"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Friday, June 18, 2010

Counteracting the fallout from outreach for the Chabad community

The Rebbe has charged chassidim with a clear mission: Spread Torah in general and Chassidus in particular to every Jew. This is the task of our generation, the Rebbe declared.

Yet in the process, complications and dilemmas arise. To explain, for the purpose of this discussion, let us break the Jewish people
down into three general groups: non-frum Jews, frum Jews who are not chassidei Chabad, and chassidei Chabad.

Reaching every Jew means reaching each of these groups and teaching them Torah in general, and Chassidus in particular.

However, it is clear that the approach that will work for one group will not work for the other. Indeed, it is obvious to most that “hardcore” material geared to committed chassidim will most likely be looked at askance by others. Likewise, no elaboration is needed on the theme that material written for a frum crowd will usually not be effective for as-yet assimilated Jews.

However, oddly enough, for many the opposite is not at all intuitively grasped. It is commonly assumed that literature written for assimilated Jews is also appropriate for those already frum, and that literature written for those who are frum but not chassidei Chabad is also appropriate for those who are.

(This is not to say that literature prepared for one audience can never, ever be beneficial in any way for another that is more advanced, for the experience of some shows that this is also sometimes the case; however, it is a fair generalization to say that it is unlikely, and that more often than not the loss incurred outweighs the benefits, if any.)

I wrote an article (see here) focusing on the way this problem has manifested itself in terms of literature. But of course, this phenomenon is not limited to literature. In fact, this fuzziness has infiltrated its way into almost every aspect of modern Lubavitch culture. I will focus here on schools and shuls:

Schools: In many communities, Lubavitcher run schools whose students come from all the three above demographic groups together—children from non-frum, frum, and Lubavitcher homes. This setup is a recipe for constant conflict and dissatisfaction.

Often the dissatisfaction arises from what is viewed as compromise. The school makes allowances to cater to the non-frum, and the parents of the other children are unhappy. Or the school makes allowances to cater to the frum, and the parents of the Lubavitcher children are unhappy.

And of course, sometimes the complaints are leveled the other way around as well—that these schools are too religious or too, um, “chassidish” for the other kids, or at least the other parents, to handle. In many cases, the cacophony of complaints can be heard from all the parents simultaneously, making the job of administrating these schools most unenviable.

For example, some parents want no secular studies, others less, others more. Some parents want only Yiddish spoken in the school, some want a bit but not a lot, still others want none. And so on.

Shuls: Some communities that aim to cater to the non-frum or recent Ba’al Teshuva segment of the population relax standards in various ways, such as by allowing various public events such as fundraising dinners to be mixed, or have separate seating but without a mechitza, and so on.

Now, it appears that if the number of congregants identifying themselves as chassidei Chabad are a small minority, it is reasonable enough to suggest that they move elsewhere or defer to the lower standards of the majority. However, if they are a large minority, never mind the majority, I believe that this approach is not so reasonable. Those who have reached a more advanced point in their avodas Hashem are no less Jews than those who have not. Their spiritual needs are no less valid than those of others, and they should not have to lower their standards, for “maalin bakodesh, velo moridin“one should rise in holiness, and not descend” (Shabbos 21b). On the contrary, they deserve to be commended for their accomplishments, and certainly not punished, rachmana litzlan.

In practice, in both schools and shuls that contain such a mixed constituency, there is a sense among many that the spiritual needs of the non-Chabad segment are priority number one, while the spiritual needs of the Lubavitchers are not just priority number two, but are relegated to lowest priority, and are sometimes neglected altogether.

In many cases, this kind of compromise has had unfortunate, perhaps even tragic, consequences, especially for the younger generation.

One such consequence appears to be the degradation and erosion of the pristine values and high standards that should theoretically permeate the Lubavitch community, but undeniably don’t. Another is a lack of expectation for high performance, which in turn leads to a debilitating sense of complacency and an insidious corrosion of idealism. This is all the more absurd, considering that traditionally the derech of Chassidus Chabad demands rigorous personal change more intensely than other Chassidic groups.

