Is Chabad a cult? It’s an old question. At least for me it is. And it’s one that I expect to examine closely on this blog.
As I was searching the web for material related to this question, one search result from The Guardian exactly one year ago today caught my attention. It contained an answer by a man who has earned my respect and admiration for his fight against child sexual abuse (CSA) and Chabad’s CSA cover-up, Manny Waks.
Waks says Chabad has “all the hallmarks” of a cult – “every waking moment was dictated for us”, he said. He still has difficulty reading books or watching movies for pleasure, so heavily was his studying of religious texts and documentaries. He did not know what his secular birthday was until he was 15. His relationship with his father, who used a disciplinary approach to ensure his children adhered to Yeshivah values, is fractured.
But Waks says to label Chabad and Yeshivah as a cult would force him to reject his entire childhood. And there were moments of beauty he wants to hold on to.
When Waks was 12 years old and questioned a teacher about whether the Rebbe was really infallible, he received a swift slap in the face.
“So I find it hard to criticise Chabad. It’s my childhood. And I find it difficult to call Chabad a cult, even though there are clearly cult-like elements.”
His father, Zephaniah Waks, has no such difficulty. While he still practises Judaism, he broke away from the Orthodox community last year after being severely ostracised. By supporting his sons in going to the police and speaking out against their abuse, he faced endless and unrelenting attacks within Chabad.
He put his house on the market two years ago – he remains unable to sell it – and moved overseas.
“It is a cult, there is no doubt,” he says. “When you are in a cult, you can’t just decide to leave, it is extremely difficult. You can’t just leave Chabad and go to a different Chabad church. When I go overseas, word gets around within Chabad there that I am destroying Chabad in Australia.
I wonder how Manny would answer the question today, one year later.
If you are not familiar with the Chabad sexual abuse cover-up, the Guardian article is an important read: Manny Waks: I’m the ‘troublemaker’ who blew the whistle on Jewish abuse scandal
If you’re struggling to answer the question whether or not Chabad is a cult, I’ll direct you to a post that was a very important starting point for me: Why I am no longer Chabad.