An Issue with Lubavitch

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The new issue of the Jewish college student magazine New Voices just released its new issue, focusing on the world of Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Jews. Most of the articles are well-written and researched, characteristic of the magazine in general — not in the way of knocking college students, but it’s pretty incredible that a staff of writers with this much time and talent hasn’t been bought out by King Bloomberg. In the past, they’ve tackled such touchy subjects as Tefillin Barbie, internet gambling, and sex life after college. Now, they’re taking on the Rebbe.

In an article on an Iraq War vet who grew up Chabad, Sholom Keller talks about why he hated yeshiva — “It was fourteen hours of learning a day, you know? I had no use for it….we would go about it in this very pedantic way. You can’t take that approach to the study of God.”

And, of course, the requisite article (two, in fact) on the Rubashkin/Agriprocessors travesty.

New Voices’ take on all this is thoughtful and meted with journalistic integrity, although, as JTA notes, Chabad’s interest on campus sometimes runs counter to the interests of the publishers of New Voices, calling to mind a scenario of possibly questionable journalism.

And the gamut of articles is pretty much entirely negative, even calling into question the appointment of a Chabad rabbi’s nomination as chaplain at Princeton. (Becasue, what, Chabad rabbis can’t be eligible to represent Jews?)

It might have been worthwhile to find someone to defend the movement, or to have an interview with a Chabad rabbi about Chabad instead of an interview with a Reform rabbi about Chabad’s influence…or even just to ask Frum Satire (who isn’t Chabad, but always has crushes on girls who are) to do one of his random and hilarious commentaries on how 770 is like one big frat party and, as he puts it, “Free places to stay around the globe.”

Posted on October 3, 2008

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15 thoughts on “An Issue with Lubavitch

  1. jnathankazis

    I appreciate the post, Matthue. One point – we certainly did not “call into question” Princeton’s decision to make their Chabad rabbi a University Chaplain. That was a straight news piece, and I don’t think you can find any such sentiment in the text of the story.

    Josh Nathan-Kazis
    Editor, New Voices

  2. Israel

    Chabad’s primary objective is simple: get as many people to give as much money as possible to the organization while at the same time give the impression that they are the one and only true perspective of Judaism and the world.

    Understand that when someone from Chabad approaches you they see potential for three things: 1) Money, 2) Execution of a “Mitzvah” on THEIR part (even though they will make it look like that they are concerned with the execution of the “Mitzvah” on YOUR part), 3) Convincing you that doing a “Mitzvah” is the most important thing in the world which will hopefully lead you to do “1″.

    Chabad will claim that in their organization, they welcome everyone regardless of observance and income. That you don’t need a “ticket” to come to services and there is no “memberships”. Make no mistake about it: Chabad’s “open concept” is actually a cover-up for what it really is: a money collecting organization that ultimately funds the torah-study of individuals who view the outside world as sub-human.

    Universities should not endorse any religions on Campus. They should be particularly careful when recognizing cult organizations such as Chabad who’s sole purpose is to attract young, impressionable people to join their “warm loving atmosphere” to give money, time, resources and favors.

    Israel

  3. chaimsmom

    [Israel]Chabad’s primary objective is simple: get as many people to give as much money as possible to the organization while at the same time give the impression that they are the one and only true perspective of Judaism and the world.

    Israel

    The same could be said of many other Jewish organizations.

  4. chaimsmom

    [Jeremy Moses]

    The problem I have with Chabad is that for all of their welcoming to non-Chabad Jews, they are actually pretty intolerant. I find that there general attitude towards Judaism is that there is only one correct way- there (sic) way.

    Again, this is true of other kiruv organizaitons as well.

  5. The Doctor

    You know, one gets tired of hearing that as an excuse. Whether from a politician or a Chabad supporter, I can only say:

    If other kiruv organizations were playing in the street, that wouldn’t make it right.

    Other organizations having bad attitudes does not excuse or justify Chabad who I have found to be sincere but condescending and in some circumstances downright dishonest. case in point: a conservative synagogue retained an Orthodox expert to make sure that their mikvah was constructed appropriately and that no one could find fault with it. The local chabad newspaper immediately condemned it as “not properly supervised” and made it clear that everyone should bring their mikvah business to their newly constructed mikvah. The local chabad rabbi also told many people that the Conservative rabbi, while fundraising for the mikvah, had “stolen” the money that should have gone to the Chabad mikvah.

    The comment of the Conservative rabbi: “the laws governing the mikvah are not more important than the laws regarding lashon hara.”

    The behavior of Chabad, or any other organization, merits constant scrutiny and critique and can never be excused or exempted from comment just because “everyone does it.”

  6. matthue Post author

    If getting money were Chabad’s primary purpose, they wouldn’t set up Chabad houses in working-class or poor Jewish areas, or provide services for free.

    One of the things about Chabad houses — one of the things about non-hierarchical organizations in general — is that every person does it differently. No argument that some Chabad houses have money as a bottom line. But, for every $50-a-plate “requested donation” dinner I’ve gone to (Prague, the Berkshires) I’ll list off a dozen Chabad rabbis who’ve invited me in — sometimes, when I looked like a vagrant homeless person (one time when I actually was) — and fed me, put me up in their houses, and let me hang out with their impressionable kids. Sometimes it was just because I was Jewish. Sometimes it was just because, in their weird and wild estimations, they thought I was okay. In San Francisco, Rabbi Potash let me stay at their house for weeks at a time, and fed me through three and a half years of Shabbos meals, and I think the one time I made a donation, it was $50 in one-dollar bills (I was selling a lot of poetry zines at the time) and it was anonymous. There were no rich patrons — we seriously couldn’t figure out how he could afford to do laundry — and yet he kept on shuttling us in, everyone he could find.

