Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chabad - The one true form of Judaism?

LazerA comment to "Chabad - Why Chabad frightens me":

Rabbi Eidensohn,

My own experience with Chabad (I grew up in a home heavily associated with Chabad, in fact, I daven with the Nusach Ari of Chabad), made me uncomfortable with Chabad long ago, and has since turned me, not entirely willingly, into an opponent.

I think the issue that bothered me most, in the beginning, was Chabad's tendency to see themselves as the one, exclusive, legitimate form of Torah Judaism.

One of the defining characteristics of contemporary Orthodoxy is a high degree of pluralism. Despite some failures, the Torah world is extraordinarily open, esp. compared to previous generations, to various streams of Torah thought. Thus, for example, any major "litvish" yeshiva will have numerous talmidim who are chassidish, Sephardic, yekkish, and so on. The major Orthodox media regularly publish articles praising gedolim from every stream (with the exception of Religious Zionism).

This pluralism has its downside, of course. For example, the R' S. R. Hirsch that is so widely admired in the Torah world is not an fully accurate portrayal of the real R' Hirsch.

The dominant feature of the modern Torah world is be inclusive (even at the expense of accuracy) rather than exclusive.

(Modern Orthodoxy is an unfortunate exception. Why this is so is a major discussion which doesn't belong in this particular thread.)

My experience with Chabad as a child and an adult has been precisely the opposite. Gedolim from outside of Chabad are virually unknown. When they are mentioned, it is usually in a disparaging if not downright derogatory manner.

Similarly, other frum communities are seen as fundamentally flawed. All Jews need to join Chabad in order to achieve true ruchniyus. (My father got involved with Chabad through a secret "kiruv" group operating in Telz yeshiva.)

Thus, Litvaks are "snags", "Telz", "Lakewood" and "Satmar" are pejoratives, R' Aharon Kotler and R' Shach are reshaim, and virtually all contemporary gedolim are important only to the degree that they had a relationship with the Lubavticher rebbe.

This is accompanied by an Orwellian process of redefining Judaism as an invention of Chabad. Many of us have heard the radio advertisements before every Jewish holiday where we are told that the Lubavitcher rebbe says that all Jews should "light Chanukah candles", "hear the Megilah reading", etc. I once saw a small pamphlet sent out by Chabad which claimed, on the back cover, that Chabad created the minhag of reciting Tehillim.

In the contemporary Torah world, Torah thoughts from virtually all sources are seen as valuable. In the most Litvishe setting you can here divrei Torah from Chassidic sources (the Bnei Yissaschar, Sfas Emes, and Satmar Rav are particularly popular), Sephardic sources (esp. the Ben Ish Chai) and R' Hirsch. In Chabad you will never hear such sources. Moreover, Chabad chassidim are discouraged from studying non-Chabad hashkafa seforim, incl. other chassidishe seforim. (I don't know if this is an official position, but it is a widespread one.)

The ramifications of this self-isolation are immense. Almost any group with a strong sense of purpose has the potentiality for extremism. However, as long as a group views itself as part of a broader legitimate community, it will, to some degree, restrain itself from drifting to far afield.

When a particular Jewish community ceases to view the broader Torah world as significant, or even legitimate, it loses this grounding and will eventually drift away.

This is a tragedy of the greatest proportions. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the problem, there is little, if anything, the outside community can do.


  1. "This is a tragedy of the greatest proportions. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the problem, there is little, if anything, the outside community can do."

    But no, Dr. Eidensohn/"da'as torah" persists in flogging a dead horse that will never come to life nor yield any positive results.

    Please let go of this entire Chabad subject and move on to other topics. Nothing good can ever come of this debate between the deaf and dumb versus the blind and crippled.

  2. Please let go of this entire Chabad subject and move on to other topics. Nothing good can ever come of this debate between the deaf and dumb versus the blind and crippled.
    Which is which?

  3. "Which is which?"

    Take your pick!

    Ever heard of the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza tragedy (enemies who had more in common but whose personal rivalries tore not just them but Klal Yisroel apart for millenia) because this is what this entire Chabad vs the World and the World vs Chabad debate is sounding like!

    Don't forget, it's almost Erev Tisha Be'av and all good frum Jews especiially should be uniting and not ripping each other's guts out leshem shomayim yet.

    A good Shabbos to all!

  4. LazerA, whenever authors came by the Rebbe for dollars with their seforim (including Rabbi Eidensohn), the Rebbe encouraged them, and demanded that they do double. Whenever a Rebbe of another Chasidic group came to the Rebbe, he had an automatic pass to yechidus. Obviously the Rebbe had the utmost respect for other Chasidic groups. In general, the Rebbe would always encourage other leaders, whether Rebbes, Rabonim or askonim, to increase in their efforts in spreading Yiddishkeit and *their own seforim*.

    Everyone has their mission. Some have a more general one. Chasidei Chabad have a very specific one. Chasidei Chabad focus on the words of the Rebbeim of Chabad because that's what the Rebbe encourages them to do non-stop, because that's what their mission is. Focusing on Chasidus Chabad is not an exclusion of others, ch"v, just a belief that there is something extra, that is very important and special in this particular wisdom, that is not found in others.

    And this belief comes from the Rebbe. On one foot, the Rebbe explains that Chasidus Chabad speaks about achdus and gadlus Hashem in a detailed way that is unparalleled in the rest of Torah, even kabbolo, and studying this wisdom is necessary to prepare for Moshiach, because then "the only occupation of the entire world will be to know Hashem," and that's what Chasidus Chabad in particular prepares us for, and that's why it was revealed and why it ought to be promoted. This is discussed at length in the sicha of 19 Kislev in vol. 30 of Likutei Sichos, p. 170 ff. If you really seek to understand this idea, instead of judging and dismissing without the full sources and facts (like so many others here) I suggest you learn that sicha inside.

