I was bewildered to read Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s Op-Ed in Haaretz, “Chabad’s Dangerous Message of Love Without Commitment.”
Rabbi Yoffie goes from praising Chabad to undermining its founding principles by insinuating they are materialistic bottom feeders.
I particularly have an issue with these two statements: Firstly, when Rabbi Yoffie refers to “
Chabad Rabbis who come into their communities and spend most of their time cultivating a handful of very wealthy people.”
Second, when he writes:
[T]he personal approach of Chabad to Jewish outreach—often combined with glitzy, high-profile, one-time events—has a major negative: It is built on absolutely minimal expectations. Its message seems to be: We will love you, but we won’t require anything of you.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As a non-religious, unorthodox Chabad Chassid I embrace the “unconditional love” approach myself.
Chabad (founded in the late 18th century) predates the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements. Chabad’s roots lie in an approach to Judaism and philosophy emphasized by the words the acronym its name creates are devised from, Chochma (wisdom), Binah (understanding) and Daat (knowledge).
Chabad follows the Chassidic approach of positivity and encouragement as opposed to the “Jewish modernization” movements (Conservative and Reconstructionist but Reform in particular) which, in its early forms rejected almost all central tenets of Judaic practice, including circumcision.
Chabad Shluchim (emissaries) have been deployed to some of the most remote locations on earth (over 3,600 of them, in over 70 countries), establishing community centers in countries ranging from Norway to Nigeria. Moreover, many of these remote Chabad locations serve Jewish tourists almost exclusively, such as the Chabad in Katmandu, Nepal which hosted the world’s largest Passover Seder earlier this year. These centers, like all Chabad centers, require no entrance or annual memberships fees.
Some Chabad Rabbis share members and philanthropists with their Reform brethren but to imply that Chabad Rabbis “spend most of their time cultivating the wealthy” is an insult.
Perhaps it’s the Reform Temple’s revenue model that Rabbi Yoffie should worry about. Philanthropists and donors are free to choose whom they support. If they feel their funds are best served by Chabad, then so be it.
Dwindling revenue model aside, Rabbi Yoffie ought to better concern himself with his own Reform congregations, which have been losing members in droves (to intermarriage and assimilation among other things).
In a recent article published in The Forward by Dana Evan Kaplan, he brought to light a new point of contention in Reform Judaism: Can an applicant to Rabbinical School be married to a non-Jewish partner? He then notes that “the Reform movement is losing its Religious focus”.
Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University supported this notion in 2009 when he said “We will soon say Kaddish on the Reform and Conservative movements.”
As for Chabad’s Message of Love Without Commitment, Rabbi Yoffie is correct.
“Judaism is about commitment” and Chabad embodies that commitment to Jewish life and values and leads by example.
Chabad encourages you to participate in Judaism, at your own pace, in your own way and at your convenience.
You need not pay your way through seat memberships and the ritzy galas Rabbi Yoffie would have you believe sustains the Chabad movement.
It is precisely because of this loving approach (think Luba-Vitch, the city where the movement originated, which means, “Village of Love”) that Chabad attracts and retains Jews from all backgrounds and denominations, regardless of affiliation.
While the Reform movement continues to lose its footing within Judaism as a whole, strictly serving its card-carrying, membership paying, Reform congregants – Chabad continues to serve all Jews regardless of location, affiliation, or commitment levels.
While I am not a Chabad Shliach (emissary) I would certainly recommend that Rabbi Yoffie visit my local Chabad house to experience the message of ‘Love Without Commitment’. I believe he would be inspired by the authentically joyous and loving atmosphere Chabad offers, and heck, perhaps even export some of that philosophy to the Reform movement…maybe it would help.