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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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Achdus with Chabad

Despite Chabad’s success in spreading Torah, they are not really integrated with the rest of Orthodoxy.

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I don’t know how they do it. But I am jealous of them. Chabad is perhaps the most successful group in Orthodoxy at raising money for their causes. Their sources are often not even the wealthy Jews of Orthodoxy. And their organizational skills are legendary. They are probably better than anyone at maximizing the “bang for the buck.”

This is the one thing that struck me about a recent article in the Forward:

Chabad operates 1,000 preschools worldwide, including 300 in Israel and 400 in the United States. In 2010, Chabad launched a special early childhood initiative called The Machne Israel David and Lara Slager Early Childhood Initiative. In the past two and half years, this fund helped in the creation of 45 new preschools (most in North America, and two each in Argentina, South Africa and Australia). There are plans to create another 100 over the next four years.

While it is true that their emphasis on reaching out to secular Jews of necessity requires them to disengage from areas of high Orthodox concentration and thereby have less contact with wealthy Orthodox philanthropists – that doesn’t mean they are going to be successful at raising funds from the secular and unaffiliated Jewish philanthropist.

But – necessity is the mother of invention I guess, and somehow they manage to appeal to those donors to fund their projects.

As I have said many times, no one can touch Chabad outreach in terms of sheer numbers. They have probably gotten more people to be observant, than all the other Kiruv groups put together. And it is projects like the above that enable them to do it.

This is why I am jealous of them. Not in any harmful ‘evil eye’ sense. I am jealous that the rest of Orthodoxy cannot match them. We have done rather well in recent years raising money among our own for various projects. But it is no secret that we are still very far from having the money we need just to support one institution – Jewish education.

I don’t have to convince any Orthodox parent – even the more affluent ones – about the pressures of tuition. That is a subject that has been well covered here before. Long story short, tuitions are so high that even families with incomes well into 6 figures are sometimes given scholarships. Especially if they have a big family. It is also no secret that tuition does not cover the typical school budgets. Nor do most of those budgets even pay their teachers what they deserve.

Not that Lubavitch doesn’t have similar problems. But that’s because the huge sums of money they raise for outreach purposes do not go towards their communities own educational needs. That money goes almost exclusively for outreach programs and schools.

Nonetheless, the fact that they are so successful at spreading out and spreading the word of God through His Torah is something to be admired.

I have not dealt with Chabad in quite some time. But those who been reading this blog for awhile know of my criticisms – not the least of which is their obsession to one degree or another with their Rebbe as Moshiach. Even though he died well over a decade ago. Although things have quieted down quite a bit on that front, I don’t think they have given up on that very troubling idea.

Among other criticisms I have of them is one that bears on the subject of this post. They are not really integrated with the rest of Orthodoxy. While there is definitely some cross fertilization between us, it is not because they actively seek it. To the extent that they do, they tend to do it only on their own terms. Or on an individual basis and not an organizational one.

The evidence for this is the fact that unlike the rest of Orthodoxy, their children – with rare exception – attend only their own Chabad schools. They have built an empire of separation. Which is an irony of sorts when you consider that their primary concern is outreach to fellow Jews. But the truth is that outreach is so important to them that consider integration with the rest of Orthodoxy to be of secondary or tertiary importance. At least that is what it seem like to me.

One reason they are so separated from the rest of Orthodoxy – is the way they do outreach. Every Jewish soul they reach is convinced to believe that Chabad equals Judaism. They never distinguish (at least not at first) between an exclusively Lubavitch Minhag and Halacha. They teach their own customs as though they were Halacha. So that in most cases, if someone becomes religious through them, they become a Lubavitcher. Their community grows through outreach while their members become just as separated from the rest of the Orthodox community as are Lubavitchers from birth.

And so it goes. Chabad continues to be wildly successful at outreach while having little to do with the rest of the Orthodox community unless they are in control. Like the annual Simchas Torah concert they host for Chicago on Chol HaMoed Sukkos. It is their event.

It wasn’t always like that. When I was in elementary school in Detroit at Yeshivath Beth Yehuda – a pioneer Torah U’Mesorah school – two of my very beloved teachers there were Lubavitcher Chasidim. And Lubavitchers sent their children to that school. We were integrated. I believe that the same thing was true all around the country through most of the sixties (with the possible exception of New York where separate schools may have already existed). Lubavitch was just one type of observant Jew among many types that attended the same schools.

As they grew in number here in Chicago – and feeling that mainstream day schools and high schools did not pay sufficient attention to Chabad in general and the Rebbe in particular they started setting up their own schools which focus heavily on Chabad and the Rebbe.

Fast forward to today and we have 2 girls high schools right across the street from each other. One Lubavitch and one Beis Ya’akov. And the girls have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I don’t see that as progress. I see it as contributing to the divide between us. Year after year; class after class.

And that bothers me. Chabad’s strengths would serve all of us well If we could become more integrated. It would take a lot of tolerance on both sides. And it would take a willful and purposeful approach to doing so. And a bit of compromise. Lubavitch would have to stop being so proprietary and the rest of Orthodoxy would have to become a little more tolerant. Their efficient fundraising and organizational skills would serve Judaism as a whole much better if we could integrate and use those skills for common purpose. And integration with the rest of Orthodoxy would expand Chabad’s outreach to even greater heights combining and sharing with other non Chabad outreach groups. Making them both more effective.

I’m not saying that this is all that doable. There are certainly many obstacles. Some of which may be insurmountable. But I wish it were. Wouldn’t it be great for example if those two girls’ schools would combine? I’d love to see it. But it will probably never happen.

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Harry Maryles

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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