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August 28, 2016 / 24 Av, 5776
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Chabad Fanatics Are Destroying the Movement

Rabbi Ezra Schochet, Rosh Yeshiva Ohr Elchanon–Chabad in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Ezra Schochet, Rosh Yeshiva Ohr Elchanon–Chabad in Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: collive.com

Johannesburg, South Africa – Of late I have found myself a target of Islamic extremist websites and Iranian activists around the world. As one of Israel’s more high profile defenders in American media – and one of Iran’s most strident critics – I have received death threats and repeated condemnation in Israel-hating outlets across the globe.

So when I was invited again to lecture in South Africa, a benevolent nation whose government has unexpectedly emerged as one of Israel’s harshest critics, followed by a major debate in England at the Oxford Union on Iran, I knew that I would come in for more of the same.

What I did not expect was that my most strident critic on this trip would not be an Islamist fanatic but a Jewish one, my own former Yeshiva head from Los Angeles, Rabbi Ezra Schochet, part of a new breed of religious fundamentalists who are destroying the Chabad movement.

Some background.

Since 1994 I have visited South Africa many times for lecture tours. On some occasions I was brought by my publishers to do national media tours on my books on marriage and relationships. On other occasions I was a guest of the Jewish community to address eroding support for Israel in an otherwise staunchly Zionist community. I have watched this incredible country evolve from the end of apartheid when I first arrived to the multi-ethnic, harmonious society which has become an inspiration to the world.

I have also watched the standing of the State of Israel slowly devolve as more and more South Africans accept the superficial comparison of Israel as an apartheid state. The popularity I have been fortunate to earn in South African media as a promoter of the family – and few continents love family as much as Africa – has allowed me to emerge as a credible defender of Israel explaining that we Jews, as the Christian Bible makes clear, are analogous to Black South Africans as the indigenous people of the Holy Land who were invaded by a white, oppressive, European, colonial power who destroyed our temple, murdered us, and exiled us from our land. For two thousand years we have prayed to return, never losing contact with our soil. And now that we have come back and rebuilt our country, we granted equal citizenship to our Arab brothers and sisters who came to the land over the centuries in our absence, when we Jews were forcibly denied entry, and who have, even more so, come to Israel over the past century as Zionist pioneers have made the country more habitable and prosperous.

Fast forward to my lecture tour this week as a guest of Johannesburg’s largest congregation, Sydenham, headed by one of the world’s most successful communal Rabbis and orators, Rabbi Yossi Goldman, where I spoke to more than a thousand people.

Today, out of the blue, I started hearing from friends that Rabbi Ezra Schochet, head of the Chabad Yeshiva in Los Angeles, had written to the Beis Din of Johannesburg to say that “It is totally prohibited and unacceptable for orthodox Jews to hear someone like S. Boteach speak, since his views on many issues are against Torah and Halacha.”

That was bad enough. But then Schochet did something truly astonishing.

Those of us who love Chabad and the Jewish intellectualism it has represented for centuries have been pained and appalled to witness over the past few years how two vapid, insipid, gossip-mongering and illiterate websites – who trade in daily attacks on leading figures in Chabad and beyond – publish drivel that contravenes all Jewish standards of decency and values, but have nevertheless become the de facto news outlets for the global Chabad movement.

Rabbi Schochet actually sent a statement to these websites attacking Rabbi Goldman, one of South Africa’s most esteemed religious leaders, as “a Lubavitcher chosid” who has made a “chilul hashem”, a desecration of God’s name, and fought “an active war against the Rebbe and everything the Rebbe promoted and stood for.”

Surely Rabbi Schochet is aware that he is funded by the Jewish community of Los Angeles, to the tune of millions of dollars a year, to run a Yeshiva and not a Taliban madrassa. His disgusting assault is an insult to all the hard-working financial supporters who expect him to graduate students who spread love and not hate, acceptance and not attacks, Jewish light rather than odious darkness.

This same Rabbi Schochet is the brother of Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, who banned my book Kosher Jesus without ever citing a single textual source or reason, even as the book brought back so many Jews who had been lost to Christianity. Rabbi Schochet was extremely ill at the time and would tragically die a few months later. Many were puzzled that he would suddenly malign a book that that was widely praised as a powerful response to Christian missionaries, so much so that entire books have now been published by leading Christian scholars responding to my arguments against the divinity of Christ and the founding of a new faith.

Chabad translates literally as Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge. The Rebbe himself was a world class intellectual, with encyclopedic knowledge of both Jewish and secular texts.

Sadly, this air of intellectual sophistication is being lost to Chabad with fanatics and extremists like Rabbi Schochet rising to prominence amid the dearth of scholarly leadership. Religious extremism always thrives in a vacuum. Chabad continues to be the most successful Jewish outreach organization in the world. But everyone in the movement is aware of the acute shortage of Chabad writers, thinkers, and intellectuals as an emerging and bullying thought police attempts to enforce suffocating doctrinal purity and rigid academic conformity.

