Chabad Messianism Alive and Well

Nov 30, 2009 at 1:12 PM

For those under the impression that messianic fervor within Chabad circles has pretty much fizzled out, check out this recent YouTube video below. I believe the footage is from around the same time as the most recent 2009 Chabad Annual Emissaries Conference which brought together 4,000 Chabad shlichim from around the world.

After about 3:00 into the video, you'll see Labavitcher bucherim (yeshiva students) handing out pamphlets around New York City declaring the Rebbe as Mashiach. What is even more interesting is that they are spreading this message to both Jews and non-Jews.

Although many within the Jewish community overlook such messianic fervor within Chabad due to their extensive services and programming throughout the world, don't think that it has gone completely unnoticed.

Several moves have been made within the Orthodox world to criticize the mashichist movement within Chabad, and to place them outside of normative Judaism.

However, messianism within orthodox circles continues to ferment, especially in Israel. There are even predictions within certain groups that the recent H1N1 epidemic, world financial crises, and natural disasters are all proof that Messiah is coming soon. For more on this messianic fervor within Orthodox Judaism, check out one such blog called Dreaming of Moshiach.

Mashiach will definitely return. However, it seems there is certain disagreement within the Jewish world as to which one it will be.

Quote of the Day

Nov 20, 2009 at 3:38 PM

Shabbat is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of G-d ...

Shabbat is a reminder of the two worlds - this world and the world to come; it is an example of both worlds. For the Sabbath is joy, holiness, and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 18-19

Tools for your Shul

Nov 18, 2009 at 2:36 PM

Yinon seeks to cultivate in our fellow Jews greater levels of faith, hope, and involvement with the world. We believe that Jewish communities should be vibrant, spiritual, and holy. As such, we are always seeking tools that further this vision.

We have previously offered a number of practical suggestions, and will continue to devote attention to creating vibrant spiritual communities.

However, in response to a number of requests we would also like to share a few tools we have found very helpful in building and establishing vibrant Jewish communities:


Finding a Spiritual Home: How a New Generation of Jews Can Transform the American Synagogue
By Rabbi Sidney Schwarz

Finding a Spiritual Home is a book we cannot recommend more highly (thanks Yahnatan for turning us on to it!). The book was a result of the author's continued fascination with "what makes some synagogues 'work' and others simply exist."

With moving personal stories, communal examples, and useful insights, Rabbi Schwarz examines four different congregations from each of the four major Jewish denominations that are radically transforming Jewish life. At a time when people are crying disaster for the Jewish community, these exceptional communities are demonstrating that Judaism can indeed sustain a new generation of Jews.

Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life
By Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman

Rabbi Hoffman is a leading figure in the Jewish community today. A co-founder of Synagogue 3000, a noted academic and writer, in Rethinking Synagogues he shares insights from over a decade of research on how to reconceptualize your congregation as a sacred community.

The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation into a Sacred Community
By Dr. Ron Wolfson

How many times have you visited a synagogue or congregation and experienced the frustration of not one person saying hello, Shabbat Shalom, or even acknowledging your existence? Dr. Ron Wolfson tackles this issue, and many more in his book The Spirituality of Welcoming. Dr. Wolfson, a professor at the American Jewish University and a co-founder of Synagogue 3000 shares years of experience of how to transform your congregation into "a community of radical welcome."


And please use the comment section below to share other tools you have found helpful.

A Generation on the Margins

Nov 17, 2009 at 10:38 AM

Recent studies have demonstrated that there is a great spiritual openness among young people. However, many among the next generation feel disenfranchised with organized religion and the established Jewish community. Those who desire to affiliate, and practice their spirituality within a communal context, are still often left feeling marginalized and out of place. There is a sense of not knowing exactly where we fit in.

Today’s young people are much more informed than any prior generation. We are also quite complex. A quick cross-examination reveals a broad spectrum of young Jews who do not fit nicely into any one category. There are observant, but progressive Jews. Jews who keep kosher - but do so with an eco-mindedness, buying only organic kosher free-range meats. There are secular atheists who belong to Jewish organizations because they deeply care about tikkun olam, social justice, and Jewish continuity. And there are also young Jews who feel connected to traditional Judaism, but find themselves challenged by their internal struggle over gender roles and expectations within the religious community.

There are no perfectly fit boxes for today’s diverse Jewish community. Young Jews are not cookie cutter images. And because young Jews, like myself, do not fit nicely into any specific category(ies), it often leaves us feeling marginalized to a degree in every circle we are a part of.

