On Tuesday the moderators of news aggregator, Frum Watch, posted a commentary regarding the Velvel Butman case on their Facebook page. They make some excellent points on how the situation exposes many unfortunate aspects of the Chabad organization. Among those are blatant disregard for halacha (Jewish law) when it suits them, lack of any real leadership, and shluchim (rabbis/missionaries) who are poor Torah scholars but great self-servers. Frum Watch’s description of “inbred Russian families, self-aggrandizing, petty, nepotistic, power hungry, and all too often corrupt” highlights Chabad’s transformation from a movement that was once synonymous with caring about Jews and Judaism, into an American corporation focused on hasidic dynasty building. That misguided focus has turned ‘Chabad Judaism’ into a commercial product instead of a path to an understanding of God.
They also recognize the community that the Chabad power structure claims to represent, but in fact does not. I believe that “large, diverse, and multi-ethnic,” may (should) include the mislead outreach targets who mistakenly considered themselves “Chabad.” Chabad’s rabbi missionaries are not forthcoming about the fact that “a Jew, is a Jew, is a Jew” is merely a sales pitch. In fact, many baalei teshuvah are viewed as second class citizens no matter how much better they behave and observe compared to those born into the sect. As long as there is an elitist control of Chabad that places more importance on bloodlines than Jewish unity, baalei teshuvah and outreach targets are fooling themselves believing that they are truly accepted among the people they’ve ‘joined.’ The Chabad acceptance they seek can take generations to achieve in what some describe as a Lubavitch caste system. Some have married or bought themselves into the elite. But far many more, no matter how much their rabbi is piling on the flattery, are viewed as Johnny-come-lately working their way up to the bottom. Chabad leadership doesn’t represent them. It uses them. For many baalei teshuvah, the practical reality is that they do not become Chabad. They go through it, and grow out of it.
The shluchim I’ve gotten to know here in Los Angeles exist primarily as fundraisers. Their behavior, especially when compared to non-Chabad rabbis locally, is especially inappropriate for someone in a religious leadership role. I recognize that they don’t represent the entire Lubavitch population. The spectrum of Lubavitch runs wide; from the elitists with premium “yichus,” to the hasdic rebels who leave the culture of their birth. Certainly, as Frum Watch points out, there are “many decent altruistic individuals, honestly trying to implement the Rebbe’s teachings” who are associated with the Lubavitch sect in some manner.
But they’re a world away. And out here, we rarely meet any. We don’t have many (if any to speak of) dense hasidic communities here. Instead we have “McSchneerson’s social clubs” moving into affluent neighborhoods and cities, and operated by shluchim who are here to stake their territorial claim. Whatever our grandmother’s Chabad was, this isn’t it.
Reportedly, one shliach here even complained about the incoming nearby establishment of another shliach. The potentially lost income was apparently more important than bringing more options and resources to local Jews. Are these the hypocrites that the people of Lubavitch want to represent them, and the memory of their Rebbe? Is this what the Rebbe intended to send us? Intentional or not, it’s what we have.
Thank you to Frum Watch for their recent links to this site and for the work they do daily. Below is their complete post on Velvel Butman and the problems facing Chabad:
The Velvel Butman case has proven once again that beyond the slick money raising media machine, sugar coating traditional Jewish practise, there is no national leadership worthy of the name in Chabad.
Butman has been successfully able to ignore the rulings of his own community’s Rabbinical Court with impudence and not grant his wife a divorce for 5 years now.
Would this happen in Gur, Belz, or Satmar without any consequences? The consequences would be immediate and “direct” in those communities’ inimitable way.
The last true Chabad community leader was the Rebbe himself — a giant among Lilliputians.
Everyone else may have titles such as “National Director” or something akin — but in reality, the Chabad “leadership” is made up inbred Russian families, self-aggrandizing, petty, nepotistic, power hungry, and all too often corrupt –adhering to an “ends justify the means” philosophy.
This does great disservice to the Chabad community at large, which is comprised of many decent altruistic individuals, honestly trying to implement the Rebbe’s teachings. And the composition of the Chabad leadership — such as it exists — in no way reflects the composition of the community as a whole, which is today large, diverse, and multi-ethnic.
And what can we say about the Chabad rabbonim? In previous generations, Chabad produced many prominent Torah scholars and rabbinical leaders. Today?
Well, at least in the field of kashrut, there is Rav Landa…