Their methods are harsh and immoral. When they set their sites on people like me who believe that Judaism must illuminate the modern world, they go after not us, but our children. They try and ban our kids from attending Chabad schools and when that doesn’t work they even try and stop people from dating and marrying our offspring.

The loser, of course, is Chabad, which is producing outstanding fundraisers and organizational heads but is experiencing a diminishing intellectual life. Chabad is world-famous for outreach, and programming. But just a generation ago, in the Rebbe’s lifetime, Chabad was producing world-class orators and thinkers who resuscitated Jewish life not just with buildings but with the power of Jewish ideas. Both are necessary. We need grass-roots activists to build mikvahs, Synagogues, and look after special needs children, like Friendship Circle. But we also need broadcasters, authors, lecturers, and debaters who bring Jewish values to millions through the power of the global media. The Jewish people are meant to be not just the group that opens outposts throughout the world. Their Biblical mandate is to be a light unto the nations.

Accusing scholars of veering from Halakha without citing a single example is a form of intellectual tyranny that cuts against the grain of Jewish love for learning.

I joined Chabad as a boy. The Rebbe’s warmth and genius won me over as did his worldly sophistication, polish, and refusal to judge less observant Jews.

At the age of fourteen I became a student at Rabbi Schochet’s Yeshiva and would eventually win top prizes in both Jewish and secular studies. Now, this man who educated me is calling me a heretic because I dare to say that gay Jewish men should be encouraged to put on tefillin and keep the Sabbath as opposed to just being ostracized as an abomination. If he’s right that I am a heretic to orthodoxy he should be capable of easily defending his revolting allegations in an open and public debate, to which I challenge him, before a public audience of his own choosing.

If he denies me the right to defend myself, then you know what this is. A great intellectual movement, built by the Rebbe, which is slowly, like too many other religious movements, being taken over by ignorant, radical, fundamentalists who exercise power through character assassination and then hide like cowards after shooting their arrows.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

About the Author: Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and the international bestselling author of 30 books, including “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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29 Responses to “Chabad Fanatics Are Destroying the Movement”

  1. Yeremiahu Rueben Yonteff says:

    I can understand it hurts to be personally attacked, but to be fair, more than a few people were alarmed about your book, and controversial views on various subjects, both inside and outside of the Chabad movement. To play devils advocate, lets assume the Rosh Yeshiva is entirely in the wrong and you are entirely in the right. Is the above article not you committing the same wrong as he? I was taught that a Chossid should be willing to endure humiliation, that humiliation in fact is impossible when one is humble. In your attempt to defend yourself you instead potentially (depending on the state of mind of the readers) slander a whole community that has no doubt supported you in life and helped you become who you are. Instead of reflexively defending yourself maybe try to listen to and consider why people have discomfort with some of your views.

  2. Yoel Wolf says:

    Shmuly has himself written on every word of this article. You begin to wonder if he beleives his own words. He seems to enjoy critisizm if it gives him a platform for more attention. He challenges the Rosh Yeshivah to a public debate, is he out of his mind? Its beyond laughable

  3. Joy Gilburt says:

    Frankly, the title of your book dashed all hopes of it acquiring an approving Orthodox readership. It was an unfortunate choice on the part of your publisher. Do you not see how such a title would appeal more to a non-Jewish, Christian audience? If that was your intention, then why are you complaining about your Orthodox critics? Also, your "ad hominum" attacks on your nemesis do nothing to get your own viewpoint across. If that was not your intention, why are you firing challenges across the internet? Do some soul-searching as only you are indeed capable–more than any of us–and go to Rabbi Schochet in person to explain your point of view. Get our of the adverse limelight for awhile, release the book with a new title, and get on with your true mission in life. I hardly think that attacking fellow Chabad members reflects your true mission. In fact, the last book seemed to come out of nowhere and seemed quite odd. Get back on track is my not-so-humble, unsolicited advice. I wish you all the best.

  4. While I agree with you….. Where were you when Call of the Shofar was getting lambasted by Chabad. Only when you were personally attacked you rise to the occasion?

  5. Joy Gilburt says:

    I apologize for saying that the book seemed "odd." Trying to bring back Jews is a worthy cause. I was trying to explain the effect that your book's subject matter had on me. If I, as a modern orthodox, Chabad-sympathizer, felt shocked, imagine how Rabbi Schochet must have felt. We were unprepared. If the book did indeed bring back people who had been unreachable before, then who are we to say that the title was wrong? Just go easy on the personal attacks yourself, so that you can be seen in a good light. Your family, however, does not deserve any repercussions. I sympathize and hope that all comes out well in the end.

  6. Again, we have the 'splintering' of a movement…resulting in the advance of our illuminating movement…differences of opinion, personality convict, and all manner of mischief…resulting in many Jews going with one 'splinter' or the other…I'm thinking that the Rebbe would be less than critical, he would see where the expansion is going.

