Chabad-Lubavitch related controversies

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This article examines controversial issues and incidents involving the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. For a more complete examination of Chabad, see the main article.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a branch of Hasidism. During its nearly 300 year history, a number of controversies, though mostly unrelated to one another, have arisen. These incidents mostly centered on religious beliefs and practices of the Chabad movement and the reaction of other Orthodox Jewish communities.

1770s to 1790s: Early opposition[edit]

In the course of the Chabad movement's establishment, opponents (Mitnagdim) arose among the local Jewish community. Disagreements between Hasidim and their opponents included debates concerning knives used by butchers for Shechita, the phrasing of prayers among others.[1] Shneur Zalman and a fellow Hasidic leader, Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (or, according to the tradition in the Soloveitchik family, Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev), attempted to persuade the leader of Lithuanian Jewry, the Vilna Gaon, of the legitimacy of Hasidic practices. However, the Gaon refused to meet with them.[2]

1810s: Chabad and Strashelye[edit]

Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, the son and successor of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was challenged by a friend and senior disciple of his father, Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Strashelye, on the matter of Rabbi Dovber's succession as rebbe of Chabad. The differences between the two led Rabb Aaron to form the Strashelye movement.

When Rabbi Schneur Zalman died, a number of chasidim chose to follow Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Strashelye, a close disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman. The majority of the movement, however, remained followers of Rabbi Dovber.

One of the main points the two rabbis disagreed on was the place of spiritual ecstasy in prayer. R' Aharon supported the idea while Rabbi Dovber emphasized genuine ecstasy can only be a result of meditative contemplation (hisbonenus). Rabbi Dovber published his arguments on the subject in an compilation titled Kuntres Hispa'alus ("Tract on Ecstasy").[3]

1940s: World War Two[edit]

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, escaped Nazi occupied Poland, and settled in New York City. Some time after his arrival to New York, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchok issued a call for repentance, stating L'alter l'tshuva, l'alter l'geula ("speedy repentance brings a speedy redemption"). This campaign was opposed by Rabbis Avraham Kalmanowitz and Aaron Kotler of the Vaad Hatzalah. In return, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was critical of the efforts of Rabbis Kalmanowitz and Kotler based on the suspicion that Kalmanowitz and Kotler were discriminating in their use of funds, placing their yeshivas before all else, and that the Mizrachi and Agudas Harabobnim withdrew their support of the Vaad after they discovered this fact.[4]

1960s: Tefillin campaign[edit]

During 1967, prior to the Six Day War, the seventh Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson launched a "Tefilin campaign" which encouraged the Jewish commandment (mitzvah) of the donning of Tefilin especially by non-affiliated Jews. Within the Haredi community, criticism of the campaign was voiced at the Agudat Israel convention of 1968. However, following the incident, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, a prominent Orthodox rabbi who had corresponded with Schneersohn in the past,[5] wrote to Schneerson privately, distancing himself from the convention. Hutner wrote that he had not been at the convention and asked forgiveness for any pain his earlier letters (discussing halachic issues regarding the tefillin campaign) may have caused.[6]


Public menorahs[edit]

During the 1980s, the Chabad movement initiated a large number of public menorah lightings celebrating the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. These actions resulted in a number of court cases and city council decisions involving such public displays. While some cases resulted in a ban on menorah display, most court decisions, including one by the United States Supreme Court,[7] upheld Chabad's display of public menorahs.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

Rabbi Elazar Shach[edit]

Rabbi Elazar Shach, a widely known Haredi rabbi in Israel, raised a number of criticism of the seventh Chabad Rebbe and the Chabad movement.[18][19] During the 1980s, Shach publicly criticized Chabad's Lag Baomer Parades,[20] however, the parades were initiated during the 1940s and continue until today. Shach, a vocal critic, compared Schneerson to the 17th century false messiah Sabbatai Zevi,[21] and labeled Schneerson a "false messiah" (meshiach sheker).[22] Just before the 1988 Israeli election, Schneerson had encouraged Israeli Haredim to vote for the Agudat Israel party. This was seen as detrimental to the newly formed Degel HaTorah party which was supported by Rabbi Shach.[23]

The Chabad Library[edit]

The ownership of the Chabad Library was the subject of a dispute which ultimately led to the filing of a civil lawsuit, resulting in the ruling that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, represented by Agudas Chasidei Chabad, were the rightful owners of the Chabad Library.