To be sure, in many cases the schools and shuls with the lower standards described above were established with the Rebbe’s approval. However, this does not prove that this must remain forever the status quo, for it is evident that the desperate circumstances of those times necessitated such an approach. But times have changed in countless ways. The return to Yiddishkeit has increased dramatically over the post-war decades, the frum community is burgeoning, there is a plethora of schools and shuls, and Chabad communities and institutions are growing and developing worldwide. In many places the reality has changed such that separate institutions that follow higher standards are now feasible, and have been for a while.

On the practical level, the short-term solution to such natural conflicts is to come to a working compromise. In the long term, however, such a situation should not and cannot continue indefinitely. One cannot satisfy everyone, nor is it fair to drag people down to lower standards than those appropriate for them (or, conversely, to require them to adopt standards for which they are not yet ready). This problem can only be resolved by creating multiple institutions and infrastructures, each catering to the needs of a specific group.

Let us promote recognition of this problem, and do our utmost to rectify it as appropriate wherever it is found. May Hashem help us.


  1. Wowwww. It is EXACTLY the situation we are in. It's not always easy to deal with that problem, you know. We (Lubavitchers) are a little minority in our Beis Chabad, and it's true that sometimes we are uneasy with certain thinks that happen. Unfortunately it happens too often that a Shliach make the mistake of confusing the mission of bringing the non-frum to Yiddishkeit with lowering standards in the Beis Chabad, which has resulted in giving us the feeling that a Beis Chabad is a warm for the non-religious public but not for a Lubavitcher Chosid. It's frustrating!. Sometimes, I say to myself (and I know my other friends think the same) that, although I am in a Beis Chabad, I can not fully express myself as a Lubavitcher here, that it would be better to leave this place then to go somewhere more "religious" (not that a Beis Chabad with a majority of non-religious is not religious, but sometimes the standards are so lowered to accomodate them that it becomes difficult to fully flourish there as Lubavitcher). I could cite many specific cases, but I will not do it because it might offend (and offend myself too if I had to remember them), but it's a real problem. I think there are so many Batei Chabad in the world that now, it should be possible to create synagogues or institutions that meet standards and requirements of the Lubavitch public. This is an idea I had in mind for 2 or 3 years. I do not think it's failing in our mission of Kiruv, but on the contrary, if we do not implement this idea, this could result in something tragic for some members of the community. We may give rise to a generation of Lubavitchers responding less to the standards of Lubavitch. And unfortunately, this is evident already in some places I know. This is not because they don't want to meet the Lubavitch standards, but because nothing is done to keep them there, since everything is for non-religious but not much for them. I don't know if I expressed myself well but for me it becomes a problem. And when you express your desire to live by the Lubavitch standards (without imposing them on anyone, I want to pmake it clear) you are regarded by others (and unfortunately even by fellow Lubavitchers who are accustomed to that situation of stagnation) as being "Too religious", "too old-fashioned", "too Chassidish" (things I was personally accused of being by some). I don't know what to do. A Chassid I know and with whom I shared my feelings (and who told me that this was also a problem for him and that was the reason which led him to move) advised me to relocate to a certain city (I will not mention) where the local Lubavitch community is a very big one, and there, so I can fully express myself and develop myself as a Lubavitcher.

  2. Of course you should move, if at all possible. Indeed, a Beis Chabad is not a place for a chossid to receive, but to give in the role of a shliach or the like. However, if he is not in such a position, and he is only or primarily receiving there, then he is bound to be dissatisfied, and he must either start a separate minyan davka for chassidim, or move to a large enough chassidishe community.

  3. Thank you Rabbi. And once again, Kol HaKavod for your blog. It's very inspiring to read some of your articles (after the Seder HaLimud, of course).

  4. Great post. I very much relate to this quote: "On the contrary, they deserve to be commended for their accomplishments, and certainly not punished, rachmana litzlan." I do frequently feel that we are being somehow eschewed now that we have bought the package that was so vigorously sold to us. B"H we are now true Chasidim of the Rebbe, but it is as if we are old news now, not quite worthy of the same attention given to those who are not yet on board with Torah and mitvos. I share your concerns and wonder how to rectify them for our family as well. Still waiting to see what Hashem has in store for us! Just moving away to someplace "better" is not as easy as it sounds. And in the world of Lubavitch, that better place could disappear quickly if the funding or leadership disappear. In the meantime, your blog will keep us afloat as we struggle to be true Chasidei Chabad wherever we may be. Thank you for your inspiring writings.


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