Perhaps no Hasidic group is better known than Chabad-Lubavitch (or simply Chabad). Their movement spans 70 countries across the globe and has over 200,000 adherents. Founded in the late 18th century and formerly based in Lyubavichi, Russia, this group is currently headquartered in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
So what is unique about Chabad? Let us start with the name itself. “Chabad” is actually an acronym for the Hebrew words Chochmah (wisdom), Binah (understanding), and Da’at (knowledge). These three words represent the heart of Chabad’s religious philosophy, as they seek to gain a higher understanding of God by combining Jewish mysticism with strict adherence to the Torah and Talmud (rabbinical commentary). Members of the Chabad community believe that they are spiritually healing the world by doing mitzvot (good deeds).
Another facet that makes this group unique is the perception that some Chabad devotees have of their late spiritual leader, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He was deeply revered and his followers would wait for hours just for a moment with him, which is normal in Hasidism. However, towards the end of Schneerson’s life, a large group within Chabad strongly declared that he was actually the Messiah—a radical departure from traditional Hasidism!
After he passed away, his adherents split between those who believed he was the Messiah and those who did not. Even today, there is a strong Messianic expectation among many in the Chabad movement, and some even expect that Rabbi Schneerson will return from the grave.
Interestingly, to back up this idea, Chabad turns to Isaiah 53, which speaks of the Messiah dying to atone for the sins of the people, yet coming back to life (Is. 53:10). Their willingness to understand Isaiah 53 as referring to an individual Messiah opens the door to speak about how Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophecy. Indeed, Jesus already rose from the dead two thousand years ago, while Schneerson remains in his grave to this day. Over the last several years, many of our staff members have shared Isaiah 53 with Chabad Jewish people, and have had some very fruitful discussions.
The next-largest Hasidic group in Brooklyn is the community of Satmar Jews. Originally from Satu-Mare, Romania, this group is currently headquartered in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is estimated that there are 130,000 adherents to the Satmar Jewish tradition worldwide.
The Satmar Jews have a similar religious fervor to Chabad and other Hasidic groups, yet there are some key beliefs that distinguish them from the others. One of these is that they are very opposed to the current State of Israel. In fact, they go so far as to say that the nation should not even exist and should be given back to the Palestinians.
Why would this Orthodox Jewish group be opposed to the State of Israel? The Satmar oppose the modern State of Israel because it is a “secular state” and not one endorsed or established by God. They believe that only the Messiah can restore the nation to the Jewish people, and that in this nation all Jews will practice Torah and follow the Lord. Some even believe that the Holocaust took place because the Jewish “Zionists” were trying to reclaim the Jewish land for themselves without the intervention of the Messiah. Due to this strong Messianic belief, the Satmar have staged multiple protests and have vocalized strong opposition to the Israeli government. They claim that their opposition is due to a love for the Land and a desire to see conflicts and secularism end there. Ironically, many Satmar still continue to visit Israel, and some even live there.
As we strive to reach those in the Satmar community with the Good News, the discussion on Israel and the Messiah becomes an important entry point. As believers, we know that Jesus the Messiah will return to cleanse Israel of her sin and restore the kingdom (Zechariah 12:10). He will rule in righteousness and there will be perfect peace. Like the Satmar, we too long for this day, and can use our shared enthusiasm for the coming Messiah to open a door to share about Jesus.
Thus, even though we support the current State of Israel, we also believe that only the Messiah Jesus will be able to establish a nation full of peace and righteousness, and to that end we pray. We also pray that the Lord will continue to open doors for us among the Satmar Jews, as our staff members continue to share the Good News with them. With great thanks to God, we can report that there are indeed some believers in Jesus among the Satmar community, although most of them continue to live in the community as “underground” believers.
Our Hope for the Hasidic Jews of Brooklyn
Our founder, Rabbi Leopold Cohn, began our ministry in Brooklyn, not far from where our new Brooklyn Messianic Center is located. Through his ministry, he made sure to reach the Hasidic groups in Brooklyn. We are grateful that the Lord is giving us the opportunity to continue this rich tradition and have an even stronger ministry presence in the heart of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn.
Imagine with us that one day we could fill the sanctuary of the new Brooklyn Messianic Center with new and growing believers in Yeshua from the Hasidic community! We believe that our Lord is mighty and can do all things, and we know that He has sovereign plans for our presence in that neighborhood.
We truly cherish your prayers and support as we move forward to complete the renovation of our Brooklyn Messianic Center. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can use the facility for ministry to reach even the “unreachable” of the Hasidic Jewish community.