Tuesday, September 9, 2008

More About Chabad

A reader got me thinking about why Chabad arouses such emotion in me, yet other groups with questionable or anti-Jewish practices don't generate the same reaction.

Firstly let me say that I have nothing but respect for the tremendous influence that Chabad has had over the world, at least during the lifetime of the Rebbe זצ"ל. No other individual has had such an impact on the entire world from India to Tel Aviv.

Also, there can be no doubt about the Gadlus of the Rebbe himself. When I was in Canada I was often asked to speak at a local minyan that was being established and I would often go to the Shul on Chabad Gate to find a suitable thought in the Sichot of the Rebbe. It took me a while to figure out why some were in Hebrew, others in Yiddish, but once I saw the pattern I found the Rebbe's sichot to be a treasure trove of wonderful ideas.

Possibly it is because of this deep respect for Chabad that I am so saddened by the fact that the movement has been Hijacked by non-Jewish beliefs such as the idea that the Messiah may be of the Dead and not of the living.

In spite of my great admiration for the Chabad movement and the Rebbe זצ"ל himself, I have always had issues with Chabad, separate from the Messianic nonsense.

Firstly I think that Chabad has taken on an enormous responsibility - they are often perceived as the (sometimes only) voice of Torah-true Judaism. In many parts of the world people regard the term "Chabad" as synonymous with "Orthodox Jew". Even here in Modi'in, if someone is looking for a Sofer to check their Mezuzot, they will often be referred to Rav Slonim in the Chabad House, even though there are many qualified sofrim in or around Modi'in (look up "Mezuzot" in Stella's list). Simply said, for many people as soon as they hear "Jewish" "Kosher" "Mezuza" or many other terms, they immediately think "Chabad" - Chabad has one of the most successful marketing and name-brand recognition campaigns ever.

Because Chabad has come to represent "Judaism", I believe that they have a responsibility to represent main-stream Judaism, and not just Chabad Minhagim.

It is well known that there are sheilot as to whether Chabad Tfillin, Mikvaot, or Shchita Knives are Kosher. I have no problem with the fact that they have different De'ot on these halachot. Sfardim, Temanim, Chassidim, Yekkem, Briskers, etc, all have different minhagim, some of which are assur according to other opinions.
My problem is that Chabad seem to be on a mission to convert all other Jews to adopt their Minhagim.

For example, if a chabad community wants to build a mikva according to the Chabad minhag, that is entirely appropriate. However if there is a town with no Kosher Mikva and many non-Chabad people, shouldn't they feel obligated to build a mikva that is kosher according to all de'ot (or at least the Shulchan Aruch), not one that is only kosher according to their minority opinion.

Another more personal example. The Rabbi that taught me for my Bar Mitzva was a Chabadnik, Rabbi Chaim Fishchweicher. He was employed as the Rav of a congregation that had been around for more than 100 years. It was not a Chabad shul, it was an Ashkenaz shul with established minhagim. However when Rabbi Fischweicer taught me to put on Tfillin, he taught me the Chabad way of doing it. He must have known that this was not the minhag of the community, nor was it the minhag of my father or grandfather. It is possible that he did not know any other way of laying tfillin, but if he knew that he was going to a community with established minhagim, how difficult would it have been to find out what the accepted practices are in that community, and to make sure that those are the traditions being passed on to the next generation.

In spite of his Tfilin lessons, I had a very close relationship with Rabbi Fischweicher and his wife Priva. I spent many many Shabbatot in their home, and am grateful for the strong foundation they gave me in Judaism. When learning Chmush Shmot with Rashi I still hear Rabbi Fischweicher's voice and remember those Tuesday afternoons in his office.

Maybe it is becasue of this warm association with Chabad that I am so saddened by their Messianic distortion of Judaism.


chenyok said...

The minhag Chabad in mikveh is acceptable according to all other opinions; it is more mehudar, not less so.

Michael Sedley said...

Not True,

Although many pokim hold that a Mikva built Bor Al Gabei Bor is mehudar, there are other poskim who hold that it is passul.

There is a discussion on the issue at Chabbad Talk: