Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I am no longer Chabad

Many people have asked me why I ceased to identify with Chabad. Another great many simply grunt their disapproval or make annoying insinuations, which are presumptive defense mechanisms for themselves. Others motivations and opinions of me rarely motivate me to care enough to explain myself, but in this case, I find that other people around me take some of the flack. In deference to their feelings, I will give a few words on the subject. The following is a list of reasons which I have heard offered which are absolutely not among my reasons:

1) The misnagdim or skeptics got to me. There are those who seriously think that I am so devoid of the ability to discern and research rhetoric that I am under the influence of the easily refuted talking points of a group of baddies somewhere. Why else would I reject the undeniable truth of Chabadist Judaism? Only Chabad rhetoric would ever be considered by sane and intelligent person when developing a life direction.

2) I had a fight with … There are those who honestly put the cart before the horse. Clearly, my personality is so one dimensional and insecure that if you oppose me or anger me in something, I will throw away years of self identification and training and join the enemy just to spite you. This would even be stronger if had, in fact, joined the enemy, but let’s not confuse a good defense mechanism with the facts.

3) I am dealing with my personal pain. Perhaps this one more or less actually describes why I ever joined Chabad, or even more broadly, why anyone ever goes on any sort of spiritual quest. However, it would be a poor reason to uproot any roots that I had in Chabad and try to accommodate my Chabad family while still living outside its fold. That would increase pain, rather than decrease it.

4) I am too full of myself. Guilty as charged, but not a reason to leave Chabad. I will be with myself wherever I go.

5) I am too centered on ethical matters. When I heard this one, I really did not know where to go with it. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOKayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, moving right along.

6) I expect too much, and I am seeking an impossible standard of perfection. Well, the truth is that I’d settle for a product as advertised, but as the charge presumes, I would not leave Chabad to seek the impossible. This would be stronger if I had gone from one thing to another, min hakatzeh el hakatzeh, as I became dissatisfied with each philosophy in turn.


So, the plainest rationale is that I grew up and outgrew the Chabad way. I began to realize that its philosophy was not healthy for me in many ways, and that following it frequently drove me to a place that was weaker physically, spiritually and philosophically. In other words, it was not making me stronger, even in the ways that it is supposed to. This does not mean that it is a bad philosophy or that it benefits no one. It clearly works for some people and I wish them well. In fact, many of my closest friends and those of my family are Chabad people, who understand that my feelings are personal and do not amount to an indictment against Chabad, in total. So, the following reasons are why chabad is not a good fit for me.

1) Rebbe iber alles. I could no longer be satisfied by striving to be more like the Rebbe or more what the Rebbe wanted me to be. Many Chasidic stories center on a simple person who rejects his own sense and instead blindly follows the advice of the Rebbe. Of course, in the story, it always works out for him. In real life, not so much. This has blossomed today into ideas like communicating with the Rebbe via random selections in a book of letters, divining at the Rebbe’s grave, or simply chanting slogans and expecting revelations. For a chasid, he must be nothing less than an infallible pope of a superhuman being. There is a line between heartfelt reverence and single minded veneration and enshrining. The Rebbe was a prescient, visionary leader in most respects, and he was wrong far fewer times than the vast majority would have been in his position, and sadly, he has passed on. Chabad needs to move on. I definitely needed to.

2) Being an individual is bad. In Chabad, you wear a uniform and you think uniformly. Anything less is “shvach”. Army terms and parables saturate Chabadism. Bitul and following are the highest virtues. Arguing and thinking differently are the signs of arrogance. The Judaism that I grew up with and respected valued critical thinking and rational argument. In Chabad, rationality is often referred to as a negative. I do not do well in that type of uniform environment.

3) Mythology is good. And believing Chabad myths is virtuous. Questioning them shows lack of faith and especially, faith in the saints, the highest virtue. For every situation, there is a story which is supposed to trump your better judgment or common sense. Every Rebbe story that features a miracle is supposed to convince me further that only the Chabad Rebbes can run the world. (And yes, they use that language frequently.) Being that I do not think that celebritocracy is the best way to govern, I never fully got into this.
A note on this one: I went to a Purim display recently, and I saw a representation of Mordechai, dressed in a shtreimel and capota. That rather says it all.

4) Crime pays. Any Chabad criminal is justified, from the top down. I have no respect for the Chabad criminals that have plaques in their honor in buildings named after them, or who collect millions from work a day people for their defense funds. As such, I cannot participate in this, and must speak out against it, as halacha demands. As Chabad establishment fully supports and aggrandizes these people, that makes me “the enemy”.

5) Yechi-ism Chabad politics interest me as much as Capulet – Montague politics interested Mercutio. It is mildly entertaining until one of them stabs you. Which leads to another point. Who cares? It is 15 years later. Why are the slogans or succession still an issue? I have no skin in this game. Each side is as bombastic and self serving as the other.

6) Nepotism and corruption. These are rampant in Chabad as anywhere. I have no family roots or support system in Chabad nor enough money to make a difference.

