All religions are nonsense given a somber patina by the span of centuries and the endorsement of millions. I get that. All have some useful moral precepts they pretend to endorse — treat people kindly, don't kill folks, etc. — that are perfectly fine unadorned and on their own. But believers feel obligated to dress up their basic morality with the most rococo impossibilities and time-killing ritual imaginable. Angels. Prayer. Heaven. Miracles. That kind of thing.
And I understand that any hope or suspicion that my own team might be slightly less ridiculous than the norm is mere self-love and chauvinism. Jews believe their own forms of silly, tedious spoodle: the obsessive waste of keeping kosher. The years spent learning an arcane language like Hebrew. Debating the Talmud.
But at least those are the familiar, acceptable tranches of gibberish. There is something extra disturbing when a faith conjures up something new and ridiculous.
Not that the tendency of Lubavitch-Chabad Hasidic Jews to announce that their late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the messiah is anything new. Ever since he died in 1994, and his flock eagerly awaited his resurrection (which, spoiler alert, did not happen, yet) the sense that he has come to usher in a new age is embraced by many — Joseph Newfield claims most — Chabad Hasidim.
Non-fanatical Jews are either ignorant of this, or embarrassed and try to pretend it doesn't exist. Even the Lubavitch often downplay the Schneerson-as-savior bit. They generally like to present a benign, earnest face to the world, as joyous cheerleaders of Judaism, hoping to move the world toward salvation with each tiny act of religious obligation, whether pressing weak tea Jews to wear tefillin and pray, an imposition I have written about, or encourage Jewish women to light Sabbath candles, or distributing matzo at Passover. To be honest, I find them inoffensive and admire their ability to conceal the contempt they must feel for supposed Jews who don't do any of the obligations they consider essential for living a good life. To add to those 613 commandments of Judaism a 614th, to believe that a cleric dead more than a quarter of a century is the second coming of Christ is a step too far, and off-brand for them, so they suppress it.
Which might be why true believers are now opting for a more in-your-face approach. The world is becoming less restrained, more vigorous about imposing one's private fantasies on others. Why should Jews be any different? I saw these mini-posters slapped on Walk signs on the East Side of Manhattan during my recent visit. As with all expressions of zealotry, you have to wonder what impact the fervid perpetrators hope to have. Do they really expect any Jew not already on their bus to see these little posters and think, "He is? Oh good! About time." Perhaps it's more an expression of power: we're here, we actually believe this enough to march around Manhattan with stepladders and posters and paste. Deal with it.
Or not. I truly don't mind that people embrace an enormous spectrum of spiritual hoo-ha. It makes them feel better. Life is a long time, laden with boredom and tragedy, and it helps to have a pretty story to glance at when the world gets ugly. It's a shame they can't believe it quietly, and must try to wangle their ridiculous notions in the faces of those simply trying to get down the street unmolested. But such is the world. Yes, claiming this guy is the savior — if he is, then why aren't we saved, huh? What's the hold-up? — is part of the ugliness, not part of the relief that faith can offer. But then, that's me. And the world isn't all about me. As the years go by, I'm more and more certain of that. It's a shame religions couldn't push that concept more. That's a good word worth spreading around.