Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chabad - Why Chabad frightens me

The following reasonable and sensitive comment by Rabbi Oliver asks for my personal response. I will take a reluctant stab at answering because it is actually asking a very hard question - Who are you? - as if this were relevant to these issues.

I am first of all an observer and a participant. I have meaningful friends and interactions with a wide range of people with a wide range of beliefs. I have focused for many years on understanding the meta issues of the Jewish people and to be able to articulate the processes which lead to success and those which lead to disaster. If you peruse my seforim - Yad Moshe - the index to the Igros Moshe, Yad Yisroel - the index to the Mishna Berura and finally Daas Torah - the range of legitimate hashkofa views. You will notice that I am providing an interface - for others - to be able to quickly gain access to information of our gedolim regarding a wide range of issues. As I wrote in the introduction to Daas Torah - I was advised by the great talmid chachom and baal machshava - HaRav Moshe Shapiro, shlita - to let the texts speak for themselves without interjecting myself into the issues. Thus I try to stay in the background - but at the same time I try to make things happen as a catalyst for others.

The issue of Chabad is a very troubling one. The most frightening thing in the world is not a monster but something familiar - someone you love who might be corrupted and is out to destroy you. For example a husband or wife who becomes mentally ill and it is difficult to know whether their thoughts and actions are healthy or sick. A child who is a drug addict. Cancer is the most frightening disease because it turns your own healthy body into a destructive and deadly force. The communist scares of the McCarthy era was that maybe your best friends or your father was a communist. The horrors of the Inquisition were the result of the fear of the goyim that those who had converted were not sincere and so they did horrible tortures on people to try and clarify whether the converts were friend or foe. Fat people, mental ill people or the handicapped are discriminated against because they are distortions of what a person is supposed to be. The Fifth Column or traitor is the most frightening enemy.

I once talked to a chabadnik who lives in Crown Heights and asked him how he could live with the low life muggers and drug addicts that surrounded and permeated his neighborhood. He said ,"I can live with that because it is obvious that they are the enemy and they have no influence on me or may family. I could never live in Flatbush or some other nice quiet neighborhood because I would constantly be explaining to myself and my kids why that saintly apikorus or Christian is somehow inferior because they don't have Torah. I would be in constant fear that my children would fall in love with wonderful Reform or Conservative Jews. - who have more sensitivity than their chabad teachers. In Crown Heights I know who I am and I know who I am not."

Chabad elicits primal fears because they are in many ways the ideal of what a Jew is, at the same time they seem to do or think such grotesque absurd things or even heretical ideas that the cognitive dissonance drives me crazy. Therefore whenever Chabad says, "Look at all the mitzvos we do, look at our mesiras nefesh, look at all the people are frum because of us." It doesn't advance their cause it makes it worse because the dissonance becomes stronger. Whenever a chabadnik says, "Well on the surface what we say and do might seem problematic but if you learn to think like us by years of study you will agree that there is no problem" also increases the problem. If I, after years of Torah study or the talmidei chachomim I know and respect are upset about what they hear and read about Chabad - it doesn't help to say that my role models of Torah don't know what they are talking about. The "Just trust me" of the chabadnik is scary. After all isn't that what the Wolf said to Little Red Riding Hood?
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver has left a new comment on your post "Chabad - Daas Torah Blog is "Pure unadulterated ha...":

I actually thought his mention of your sincerity was a backhanded compliment. Whatever.

Rabbi Eidensohn, just as you say that Chassidei Chabad should understand where you and your colleagues are coming from, so should you try to understand where Chassidei Chabad are coming from.

The relationship that a Chabad Chossid has with his Rebbe is a very deep relationship. It's not just about learning Torah. It's a deep personal feeling, and it's supposed to be (see, for example Kuntres Hishtatchus from the Mittele Rebbe). What if someone would start a blog badmouthing your father, would you respond dispassionately? I don't think anyone would. And if you didn't, would that reflect badly on your character? Nope.

So when you come on here, for all to see, and in essence attack Chassidim and even the Rebbe, albeit in a scholarly sounding way, it's very upsetting. We know that these claims come from misquotes, exaggerations, third-hand reports, etc. Take your post right here. Is it really fair to jump to a conclusion that one hostile post tarnishes the entire movement? I think not. We also know that some claims have some truth to them, albeit exaggerated as if these are faults of everyone or most, when in fact it's only a small minority or even a handful. You see, we know that these are exaggerations.

For example, we know that the vast majority of Lubavitchers are very nice people, and the earlier post where you quoted something impolite that a Lubavitcher said to you really comes off as a totally unfair misrepresentation, when we know that it's not so. Also, we know that there exist some regrettable faults in certain individuals over which we don't have much control, and quite frankly, that also causes us pain.

This upset feeling is all the more intense when we as Lubavitchers know that a claim, certainly the one concerning revelation of Elokus in Tzadikim, is simply not factual.

I personally have been so upset that I've had to make a tremendous effort not to go there, and stick to the issues in a more understated way, because that's the way I'm going to have some constructive impact. I think that Hirschel's post wasn't constructive, but personally, I can relate to Hirschel's sentiments. And I know other Chassidim who are so upset when they see the distortions and exaggerations, etc., that they just can't handle it, so they avoid such sites and interactions altogether.

I don't know you personally; I'm still trying to figure you out from your blog, but there definitely exist people who have a sick, malicious agenda to attack everything about Chabad, one driven by far less than pure motives, even if only subconsciously. Everything they can get their hands on that sounds disparaging, they post, and all in the name of "exposing the truth." That's sinas chinam because although there are pretexts for the hatred, at the core those are not the reasons, and this is just evident in the way they talk. They are out there, and everyone knows the names of their blogs. Is it so far-fetched for someone to confuse you with them, that you should be surprised at a hostile response? (By the way, I'd appreciate a response, instead of just reposting my post for others to respond.)


