The “I’m not Orthodox” (http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/opinion/i-am-not-orthodox) article has come under fire by people asking honest and real questions. Does Chabad truly not believe in distinctions? Is that even useful? Don’t we need labels to orient ourselves in the world? Is this another label libel (pun intended)?
While, I can’t speak to the mind of the writer, I can speak to his conceptual base from which he is drawing his thoughts- Chabad Chassidus.
There is a richness and majesty in the idea that Chabad rejects labels. But it needs to be properly understood. Chabad does not believe in labels for Jews. For the simple reason that a Jew’s worth as a Jew, and more broadly as a human being, is not defined by his level of observance or obedience to Torah. Chassidus claims this based on two powerful notions.
Firstly, Chassidus makes the claim that a Jew is more precious to God than the Torah. Period. Which makes the exercise of defining Jews by their level of observance, reform, conservative, conservadox, orthodox, modern orthodox, open orthodox, – you get the picture- a ludicrous and meaningless one.
Secondly, Chassidus believes that the non-negotiable core being of a Jew is his or her soul, which is defined as a piece of God. This means that Torah is not the bridge that connects us to God. If it would be, than those that connect via Torah to God and goodness, would be more valuable and precious. Instead, because we need no connection, due to the very fiber of our souls being naturally godly, Torah and Mitzvoth are a way for us to express in a conscious manner the nature of our being. Much like a husband expresses his husband-ness by being there for his wife and nurturing her and her requests. But if he doesn’t, he is no less of a husband. He is merely not living his conscious life from a place of husband-ness.
That is why Chabad truly doesn’t care nor make distinctions between Reform Jews, or Conservative Jews or Orthodox Jews. All are equally valid and precious children of God, and all are equally welcome. Don’t believe me? Go to your nearest Chabad House and take a look.
Labels and distinctions come in to the picture once we move from looking at a Jew to looking at schools of thought within Jewry. Sects of Judaism do exist. And Chabad does disagree strongly with some of those other sects about Halacha and other issues. But that doesn’t pertain to the acceptability of the Jew himself.
We might say that Chabad accepts the Jew, while not accepting his reform-ness or conservative-ness. We might say, Chabad refuses to let people define themselves or their place within Jewry by a label.