A few years ago, during a conference on Lubavitch at Bar Ilan University, I went up to introduce myself to Prof. David Berger who was on the dais. Berger, a staunch opponent of Lubavitch, specifically for its perceived and real messianic tendencies following Schneerson’s passing, turned to an acquaintance who stood nearby and said, "This is Yanover, who compared my writings to Der Sturmer."
My response was a polite smile, while going through my mental files, trying to recall the when and where of the harsh statement, and coming up empty. It seemed vaguely familiar, but for the life of me I couldn’t pinpoint it. So I hemmed and hoed and walked away.
Following the brouhaha that surrounded my report at the Forward regarding Berger’s appearance (by which I stand without qualification), I dug through my daily uploads on USAJewish, which at the time held from 40 to 60 daily paragraphs, and could not find the reference. Then I found it, in my Eudora email files.
Over the previous year or so I had been receiving emails from Prof. Jacob Neusner, complementing me on my work. At one point he commented on Berger’s appearances regarding his polemic work calling on a ban against Lubavitch. Somewhere in that email exchange I wrote that Berger writes about Lubavitch the way the Sturmer wrote about Jews, with a fervor that discarded everything good and accented everything bad.
How did Berger know about a comment I made in an email to his mentor of many years? Why, methinks the mentor was bcc’ing the student on our exchanges.
That Berger was only able to see the comparison of his work to the Sturmer on the crudest possible level, as if I were accusing him of Nazi atrocities is testimony to his general capacity for subtle reading of original text (I quoted an anonymous colleague of his who said Berger never met a text he didn’t take at face value).
That Neusner was inclined to play me for an entire year to try and trap me into saying something embarrassing his little cabal could use against me attests to his gargoylish reputation. It takes a gargoyle to have the patience to stand on a ledge for days until a pigeon flies close enough to be taloned.