  1. Hi,

    As I said in an earlier post to which you didn't respond, the Rebbe's approach has not been to say "just trust me". The Rebbe would cite sources for every single Mitzva campaign he came out with and respond to questions of critics that were based on halacha, and prove that these concerns were inapplicable.

    At the same time, being that the Rebbe is known as being so great and was so greatly respected by his peers, just because something seems foreign in an outsider's eyes, that's not a reason to dismiss it. Seek further, and you'll find. There are no "heretical ideas," ch"v, or even "grotesque" ones. There are ideas and sources that for you need explanation.

    I've shown that the sicha concerning revelation of Elokus in Tzadikim was simply twisted, and anyone who simply reads the words properly won't interpret it so. The same goes for most other things, that either they're not true, or with the proper explanation they're understandable.

    You say that after all this time you still have difficulties. Exactly who have you been speaking to in order to understand the Rebbe's words: chosheve Rabonim and mashpi'im? Or people you know aren't so learned? You live in Yerushalayim, right? Have you spoken to Rav Deitch?

  2. nice post

    1. sometimes rebellious childrens' nest chance of coming home is to let them act out

    2.". I could never live in Flatbush or some other nice quiet neighborhood because I would constantly be explaining to myself and my kids why that saintly apikorus or Christian is somehow inferior because they don't have Torah. I would be in constant fear that my children would fall in love with wonderful Reform or Conservative Jews. - who have more sensitivity than their chabad teachers. In Crown Heights I know who I am and I know who I am not."

    I understand this philosophy but am often struck by the implication that our torah requires such a level of protection and the concommitant (to me) decrease in our ability to influence others.


  3. "I would be in constant fear that my children would fall in love with wonderful Reform or Conservative Jews."

    The cooking of a non observant Jew (provided it is kosher) is not forbidden as is the cooking of a Gentile because his son or daughter is also not forbidden.

    How can Chabad claim to "love every Jew" when they won't live with other Jews??

    Chabad has added many chumras to the Torah and has also taken away a lot of halacha.

  4. Rabbi Eidenson,

    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 characterisitics 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 acheive 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 perjoratives, 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 advertisments 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.

  5. Its not the Rebbe's sourced--but how he twisted things around. For example, the way he manipulated the meaning of talmudo to mean Tanya in his attack on the Chazon Ish, that's not a source.

    The Rebbe was not greatly respected by his peers. It is actually unfortunate that Chabad uses this line, because this demonstrates a profoud lack of knowledge on this subject. The Rebbe was challenged by a certain giant who was universally respected by everyone--EVERYONE--from Rebbes to all Roshei Yeshiva from R' Moshe (this gadol was called more than Hagaon Hatzadik), the Steipler, to R' Yaakov, Rav Ruderman, Rav Kotler, Rav Hutner, Rav Paler, R' Moshe Shmuel, the Brisker Rav. This is just to name a few. The majority of these rabbonim did NOT greatly esteem the Rebbe's scholarship.

    That being said, once we use the old "everyone respected him" line; how is it possible that the Chabadniks talk with such hate and malice about that gadol if HE was so respected? They make up hillarious stories about his attempts to refute Rashi, his ignorance, his hate, etc. No one knows about this outside Chabad, of course. And the fact that those statements fly in the face of everything the above-metioned gedolim thought of him, of course, means nothing to them, either. Because those gedolim were dolts. If that were the case, what is the big deal that some of those dolts were reputed to hold highly of the Rebbe? These gedolim and that gadol had major reservations about the Rebbe because they felts his grotesque ideas were heretical. Case closed.

    I will go through this blog to see how the elokus in tzadikim notion was twisted. If it is as sordid and poor as your attempt to explain away the Rebbe's hatred of non-chassidim when he insulted the Chazon Ish, it won't feel anyone.

    I will add that I have read through two volumes of Sichos thus far. In addition, I have learned through--and I am talking cover to cover--two seforim of a Lubavitcher Roshei Yeshiva on niglah just to see what their learning is like. Machana Yosef on Sota, for example, by Rav Eisenbach of Eretz Yisroel, for example.

    Its not like I am trying to be open minded. I doubt a single lubavitcher EVER read the chiddushe Torah of ANY of the gedolim I listed above. If I find something objectionable, its because it does not make sense to me, not, and here is where I am not like Tzig and (in my opinion) the Rebbe, hate.

  6. In response to Lazera's well written, thoughtfull comment, I would add, that, I too, have experienced the unpleasentness of being told I am inferior because I don't learn emes, i.e., Chabad Torah.

    I was sitting on a bus, minding my own business, when a lawyer who is a Chabadsker was giving me this long drusha about how only his way is emes. I did not say a word, did not argue back, but I have got to say, this was the first time in my life I have ever heard such a thing. And I went to pretty intense litvish yeshivos. Everyone was one. We all were learning the helige Torah. But, according to this fellow, we were missing out on emes.

    This lie about Chabad being open minded is probably one of the greatest of all time.

  7. 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.

  8. Rabbi Eidensohn, my request at the end of that post was that you respond to the specific points raised there. I.e., you had asked questions, I had responded to those questions. I have seen almost no responses of yours to my responses. You neither concede nor contradict any point that I make--you just repost it without comment, for other people to comment on, and go on to raise a different issue that you have. This makes me feel I'm not being listened to, and that my posting here is not constructive.


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