Chabad-Lubavitch related controversies

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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. Some incidents have centered on religious beliefs and practices of the Chabad movement and the reaction of other Orthodox Jewish communities.

Criticisms of Chabad have occurred throughout the movement's history where religious leaders from other Jewish groups opposed Chabad positions on religious, social and political matters.

Major Chabad controversies[edit]

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").[1]

1860s: Aftermath of the death of Tzemach Tzedek[edit]

Following the death of the third rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson, the Tzemach Tzedek, followers of the Chabad movement split their allegiances among the third rebbe's sons who had each become Rebbes in their own right. The sons were Rabbis Yehudah Leib of Kopys, Chaim Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Yisroel Noach of Nizhyn, Yosef Yitzchak of Ovruch and Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch.

1980s: 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.[2][3] In the Chabad community, the ruling is celebrated on the Fifth of Teves; the day is called "Didan Notzach" ("our ruling was victorious").

1990s: 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 mantra recited by a number of Chabad messianists proclaiming Schneerson as the messiah is the "Yechi".[4] Customs vary among messianists as to when the phrase is recited.

Messianic beliefs concerning Schneerson vary a great deal. Controversy exists over whether he actually died and will be resurrected as the messiah, or whether he is simply "in hiding" until his final advent. To date, no study reports the number of Chabad Chasidim who hold these beliefs.[5]

Major Chabad criticisms[edit]

1770s to 1790s: Early opposition[edit]

In the course of the Chabad movement's establishment, opponents (Misnagdim) 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.[6] 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.[7]

1940s: World War Two[edit]

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, escaped Nazi occupied Poland, and settled in New York City. Some time after his arrival in 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 Harabonim withdrew their support of the Vaad after they discovered this fact.[8]

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,[9] 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.[10]

1980s: 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,[11] upheld Chabad's display of public menorahs.[12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21]

1980s: Rabbi Elazar Shach[edit]

Rabbi Elazar Shach, a widely known Haredi rabbi in Israel, raised a number of criticisms of the seventh Chabad Rebbe and the Chabad movement.[22][23] During the 1980s, Shach publicly criticized Chabad's Lag Baomer Parades.[24] Shach, a vocal critic, compared Schneerson to the 17th-century false messiah Sabbatai Zevi,[25] and labeled Schneerson a "false messiah" (meshiach sheker).[26] 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.[27]

Other controversies and criticisms[edit]

A number of controversies have arisen within the Chabad movement.

United States[edit]


Chabad has been accused of covering up multiple claims of sexual abuse at their institutions in Australia[46][47] and of retaliating against whistleblowers and victims.[46][48] (see also Manny Waks) In two separate cases, two employees were convicted and jailed in 2013; and one director was convicted in 2014 with a suspended sentence.[46] Several Chabad rabbis were found to have been publicly sermominzing that it was religiously forbidden to report child sex abuse to the police[47][48] As of September 1, 2015, four Chabad Rabbis had resigned in relation to the controversy.[49] As a consequence of the revelations, one Chabad institution’s Committee of Management was to be replaced and to have its Board of Trustees disbanded.[50]

Following an investigation by Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse regarding sexual abuse of students at Chabad schools, in February 2015, a senior Chabad rabbi who is also son of Chabad's chief rabbi in Sydney, was removed as representative of the New York-based organization as the fallout from the child sex abuse investigation and public hearings. Rabbi Yosef Feldman, the Sydney Yeshivah Center's former director, was dismissed following comments to the Royal Commission suggesting that pedophiles who had refrained from sex crimes for two decades should be treated with leniency. Feldman sparked a "storm of protest" among Jewish leaders, and resigned his post at Yeshiva Center, which houses Chabad. As a result of the investigation and the testimony of victims and rabbinic leaders of Chabad in Australia, Philip Dalidakis, Member of the Victorian Legislative Council for Southern Metropolitan Region, son of a Jewish immigrant, has called on the Prime Minister and Premier to initiate action making the Chabad Yeshiva more accountable. He proposed that financial support from the government be withheld until all leaders who helped cover up abuse resign. He further demanded the production of all reports, letters and emails related to the concealment of abuse, the creation and enforcement of clear, specific rules for Yeshiva leaders and the creation of a fund to compensate victims.[51] In an open letter to the Jewish community, Dalidakis acknowledged that he was shocked that the Yeshivas had allowed child sexual abuse to take place, had protected the perpetrators and had discouraged victims from reporting crimes to the police and had allowed, even participated in, the harassment and shunning of victims and their families. He added that it is not enough for individual leaders to resign at these particular schools: "The Yeshivah Centre, and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement which controls it, must accept corporate responsibility. They must accept that the abuse that took place was not just a matter of personal failure but also a failure of institutional structure and culture. These must be thoroughly reformed. There must be an end to secrecy, to concealment, and to automatic acceptance of the actions of figures of authority. There must be new values, and new rules to put those values into practice, before trust can be restored."[52] Manny Waks, community activist who founded Tzedek, an organization dedicated to protecting abuse victims and preventing abuse, is now working establish a global inquiry into sexual abuse in the Jewish community, using the Royal Commission as a model.[53]

In February 2016 the educational branch of Chabad Headquarters in New York wrote to the trustees of the Yeshivah Centre objecting to its proposed restructuring, which was part of Yeshiva's response to the 2015 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Yeshivah trustees had appointed five members to a Governance Review Panel (GRP) to recommend how the centre should be managed, including the Yeshivah, plus Beth Rivkah Colleges and all Chabad organizations in it. Rabbi Yisroel Deren of Chabad headquarters clarified the objections the Chabad HQ has made. He noted, however, that Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner in Melbourne has the authority to authorise the restructure that Chabad in NY is "powerless to stop any changes."[54] The intervention by the Chabad World Headquarters has angered sexual assault victims.[55]