Beginning in 2003, the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA began a major, multi-year research project examining the spiritual development of undergraduate students on college and university campuses.[1] The study is designed to enhance understanding of how college students conceive of spirituality, the role it plays in their lives, and how colleges and universities can be more effective in facilitating students’ spiritual development.[2] The research determined that the majority of students on college campuses consider themselves “spiritual,” interested in spirituality, and open to non-critical and open-minded dialogue.[3]

Among Jewish students surveyed, the research supports what many of us have already understood about young non-affiliated and educated Jews. According to HERI’s website:

There are at least two clear-cut clusters of religious preferences. The first—including Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Baptists, and “other Christians”—is strongly spiritual, religious, and religiously/socially conservative and expresses little Religious Skepticism. The second—including Unitarians, Buddhists, Hindus, Episcopalians, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish students—tends to score low on religiousness and high on Religious Skepticism, Ecumenical Worldview, Ethic of Caring, and Charitable Involvement (emphasis added).[4]

Young Jews today are skeptical of religion, and religious observance, but care deeply about social and community issues. They are looking to affiliate and partner with other Jews, just not necessarily always religiously. Young educated Jews are looking to belong and make a difference in the world around them. They are also looking for answers, but don’t want to be told what to do. Young people are in dire need of guides and mentors who can nurture them along the path of life. They desire communities in which they are both welcomed and needed. Young people also seek a context in which they are free enough to sometimes push the envelope a little.

Traditionally, Judaism and Halachah must wrestle with the challenges of each new generation. If Judaism is to be successful at providing meaning to the next generations of Jews we need to come back to the drawing board. Guided by tradition and Halachah, we need to develop new communities and models. We need to grapple with what it means to be Jewish. For the Jewish community today is not the Jewish Community of our parents or grandparents.

We need to reach out to fellow young Jews who are seeking to connect to G-d and Yiddishkeit, and recognize each of our own potentials to contribute a different voice to the continuing conversation on Jewish life. For when people are valued, they become open. We need to reach into one another, and create safe, spiritual, and creative congregations that truly address the needs of young people today. We must be a Messianic Judaism that is able to powerfully impart meaning into peoples’ lives and show young people the value of Jewish spirituality. We must become a Jewish renewal movement that is focused on Yeshua, and his ethos of a social gospel.

[1] Information about the ongoing study, research methodology, and findings can be viewed on the institute’s website at


[3] Ibid. 4.

[4] Ibid. 6.

Roman and Alaina Release New Album

Nov 12, 2009 at 9:47 AM

Our friends,
Roman and Alaina, are a couple with a big future in music. They recently released a new album, titled "Sounds of Prayer." Tim Layne at The Emergent Observer calls the album:

kitschy cool. The sound is definitely folk…but folk frum. It’s...a CD with a vinyl soul.

Roman formerly played in the delightfully Simon-and-Garfunkley-sounding Meha Shamayim ... but in our humble opinion, he's way more of a rockstar with Alaina by his side. We loved their duo performance at a packed out Stern Center concert (video below) and highly recommend that you fly them out for your future conferences/events/weddings/b'nai mitzvah celebrations. Check them out and buy their new album!

This album is a MUST!!! And it is now also available on iTunes!

(Their song below, "I Believe," is based primarily on the Rambam's 12th & 13th articles of faith)

Kristallnacht, Conflict, and the Congo

Nov 10, 2009 at 11:04 AM

It seems quite fitting that on the eve of the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, Monique and I attended a staged reading of RUINED at the Kennedy Center in D.C. Written by award winning playwright Lynn Nottage, RUINED is a powerful presentation raising awareness of the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

On days like Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance day) or the anniversary of Kristallnacht, it is easy to think of ourselves as being far removed from genocide, conflict, and tyranny. It is far too easy to think of these things as only happening in the past.

But genocide is happening today - in Sudan and in the Congo. And as far as the Congo, this conflict is fueled by us - you and me - directly by our cell phones, iPods, and other technology. Congo is rich in minerals. With the increased desire for greater technology comes a direct need for minerals - especially Coltan. As such, various militias are fighting over control of these minerals, mines, and trade routes in the Congo. We may not realize it, but our desire for the newest technology is directly affecting peoples lives.

Today, in 2009, people in the Congo are still being slaughtered. According to Wikipedia, people are dying at a rate of an estimated 45,000 per month and 2,700,000 people have died since 2004. Reports indicate that almost half of the individuals killed are children under the age of 5. The aftermath of the war has gutted the country.

The long and brutal conflict in the DRC has caused massive suffering for civilians. Additionally, there have been frequent reports of weapon bearers killing civilians, destroying property, and committing widespread sexual violence against women. On a daily basis, women are being beaten, killed, and raped. Soldiers daily force women into sexual slavery. Violence against women is rampant. And in DRC society, these women upon returning to their villages are spat upon, turned away, and rejected - treated as thought these dishonoring acts were their own fault.

The conflict in the DRC has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, becoming refugees, flooding over the borders into neighboring countries.

On this 71st anniversary of the Kristallnacht and the beginning of the Holocaust, it is our obligation to stand up for others around the world who are being killed today. And there is something you and I can do about it!

We can raise attention to what is happening in Sudan and the DRC.

To learn more and to act visit these and other sites for change in the Congo:

Falling Whistles

Jewish World Watch

Raise Hope for Congo

Enough Project

A Very Special Thank You

Nov 8, 2009 at 9:40 AM

Monique and I would like to thank our good friend Yahnatan Lasko (@ Gathering Sparks) for all of his help giving Yinon Blog a much needed face lift.

