David Brent

Why I love Chabad

I disagree with Chabad and other Orthodox movements on so many issues. While I would happily welcome the Messiah, I am not convinced that belief in a savior is completely consistent with Judaism. I do not pray for the rebuilding of the third Temple and the return of animal sacrifices. I don’t agree that my wife needs to cover her hair. Of course, it makes no difference what I think about how my wife dresses, as I have less influence over her behavior than I do on the motion of the planets through the universe.

In spite of my objections to many of their deepest convictions, Chabad welcomes me. My Chabad rabbi reminds me that we agree on many more issues than we disagree on. And the things that we agree on are much more important than the things we disagree on. We agree that Hashem is unique, that He created the Universe and that the continued existence of the world depends on his Will. We agree on the value of human life. We believe in the concept of tikkun olam, the repair of the world. We agree that as Jews, we have a special role to play in this tikkun.

And while we both agree that Moses received Torah on Mount Sinai, we don’t agree on what that exactly means. My Chabad rabbi never accuses me that I don’t accept the divinity of the Torah because I don’t believe many parts of the Torah are meant to be taken literally. I tell my rabbi that I don’t believe that the flood actually occurred. I tell him that I don’t believe that Balaam actually had a conversation with his donkey. My rabbi tells me, “David, you come from the point of view that if something in the Torah isn’t logical, the Torah must be wrong.  I came from the point of view that if something in the Torah isn’t logical, logic must be wrong. The Torah is my truth.” My rabbi respects me. I respect him.

I wish that other Haredi movements would follow their lead. Chabad is outgoing and warm and welcoming. They do not separate themselves from other Jews. Chabad teaches by example. You are not forced to follow every ruling in the Code of Jewish Law. Every step you take towards what they believe is the path to Hashem is encouraged. Chabad uses the carrot, not the stick. This is what it means to be “a light among the nations.” A light can only illuminate.

I read in a comment posted on another TOI opinion piece that:

Unfortunately, a vital part of every orthodoxy (religious and political) is defining the outsider and ostracizing them. It is a way of validating their own choices and righteousness.

Chabad does the opposite.

Levi Margolin, a chabadnik, is a perfect example. He wrote a beautiful piece in the Times of Israel about the difference between some of the haredi movements and his personal beliefs. Levi wrote that:

I wish every Jew would be observant but at the same time strongly believe in the right and ability of every Jew to choose his or her own way.

Chabad lets me choose. And the interesting thing is that I find myself choosing more and more to follow their lead. For example, since I began studying with a Chabad rabbi, I have started wrapping tefillin every morning.

In Israel, I have met a lot of Haredi Jews. They are my friends. They are good people with good values. But I have learned that with some of them I have to keep my mouth shut on issues that are very important to me or we will no longer be able to have a conversation. They dismiss Jews who don’t agree with their beliefs as bad Jews or worse. I have never heard a Chabadnik do that. The Chabad rabbis won’t attend a service in a Reform Temple, but they will work with Reform rabbis on community issues and respect them as Jews. You will never hear the Chabad leadership refer to other non-Charedi Jews as “Amalek.”

With the election of the new chief rabbis, I find myself worrying that the Charedim will move further towards ostracizing other Jews. How I wish that they would follow the example of the Chabad movement by showing respect for our differences. Respect for our differences leads to debate and discussions which brings us closer to the truth. I believe that this is the only path towards bringing us all closer to Hashem.

Chabad and I may not agree on everything, but my Chabad rabbi tells me that of all the branches of our religion, Chabad is the closest one to Judaism. I find myself agreeing with him.

About the Author
David Brent is a NASA engineer with a master's and bachelor's from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology turned candy entrepreneur. He made aliya in the spring of 2013. David commutes between Israel, where his heart is, and Florida, where his business is.