The dispute occurred when Barry Gurary, the grandson of Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (the sixth Chabad Rebbe), removed books from the Chabad Library and began selling them for personal profit. Gurary claimed the books as part of his inheritance from his late grandfather. According to Gurary, the Chabad Library belonged to his grandfather's estate.

Following the directives of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the seventh Chabad Rebbe), the Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the Chabad movement's central organization, filed a civil lawsuit to prevent Gurary from removing or selling any additional books. The Chabad movement argued that the library was the "communal property" of the Lubavitch Hasidim and not the "personal possessions" of the late Rebbe. They cited a letter written by the late Rebbe himself, supporting this notion.

The court ruled in favor of the Chabad movement, and the ruling was upheld on appeal.[24][25] In the Chabad community, the ruling is celebrated on the Fifth of Teves; the day is called "Didan Notzach" ("our ruling was victorious").


Chabad messianism[edit]

Main article: Chabad messianism

A few years before the seventh Rebbe's passing, members of the Chabad movement expressed their belief that the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Jewish Messiah. These beliefs have been termed "Chabad messianism", and those subscribing to the beliefs have been termed Meshichists (messianists). A number of Jewish leaders have publicly voiced their concerns and/or opposition towards certain aspects of Chabad messianism.

A phrase recited by a number of Chabad messianists proclaiming the Rabbi Menachem Mendel as messiah, is the "Yechi".[26] Customs vary among messianists as to when the phrase is recited.

Messianic beliefs concerning Rabbi Menachem Mendel vary a great deal. Some concern his eligibility as the Messiah, others with his afterlife. To date, no study reports the number of Chabad Chasidim who hold of these beliefs.

Role of a Rebbe[edit]

Following the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, in 1950, Rabbi Menachem Mendel made several statements regarding the role of a Hasidic rebbe. Based on a passage in the Zohar,[27] a primary Kabbalistic text, Schneerson described the role of the rebbe as a human being who has reached the state where he is united with godliness. In this way, asking a rebbe to bless you or to pray for you does not contradict Jewish monotheism, as a rebbe is completely subservient to God, and God's presence dwells within the rebbe.[28] On other occasions, Rabbi Menachem Mendel described the role of the rebbe as a human being who is wholly united with his chassidim and therefore asking a rebbe to bless you or to pray for you does not contradict Jewish monotheism, as a rebbe is united with the chassid he is praying for and it is akin to praying for oneself.[citation needed]

Decades later, rabbis David Berger and Chaim Dov Keller have criticized Schneerson's interpretations of the Zohar. In their view, this interpretation deifies the rebbe, and is contrary to Orthodox beliefs.[citation needed] Some Chabad rabbis have countered that Schneerson's interpretation is used elsewhere in Hasidic and Kabbalistic writings,[29][30] and question Keller's and Berger's authority to comment on this subject.[31][citation needed]

Minor controversies[edit]

A number of unrelated controversies have arisen within various local Chabad communities.

United States[edit]





