“When The Rabbanim Understand, The ‘Man On The Street’ Will Accept It”

Since Gimmel Tammuz, Rabbi Yoram Ulman has explained Chabad’s position about the Rebbe being Moshiach to dozens of rabbanim and gedolei ha’Torah. In most cases, he manages to do away with their sharp opposition and get them to silently agree. In a special interview with Beis Moshiach, Rabbi Ulman describes some of these encounters. * Interview with Rabbi Yoram Ulman, member of the beis din of Sydney and director of a Chabad House for Russian immigrants


Rabbi Ulman, as a director of a Chabad house for Russian immigrants, what motivated you to get involved in explaining the importance of publicizing the besuras ha’Geula to non-Lubavitch rabbanim?


Everybody certainly remembers the period following Gimmel Tammuz 5754. As far as emuna in the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach and the besuras ha’Geula are concerned, it was a very difficult time. Most Chabad Chassidim continued disseminating the besuras ha’Geula with the knowledge that these activities hasten the Rebbe’s hisgalus. However, there were a few Chassidim who although they continued to believe as all Chabad Chassidim do that the Rebbe is Moshiach, they nevertheless feared the world’s reaction and didn’t publicize their belief. There were even Chassidim who, when questioned directly about their belief in the Rebbe as Moshiach, would stammer and answer evasively.


I always believed that the main issue here was one of apprehension  of what people would say; not so much of what non-observant Jews would say, but of what frum Jews would say. Among frum groups, there was a view that the belief among Lubavitcher Chassidim that the Rebbe is Moshiach went against halacha. Thus they vehemently opposed publicity that identified the Rebbe as Moshiach.


Since these groups are led by rabbanim and gedolei ha’Torah, it would make sense that if one succeeded in convincing those rabbanim that the emuna of Lubavitcher Chassidim is based on piskei halacha of Rishonim and Acharonim, and that it certainly does not oppose halacha, we’d manage to reduce the level of opposition from frum groups so that even those Lubavitchers who are afraid of public opinion would be able to express their views without fear.


How do you reach these gedolei ha’rabbanim around the world?


In addition to my role as director of a Chabad house for Russian immigrants in Sydney, I serve as a member of the beis din ha’rabbani of Sydney. I often meet with gedolei poskei ha’dor both from the United States and Eretz Yisroel, and have long meetings with them about halachic matters. I bring up the topic at these meetings, or sometimes they bring it up, and a lengthy halachic discussion ensues, in the course of which I present the halachic basis for our emuna.


What is your goal - that they should believe the Rebbe is Moshiach?


I’d be thrilled if they’d accept things to that extent. The fact of the matter is though, that they find it very hard to accept this, and so I focus on moderating their opposition.


Those familiar with the attitude frum groups have toward Chabad, know that aside from the groups that are well-known for their blind opposition to anything Chabad does, most frum groups have accepted the Rebbe’s work, starting with Mivtza T’fillin and ending with Mivtza Moshiach (that is, until Gimmel Tammuz). They didn’t set up t’fillin stands on the streets or go kasher kitchens, but they didn’t oppose the work Chabad did either. This enabled us to do the Rebbe’s work without interference. Although we had to break the ice with the non-religious public, at least we didn’t have to fight opposition from the frum world at the same time.


This was the case with mivtza Moshiach too, until Gimmel Tammuz. Even after we publicized that we believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach, aside from one group, there were no frum groups who fought against our besuras ha’Geula.


What changed after Gimmel Tammuz? That whoever isn’t familiar with the sources that discuss Moshiach’s coming, can think that our belief that the Rebbe is Moshiach goes against halacha, r’l. Since most rabbanim are unfamiliar with these sources, they thought Chabad Chassidim were opposing halacha, and that is what they conveyed to their people. This is how a strong opposition to publicizing the besuras ha’Geula v’haGoel came to pass after Gimmel Tammuz. This antagonism reached its zenith about a year and a half ago when the Moetzes Ha’Rabbanus Ha’Rashis, the presidium of the Israeli Rabbinate, declared their avowed disassociation with the work of Chabad in hafatzas besuras ha’Geula.


It is this type of opposition that I want to prevent. The question is how to go back to our previous standing. The solution is simple - let us speak to rabbanim and poskim and present the halachic sources that support our emuna in the Rebbe’s being Moshiach. In the Torah world it is what they call “daas Torah” that establishes what people think, and so when the rabbanim are presented with the facts, this will filter down to the man on the street, who will accept Chabad’s work in hafatzas besuras ha’Geula v‘ha’goel like they accept the rest of the work we do.


If we succeed, then all those Lubavitchers who are ashamed of their faith will join those who unabashedly publicize the besuras ha’Geula, and with full achdus we will bring the hisgalus of the Rebbe MH”M.


What do the gedolei Torah you meet really think?


