Chabad — a law unto itself

Worldwide, it seems the personnel involved in the running of Chabad institutions act as if Chabad is a law unto itself.

The sect has a widespread reputation for both wilfully flouting and cleverly sidestepping local laws and planning regulations and for far more serious wrongdoing.

It also seems to cast morality aside when dealing with issues like the latest case of alleged sexual harassment by a Chabad rabbi against multiple adult women as reported in an article in the Seattle Times (and elsewhere). One of the women, Traci Moran, is stationed with her enlisted husband on a military base and the articles report claims of collusion between the alleged harasser, (Rabbi) Zalman Heber, and a Chabad colleague of his, (Rabbi) Captain Michael Harari, the base’s Jewish chaplain, to ostracize and intimidate the Morans to silence them, in violation of the ethical obligations of Harari’s chaplaincy, after Traci sought his counsel.

The case is emblematic of how, as a global movement, Chabad continues to mismanage child sexual abuse and the cover-ups of it, and it is yet another example of the intimidation that is ubiquitous in Chabad’s global institutions, multitudinous reports of which have surfaced in the last decade or so.

Somehow, the Chabad movement has managed to get away with it. There are occasional instances in which it is held to account, as it was in the Australian Child-Abuse Royal Commission, but it is still a very powerful global Jewish movement, which is particularly impressive, as Chabad households worldwide number a mere 16 to 17 thousand out of approximately 15 million Jews.

I often compare this particular Hasidic sect to the Catholic Church, to which it is comparable in terms of its unmatched affluence, influence, and power within the global Jewish community, and also in terms of its track-record in its institutions’ mismanagement of countless cases of child sexual abuse.

It is important to point out in this regard that we, the broader Jewish community, empower and embolden Chabad to continue offending with minimal legal or moral consequence. Many of the world’s Jewish community leaders need or want the unparalleled political connections Chabad has, with the result that those leaders cannot afford to be perceived as hostile to Chabad – a symbiosis well exploited by the latter.

Also, Chabad’s sophisticated and cutting edge programs makes it very attractive to many in the broader Jewish community to participate in those programs as a means of connecting with their faith, culture and tradition.

They and their leaders thereby lend support not only to those programs but also to Chabad’s more nefarious behaviors and attitudes which, at times, have life-threatening consequences.

Chabad’s supporters then effectively become enablers of Chabad’s darker side by their willingness to turn a blind eye to its wrongdoings.

Sure, Chabad does many wonderful things. Its events are often powerful and inspiring, world class in their sophistication and slickness, and achieved with dedication, hard work and sizable budgets. Chabad’s ethos seems noble, at least on paper, and it certainly has many wonderful rabbis and adherents. I am proud to work with some of them, and even prouder to call some of them my close friends.

And it is important to note that some individual Chabad rabbis and institutions have addressed scandals within their local community admirably.

But taken as a whole, as a global movement, Chabad seems rotten to the core. I say this as one born and raised within Chabad and with a deep knowledge of its ways and with the experiences of it that I and my family and an innumerable (and unreported) number of others have had in many contexts, in many countries and over many years. Many of those experiences were in the context of child sexual abuse but they also extended to many other areas of wrongdoing, such as other sexual misdeeds, racism, political corruption and large-scale financial impropriety.

There is no quick fix to address this sad and dangerous state of affairs within Chabad. Substantial and sustained change will take much effort and time – even a generation or more. Meanwhile, those who are in any way able to hold Chabad to account and respond effectively to any of its transgressions should do so, bearing in mind the importance of that work, which will ultimately be of benefit to the whole Jewish people.

To return to the Traci Moran case, the alleged offender, (Rabbi) Zalman Heber, reportedly committed to apologize to all his victims. He still has not. Other Chabad rabbis reportedly committed to address this case properly, including removing Heber from his rabbinic position and ensuring he receives intense therapy. Well, as the article notes, it is business as usual at the synagogue — Heber resumed his duties there last month.

And to top it all off, it seems there was essentially broad Chabad collusion to intimidate the brave complainants into silence by various means, including alleging that by attacking Heber, the complainants were effectively attacking Orthodox Judaism. For anyone who has followed my personal story and the stories of so many others, this strategy would be all too familiar.

Bottom line, this is yet another case where Chabad has left victims not only unsupported but indeed re-victimized, and instead supported its own, which has once again reflected badly on the entire Jewish community.

About the Author
Manny Waks is an author, consultant, advocate and public speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Kol v'Oz, an Israel-based international organisation which addresses the issue of child sexual abuse in the global Jewish community. He is also an abuse survivor in an Australian Chabad-run institution. His published memoir is titled ‘Who Gave You Permission?’.
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