  1. ^ See The Hasidic Movement and the Gaon of Vilna by Elijah Judah Schochet. For a full treatment of this subject see The Great Maggid by Jacob Immanuel Schochet, 3rd ed. 1990,ch. X, ISBN 0-8266-0414-5.
  2. ^ An Encounter with the Alter Rebbe - Program One Hundred Sixty Eight - Living Torah
  3. ^ Ehrlich, Leadership in the HaBaD Movement, pp. 160–192, esp. pp. 167–172.
  4. ^ Rigg, Bryan Mark. Rescued from the Reich. Cambridge University Press. 2005.
  5. ^ Igros Kodesh, M.M. Schneerson, Kehot 1998 Vol. 7, pp. 2,49,192,215; Vol. 12, pp. 28,193; Vol. 14, pp. 167,266; Vol. 18, p. 251; Vol. 25, pp. 18-20; and Vol. 26, p. 485.
  6. ^ Mibeis Hagenozim, B. Levin, Kehot 2009, p.89.
  7. ^ "Supreme Court rules on public chanukiot", Joe Berkofsky, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 6, 2002
  8. ^ Mark A. Kaplan v. City of Burlington and Robert Whalen (12/12/89)United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, No. 89-7042; 891 F.2d 1024
  9. ^ Chabad-Lubavitch of Vermont v. City of Burlington, 936 F.2d 109 (C.A.2 (Vt.), 1991)
  10. ^ New Twist to Old Fight: Menorah in Vermont Park, Sally Johnson, New York Times, December 20, 1987
  11. ^ Lubavitch Chabad House, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 917 F.2d 341 (C.A.7 (Ill.), 1990)
  12. ^ Lubavitch of Iowa, Inc. v. Walters, 808 F.2d 656 (C.A.8 (Iowa), 1986)
  13. ^ Congregation Lubavitch v. City of Cincinnati, 923 F.2d 458 (C.A.6 (Ohio), 1991)
  14. ^ Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia v. Miller, 5 F.3d 1383 (C.A.11 (Ga.), 1993)
  15. ^ "White Plains Council Blocks Electric Menorah for Park", Lisa W. Foderaro, December 3, 1991
  16. ^ "Menorah displays stir jewish rift", Miami Herald, June 14, 1987
  17. ^ "Christmas trees put back at SeaTac airport", Gene Johnson, Associated Press, December 13, 2006
  18. ^ See Mechtavim v'Ma'amorim [Letters and Speeches of Rabbi Shach in Hebrew. Bnei Brak, Israel. 03-574-5006]: Volume 1, Letter 6 (page 15), Letter 8 (page 19). Volume 3, Statements on pages 100-101, Letter on page 102. Volume 4, letter 349 (page 69), letter 351 (page 71). Volume 5, letter 533 (page 137), letter 535 (page 139), speech 569 (page 173), statement 570 (page 174); see [1]
  19. ^ David Berger. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (Portland), 2001, p. 7.
  20. ^ Michtavim U'maamarim, volume 1, edition 2, p. 49, Letter of Protest signed by Rabbis Shach and Kanievsky
  21. ^ Summer of the Messiah (Jerusalem Report) February 14, 2001
  22. ^ Allan Nadler. "A Historian's Polemic Against The Madness of False Messianism"
  23. ^ Berel Wein, Faith and Fate: The Story of the Jewish People in the 20th century, Shaar Press, 2001, p. 340.
  24. ^ Agudas Chasidei Chabad of U.S. v. Gourary, 833 F.2d 431 (C.A.2 (N.Y.), 1987)
  25. ^ New York Times Case Transcript, January 7, 1987
  26. ^ The full text is "Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Melech haMoshiach l'olam vo'ed" ("Long Live our Master, our Teacher, and our Rabbi, King Messiah, for ever and ever).
  27. ^ Zohar. Vol 3. 7a, 232a
  28. ^ Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, pp. 510-511.
  29. ^ Pevzener, Avraham. Al HaTzadikim (in Hebrew). Kfar Chabad. 1991.
  30. ^ Frumer, Assaf. Kol Hanikra Bishmi (Hebrew)
  31. ^ Avodah: Volume 2, Number 94
  32. ^ B. Sobel, The M’lochim
  33. ^ Ehrlich, Leadership in the HaBaD Movement, pp. 269–271
  34. ^ Jerome R. Mintz, Hasidic People, pp. 21–26
  35. ^ Jew cleared in beard-cutting case, Philadelphia Daily News, May 25, 1984
  36. ^ Attack on Rabbi brings anguish to Borough Park, Ari L. Goldman, New York Times, June 22, 1983
  37. ^ Letters to the Editor, Time, August 1, 1983
  38. ^ "Dissidents Name 'Rebbe'," The Forward, December 6, 1996
  39. ^ Heinon, Herb, "Bigger than Death," Jerusalem Post, August 15, 1997
