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Netanyahu incident stresses Chabad rift

Mainstream Chabad leaders are vehemently opposing an assembly of thousands of their more extreme colleagues who equate disengagement with the Holocaust and have called on soldiers and police to die before evacuating Jews from their homes.

The tension between vying factions within Chabad has reached a new high in the wake of an altercation at Kfar Chabad last week in which Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was verbally attacked while attending a wedding.

Rabbi Menachem Brod, who represents the mainstream Chabad leadership in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that the Chabad Rabbinical Court may outlaw the assembly, which is being organized by more extreme messianic elements within the movement and is slated to take place on Thursday, February 24, at Jerusalem's International Convention Center.

"Battles against the government can only cause damage to Chabad," said Brod.

"Chabad's mission is not to lead demonstrations although we did join demonstrations organized by the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. Our mission is to bring every single Jew closer to his own Judaism, to teach and to assist in the performing of mitzvot. That is Chabad's job."

Rabbi Shalom Dovber Wolpo, one of the Chabad rabbis in favor of active, albeit nonviolent, opposition to disengagement, said he is faithfully communicating the will of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"The Rebbe ordered me to promulgate his writings on the danger of ceding the land of Israel, to write his thoughts in books," Wolpo said. "Many people did not believe me, but he predicted that the State of Israel would build a Palestinian army."

In an article that will appear in this week's Beis Moshiach, a magazine printed in the United States by messianic Chabadniks, Wolpo, who is a synagogue rabbi in Kiryat Gat, explained the impetus for the meeting.

"Many of our followers have been demanding to know why the official Chabad leadership has not taken up God's battle against the banishment of settlers and the relinquishment of the security of millions of Jews, despite clear directives by the Rebbe to organize massive demonstrations," he wrote.

Wolpo said Rabbi Moshe Landau, head of Bnei Brak's rabbinical court, supported the idea of active demonstration, as did Rabbi Gedalia Axelrod, the retired rabbinic judge of Haifa.

Brod disagreed, saying the Chabad Rabbinical Court, the ruling body of the movement in Israel, opposed initiating demonstrations. He said the eight-man court, which includes Rabbi Mordechai Ashkenazi of Kfar Chabad and rabbis from Eilat, Rehovot, Kiryat Malachi, Holon, Arad and two Jerusalem neighborhoods, abstained from ruling on the issue of disobeying army orders.

Brod said Wolpo and his followers had broken ranks with the accepted ruling bodies of Chabad that derive their power from the Rebbe.

Many of the more extreme Chabadniks, who support an aggressive campaign against disengagement, reportedly are also extremely messianic.

"There are extremists who believe the Rebbe is alive," said a haredi journalist and resident of Kfar Chabad. "They are a really intense group of people who believe in spreading this idea that the Rebbe is the messiah. People who are attracted to this fundamentalist understanding of the messiah are also less likely to see the intricacies of the disengagement issue.

"In contrast, the more mainstream Chabadniks may believe he is the messiah, but they have a slightly more complex understanding of it. As a result, they are also more likely to be sensitive to the complexities of disengagement."

Both Wolpo and Brod said reports of violence against Netanyahu were exaggerated and that no proof could be found that Netanyahu's tires had been purposely punctured.

However, while Brod denounced the verbal attack, Wolpo said: "Netanyahu could not be allowed to leave without being censured, nonviolently of course, for his policies. It would have given the impression that Chabad was behind him."

Wolpo said Chabadniks who were behind the 1996 prime ministerial campaign slogan "Bibi is good for the Jews" were responsible for spreading rumors that the finance minister had been physically attacked.

"It is not a coincidence that Yoni Kahana [who was arrested for allegedly attacking Netanyahu] is helping with organizing the upcoming assembly," he said.

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