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 unrelated controversies have arisen. These incidents have involved the Rebbes of Chabad, the leaders of the movement, as well as local Chabad Chasidim.

Controversies relating to Chabad Rebbes[edit]

Shneur Zalman of Liadi[edit]

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement, was involved in the establishment of the Hasidic movement in White Russia. In the course of the movement's establishment, opponents (Mitnagdim) arose among the local Jewish population. 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]

Dovber Schneuri[edit]

Main article: Dovber Schneuri

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 a 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]

Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn[edit]

The efforts of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (the sixth Chabad Rebbe) during World War Two have been the subject of debate. At the start of the Second World War, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok 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"). According to Rabbi Alex Weisfogel, secretary of Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz of the Vaad Hatzalah, Rabbi Kalmanowitz and Aaron Kotler were "appalled" at Schneersohn's focus on "bringing the messiah" while the war continued.

Additionally, it appears that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was critical of the efforts of rabbis Kalmanowitz and Kotler of the Vaad Hatzalah. Some have argued that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok's opposition to the rescue effort was misplaced, that he made a substantial effort to rescue his library from Poland, but not his fellow Jews. Others contend that his opposition was based on the suspicion that rabbis 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]

Also in Schneersohn's defense are Chabad sources that document Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok efforts lobbying for the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe. According to these sources, Schneersohn petitioned ambassadors and politicians in London and New York for relief packages to be sent to the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, and that his letters were co-signed by Rabbi Jacob Rosenheim, the then-president of the Agudath Israel World Organization.[5]

Menachem Mendel Schneerson[edit]

Several statements made by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the seventh Chabad Rebbe) have been the subject of controversy within the Orthodox Jewish community. These statements include:

  • The promotion of a "Tefilin campaign" (encouraging non-affiliated Jews to don Tefilin
  • The promotion of parades celebrating the Jewish holiday Lag Baomer
  • His view of the role of a Hasidic rebbe
  • His support for the Agudat Israel party in the 1988 Israeli elections

The Tefilin Campaign[edit]

Prior to the Six Day War, Rabbi Menachem Mendel began promoting a "Tefilin Campaign", encouraging non-affiliated Jews to don Tefilin. At the Orthodox Agudat Israel convention of 1968, the keynote speaker criticized Schneerson's campaign. However, following this incident, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, a prominent Orthodox rabbi who had corresponded with Schneersohn in the past,[6] 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.[7]

Lag Baomer parades[edit]

Following Rabbi Menachem Mendel's directives, the Chabad movement has held parades on the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer since the 1940s. In the early 1980s, two prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbis, Elazar Shach and Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky (the "Steipler"), signed a letter protesting the Lag Baomer parade.[8]

Role of a Rebbe[edit]

Following the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, in 1950, Rabbi Menachem Mendel made some statements regarding the role of a Hasidic rebbe. Based on a passage in the Zohar,[9] 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.[10] Interestingly, 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.

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,[11][12] and question Keller's and Berger's authority to comment on this subject.[13][citation needed]

Use by Rabbi Shach[edit]

Schneerson's comments concerning the role of a rebbe was cited by his long-time critic, Rabbi Elazar Shach,[14] as evidence that Schneerson strayed from Orthodox Judaism.[15]

Shach compared Schneerson to the 17th century false messiah Sabbatai Zevi,[16] and labeled Schneerson a "false messiah" (meshiach sheker).[17]

The 1988 Israeli elections[edit]

Prior to the 1988 elections, Schneerson encouraged Israeli Haredim to vote for Agudat Israel party. This was seen as detrimental to the newly formed Degel HaTorah party, supported by Rabbi Shach.[18]

Other Chabad-related controversies[edit]

Other Chabad related controversies include:

  • The alleged conversion of Moshe Schneersohn
  • The ownership of the Chabad Library
  • The messianic beliefs of some Chabad Chasidim
  • The formation of the "Malachim" group

Alleged conversion of Moshe Schneersohn[edit]

Main article: Moshe Schneersohn

According to some scholars, Moshe Schneersohn, the youngest son of the founder of Chabad, the Alter Rebbe, converted to Christianity. According to Chabad accounts, however, Moshe Schneersohn did not convert but was nearly forced to do so. Rather than convert, Moshe Schneersohn fled and went into hiding.

The conversion hypotheses is advanced by scholar David Assaf, who alleges that Moshe Schneersohn befriended an Russian artillery officer. The officer succeeded in getting Schneersohn intoxicated and convinced him to convert to Christianity.

Assaf relies on the work of historian Shaul Stampfer who details documents discovered in the national historical archives of Minsk. The documents purportedly record the details of Schneersohn's conversion and are said to include a letter to a local priest in which Schneersohn states his intent to convert, his baptismal certificate (dated July 4, 1820), as well as documents that suggest that after his conversion he worked for the Czar to assist in the conversion of other Jews. Stempfer's letter in which Schneersohn allegedly states his intention to convert, includes descriptions of other Jews who try to prevent him from converting. Following the conversion, Schnnersohn is said to have changed his name to Leon Yoleivitch. He then returns to visit the town of Lubavitch where his brother was the Rabbi. But Moshe Schneersohn soon flees Lubavitch, ultimately dying in a mental institution in St. Petersburg.