    To sum it up, Chasidei Chabad have a specific mission, and that means that they have to have a certain focus (whereas non-chasidim aren't expected to have this focus, and for them what you call "pluralism", i.e., learning from all acceptable sources with relatively equal emphasis, is perfectly okay). That's the origin of the "lack of pluralism" that you may have observed and not understood.

    I'm not saying that you should adopt this approach to life, just that it will help you to see where chasidei Chabad are coming from, so you won't judge them so harshly.

  5. Chabad actually encourages the learning of other hashkafah books. However, because of their uge libary of their own books many do not get round to it. The tanya itself quotes numerous other Hashkafah related Seforim, and so does all of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim's seforim. I am sorry you had a bad experience with Chabad but give everyone a fair chance. Their is definately much good in Chabad, but like everything else you must take the good and leave the bad. Perhaps if you actually looked into Chabad a little more, things may get a little clearer.

  6. Rabbi Eidensohn, here is some relevant material:

    Schneerson stressed the importance of studying Hasidic philosophy, in particular the philoshophy of Chabad,[25] saying that "Chassidus Chabad is the preparation to the study of the Torah of Mashiach in the future..."[26] and that Chabad Chassidus is "the true Torah of the Baal Shem Tov" [27]

    Schneerson spoke very highly of the six Chabad Rebbes that preceded him, in particular his father-in-law, the sixth Rebbe. He described certain types of souls with whom "it is as before the Tzimtzum", who see G-dliness as obvious and require proof that existence is also real. He gave Moses and the Rebbes of Chabad as examples of such "souls of Atzilus".[33]

    Schneerson mentioned that the Chabad Rebbes "trace their lineage back to the Davidic line, of the tribe of Judah",[34] and says of his father, Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, that he too “descends from the offspring of David".[35]

    He referred to his father-in-law as "the Nasi (leader) of our generation”, “the only messiah of our generation”,[36] and one "who in his own right is incomparably greater than the people of his generation", whom G-d had chosen and designated to be, "'your judges' and 'your instructors',[37] and the prophet of the generation, who will give rulings and instructions relevant to the avodah (divine service) of all Jews, and all people in this generation, in all matters of Torah and Mitzvos, and also about general day to day living, and also about 'all your actions'".[38] Schneerson said that "one who does not fufill a takana or custom which the Previous Rebbe instituted, it's as if he is not fufilling a commandment in the Torah." [39]

    On the birthday of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad, he said, "May we immediately merit the fulfillment of the promise, 'As in the days of your Exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders',[40] with the coming of Moshiach, whose name is 'Menachem'[41] like the name of the Tzemach Tzedek - may he come and redeem us, and lead us proudly to our land."[42]

    Regarding the Ushpizzin (spiritual "guests") of Sukkot, he said in the name of his father-in-law (in the name of his father, the Rebbe Rashab [43]) that besides the traditional ushpizzin mentioned in the Zohar (Abraham, Isaac, etc.) there are also "our Ushpizzin: The Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, and the Rebbe Rashab",[44], and added that "Since my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, was the successor of these seven nesi'im, it can be understood that he comes on the eighth day, Shemini Atzeres."[45]

    25 ^ See Likutei Sichot (Vol. 30, pp. 170-176)

    26 ^ Shabbos Parshas Tazria, Parshas HaChodesh, 27th Day of Adar II, 5744. See

    27 ^ Toras Menachem, Vol. 20, 5717(3), 18th of Elul, page 237. See also Likutei Sichot (Vol. 10, Additions regarding 19th of Kislev, pg. 239, Letter from 5th of Adar Rishon)

    33 ^ Sefer HaMaamarim, 5715, V'nigleh K'vod Havaya

    34 ^ Shabbos Shemos, 5752, ch. 13

    35 ^ Sefer Hasichos 5749, vol 2, p. 650

    36 ^ Sefer HaSichos, 5752, pg. 97

    37 ^ cf Isaiah 1:26

    38 ^ Sefer HaSichos, Shoftim, 7 Elul 5751 (August 17th 1991). A straightforward reading of this discourse identifies this figure as the Rebbe's deceased father-in-law. For many of the Hasidim, however, the real referent was the the Rebbe himself, who was thought to share the soul of his predecessor. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger, 2001, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization of Portland. Page 56.

    39 ^ Toras Menachem, Vol. 4, 5712 (1), page 282. See also Toras Menachem, Hisvaduyus 1, starting on page 163.

    40 ^ Micha 7:15

    41 ^ Yerushalmi Berachot 2:4; Eicha Rabba 1:51

    42 ^ Erev Rosh Hashanah, 5744, Hisvaduyos, unedited

    43 ^ Hisvaduyus, 5746, Vol. 1, pg. 295

    44 ^ Toras Menachem, 4, 5712, pg. 34. Ibid., 21, 5718, pg. 43. Ibid., 24, 5719, pg. 65. Ibid., 27, 5720, pg. 27. Ibid., 29, 5721, pg. 38.

    45 ^ Likkutei Sichot - Volume VI: Bereishis An Anthology of Talks Relating to the weekly sections of the Torah and Special occasions in the Jewish calendar , Sichos in English (Adapted from Sichos Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5712; Sichos Acharon Shel Pesach, 5721).


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