festival commemorates the initial redemption, the exodus from Egypt, that came about through the agency of Moses, the first redeemer, and thus its termination is an auspicious moment to experience proleptically the future redemption to be wrought by the Messiah, the final redeemer,² in accord with the rabbinic dictum “In Nisan they were redeemed and in Nisan they will be redeemed.”³ Given the charged...

  11. 6 APOCALYPTIC CROSSING: Beyond the (Non)Jewish Other
    (pp. 224-264)

    There is no question that the environment of America had a profound impact on the Ḥabad-Lubavitch Ḥasidism under the leadership of the seventh, and presumably last, Rebbe. One of the areas where this effect is most conspicuous is with reference to the attitude toward the Gentile nations. The sixth Rebbe had already expressed gratitude for the freedom to practice Judaism in this country in contrast to the persecutions and hardships suffered in Russia.¹ It goes without saying that his outlook was more complex, as is attested, for instance, by his decision to return to Europe after his first visit to...

  12. POSTFACE: In an Instant—Advent of the (Non)event
    (pp. 265-300)

    I began to write this postface as the preface, but soon realized what I initially conceived of as the entry was, in fact, the exit. To ascertain that wisdom may have been the point of this journey. It is reported that Simḥah Bunim of Przysucha (1765–1827) explained that the intent of the rabbinic dictum that “a person must always enter the synagogue through two doors”¹ is to learn that through one door we depart from this world (olam hazeh)and through the other door we enter the supernal world (olam ha-elyon).² The distinction between the two worlds may be a...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 301-406)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 407-430)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 431-452)