  40. ^ Segall, Rebecca, "Holy Daze The problems of young Lubavitcher Hasidim in a world without the Rebbe," The Village Voice, September 30, 2000
  41. ^ Who controls Lubavitch headquarters?, David Berger, Jerusalem Post, April 22, 2006
  42. ^ Cuff 9 in rabbi row, The New York Daily News, December 16, 2004
  43. ^ Rough and Rebbe Brawler - I fight for Superman, Denise Buffa, New York Post, December 17, 2004
  44. ^ The Tragedy at 770, Dovid Eliezrie
  45. ^ Lubavitch Non-Messianists Win Court Battle, The Jewish Week, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, January 2, 2008[dead link]
  46. ^ How a Hefty Fee for an Ex-Governor Went Unnoticed, Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, July 23–29, 2003
  47. ^ Judge Hits Hasidic Group's Estate Claim, Bob Liff, The Daily News, October 02, 2000
  48. ^ Preliminary hearing, Commercial Division, Part 2 of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, 29 October 2003
  49. ^ Lubavitch Yeshiva case over, Shamais News Service, September 25, 2000
  50. ^ "Haaretz 'Chabad to pay $850,000 for misappropriating Homeland Security funds: The Hassidic organization found guilty of misappropriating government money meant to upgrade their security.' (Dec 13, 2014)"
  51. ^ Lawsuit exposes Chabad power struggle in Israel, Yitzhak Danon and Itamar Levin, Globes, 15 February 2006
  52. ^ The Council of Jewish Rabbis Conference, Yated Ne'eman[[{{subst:DATE}}|{{subst:DATE}}]] [disambiguation needed], July 23, 2005
  53. ^ "Battling for Europe's Jews (part 2) -In capital of European Union, Chabad wields great influence", Philip Carmel, JTA, April 20, 2005
  54. ^ Jewish conflict turns violent: Community, Chabad vie to control Prague's Old-New Synagogue, Dinah A. Spritzer, The Prague Post, April 21, 2005[dead link]
  55. ^ "Sidon is reappointed as Prague chief rabbi", Spritzer, Dinah A., Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 9, 2005
  56. ^ "Little Jerusalem shul battle heats up", Lev Krichevsky, Jerusalem Post, April 13, 2005
  57. ^ Developments in Vilna's Jewish Community in the Past 15 Years, Yated Ne'eman[[{{subst:DATE}}|{{subst:DATE}}]] [disambiguation needed], December 12, 2004
  58. ^ Quarrels keep Vilnius synagogue closed, Milda Seputyte, The Baltic Times, September 02, 2004
  59. ^ Vilnius Shul Duel Heats Up Over Restitution, Michael J. Jordan, JTA, June 4, 2007
  60. ^ Ukrainian community split over chief rabbi Phoenix Jewish News, Vladimir Matveyev, October 28, 2005
  61. ^ Recent election of third chief rabbi in Ukraine splits Jewish community, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 24, 2005
  62. ^ Chabad dispute escalates, Baltimore Jewish Times, October 21, 2005
  63. ^ Rival Russian Jewish Leaders Lend Backing to Putin, Nathaniel Popper, The Forward, November 14, 2003[dead link]
  64. ^ Chabad Prize to Putin Spurring Debate Over Russian's Actions, Eric J. Greenberg, The Forward, February 4, 2005
  65. ^ No love lost, Yossi Mehlman, Haaretz, December 11, 2005
  66. ^ Cracked De Beers, Phyllis Berman & Lea Goldman, September 15, 2003
  67. ^ "Putin, Making a Gesture to Jews, Slips into a Factional Morass", Michael Wines, New York Times, September 19, 2000
  68. ^ "Russia: Why was Moscow's Chief Rabbi deported?", Geraldine Fagan, Forum 18 News Service, October 6, 2005
  69. ^ Chief Rabbi of Russia Named to Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, FJC News, October 6, 2005
  70. ^ "Putin Names Rabbi To Advisory Body", The Jewish Week, October 7, 2005
  71. ^ Editorial, Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2005
  72. ^ "Hostile Takeover In Moscow? Critics of Chabad-led umbrella group angry as shul changes hands; AJCongress dragged into controversy", Walter Ruby, Jewish Week, April 1, 2005
  73. ^ "Critics of Chabad-led umbrella group angry as shul changes hands; AJCongress dragged into controversy", Walter Ruby, Jewish Week, April 1, 2005

Further reading[edit]