  1. ^ Ehrlich, Leadership in the HaBaD Movement, pp. 160–192, esp. pp. 167–172.
  2. ^ Agudas Chasidei Chabad of U.S. v. Gourary, 833 F.2d 431 (C.A.2 (N.Y.), 1987)
  3. ^ New York Times Case Transcript, January 7, 1987
  4. ^ 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).
  5. ^ Identifying Chabad : what they teach and how they influence the Torah world. (Revised ed.). Illinois: Center for Torah Demographics. 2007. p. 30. ISBN 978-1411642416. Retrieved 29 June 2016.  ( "Hiskashrus")
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ An Encounter with the Alter Rebbe - Program One Hundred Sixty Eight - Living Torah
  8. ^ Rigg, Bryan Mark. Rescued from the Reich. Cambridge University Press. 2005.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Mibeis Hagenozim, B. Levin, Kehot 2009, p.89.
  11. ^ "Supreme Court rules on public chanukiot", Joe Berkofsky, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 6, 2002
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Chabad-Lubavitch of Vermont v. City of Burlington, 936 F.2d 109 (C.A.2 (Vt.), 1991)
  14. ^ New Twist to Old Fight: Menorah in Vermont Park, Sally Johnson, New York Times, December 20, 1987
  15. ^ Lubavitch Chabad House, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 917 F.2d 341 (C.A.7 (Ill.), 1990)
  16. ^ Lubavitch of Iowa, Inc. v. Walters, 808 F.2d 656 (C.A.8 (Iowa), 1986)
  17. ^ Congregation Lubavitch v. City of Cincinnati, 923 F.2d 458 (C.A.6 (Ohio), 1991)
  18. ^ Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia v. Miller, 5 F.3d 1383 (C.A.11 (Ga.), 1993)
  19. ^ "White Plains Council Blocks Electric Menorah for Park", Lisa W. Foderaro, December 3, 1991
  20. ^ "Menorah displays stir jewish rift", Miami Herald, June 14, 1987
  21. ^ "Christmas trees put back at SeaTac airport", Gene Johnson, Associated Press, December 13, 2006
  22. ^ See Michtavim u'Ma'amarim [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]
  23. ^ David Berger. The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (Portland), 2001, p. 7.
  24. ^ Michtavim U'maamarim, volume 1, edition 2, p. 49, Letter of Protest signed by Rabbis Shach and Kanievsky
  25. ^ Summer of the Messiah (Jerusalem Report) February 14, 2001
  26. ^ Allan Nadler. "A Historian's Polemic Against The Madness of False Messianism"
  27. ^ Berel Wein, Faith and Fate: The Story of the Jewish People in the 20th century, Shaar Press, 2001, p. 340.
  28. ^ B. Sobel, The M’lochim
  29. ^ Ehrlich, Leadership in the HaBaD Movement, pp. 269–271
  30. ^ Jerome R. Mintz, Hasidic People, pp. 21–26
  31. ^ Jew cleared in beard-cutting case, Philadelphia Daily News, May 25, 1984
  32. ^ Attack on Rabbi brings anguish to Borough Park, Ari L. Goldman, New York Times, June 22, 1983
  33. ^ Letters to the Editor, Time, August 1, 1983
  34. ^ "Dissidents Name 'Rebbe'," The Forward, December 6, 1996
  35. ^ Heinon, Herb, "Bigger than Death," Jerusalem Post, August 15, 1997
  36. ^ Segall, Rebecca, "Holy Daze The problems of young Lubavitcher Hasidim in a world without the Rebbe," The Village Voice, September 30, 2000
  37. ^ Who controls Lubavitch headquarters?, David Berger, Jerusalem Post, April 22, 2006
  38. ^ Cuff 9 in rabbi row, The New York Daily News, December 16, 2004
  39. ^ Rough and Rebbe Brawler - I fight for Superman, Denise Buffa, New York Post, December 17, 2004
  40. ^ The Tragedy at 770, Dovid Eliezrie
  41. ^ Lubavitch Non-Messianists Win Court Battle, The Jewish Week, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, January 2, 2008 Archived January 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  42. ^ How a Hefty Fee for an Ex-Governor Went Unnoticed, Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, July 23–29, 2003
  43. ^ Judge Hits Hasidic Group's Estate Claim, Bob Liff, The Daily News, October 02, 2000
  44. ^ Preliminary hearing, Commercial Division, Part 2 of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, 29 October 2003
  45. ^ Lubavitch Yeshiva case over, Shamais News Service, September 25, 2000
  46. ^ a b c Goldberg, Dan (February 10, 2015). "Australian Jews Distraught Over Chabad Sex Abuse Hearings". Haaretz. Archived from the original on January 4, 2016. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  47. ^ a b "Case Study 22, February 2015, Melbourne". Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  48. ^ a b Marr, David (February 18, 2015). "Rabbis' absolute power: how sex abuse tore apart Australia's Orthodox Jewish community". The Guardian. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  49. ^ "Australian Chabad Rabbi Resigns Over Sex Abuse Scandal". Forward. September 1, 2015. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  50. ^ Levi, Joshua (June 18, 2015). "All change at the Yeshivah Centre". Australian Jewish News. Retrieved January 7, 2016. 
  51. ^ 26 March 2015
  52. ^ Open letter to the Jewish community, 26 March 2015
  53. ^ Breaking a cultural code of silence on abuse ABC, broadcast 2 April 2015
  54. ^ Chabad HQ objects to Yeshivah restructure Jewish News, Feb 4, 2016
  55. ^ Intervention of World Headquarters of Jewish movement angers sexual assault victims ABC News, Feb 3, 2016