A new schism emerged last week in the Lubavitch movement in Israel following reports that one of the leaders of its “messianic” stream had stopped fasting on days marking the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Gedalya Axelrod, a leading Lubavitch rabbi in Haifa, published a letter last week saying that “according to halachah”, Rabbi Zimroni Tzik, who runs the Chabad House in Bat Yam, should be excommunicated.
Rabbi Tzik’s sin, according to Rabbi Axelrod, is that he does not observe the fast days commemorating the events leading up to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Tzik is also accused of not observing other daily rituals of mourning for the lost Temple.
The Bat Yam Chabad House is one of the main centres of the messianic stream in Lubavitch and Rabbi Tzik and his followers are alleged to believe that the Messiah has already arrived and therefore the rituals of mourning are no longer necessary.
A similar group in Australia was also excommunicated two weeks ago by a senior Lubavitch rabbi in Melbourne.
In his letter, Rabbi Axelrod called upon the public not to attend a ceremony organised by Rabbi Tzik on Sunday in Tel Aviv. Despite his call, hundreds of Chasidim and dozens of rabbis attended.
There has been a de-facto split in Lubavitch since the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in 1994, between those who acknowledged his death and those who cling to the belief that the Rebbe is the Messiah and therefore cannot be dead.
While efforts have been made to paper over these differences, Lubavitch is to all purposes today a collection of factions.
The excommunications in Israel and Australia were both announced by rabbis themselves belonging to the messianic group and it is thought that they are trying to curb the more radical excesses of their co-adherents.
Many Lubavitch leaders around the world maintain that the messianic stream is a small minority but, in private, sources within the movement admit that a sizable proportion of Lubavitchers, especially in Israel, ascribe to messianic views.
Rabbi Tzik refused to comment.