7) No shared interest. I do not care about Rebbe’s getting out of prison, nor their birthdays and yahrtzeits. Nor do I care for some of the irrelevant halachas and customs, like 7 o’clock kiddush, kaparos complete with 3 chickens for a pregnant woman, just in case, drawing mayim shelanu at dusk, RT Tefilin, chalav yisroel, pas and bishul yisroel, even on things that have nothing to do with the original law, gebrochts, other Pesach irrelevant stringencies, etc. I am more interested in the traditional Jewish observances.

8) Judaism salesman. Every non-chabad encounter is an opportunity to share chasidus. Every non-observant simcha is an opportunity spread the Gospel and put tefilin on people. How is mivtzas sheva mitzvos different than missionary work again? I would rather converse about ideas than convince someone of something.

9) Magic everywhere The practice of non-Jewish magic is sanctioned and prolific, though thankfully not universal. Obviously, not my bag.

10) Fighting the fight. Being in Chabad, you are expected to adopt the enemies of Chabad as your enemies. Similarly, there are people who will hate you for identifying with Chabad. I don’t care enough to endure strange abuse for an honor that I dream not of, nor do I wish to empathize with derision and scorn of others. I do not hold a group or individuals in contempt if they dislike Chabad or have theological problems with Chabad, unless they are contemptuous in their manner.

So there you have the top ten reasons, and there are more as well. Of course, this does not mean that I have anything against Chabad. I appreciate the special character of Chabad, the unique customs, the level of kindness in many members, the fervor they can generate toward good things and the positive thrust of their type of outreach, contrasted with the negative thrust so often used in the past. I like and respect the Rebbe and many of his goals and vision. I only want to explain why it was not good for me. While I cannot wear their uniform or carry their flag, I will never pasul Chabad wine or refuse a Chabad minyan or any of these types of theatrics. I wish them great success, and I hope to share part of their programs, and naturally, I hope that the practitioners of Chabad gain something that fulfills their heart’s desire and lasts a lifetime. Please enjoy with my compliments.

25 Comments:

  • upgetun gantz varshe

    By Anonymous noting, at 12:04 PM  

  • Chazak Ve'ematz. I commend you for your lack of bitterness. See the good in everyone, and move on.

    By Blogger J., at 3:00 PM  

  • I've been in chabad for many years over 45, though never completely, most of the phenomena (not all) that you describe are fairly new - talking and listening to older Russian born chasidim lets me stay because most of this stuff is fairly new and radical probably born of the rapid expansion of chabad and me to ism, who can show they are more attached to the Rebbe etc.
    I try to take the good of which there is plenty and ignore the rest (which is mostly chitsoniyos)

    By Anonymous S, at 8:14 PM  

  • S

    Complete devotion to the Rebbe and only the Rebbe, donning the uniform, thinking the RIGHT way, deep nepotism and money worship all the way to the top, and warped mythology have always been an essential part of Chabad. Them's the facts. I have been in Chabad for about 25 years.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 8:33 PM  

  • S

    Complete devotion to the Rebbe and only the Rebbe, donning the uniform, thinking the RIGHT way, deep nepotism and money worship all the way to the top, and warped mythology have always been an essential part of Chabad. Them's the facts. I have been in Chabad for about 25 years.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 8:33 PM  

  • It would be nice to meet you one day.

    By Anonymous Ben Atlas, at 8:56 PM  

  • great post. Maybe I will one day be zoche to write something like this, something so amicable and clear.

    By OpenID onionsoupmix, at 9:28 PM  

  • Gut gezogt. Yasher Koach in whatever you are onto next.

    By Anonymous Yerachmiel Lopin, at 6:40 AM  

  • Thanks all.

    Ben - Next time I am through Boston, I will try to remember to email you.

    OSM - I see on your blog of late that you have moved from Chicago, and it is probably a great positive first step in finding a place for yourself. Letting yourself make peace with it is the hardest part, or at least, it was for me.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 5:01 PM  

  • The vast majority of these points you raise are not specific to Chabad at all. They seem generically chareidi. Were you ever actually chareidi, in belief?

    By Anonymous a yid, at 8:49 PM  

  • It is perfectly okay to grow up and outgrow certain beliefs. Your viewpoint is interesting. Keep blogging!!

    This is Ibrahim from Israeli Uncensored News

    By Blogger Ibrahimblogs, at 2:55 AM  

  • Enjoyed the post. I have seem these characteristics in many Chabadnics but I have also seen the opposite of these traits in many others as well. I tend to hang out and agree with the latter. I believe that Chabad is big enough where although in CH their is much more uniformity, around the globe (even in CH itself) I have seen a great diversity of opinon. Maybe this isn't the "official" status of what Chabad claims to be, but this is just my experience.

    I actually became close to Chabad specifically because they respected me for who I was. I never felt that a Shliach was trying to change my mind when trying to do Mitzvoim, just that I should do a Mitzvah, irregardless if I became Chabad or Frum or not. This is my perspective as well. I will sometimes do Mitzvoim, usually I am unable due to a busy work day and family life, but when I do I am not hoping to change anyones mind, just to make them and the world better through more Mitzvahs. If that is all that is accomplished then I am satisfied.