I’ll tell you about a meeting I had with one of the great American rabbanim, whose father is considered one of the great Israeli poskim. I knew him since he served as rav of the frum community of Sydney when I was a boy, and I learned with him for nearly five years. He came on a visit to Sydney three years ago and we met. He knew I was a Lubavitcher and at the beginning of the meeting he said he was a great admirer of the Rebbe and Chabad Chassidus, but he didn’t like those who publicized the Rebbe as Moshiach.


 I spoke to him for nearly two hours about a certain halachic matter, and towards the end of the discussion I said that since I knew him to be an ish emes, I was very interested in knowing why the publicity about the Rebbe being Moshiach bothered him, since I also publicize it ...


At first he was stunned. He said, “Rabbi Ulman, what do you need it for? You have such a nice congregation - what do you need these tzaros for?” I replied that since we’re anshei halacha, I wanted to clarify the subject purely from a halachic perspective. He tried to get out of a halachic discussion of the matter and said that there were Lubavitchers who didn’t believe this, and they even went to his father with strong claims against those who publicized the besuras ha’Geula. I said that even those Lubavitchers who oppose publicity believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach, and the differences of opinion are only regarding the publicity.


Then he said something that I think is the key: “Rabbi Ulman, what do you want from the non-Lubavitcher rabbanim? If you were united, you could demand of us to agree with you, but as long as you yourselves have differences of opinion, how do you expect us to agree with you?”


The conclusion from that discussion was obvious. If we presented a united front, if all rabbanei Chabad publicized a psak din that established that believing that the Rebbe is Moshiach is based on clear halachic sources, we could publicize the message with at least the silent acquiescence of all other rabbanim.


Were there rabbanim you managed to convince?


Baruch Hashem, I managed to convince a nice number of rabbanim of the acceptability of Chabad’s approach even with regard to the besuras ha’Geula. At the Moshiach Congress that took place in 5756, in New York, I met one of the gedolei ha’rabbanim who is considered an unofficial Chassid of the Rebbe. We’ve known each other for some time, and he felt comfortable asking me what I thought about the Congress. He said that he had heard that the gathering was one which “ein ruach chachamim nocha heimenu” (Rabbis did not approve of).


I told him that I don’t know what he means, for the Congress was organized by a committee composed of rabbanim and mashpiim, and that dozens of rabbanim, roshei yeshivos, and mashpiim from around the world participated in it.


Then he asked me to tell him my personal opinion about hafatzas besuras ha’Geula. I told him that I had one complaint about how the mivtza is being done, namely, that not enough effort is being put into convincing rabbanim that it is halachically permissible to say the Rebbe is Moshiach. Then I asked him, “Do you think it’s all right to say the Rebbe is Moshiach?” He said no. So I asked him: “If I can show you that the Rebbe himself considered this a possibility, then what?” He said, “In that case I would defer to the Rebbe.”


I took him to one of the bookstores in Crown Heights and showed him a selection of quotes from “V’Hu Yigaleinu,” in which the Rebbe explicitly referred to the situation after Gimmel Tammuz, and established that even in such a case, one can continue to say that the Rebbe is Moshiach. I also showed him what the Rebbe said about the three stages in Moshiach’s revelation that are hinted at in the word MiYaD” - the leadership of the Rebbe Sholom Dov Ber, the leadership of the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok, and the third period of leadership, which began after the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, which is hinted at in the names Menachem and Moshiach.


He got very enthused by these explicit sichos, and wondered how it was that no Lubavitcher had ever shown him this before. He had always thought it was the Chassidim who had made it up.


A half a year later, I had occasion to speak to him by phone. He brought up the subject again, and said that a Chabad askan had visited him, and when in the course of the conversation this subject had come up, the Lubavitcher had convinced him that the Rebbe did not mean it literally.


I decided to visit him at my next opportunity. That opportunity came, and a few weeks later I arrived in New York and visited him at home. At that time, this rav had come out strongly against the Reform. He always maintained that we had to fight the Reform, and one of the reasons he admired the Rebbe was because of the Rebbe’s uncompromising war against the Reform.


When I visited him, he told me that the Reform was fighting him back and he was very disappointed that those whom he had considered his friends were not defending him and his position. He said that at these times he thought about Avrohom and the akeida. Aside from the test of bringing his only son as a sacrifice, Avrohom was jeopardizing all his public relations. If he had slaughtered Yitzchok, all his spiritual work in being mekarev thousands of people to serve the one G-d, would be ruined, because they would all leave him.


This was Avrohom’s greatness - that he knew that he did not need to be frumer than Hashem, and if Hashem commanded him, he needed to listen even if it seemed to undermine everything he had built up over the years. So too in the war against the Reform. He would continue battling them even though this entailed terrible damage.


