Monday, November 12, 2007

Bashing Chabad
by: Schvach Yid

Conservative Movement: ‘I don’t think you’re quite ready to wear tefillin; I think it might be more beneficial to wait until you’re a bit better prepared; besides, you haven’t yet completed your post-bar mitzvah assignment’.
Congregant: ‘But I’m 23 years old; so what if I didn’t ‘get into’ law school and that I’m unemployed’.

Chabad: ‘Have you put on tefillin today? It’s a mitzvah – a commandment from HaShem. You don’t have tefillin of your own? Here, put on mine; I’ll show you how, and I’ll help you recite the appropriate blessings and prayers.

Conservative Movement: 'I don’t think you’re quite what we’re looking for at JTS. Your recommendations are a bit weak, and a BA from SUNY Cortland just doesn’t stand up.'

Chabad: ‘Would you like to study in our yeshiva in Morristown? Don’t have time – how about a ‘Yeshivacation’ there. We have scholarships, if they’re needed. Perhaps your wife/daughter/sister/female acquaintance would like to study with Rabbi Friedman at the Bais Chana women’s yeshiva. Scholarships are offered for this as well.'

Conservative Movement: ‘If you qualify, we’d really like you and your family to become members of our synagogue; here’s an application and fee schedule.'

Chabad: ‘Every Jew is precious; we want you to be Jewish and involve yourself with yiddishkeit. Please feel free to attend our services. We have a minyan for Shacharis and Mincha/Maariv every day. Can I have your name and address for our mailing list? Do you have an e-mail address? We have lots of classes you can attend, and a Hebrew school for children. Our cholent we serve on Shabbos is second to none – you'll love it. Please feel free to attend our services and classes any time.'

Well, I ‘said’ I had more to write about the Conservative Movement, so here it is, a diatribe by a member of the tribe. But first, please believe me, no lashon hara or sinat chinam is intended.

Chabad Lubavitch has succeeded where the Conservative Movement has failed, and this goes beyond outreach/continuity. This falls into the realm of fundamental values.

Chabad has succeeded, in part, by utilizing an image which many members and followers of the Conservative Movement reject as repugnant – the image of the shtetl Jew. Chassidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (that is, the men) clad themselves in traditional garb: kapote, gärtel, yalmulka, signature hat, beard. Compare this to the rants of some members/followers of the Conservative Movement (or some other Jewish religious organizations) – tales of how their antecedents, so disgusted with traditional Eastern European Jewish life, tossed their tefillin overboard into the ‘drink’ during their transport across the Atlantic en route to America.

Now, compare this to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s tefillin campaign.

Who do you think has the correct approach to Jewish outreach? Which group’s values have succeeded in revitalizing Jewish life, world wide?

Such disdain is held by the Conservative Movement toward ‘the old way’ that it has jumped hook, line, and sinker onto the bandwagon of Israel’s animus for all things shtetl/Yiddish.

Years ago, a history professor – an author of Jewish history books directed at the non-academic lay public – gave a presentation at the local Jewish Community Center. He wasn’t Orthodox – not by a long shot. His talk centered on the life of Jews during our ‘Golden Age’ in Medieval Spain. During the course of his lecture, he described running into a Chabad family while visiting Madrid. He said he confronted them about their ‘isolated’ life in Spain. He then let loose in a cadenced, shouting rant, in which he referred to the Chabad shluchim as ‘garlic soup slurping, cholent eating, herring chomping …’ You get the picture. Thank Gd the local senior Chabad rabbi wasn’t in attendance. Pickwickian as he is, he would have jumped onto the stage and clobbered that guy – and did that self-hating Jew have it coming.

I don’t know if this well-known professor of Jewish history is/was involved with the Conservative Movement, but his stance was clear, and certainly not unique.

Back to the American Conservative Movement rabbi I met on a kibbutz in Israel, mentioned in the previous blog. ‘Let me tell you what I don’t like about the Lubavitchers’, he said to me one fine sunny day. I don’t recall what he said, but never – and I mean never – have I heard a Chabad rabbi, sheliach or otherwise, ever say anything negative about any other Jewish group or individual Jew. I have no idea what they think, but I know what I have, and have not heard, from them. If it’s negative or divisive, they don’t say/do it.

Here’s a mini-tale. On that Conservative Movement kibbutz, two Conservative Movement rabbis, both American, and I were conversing. One of the two asked me, ‘do you have The Jewish Catalog?’ I answered yes. He then asked, ‘is it the original Jewish Catalog, or just the first volume of the three volume set’. I answered I have the three volume set and not the original volume. A look of disapproval came across his face. He chuckled and said, ‘that won’t do’. I had no idea I was auditioning.


Tamara said...

You share this story of the conservative movement..."tales of how their antecedents, so disgusted with traditional Eastern European Jewish life, tossed their tefillin overboard into the ‘drink’ during their transport across the Atlantic en route to America."...

I think you're working from huge generalizations. First, IF there were individuals who threw their tefillin overboard, as you describe, one must take into consideration what they were fleeing, when, why, etc. You can NOT judge an entire community of Jews based on why some people may have left orthodoxy or left their tefillin.

Today's Conservative movement, from what I can tell, is far from that. I attend THREE different Conservative shuls regularly and I am a member of a Chabad community...long story. Anyway, the people at the Conservative shuls are serious Jews, serious learners, committed Jews. One of the shuls I attend is a BIG shul that is respected and is run by some of the leading conservative rabbis in this nation. Not only that, they encourage and seek out Jews of ALL streams as guest speakers and leaders of courses. As a matter of fact, Rabbi Steinsaltz just spoke at one of them.

