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A Chabad rabbi’s threat against Ehud Olmert is deepening the rift between messianist and non-messianst Lubavitchers.

According to the Forward, Chabad’s Israeli leadership appears ready to publicly distance itself from a messianic element within the movement, an about-face from the many years of efforts to downplay divisions in the fervently Orthodox movement, as required by a Brooklyn-based rabbinical court.

Rabbi Dov Wolpe, a popular leader of the messianic wing of Chabad, which believes that the late Lubavitcher rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the messiah, said Jan. 2 that if Israel were properly run, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be “hanged from the gallows” along with Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. His remarks were broadcast on Israeli television news.

“This is not Lubavitch,” Moni Ender, a Chabad spokesman in Israel, told the Forward. “Rabbi Wolpe is talking by himself. We have nothing to do with him. He makes dirt for Chabad.”

Some U.S. Chabad leaders also had strong words for Wolpe. His statements did not appear in mainstream Chabad communications.

Incitement to violence by rabbis has become the ultimate taboo in Israel, since such rabbinical injunctions were blamed for Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination.

Chabad is the only major Chasidic group whose members serve in the Israeli army; its rabbis are also regarded as informal chaplains. It is the threat to this activity that could force Chabad to declare the messianists separate from the movement, Ender told the Forward.

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