Thoughts on Judaism

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

See where Family Squabbles go

In the mid-1980's, a long fight culminated when the Lubavitcher Rebbe won the rights to his father-in-law's book collection. The 6th Rebbe, a noted bibliophile, had collected books by the tens of thousands, covering philosophy, history, science, mathematics and secular Bible study, as well as sefarim from all over, some very easy to come by, some unique and extremely valuable. This huge library was schlepped through the Russian revolution and German occupied Poland, before reaching the US. A battle ensued between the Rebbe and his operatives on one side and the 6th Rebbe's only male descendant on the other. The battling began in 1950, in the wake of the Rebbe's death. As is with chasidic dynastic battles, the supporters of the two sons-in-law tried to make the case for their candidates succession. After some nastiness and thuggery on both sides, the dust settled, and the 7th Chabad rebbe, the younger of the two eidim, took the chair. The elder quickly joined him, partially to avoid further nastiness, and partially, most likely, that he saw that his rival was visionary and charismatic, and he felt that was best for Chabad's future. The elder's son, Barry, was completely excluded, even from sinacure positions or trifling inheritance, even though the Rebbe had unquestionably been very close to him. Thuggery on the part of some of the 7th Rebbe's operatives followed to ensure that Barry would stay away. There is no indication, even in Barry's stated opinion, that the Rebbe himself had known or approved of these actions.

The Rebbe's followers placed the books that they had salvaged in a large library in Crown Heights, and there they remained for some 35 years. Barry Gurary, for his part, attempted to secretly take some of the more valuable books from the library, in an attempt to sell them. Chabad says that he stole them. He claims that he had a right to them, as the Rebbe's sole male descendant. The Rebbe shrei-ed at every public gathering tht the books were martyrs, tht the books were "captives" worthy of redemption, that on them rested the fate of the universe, etc. etc.

Barry felt that no Beis Din in the world would impartially be able to judge a case where the Chabad Rebbe was a party, especially since he had expressed himself so forcefully. The case ultimately fell to a court of law in the US, and Chabad won the case, on the power of corporate ownership. The 6th Rebbe had put the books under corporate ownership, and the trustees of that corporation, known as Agudas Chasidei Chabad, or Aguch, were the official caretakers. End of story. That was 5 Teves, 1987 (if I am not mistaken).

To this day, I do not understand why the Chabad Rebbe felt it so necessary to include every Chabadnik in the family Broiges. (Do I include him in my broiges?) If, as Chabad claims, all Barry wanted is the money, why didn't they just buy him out? Shoin, everyone is happy? Obviously, there was more to it. If Barry wanted to stir up trouble, why didn't he bad mouth Chabad and try to gain a following? Exactly what anyone wanted out of this, other than sheer emotion and one-ups-manship, I do not know, and whatever it is, he did not get it. It became a rallying point for bad feelings and bad mouthing about Barry and his family, and ultimately, it was stained with silly apolocalyptic pronouncements and misapplied fervor.

One good thing did come from it, though. The Chabad rebbe, as was characteristic of him, found a good applicaiton, and bid that all Chabadniks remember the occasion by buying Jewish books for themselves, their synagogues and each other. (Granted even most of the books in question were not "Jewish books", per se, but it was a good way of turning a shameful situation into a positive initiative.) The apocalyptic pronouncements of our times will continue on 5 teves this year, no doubt in Chabad circles. But, it is my sincerest hope, that Chabadniks lose the Broiges aspect, forget the whole senseless historical affair, and concentrate on the message, that all knowledge, Jewish, philosophical, scientific, that strives to broaden our minds brings us closer to our proper service.


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