Chabad has this curious phenomenon where they alternately get attacked for being too inclusivist or too exclusionary. Of course, this is nothing new, as the Jewish saying goes, “Anyone to the left of me is a heretic and anyone to the right of me is a fanatic.”
To wit: Chabad is sometimes criticized as being a happy-go-lucky, non-judgmental, touchy-feely brand of Judaism where everyone is accepted. Chabad is also sometimes criticized as being elitist, particularist, and disrespectful of Gentiles with the first chapter of Tanya often cited as prooftext that Chabad thought is offensive to Gentiles.
While I believe that the first chapter of Tanya is egregious misunderstood, one thing I know: Chabad is not the one seeking to use Gentiles as tools to bolster Jewish statistics as Zvi Zohar for the Hartman Institute, which prides itself on its inclusivist mentality, recently wrote:
“But Jewish continuity is not only a matter of quality. Numbers matter. Even if we do our best to maintain a high retention rate of born Jews, many will nevertheless leave us, given the general religious atmosphere prevalent in the United States. We must do our utmost to be warm and encouraging toward those seekers who, unhappy with their current religion, indicate interest in joining us.”
While Zohar writes about those Gentiles unhappy with their religion, I think that given the general tenor of those who push this agenda, and given the fact that a Gentile who is truly unhappy with his religion and actively seeks out Judaism, is ultimately embraced by Halacha and Orthodox practice, Zohar is really calling for, essentially, Jewish missionaries.
In doing so, the conservative, reform and more liberal parties that often push this agenda, demonstrate a lack of respect for Gentiles that Chabad itself does not.
Chabad believes, as do almost all Orthodox streams of Judaism, that Gentiles are perfectly fine, have a relationship with God, can even receive a portion in the world to come, and are not in need of “saving.”
Nigel Savage, president of Hazon, also wrote something similar recently (both articles are from the Forward):
“The word “evangelism” sits uneasily with Jewish people. We have been at the wrong end of it for too many centuries. Too many of our people have died at the hands of those who believed that their god and their religion was the only true way. But we entered the world as a proselytizing religion. Maimonides includes converting people to Judaism as one of the 613 mitzvot. I think that it is time for the Jewish community to start inviting people, publicly, to become Jewish.”
When we contemplate stereotypes, such as “the Orthodox don’t respect Gentiles and the progressive streams of Judaism do” we should be skeptical of this simplistic narrative. We should broaden the conversation and realize that, in many ways, the Orthodox demonstrate a profound respect and acceptance, conceptually and practically, for the “nations of the world.”
I applaud the drive to do good and be of service to the world; it just needs to be channeled in the right way. Seeking to convert Gentiles to the tribe is not one of the right ways.
Think that Gentiles are just fine as is? Think they need to become Jews? Let me know!