Response: The Modernization of Chabad

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By: Sruli Schochet

There was an article published recently on Chabad Currents by Sholom Kesselman called The Modernization of Chabad. In it he noted that in the last 15 – 20 years, we saw a significant segment of Chabad’s younger generation take on a modern trend and outlook. He attributed this change to a few factors: (a) Gimmel Tamuz, (b) the yeshiva system and its outdated objectives, (c) the in-fighting at some of the highest echelons of our Rabbinate (d) our exposure to the ever expanding technological revolution; etc. etc.

I agree with some of the points but not all of them. Truth be told, everything plays a role, it’s how we react to these situations that really makes the difference. As someone who was twenty-years-old when Gimmel Tamuz happened, as well as being in NY at the time, I always said that the people impacted the most were shluchim (who dedicated their life to the cause) and the bochurim, who were just lost and overwhelmed at the time. A regular layman with a family, come 4th of Tamuz, needs to get up and go to work. Life went on. Yes, there was a great loss and a void, but he had his daily distractions to take his mind off it. He was established and grounded.

Having said that, I also was always of the position that anyone who ‘fried out’ as a result of Gimmel Tamuz, or weakened his religious observance, did not have his hashkofos set straight in the first place. Even if you were disillusioned and felt you were r”l misled by the Rebbe, sever your ties with Chabad. That doesn’t change the reality of Torah m’Sinai!

Likewise, to blame any religious posture on the fact that some Rabbonim are conducting themselves in unbecoming ways, is just a cop out. Yes we have guidelines about respecting and following Rabbis. But they are there to enhance your Judaism, not replace it. No one is more critical of Rabbis who don’t conduct themselves properly than the Chachomim themselves! There is no shortage of good respectable Rabbis and mashpi’im that one can look to for true chasidishe guidance. However, that takes work. The other way — poor me, I am so disillusioned /disappointed /hurt feeling etc. — is just the easy way out.

To blame the yeshiva system is also misleading. While I do agree that the Yeshiva system of Chabad is geared towards someone graduating the system and going on Shlichus, something which is not realistic for 80%+ of the people today (even if they wanted to, there are simply not enough places), I think there should be a slight adaption towards that reality. I say ‘slight’ because I don’t think that we should lower our standards and I am a firm believer in spiritual “trickle-down economics” — aim high and it will trickle down. But we still need to adapt the end goal somewhat (becoming a shliach vs. becoming a good chasideshe balabos who does shlichus-type work in his own community).

More importantly, the question becomes, what do we do about those that already graduated the system, the so called “Chabad-lite”? How do we strengthen them and ourselves and stem the tide? Call of the Shofar, the Eruv controversy, these are all just underlying factors indicative of a greater void that we need to fill.

At the time Call of the Shofar was going on, I was discussing the issue with people and we were thinking about the idea of creating a pegisha, open to the public (or for a nominal fee). Think Memorial Weekend. Maybe in Crown Heights. We have enough in-house talent to speak about: marriage counseling, raising kids, money management, Ask the Rabbi sessions discussing every day challenges, etc. This should be done annually with contemporary topics, keeping it interesting and current. You might not see a change in one year, or even two. But the long term effects will be vast. Make it interesting and enjoyable and you will pack the house, growing each year. Think “JLI retreat”, but with more down to earth, tangible topics and affordable to everyone. We can get sponsors and donors. I think a lot of people will back such an initiative. The trickle-down effect will be invaluable as well. People will return to their communities uplifted, inspired and taking on new resolutions.

I remember this being done, albeit on a smaller scale, for doctors (medical pegishas) and it worked well. This is something I would be passionate about and would be interested in seeing materialize.

If this is something that resonates with you and you feel you can help make it happen, please feel free to email me at srulischochet@gmail.com.

7 responses

  1. Its nice that someone is actually thinking about a solution not just drawing attention to our problems.
    I’m just not sure that Pegishot are going to turn this around. I think it’s gotta start in the education system like Mr Kesselman mentioned.
    I also think that the trend of starting new shuls for the young doesn’t help the situation.

    • It’s about an atmosphere. Before 3 Tamuz there were farbregans and dollars and davening with the Rebbe. Today there is either no atmosphere or a negative one. We ned to recapture that positive energy. Plus the educational factor or a pegisha can only help to strengthen ones knowledge and practice of yiddishkeit.

  2. While some your comments may sound valid in theory, but it is wrong in nature.

    when one has less and less of people of stature to look up to, and the current system does not talk to them, after a while certain things wear off.

    • I am not sure what you are basing that on. You can say that about every transitional generation (the amoraim were not as great as the tanaim etc etc). There is no shortage of people to look up to or consult. The Rebbe was adamant of ‘asai lecha rav’ and about having a mashpia. If you try, you will find and I will believe you (to paraphrase one of the 12 pesukim).

  3. Modified by editors:

    I think you need to cut your losses and focus on the next generation coming up.

    That means alef, being mekarev these “lites” as you would any other ultra modern yid – cause that’s what they are. You can’t consider them as chabadniks who are teetering either way and just need to participate/attend/care more.

    But bais, and more importantly… To me, an outsider who really really cares? That means publicly and finally and universally ending the mishechist line of thought that is still Emes L’Amito among the mechanchim of your young and thus your next generation.

    Like the Klausenberger said in the early 80’s about it, “That would be nice.” and he meant it. Mamesh, it would’ve been. It could’ve been. As my rebbe says “If anyone was a candidate ever, it was him” But he wasn’t.

    If you guys are still stuck in something that wasn’t, you can never ever be what is.

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