David Berger is a historian and the author of The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference. With the Lubavitchers, messianic beliefs are nuanced, Berger says. He thinks that most Lubavitchers, either secretly or openly, do believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah, but that only a small fraction believe he is still alive.
That contention has made Berger the target of severe attacks in the Lubavitch world.
And though he staunchly opposes the movement, he says that there are strong theological underpinnings both to the messianism and even to the “seemingly crazy assertion” that the Rebbe really is still here.
“Judaism says that in every generation, there is a righteous person that connects the world to the divine energy,” he explains. “If there is no leader, the world would actually cease to exist. So if the Rebbe is not here physically and that the world continues to exist becomes a conundrum to them and leads them to believe that the Rebbe is alive. But even people who believe he he is not, find this to be a challenging question.” They resolve it, he adds, by opining that we're living in strange times, or that the Rebbe is still providing the divine connection from beyond.