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