Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the charismatic leader of the Chabad Hasidic movement and its designated Messiah. Yet when he died in 1994, the messianic fervor he inspired did not subside. Through traditional means and digital technologies, a group of radical Hasidim, the Meshichistim, still keep the Rebbe palpably close—engaging in ongoing dialogue, participating in specific rituals, and developing an ever-expanding visual culture of portraits and videos. With Us More Than Ever focuses on this group to explore how religious practice can sustain the belief that a messianic figure is both present and accessible.
Yoram Bilu documents a unique religious experience that is distinctly modern. The rallying point of the Meshichistim—that the Rebbe is "with us more than ever"—is sustained through an elaborate system that creates the sense of his constant and pervasive presence in the lives of his followers. The virtual Rebbe that emerges is multiple, visible, accessible, and highly decentralized, the epicenter of a truly messianic movement in the twenty-first century. Combining ethnographic fieldwork and cognitive science with nuanced analysis, Bilu documents the birth and development of a new religious faith, describing the emergence of new spiritual horizons, a process common to various religious movements old and new.
About the author
Yoram Bilu is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of The Saints' Impresarios: Dreamers, Healers, and Holy Men in Israel's Urban Periphery (2009) and Without Bounds: The Life and Death of Rabbi Ya'aqov Wazana (2000).
"In this fascinating study, Yoram Bilu, Israel's foremost scholar of Jewish popular religion, has succeeded in penetrating the world of Chabad's messianic subculture. He offers a brilliant analysis of how these Hasidim use visual media, apparitions, and letters to their deceased leader to create an 'apotheosis' of the Rebbe."
—David Biale, University of California, Davis
"This ethnographic exploration of the religious imagination in Chabad demonstrates that there is no one better equipped than Yoram Bilu to provide a theoretically sophisticated and phenomenologically sensitive account of the movement's messianic devotion to its deceased yet ever-present Rebbe."
—Thomas J. Csordas, University of California, San Diego
"With Us More than Ever is an important book for readers interested in Chabad, Hasidism, and contemporary Judaism. Its focus on the 'messianic ecology' yields a nuanced and dispassionate image of the acute messianism of the Meshichists—a community, or, perhaps, a state of mind, that has been discussed, criticized, and ridiculed, but hardly ever researched either quantitatively or qualitatively."
—Wojciech Tworek, Association for Jewish Studies Review