To see the invisible messiah: Messianic socialization in the wake of a failed prophecy in Chabad

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Abstract

The study explores how the meshichistim (messianics) among the Jewish ultra-orthodox Chabad (Lubavitch) Hasidim manage the rupture entailed by the death of their leader, the Rebbe, whom they uphold as the King Messiah. Based on ethnographic research of contemporary pilgrimage to the Rebbe's court in Brooklyn, whose rituals and pedagogical framework are constructed by the meshichistim, the study problematizes the functional assumptions and implications of the rich literature on failed prophecies in millenarian movements, a literature heavily influenced by the theoretical model of cognitive dissonance. The case of Chabad meshichistim suggests that a millenarian group can reinvent itself through multifaceted cultural, pedagogical and ritual endeavors that are rife with internal contradictions. Moreover, these endeavors reveal that the rupture has not been balanced, regularized or normalized, but rather expresses the continuous complexity of life in its shadow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-260
Number of pages13
JournalReligion
Volume39
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Anthropology of the senses
  • Chabad - Lubavitch
  • Failed prophecy
  • Millenarian movements
  • Modes of knowing

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