  7. Cody Flecker says:

    Jewish People are always in a quandary. We go to Synagogue to hear and learn about Torah Judaism, and not be bogged down with politics, or the mundane in our lives. Rabbi Boteach gives us more of the politics and less of the Torah. His admiration for a known anti semite like President Obama leaves every Torah observant Jewish person in the dark. Whatever else Rabbi Boteach might say will be meaningless. Rabbi's should teach Torah, not about Christianity, or the mythic God Jesus. Delving into politics, and Christianity means the next step is conversion. Is this the next step for Rabbi Boteach?

  8. Sergey Shevchuk says:

    Dear Shmuley, there was a time – few years ago, before we became fully observant with support and guidance of the Holy Chabad Rabbi's community – when my wife and I found your articles interesting and informational. Now we feel disgust when we see article written by you and only expectation of more crazy diversion from the Holy path you were on long time ago. You only see fame and attention and became what I would call 'Opposite to Chasid'. It's very unfortunate. To be clear – I did not read the article beyond the words 'Some background.' I got the picture. You show abundance of arrogance and self-promotion. Unfortunately, Rabbi Ezra Schochet was right about you. I STRONGLY SUGGEST JEWISH PRESS TO STOP PUBLISHINGN YOUR ARTICLES. Otherwise, I personally will not read their materials if they allow such authors like you to vent your anger against the very environment which gave you fundamentals of life. In additional to being arrogant, you are also totally ungrateful Jew.

  9. Greg Lauren says:

    Rabbi Shmuley. not sure what you're talking about.

    Rabbi Levi Neubort at Anshei Lubavitch in Fair Lawn, for example, runs an amazing and intellectually stimulating JLI classes program.

    you should meet Rabbi Moshe Shlass of the Old City. i'm sure you've heard of him. he's nothing BUT intellect.

    or Rav DovBer Pinson of the Iyyun Center in Brooklyn.

    and there's many more individual examples to speak of.

    your sweeping generalization is flat out incorrect.

  10. Israel Man says:

    I am saying the same for years. I call today's Chabad's philosophy: The dumbing of Judaism.

  11. Yehuda Haskelevich says:

    It's Not fanaticism, It's Rabbinic Judaism, The Ball Shem made it clear, G-d Is everything and Everything is G-d, it was a Brake away from Rabbinic Judaism, and that is why Humanism can only be take place in Hassidism, if Boteach Lived in the time of the ruthless Israelites He would be Killed, This is Simple to any Historian , But complicated to Naive confused Judaism as we are Unfolding,

  12. Yehuda Haskelevich says:

    What is today's Chabad's philosophy? and How is it dumbing ? I'm not expecting a rational clear answer to a hateful trolling on Internet,

  13. Yehuda Haskelevich says:

    The Rosh Is Not Hiding that he is Of Rabinic Judaism, the Academic World is not Naive to the Fact that Rabbinic Judaism is Racist and the Subjugation of Woman on top of Fanaticism, But can Hassdisim and Modernity in religion find Salvation????

  14. Ilya Spivak says:

    I don't understand what he did?

  15. Ilya Spivak says:

    What wrong did Shmuley say in his response?

  16. Hide yourself in shame!

  17. Who? Everyone including the author? Let's all condemn each other now.

  18. Fay Kay says:

    Chabad is not an intellectual movement, you decidedly omit the nucleus of the chabad approach, which is to change one's nature by use of the intellect and not falling prey to our emotions, your piece over here is one big emotional outburst and falls very short of any sort of intellectual standard you claim to strive towards, no wonder rabbi shochet came out strongly against you

  19. Fay Kay says:

    what in heavens name are you talking about?

  20. Fay Kay says:

    it is your choice to attend call of the shofar or not, but it is not your choice to claim that it is within the spirit of chabad chassidus which it is certainly not, the Rebbes of Chabad had mesiras nefesh for minhagei chabad, how much more so for an organization that distorts and perverts every concept taught in tanya, thank G-d for strong leadership that came out strongly against call of the shofar

  21. Perry Caplan says:

    Kind of confusing 🙁

  22. Nice Fay! This piece he writes is terrible !

  23. Sergey Shevchuk says:

    It's Shmuley's quest for attention

  24. Tally R. Eb says:

    shochet? or boteach?

  25. Tally R. Eb says:

    good someone is finally speaking up. as always gutsy..and not accepted. but in 10 years we will have perspective.

  26. I understand your outrage Mr Boteach but Chabad Rabbis are not Islamists fanatics preaching terrorisms and murder, I think you are over reacting because your Colossal ego has bee hurt, by the way every time I see you on Fox News arguing with the President of The Atheist of America, he really has your number and he does kick your ,,,,,

  27. chabad fanatics are the best truley jewish people ! instead of reading this ' learn DVAR MALCHUT and get streangth happiness and B E really with the rabbi and HASHEM . יחי אדוננו מורינו ורבינו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד.

  28. Dan Silagi says:

    Cha-BAD stands for worshipping a mere mortal as the Messiah. If I were inclined to do so, I'd go with the guy from 2,000 years ago — not that I'd pick either. The best thing I can say about Cha-BAD is that they're generally not quite as BAD as Satmar.

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