The Chabad account, however, describes Schneersohn as a practicing Jew who was nearly forced to convert to Christianity. Schneersohn is said to have engaged in a religious debate with a local priest. Schneerson won the debate but the priest, unwilling to yield, involves the authorities to apply pressure on Moshe to convert. Schneersohn manages to flee the authorities and is forced to spend his life in hiding. He is said to be buried in an unmarked grave in Radomyshl, Ukraine.

Assaf does not hold of the Chabad account, claiming that the Chabad movement deliberately concealed Schneersohn conversion and supplied an alternative version of the events.[19]

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.[20][21]

In Chabad circles, the ruling is celebrated on the Fifth of Teves. The day is called "Didan Notzach" ("our ruling was victorious").

Messianic beliefs within Chabad[edit]

Main article: Chabad messianism
The Chabad messianist flag. The Hebrew word is "Moshiach", meaning "Messiah".

Members of the Chabad movement have held messianic beliefs 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 Mishichists (messianists).

Several Jewish leaders have publicly voiced their concerns and/or opposition towards the messianic trend within Chabad.

The messianic beliefs concerning Rabbi Menachem Mendel vary a great deal. Some concern his eligibility as the Messiah, others with his afterlife. Presently, there are no studies that have reported the number of Chabad Chasidim who hold of these beliefs.

Reciting "Yechi"[edit]

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

Formation of the Malachim[edit]

Main article: Malachim (Chassidus)

The Malachim were a quasi-hasidic group which claimed to only accept the authority of the first four rebbes of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty. It is claimed that the Malachim's founder, Rabbi Chaim Avraham Levine left the Chabad movement due to a dispute between himself and the fifth Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn.

Formation and background[edit]

The Malachim were the followers of Rabbi Chaim Avraham Dov Ber Levine, also known as "the Malach" (lit. the angel). Levine, a former Chabad Chasid, tutored the son of Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (the fifth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch). The boy was Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the future sixth Chabad rebbe. Following his break from Chabad, Levine attracted a following which became the Malachim.

Levine's initial followers were mainly students at yeshiva Torah Vodaas. The yeshiva had a policy at the time encouraged its students to visit rabbis in the area, Levine being one of them. The contact with Levine led some of the students to become his followers, thus forming the Malachim.

Reasons for the split[edit]

The Malachim claim that a dispute occurred between Levine and Rabbi Sholom Dovber, and that this dispute was the reason for Levine's break from Chabad.

According to the Malachim, Levine spotted Joseph Isaac reading from a secular book. Levine reported the incident to the child's father, but Rabbi Shalom Dovber believed his son's word over the tutor's. Levine then resigned from his post. The Chabad version of the events has not been published.[22][23][24]