Let us know what you think about the new look, and make sure to also check out Yahnatan's blog, Gathering Sparks!

"Why be ... ?"

Nov 5, 2009 at 1:00 PM

There is an elephant in the room that many of us either don’t recognize or choose to ignore.

We live in a day and age when cultural and religious identification are no longer a given. Being raised in a particular culture or faith is no longer a guarantee of ongoing affiliation.

For most of our existence, Jewish continuity was a given. Even if one was not particularly “religious,” there were strong cultural ties. This was especially true of our parents and grandparents generations. And even if we tried to forget our Jewishness, the rest of the world would definitely not let us.

Since religious and cultural communities no longer face the same social pressures from within or from the outside – identification is now rendered primarily to choice. I can choose who and what I want to be.

This is especially true for a whole new generation of Jews that no longer share those same religious and cultural ties to Judaism and the Jewish people. So many Jews of my generation have never been to a synagogue, did not have a Bar Mitzvah, or were raised in another religion.

The Wider Jewish Community

If the Jewish community outside of Israel is to continue to exist, we, within the wider Jewish community must answer the question “Why be Jewish?” It is no longer a given that someone born Jewish will choose to remain or identify as Jewish. It is no longer uncommon to hear those of Jewish descent say things like, “I’m NOT Jewish, but my parents are.” Or, I was born Jewish, but now I’m …”

Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, in his excellent book, ReThinking Synagogues, recalls one particular experience from a weekend retreat that exemplifies this reality:

A couple at the back of the room stood out. As the only people under forty, they has sat quietly for all of Shabbat, somewhat ignored by the others, who were regular attendees at such weekends … Hesitantly, one of them raised a hand … “We came here not knowing what we would find, so maybe we just lack the background, but it seems to me that none of the questions asked so far has any relevance. The only question that counts for us is ‘Why be Jewish?’ That is what we came to find out.”

After a momentary hush, the room erupted in one denunciation after another – all quietly delivered, as if the crowd of older attendees were disciplining children. How could these young Jews be so callous …? The reason for being Jewish is self-evident, isn’t it? How dare they even question that, [especially] after what happened in Europe? (pg. 60)

For far too long the question of “Why be Jewish?” has remained largely unanswered, and primarily dismissed. However, if we are to have any sort of impact on a new (and ongoing) generation of Jews, we must recognize this as a legitimate question.

Jews in the Church

In reality, there are far more Jews in churches than in Messianic Jewish congregations. Although I have my own opinions on reasons for this, one primary opinion is that we (in the Messianic Jewish community) have not yet answered that same question of “Why remain Jewish?” within a Yeshua context. We have not, at least as of yet, been able to widely compel Jews in churches to remain committed to the Jewish community and faith. Although I recognize there are indeed Jews who worship in Churches for a number of reasons, and value their Jewish identities, the majority end up loosing a connection to Judaism and the Jewish people.

There are estimates that in the 1800’s there were hundreds of thousands of Jews who believed in Yeshua. With the impact of the Holocaust aside – where are the descendents of those Jews today? Those who survived the Shoah were largely absorbed into the Church.

As a rabbi, I face this reality all the time. I remember the first time this truly sank in for me. Several years ago I was talking to a Jewish woman who started attending our synagogue. She was married to a Christian, and had teenage and 20 Something children who were all raised in the church. She came to me distraught that none of her children identified as being Jewish, and that her oldest daughter was not only planning to marry a non-Jewish guy from their church, but was adamant about not wanting anything “Jewish” in the wedding ceremony.

I asked the woman what attempts she had made throughout their upbringing to provide any sense of Jewish identity. She responded none (or very little). They had become so involved in their church, and became so busy with life; she could not recall purposeful elements of Jewishness brought into the home. Of course I did not say it, but I was thinking, “And you wonder why they don’t identify with being Jewish?!?” I helped the woman understand that she cannot be angry and blame her children now for not wanting to identify as Jews. Since nothing was done to instill a Jewish identity within them, they cannot be blamed for choosing to be a part of the wider culture they were brought up to be a part of. Of course there are things she could do to try to change that in the future, but for now it was a reality she had to struggle with.

Why be Messianic?

There are also a unique set of questions for second and third generation Messianic Jews. The main one I want to address is the question of “Why be Messianic?” I hear numerous young Jews voice their frustrations at being raised in the Messianic movement, and thinking they understood what it meant to be Jewish. But when they get older and become involved in the wider Jewish community (usually in college), they are faced with realities of identity. And for many, with such strong pulls to the wider Jewish world they are confronted with a legitimate question. If we Jews already have the Bible, pray, and can connect to G-d, “Why do I need Yeshua?” “Why should I remain Messianic?” (Especially with all of the identity mishegoss of the Messianic Movement).

The questions of “Why be …?” must be answered. For if we continue to write them off, or fail to answer them in a compelling way, we run the risk of losing future generations.