  7. chaimsmom

    [The Doctor]You know, one gets tired of hearing that as an excuse ….
    The behavior of Chabad, or any other organization, merits constant scrutiny and critique and can never be excused or exempted from comment just because “everyone does it.”

    Sorry, I should have been more clear. I’m not excusing Chabad, I just wonder why Chabad is being singled out. I have no more nor no less of a gripe against Chabad than I do against every other kiruv organization.

  8. Jeremy Moses

    While the question of Chabad’s money-grabbing schemes are questionable (but certainly plausible), I do have other issues with the movement.

    In every experience I have had with Chabad, the rabbis and congregants have always been very nice and inviting. And I think that they are genuine in their hospitality. I find it commendable that they want to provide an outlet of Judaism for Jews who otherwise would have nothing.

    The problem I have with Chabad is that for all of their welcoming to non-Chabad Jews, they are actually pretty intolerant. I find that there general attitude towards Judaism is that there is only one correct way- there way. They treat me, a fairly knowledgeable Conservative Jew, like a know-nothing. They are fine with Jews being secular, but if and when they choose to do anything religious, it has to be Orthodox.

    I have actually heard a Chabad rabbi openly make fun of Conservative and Reform Judaism, which is pretty offensive being that most of the young people there had parents who probably were members of Reform and Conservative congregations.

    Also, I find that their means of getting young people to come to their Intolerance House…oh sorry, Chabad House, somewhat skeezy. I honestly know people who go to Chabad on Friday night to get free alcohol before they go to the bars. And Chabad has no problem with this, as long as they put on t’fillin in the morning.

  9. The Doctor

    I suspect they’re being “singled out” because the article that started this discussion mentioned them. The fact that they are everywhere and much more visible than others gives them a higher profile, and therefore their flaws are as magnified as their virtues. Just like no one says much if a 17 year old girl in New Delhi gets pregnant, but if it’s Jamie Spears or What’s-her-name Palin it’s headline news…

  10. Israel

    [matthue]If getting money were Chabad’s primary purpose, they wouldn’t set up Chabad houses in working-class or poor Jewish areas, or provide services for free.

    What you are clearly unaware of is that while Chabad Houses are set up in working class and poor Jewish areas, the Rabbis are constantly lobbying and ambulance-chasing those which have money to give them. While some of this money is used to fund Chabad events that welcome all, what really is going on is the constant sucking of cash to fund houses for Rabbis to live in, airfares to New York conventions, and those all important torah studies.

    [matthue]One of the things about Chabad houses — one of the things about non-hierarchical organizations in general

    Again, no offence but you are coming across as quite naive here.

    Chabad houses and chabad in general has a very strong Hierarchy. Here is how it works: City has Jewish community with some synagogues. Chabad sends Rabbi #1 (and his family) to city. Rabbi #1 IMMEDIATELY begins to make connections with the wealthiest people in town AND with municipal political figures. At the same time, Rabbi #1 goes to various synagogues to introduce himself to members of the congregations. It does not take long for Rabbi #1 to start his own Congregation comprised of people who have been influenced / inspired by his “greatness”. A Chabad House is established using funds from New York with the objective that the Chabad House become self sufficient within one year from funds collected from local community.

    continued…

  11. Israel

    Once Rabbi #1 has established himself, he will summon Rabbi#2 to he city to establish a second Shul. Here’s the important part: It is UNDERSTOOD that Rabbi #2 CANNOT interfere with, or access any of the sources of funding that RABBI #1 is already dealing with.

    Eventually, a Chabad House will get big enough that you will have many Rabbis in one. Now if you think power struggles do not happen you are kidding yourself. Behind the happy, smiling faces, the friendly Shabbatons where cool stories are told and vodka drunk, behind the “wise” tales and stories that are told from the head of the table to awe-struck onlookers, behind all that is a very big power struggle that goes on WITHIN individual Chabads AND BETWEEN chabads in the same city AND between CHABAD and OTHER congregations.

    All for the purpose of getting the most money to feed that appetite for learning Torah and influencing young people to be programmed into believing that god exists and torah is the ultimate truth etc. etc.

    These are facts, I’m afraid.

    You’re 50 dollar donation went far to support all this.

    Israel

  12. Israel

    [chaimsmom]The same could be said of many other Jewish organizations.

    Not really.

    Chabad is unique in the way it infiltrates communities in an attempt to

    a) Convince Jews and Non-Jews to donate money and/or favors.

    b) Give the impression that their form of Judaism is the final word in Judaism.

    c) Aggressively seek out those who are on the verge of death to get them to “donate” a fair portion of their will to Chabad.

    Chabad’s methods are very unique. Chabad assumes itself and boasts itself to be very unique within the Jewish communities it infiltrates. At the beginning, the Chabad Rabbi will befriend the leaders of the local community synagogues. By the time the Chabad house is set up with the help of those leaders (in many cases), the Chabad Rabbi will turn around and start telling his congretation that Chabad is better than other synagogues because they don’t require membership etc.

    This is why in most cases, Chabad is seen as a nuisance in the Jewish communities of North America.

    Israel

  13. Israel

    [chaimsmom]Sorry, I should have been more clear. I’m not excusing Chabad, I just wonder why Chabad is being singled out. .

    Chabad should be singled out.

    It is unique in its methods.

    Please give an example of another organization that you feel functions the same way Chabad does.

    Israel

  14. matthue Post author

    And don’t forget the Conservative and Reform movements! In 1800, 0% of Jews were Conservative or Reform. Today, they’ve infiltrated about 92% of all American synagogues.

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