I told him that the Rebbe once told someone in yechidus, that one who was mekushar to him was involved in three things: Moshiach, Mihu Yehudi, and Shleimus ha’Aretz - the acronym MaMaSh. “You are involved with Mihu Yehudi, and it pains you that people make public opinion considerations and decide to stay out of the battle against Reform. It is exactly the same thing with the koch about Moshiach. Sometimes it harms our public image, but we have to know that we can’t be frumer than Hashem, and if Hashem commanded us - through His prophet - that we have to be involved in disseminating the besuras ha’Geula, that’s what we have to do, even if it entails destroying some of the connections we took years in building.”


This is not a pshetel. It is an explicit sicha that appears in Likkutei Sichos, volume 3, as well as in the sichos of the Hagada shel Pesach. The Rebbe speaks there about a shliach who considers getting rid of a mechitza so that more people will come to shul. We must not be frumer than Hashem, says the Rebbe, and in every instance we must do what Hashem says. If this means having fewer people in shul - 1) maybe Hashem doesn’t really want them there, as it were, 2) compromises end up distancing people, and the shul won’t fill up as a result of these and other compromises.


Two years ago I visited Yerushalayim. I sat with great dayanim there who are involved in gittin. One of them who authored many books and who is known as one of the great dayanim of Eretz Yisroel, spoke to me about the unique qualities of the Rebbe. He spoke excitedly about his yechidus with the Rebbe and how he saw before him a chad b’dara (one in a generation). He couldn’t understand how it was possible for someone to be such a tremendous Torah scholar while simultaneously devoting himself to issues effecting both the world at large as well as individuals. In short, he was tremendously impressed by the Rebbe. He made sure, however, to mention that it was really a pity that there were Chassidim who were damaging the name of Chassidus by publicizing that the Rebbe is Moshiach.


Although I represent the beis din of Sydney, I insist on principle to defend our faith, especially when I hear it being attacked, so I said perhaps they hadn’t properly explained things to him, but the fact of the matter is that every Lubavitcher believes the Rebbe is Moshiach. He didn’t believe me and said it couldn’t be true since this emuna went against Yiddishkeit.


There was a set of Sdei Chemed in the room we were sitting in, so I took a volume off the shelf and showed him how the Sdei Chemed dealt with this possibility and established that from a halachic point of view this was acceptable, which is how he explains “lo zachu” (i.e., the advent of Moshiach when the Jewish people are not found to be meritorious). The rav examined the Sdei Chemed and was silent. Since then, I haven’t heard a word against this belief from him.


The same day, the son of one of the great poskim of our times came in to the beis din. He himself is considered a great scholar. During the breaks we talked about the special relationship his father had with Chabad in general and the Rebbe in particular. He said that a few individuals, i.e., those who broadcast that the Rebbe is Moshiach, ruined Chabad’s good image. I mentioned the name of a very close friend of his father who is one of the main disseminators of the besuras ha’Geula and asked him what he thought of him. He said that if all rabbanei Chabad publicized a clear daas Torah establishing that the belief that the Rebbe is Moshiach is anchored in halacha, he was sure that everybody who got along with Chabad until Gimmel Tammuz would continue to support Chabad now and wouldn’t oppose this belief.


We went on to talk about the Moshiach gatherings that had taken place over the years. He said that at these gatherings too, despite the participation of rabbanim, their presence wasn’t emphasized enough. He mentioned the name of a great rav who had told him that he believed the Rebbe was Moshiach before Gimmel Tammuz, and he would even say so after Gimmel Tammuz if only Lubavitchers were united in this belief.


Can every Chassid get involved or only rabbanim?


In principle, every Chassid who can demonstrate halachic knowledge and can have Torah discussions with rabbanim, can influence them and eliminate their opposition. Of course, there’s a tremendous advantage when Chabad rabbanim, who are known to their non-Chabad colleagues, explain this.


It would be beneficial if there weremore rabbanim who devote time to explaining our emuna. I’m not coming to criticize Chabad rabbanim, just to suggest that whoever, by Divine providence, was selected to interact with non-Chabad rabbanim, should take the opportunity and use the ko’ach of Torah and halacha to explain the halachic foundation for the belief that the Rebbe is Moshiach.


From my personal experience I can say that I never came up against real opposition. When I began showing them the halachic sources, all claims and complaints went out the window and even those who didn’t agree, stopped opposing it. I am sure that this gives great nachas ruach to the Rebbe MH”M, may he immediately be nisgaleh.


“Rabbi Ulman, if you were united, you could demand of us to agree with you, but as long as you yourselves have differences of opinion, how do you expect us to agree with you?”




“If I can show you that the Rebbe himself considered this a possibility, then what?” He said, “In that case I would defer to the Rebbe.”




If all rabbanei Chabad publicized a clear daas Torah establishing that the belief that the Rebbe is Moshiach is anchored in halacha, everybody who got along with Chabad until Gimmel Tammuz would continue to support Chabad now.


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