Rabbi Schneerson & Chabad

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Rebbe


     This year we commemorate the life of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died fifteen years ago, on June 12, 1994, in the year 5754 according to the Jewish calendar.

      He was called “The Rebbe” because he was unique. This manner of speaking of a person not by name but by a title occurs when we recognize that the individual so labeled needs no introduction. Indeed there were and are other rabbis. But “The Rebbe” was a leader like no other and therefore no more than “the Rebbe” is needed to identify him.

     If you will take a look at the web site you can see the record yourself. There a number of recollections of Menachem Schneerson’s life are explained, far too many to be reproduced here.

     Briefly, Chabad is an acronym of the three Hebrew words Chochama or Wisdom; Binah or Understanding, and Da’at or Knowledge. The founder of the Chabad movement was Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812). He was succeeded by six generations of rabbis devoted to the Lubavitch Hasidim. Lyubavichi is a town in Russia which was once the headquarters of the movement.

     Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the son-in-law of the previous Lubavitcher rebbe Yosef Yitzchak. He arrived in New York in 1940. Subsequently “the Rebbe” organized the movement on a worldwide basis, so that there are today 3,300 Chabad institutions around the world in 75 countries. You may remember that in November 2008, Muslim terrorists attacked a number of places in Mumbai, India and that they deliberately sought out the only Jewish institution in Mumbai, the Chabad House, where they murdered Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife.

     The movement has more than 200,000 adherents worldwide. It incorporated the teachings of the Kabbalah with a view of gaining complete control over one’s “inclinations”.

       Chabad synagogues have no board of directors, no “officers”, no president, vice president, committee chairs, etc, etc. Instead, there is total equality among the members of the congregation. I once asked a Chabad rabbi, “Who is the president of this congregation?” He said, “Everybody is president.”

       Unfortunately, this is not the case among other denominations among us. In all other congregations there is an alternative status system designed to elevate some members above others and create a hierarchy. Usually a self appointed elite constitutes the top level of each Jewish congregation. These oligarchs are called “officers”.  They are followed by board members, committee chairpersons, committee members, all other members and, on the bottom, immigrants. Hence, a six tier arrangement is promoted in almost all Jewish congregations. The consequence is that only about one half of all Jews are members of Jewish congregations, as those who are not members feel uncomfortable with these undemocratic arrangements.

         Returning now to Chabad, it is of interest that up to a million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year. This is true because Chabad synagogues do not demand “tickets” to enter on the High Holy Days. Chabad is therefore open to everyone. Chabad members seek to attract non-observant Jews by inducing them to light Shabbat candles, placing a “mezuzah” on the doorpost of a home, giving charity, studying Torah, gaining a Jewish education, and keeping the Jewish purity laws. Chabad also emphasizes that non-Jews need to observe the seven Noachide laws as explained in the Torah.

        There is a lot more to Chabad. Do take a look at the Chabad web site which furnished me with the information in this essay. It is a great experience.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Women & Social Change in America (2009).

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