    If you or others feel that this is not the Chabad way or that I am the exception, that is fine to. Irregardless I don't feel that my beliefs or actions go contrary to the Chabad way of life.

    By Anonymous Daniel, at 12:56 PM  

  • I'm chabad centraalized, meaning I am okay with listening to other Jewish views other than chabad to shape my path.

    One thing I have to ask: isn't it okay to pray to G-d at the grave of a tzadik because of his merit, doesn't it mean when someone does that, that their prayers go with the merit of the tzadik?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:56 PM  

  • It is OK to daven at the grave of a tzadik with the merit of the tzadik helping you. This is not in dispute.

    The problem comes in when a particular "tzadik" takes over the entire tzadik business and even part of the G-d business, at least in the mind of his followers. When Rebbe's became supernatarual and mythical creatures, capable of changing the course of hurricanes, causing world leaders to die (why did he wait until 1953 on Stalin, after millions had died, and why didn't he deck the German yamach shmo?), and directing world military operations (like ending the Gulf War on Purim). Chabad 1985 is incomparable to Chabad 1990 and certainly Chabad 1995. they are different religions.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:06 AM  

  • You can't believe how useful and inspirations your blog has been to me. I, myself, recently left chabad and am still in the maelstrom of offensive emails, comments and calls from people still inside the cult.

    I found you by serendipity and I am thankful I did!

    By Anonymous J, at 3:01 AM  

  • My son is going through bar mitzvah training and the whole family is confronting the fact that we are atheist and not built for organized religion. Do you have any resources for us? Our synagogue is, obviously, not supportive.

    By Blogger Adam Bearson, at 6:48 AM  

  • Whom do you mean by "the whole family"?

    Email me:
    rebel.nation1@gmail.com

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 8:47 AM  

  • EVERYTHING IN THIS POST IS JUST ALOT OF ANTI CHABAD RANT AND HAS NO REAL TRACTION FOR IF YOU ACTUALY PROPERLY LOOK INTO EVERYTHING CHABAD DOES IT'S EXACTLY THE WAY JUDAISM SHOULD BE.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:46 PM  

  • I am a survivor of Chabad. I grew up in it and almost lost my mind. I lov the Rebbe and have great respect. I do not have love for fanatical beliefs or crazy Kabbala practices. No one has the right to ask someone else complex questions, which only the Rebbe would know and no one else.

    I love many people in Chabad and wish everyone the best.

    I still practice my Jewish but open my doors to others to share and how we as humanity can change our world to a better place.

    Hashem bless everyone who wants Shalom

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:58 PM  

  • Yasher Koah.

    Apparently you're still in a pretty good and healthy shape. This is hardly the case for many ex-Habadnikim (at least those I know of). I won't spell out the stories here. You pay the price for getting off the hook.

    I do not claim that you should say Birkat Hagomel, but the point above is good to remember.

    Yiddishkeit is simple and modest, you do not need a Rebbe through whom you experience the living G-d.
    We live in an age when people dislike prose. Serving G-d by doing mitsvoth, simply and humbly, as best as you can, even when the sky is cloudy (and forthcoming people tell you the sun's shining), is the only way to be a Jew. What you experience then, nobody can take that away from you.

    By Anonymous Leo, at 8:23 AM  

  • I don't know if anyone has been on this blog in a long time. Chabad as a cult frightens me. I just visited their website and scrolled through the pages "About Chabad. I counted the number of times the word "Rebbe" was used. 217. G-d. Less than two dozen. Need we say more.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:10 AM  

  • This is not really a relevant criticism. Were they to be speaking about something that the Rebbe said, I would expect the to mentioned more than G-d. Since their purpose is to spread Judaism particularly how the Rebbe taught it, I would expect their site to have many references to the unique part of their subject (the Rebbe), and fewer to the general part (G-d). There are valid criticisms to be sure, but I do think this is one.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:26 AM  

  • I agree - too much drinking n chabbad

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:05 PM  

  • Great post. Unfortunately most commenters here, though polite, miss the point.

    The fact that Chabad recruits (preys) upon Jews who lack Jewish identity shows their wanton need to fill their ranks with the naive. This is simply to diffuse their own beliefs with the least amount of resistance. In fact, most people who seek their roots in Judaism do so out of a personal deep need, recent pain or guilt and thus take on anything they are told. I've been with rabbis on runs to "visit" the terminally ill though little time was spent on the ill themselves and, rather, on guilting the family to attend service or, failing that, to donate a large sum.

    Chabad takes advantage of people under emotional strain they they do so because they prefer to fill their ranks with disinformation and manipulation over truth. Why? What could they have to gain? I was close to a couple of higher-up Chabad Rabbis and can tell you their reasoning rather than use conjecture: it is merely to profligate "dues"–the dues that they tell erroneously to their ranks are mandatory and a mitzva to give.

    Get out, stay out, tell others.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:44 PM  

  • Your last paragraph is bullshit. You do not like Chabad and want nothing to do with it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:00 PM  

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