Now I ask many black hats do you think attended this event? I didn't see ONE! Yes, there were about 1000 people in attendance but I saw not one Chabadnik. Why? Because they wouldn't dare step into that shul.

However, Steinsaltz also happened to speak at my community Chabad that same week. There were about 150 people in attendance and most of those folks also weren't black hats, one was a Conservative rabbi at the 3rd shul I go to.

My seems that there is acceptance flowing one direction and not in the other. Most Chabad rabbis, and I've been good friends with two personally and have had Shabbos at many more, most would straight say that they don't consider a non-orthodox rabbi a rabbi at all.

Oy, I know I'm going on and on but I just want to make sure that your generalizations aren't just overlooked by other readers. There is much tolerance from the Conservative movement to the left and right but I rarely see that flowing from the Ortho movement on out.

I hope that made sense.

Schvach said...

My experience with Chabad is different from yours. Every Chabad rabbi with whom I've had the experience of discussing rabbis in other movements have been scrupulous to refer to those rabbis by their formal titles. As I've written in my blogs, I have never heard a Lubavitch rabbi say anything negative about a fellow Jew or about any Jewish organization. By the way, Rabbi Steinsaltz gave a lecture at our local JCC years ago; the Chabadniks
were there in force, as well as many, many others.
Your point about the BIG schul and leading Conservative rabbis underscores my point about the Conservative Movement. In my experience, it has been about chasing prestige and superlatives.
Even though I'm not Orthodox, I'll
take Chabad's far more egalitarian,
supportive, Ahavas Yisroel approach.

Tamara said...

Please explain how you see Chabad as being eglatarian?

I mean...I know Chabad VERY well. As far as gender, definitely not eglatarian. I'm not a woman who wants to wrap tefillin. And frankly, I don't get mad that I can't read the Torah there; but I would like the choice to be made by me. Also, there is no mixed seating and in most Orthodox shuls, the mechitzah is set up where you can barely see the rabbi from the woman's side. I mean, if you ahven't sat on that side, it would be hard for you to see. Another thing, for Simchat Torah the Torah is danced with. The women can not dance with the Torah. So what happens on the woman's side? Well, we sit. We watch. We serve food and drinks. It's honestly a bit dull. I mean, since a Hasidic man can't see a woman dance, the woman, if they want to dance NEAR the Torah, must be behind the mechitzah.

Don't get me wrong, it's there custom...but you really are going to have to convince me on how you see it as being Eglatarian.

Schvach said...

First, I don't have to convince you - I'm not selling anything. Second, if the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it. Thirdly, my use of the word egalitarian refers to the absence of class status among those in attendance; I wasn't referring to political or social issues, ie., feminism. Lastly, if you know about Judaism, and it appears you do, then you know that Judaism is not the US Constitution. In Judaism there is a separation between the genders. This of course introduces a conflict for Jews living in American society. Too bad! That's Judaism (despite the account that Rashi had his daughters wear tefillin, and that he ruled that a daughter may recite kaddish for her father). I hope I haven't been too abrasive.

Batya said...

Great post.
Reminds me of when we moved to Great Neck in 1962. Previously we had been members of OJC, Conservative, but a great place. My parents looked into the shuls in GN. Not interested in Reform, and the Conservative had some waiting list, too full, unless you had oodles of money.
We were enthusiastically welcomed to the Great Neck Synagogue, then a very small Orthodox shul and smaller Orthodox community. Rabbi Wolf made everyone feel wanted and welcome. He's the reason why today the Orthodox is the dominent Jewish group there.

Unknown said...

I don't know what Chabad rabbis you've been hanging out with, but I've heard plenty of disparaging remarks and nasty jokes from Chabad rabbis and buchers alike about the Conservative and especially the Reform movements.

I'm a member of a Chabad shul (though certainly no Chabadnik), so obviously I like the organization and some of what they do. But to say they don't talk smack about others (I've heard some rants about Satmar that would curl your beard)is not real.

And your hit on the Conservative movement also doesn't jibe with my experience. Sure, a lot of Conservative shuls tend to be "Institutions," large and impersonal bar mitzvah factories that cater to a mostly apathetic congregation interested more in conspicuous consumption than in God. This criticism has been around for a long time, is justified to a large extent, and is a major reason for the weakening of the movement as of late. But your insinuation that they are snooty wannabes who loathe "shtetl" Judaism just ain't so.

Conservative congregations are some of the most politically and philanthropically active in the country. And they give to charities other than just Jewish, something Chabad and the larger black-hat community pretty much never do. They embrace the larger world as Jews, try to be productive members of the larger world as Jews, and take their place as Jews in the world around them. Chabad doesn't do this, Chabad isn't interested in joining the larger world. Chabad wants to preserve their closed and pristine shtetl, only they want to make it bigger.

Schvach said...

Right you are. The pick and choose mentality/practice so often encountered is a real insult; much of the Orthodox Jewish world has committed itself to accepting their fellow Jews without proviso, baruch HaShem!

Schvach said...

Jonathon: Evidently, you and I have had very different experiences with Chabad and the Conservative Movement. I like Chabad's commitment to providing for the larger Jewish community; I have no use for the Conservative Movement's concentration on politics and social activism, their organization, their emphasis on members' fealty to the organization, and the individual careers within the Movement that are the real concern of the Conservative Movement; nor for their apparent neglect of emphasis on Torah and Mitzvot outside the context of social activism. Thank you for exchanging comments with me.

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