by Jefferson David Tant

As the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah approached, the Atlanta Journal ran a story, focusing on its observance by a Chabad-Lubavitch sect of the Hasidic movement. This is an ultra-conservative denomination in Judaism. I wrote a letter to the young rabbi mentioned in the article, and from that was able to set up a meeting with Ruvi New.

From the first, it was evident that he desired no sort of discussion. In fact, during our conversation, I recall that he only asked one question: “What can I do for you?” I explained my desire to know more about his faith so that I could better understand it for myself, and better answer other’s questions. He admitted that he had never read the New Testament, and had never considered the evidence of Christ’s claims to be the Son of God.

This particular sect began in Lubavitch, Russia, as a pietist movement coming out of Eastern Europe in the late 1700s. Hasidic Jews wear beards, black hats, and clothing that are seen in the news from time to time. They tend to live in close-knit neighborhoods, as they cannot drive on the Sabbath, but must walk to their synagogues for worship.

At the time of our conversation, they strongly believed that their rabbi Menachem Schneerson was the Messiah and that he would soon reveal himself to be so. This gentleman, or rebbe, as he was designated, was in his 90s, and at the time of our conversation (January 1994) was quite ill following a stroke. When I asked about his qualifications in light of the Old Testament prophecies, particularly Isaiah 53, I was informed that he met the criteria, including suffering, “for he is suffering now in his illness,” for the sins of the world. (I wasn’t really sure about that.) According to Ruvi New, two things are necessary for the revealing of the Messiah. First, the temple must be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and second, there must be enough good deeds by faithful Jews to usher in his coming. New told me that they pray 60 times a day for his coming and that as the Jews do more and more good deeds, this will hasten his coming.

I inquired about the priesthood and was informed that they do have priests, whose roles are largely ceremonial since there is no temple where sacrifices could be offered. Mr. New said that among the Jews, the genealogical records had been kept, even after Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70, and thus a few could trace their lineage from Levi.

Schneerson was said to be of the tribe of Judah through David. It was interesting to hear that they do not believe in the necessity of a virgin birth, for the Messiah is to be just a man, although a righteous and scholarly man. The Messiah is likened to Moses, for they believe there is a Moses in every generation. When the Messiah is revealed, the Jews will return to Israel, and from Jerusalem, the King will rule over the earth forever.

This sect reminds us of the Pharisees in their strict observance of the Law. At exactly 18 minutes before Friday’s sunset, Mrs. New lights the Shabbat, or Sabbath candles in preparation for dinner, but the dishes remain unwashed until sundown Saturday. They will not turn on a light or use hot water on the Sabbath, for they say this kindles a “fire,” which is forbidden. (When the contacts in the light switch connect, it creates a spark, which they say is a fire.) They will even unscrew the light bulb in the refrigerator so it will not come on when they open the door. As to other lights in the house, they will either leave them on during the Sabbath or if they have non-Jewish servants, they can operate the light switches.

In a 24-page booklet Mr. New gave me, the Jewish scholar Maimonides is quoted: “Whoever does not believe in (Moshiach) (Messiah—jdt) and does not anxiously anticipate his coming, but also the Torah and Moses…”

But He has come, and is coming again! His name is Jesus Christ, and the proof of his identity is solid and cannot be disproven.

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