Minor Chabad-related 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. ^ Rescued from the Reich, Bryan Mark Rigg, Cambridge University Press, 2005
  5. ^ "Two Memorials Mark Nazi Atrocities in Former Soviet Union", The Jewish Press, August 31, 2007, p. 10
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Mibeis Hagenozim, B. Levin, Kehot 2009, p.89.
  8. ^ Michtavim U'maamarim, volume 1, edition 2, p. 49, Letter of Protest signed by Rabbis Shach and Kanievsky
  9. ^ Zohar. Vol 3. 7a, 232a
  10. ^ Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, pp. 510-511.
  11. ^ Pevzener, Avraham. Al HaTzadikim (in Hebrew). Kfar Chabad. 1991.
  12. ^ Frumer, Assaf. Kol Hanikra Bishmi (Hebrew)
  13. ^ Avodah: Volume 2, Number 94
  14. ^ 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]
  15. ^ David Berger. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (Portland), 2001, p. 7.
  16. ^ Summer of the Messiah (Jerusalem Report) February 14, 2001
  17. ^ Allan Nadler. "A Historian's Polemic Against The Madness of False Messianism"
  18. ^ Berel Wein, Faith and Fate: The Story of the Jewish People in the 20th century, Shaar Press, 2001, p. 340.
  19. ^ "New book reveals darker chapters in Hasidic history", Allan Nadler, The Forward, August 25, 2006
  20. ^ Agudas Chasidei Chabad of U.S. v. Gourary, 833 F.2d 431 (C.A.2 (N.Y.), 1987)
  21. ^ New York Times Case Transcript, January 7, 1987
  22. ^ B. Sobel, The M’lochim
  23. ^ Ehrlich, Leadership in the HaBaD Movement, pp. 269–271
  24. ^ Jerome R. Mintz, Hasidic People, pp. 21–26
  25. ^ 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
  26. ^ Chabad-Lubavitch of Vermont v. City of Burlington, 936 F.2d 109 (C.A.2 (Vt.), 1991)
  27. ^ New Twist to Old Fight: Menorah in Vermont Park, Sally Johnson, New York Times, December 20, 1987
  28. ^ Lubavitch Chabad House, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 917 F.2d 341 (C.A.7 (Ill.), 1990)
  29. ^ Lubavitch of Iowa, Inc. v. Walters, 808 F.2d 656 (C.A.8 (Iowa), 1986)
  30. ^ Congregation Lubavitch v. City of Cincinnati, 923 F.2d 458 (C.A.6 (Ohio), 1991)
  31. ^ Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia v. Miller, 5 F.3d 1383 (C.A.11 (Ga.), 1993)
  32. ^ "White Plains Council Blocks Electric Menorah for Park", Lisa W. Foderaro, December 3, 1991
  33. ^ "Menorah displays stir jewish rift", Miami Herald, June 14, 1987
  34. ^ "Supreme Court rules on public chanukiot", Joe Berkofsky, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 6, 2002
  35. ^ "Christmas trees put back at SeaTac airport", Gene Johnson, Associated Press, December 13, 2006
  36. ^ Jew cleared in beard-cutting case, Philadelphia Daily News, May 25, 1984
  37. ^ "Attack on Rabbi brings anguish to Borough Park", Ari L. Goldman, New York Times, June 22, 1983
  38. ^ Letters to the Editor, Time, August 1, 1983
  39. ^ "Dissidents Name 'Rebbe'," The Forward, December 6, 1996
  40. ^ Heinon, Herb, "Bigger than Death," Jerusalem Post, August 15, 1997
  41. ^ Segall, Rebecca, "Holy Daze The problems of young Lubavitcher Hasidim in a world without the Rebbe," The Village Voice, September 30, 2000
  42. ^ Who controls Lubavitch headquarters?, David Berger, Jerusalem Post, April 22, 2006
  43. ^ Cuff 9 in rabbi row, The New York Daily News, December 16, 2004
  44. ^ Rough and Rebbe Brawler - I fight for Superman, Denise Buffa, New York Post, December 17, 2004
  45. ^ The Tragedy at 770, Dovid Eliezrie
  46. ^ Lubavitch Non-Messianists Win Court Battle, The Jewish Week, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, January 2, 2008[dead link]
  47. ^ How a Hefty Fee for an Ex-Governor Went Unnoticed, Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, July 23–29, 2003
  48. ^ Judge Hits Hasidic Group's Estate Claim, Bob Liff, The Daily News, October 02, 2000
  49. ^ Preliminary hearing, Commercial Division, Part 2 of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, 29 October 2003
  50. ^ Lubavitch Yeshiva case over, Shamais News Service, September 25, 2000
  51. ^ The Independent (London), November 10, 2001, by David Landau[dead link]
  52. ^ Berel Wein, Faith and Fate: The Story of the Jewish People in the 20th century, Shaar Press, 2001, p. 340.
  53. ^ Lawsuit exposes Chabad power struggle in Israel, Yitzhak Danon and Itamar Levin, Globes, 15 February 2006
  54. ^ The Council of Jewish Rabbis Conference, Yated Ne'eman[[{{subst:DATE}}|{{subst:DATE}}]] [disambiguation needed], July 23, 2005
  55. ^ "Battling for Europe's Jews (part 2) -In capital of European Union, Chabad wields great influence", Philip Carmel, JTA, April 20, 2005
  56. ^ 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]
  57. ^ "Sidon is reappointed as Prague chief rabbi", Spritzer, Dinah A., Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 9, 2005
  58. ^ "Little Jerusalem shul battle heats up", Lev Krichevsky, Jerusalem Post, April 13, 2005
  59. ^ Developments in Vilna's Jewish Community in the Past 15 Years, Yated Ne'eman[[{{subst:DATE}}|{{subst:DATE}}]] [disambiguation needed], December 12, 2004
  60. ^ Quarrels keep Vilnius synagogue closed, Milda Seputyte, The Baltic Times, September 02, 2004
  61. ^ Vilnius Shul Duel Heats Up Over Restitution, Michael J. Jordan, JTA, June 4, 2007
  62. ^ Ukrainian community split over chief rabbi Phoenix Jewish News, Vladimir Matveyev, October 28, 2005
  63. ^ Recent election of third chief rabbi in Ukraine splits Jewish community, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 24, 2005
  64. ^ Chabad dispute escalates, Baltimore Jewish Times, October 21, 2005
  65. ^ Rival Russian Jewish Leaders Lend Backing to Putin, Nathaniel Popper, The Forward, November 14, 2003[dead link]
  66. ^ Chabad Prize to Putin Spurring Debate Over Russian's Actions, Eric J. Greenberg, The Forward, February 4, 2005
  67. ^ No love lost, Yossi Mehlman, Haaretz, December 11, 2005
  68. ^ Cracked De Beers, Phyllis Berman & Lea Goldman, September 15, 2003
  69. ^ "Putin, Making a Gesture to Jews, Slips into a Factional Morass", Michael Wines, New York Times, September 19, 2000
  70. ^ "Russia: Why was Moscow's Chief Rabbi deported?", Geraldine Fagan, Forum 18 News Service, October 6, 2005
  71. ^ Chief Rabbi of Russia Named to Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, FJC News, October 6, 2005
  72. ^ "Putin Names Rabbi To Advisory Body", The Jewish Week, October 7, 2005
  73. ^ Editorial, Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2005
  74. ^ "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
  75. ^ "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]