Jacob Neusner On Chabad

Jacob Neusner on Chabad, from the Connecticut Jewish Ledger:

"I’m told that Chabad is now the largest single Jewish institution in the world. Having said that, you wonder how stable and enduring are the affiliations that go with it. That is to say, Chabad can gather 300 or 600 or 1,000 college students in a room for a meal, as they do very often. Or they can gather 1,000 young Israelis in Nepal for a Passover seder. These are spectacular activities. But what happens then? Are the people changed? Are they absorbed into an ongoing community and program? Some are. But many are not.

"Chabad’s central institutions are massive and they’re raising and spending more money than anybody else as far as I can tell. But by what criteria do they measure their success?

"Chabad is the first major Judaic religious movement that lacks any kind of theology or intellectual program. And I say that knowing that they have their holy book, the Tanya. They repeat the sayings, or they quote, but they have no context or no intellectual structure. The upside is that they are reaching out to Jews who are neglected by everybody else. The downside is that until now they have yet to do something permanent and enduring with their massive turnout. What’s the intellectual system that they are asking the Jews to affirm? The answer is really a mishmash of classical Jewish text, which they don’t understand in context, and then their own very special traditions of their rebbes. Until the rebbe died and they had this messianic movement, they looked like a perfectly normal Judaic system within the larger framework of Orthodox Judaism. They then became sectarian…and that’s why they raised questions in the minds of people who could accept them and admire them and respect them for their advocacy of mitzvot and ma’asim."

[Hat Tip: Minnesota Twin.]

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10 Comments

Filed under Chabad Theology

10 responses to “Jacob Neusner On Chabad

  1. aaron

    i am amazed by the amount of ignorrence of this man. first, how is lubavitch lacking beliefs more than any other group of chasidim or even litfish groups? secondly, the point of the lubavitch kiruv wasnt only to make people religious(obviously they try to make them frum the most they can) but also to get all jews to do good acts to make the world a better place. even though out of the 1,000 people at the seder in nepal or wherever may never become frum c”v they still were part of a seder and ate matzah and without lubavitch they may of even not known it was pesach. if you are looking for slander you will find it against anybody you want!! even in the times of moshe rabeinu there were people against him and im sure they found many things(obviously that werent true or valid) against him.

  2. Anonymous

    “I’m told that Chabad is now the largest single Jewish institution in the world.”

    By what measure ? Lubavitch is notorious for trying to exaggerate their size and scope.

  3. Anonymous

    “I’m told that Chabad is now the largest single Jewish institution in the world.”

    That’s like Reform leader Eric Yoffe boasting that Reform is the largest Jewish denomination. Yawn. So that means Lubavitch is the new Reform ?

  4. Yochanan Lavie

    I thought Satmar was largest Chassidic group. Who really does these statistics, and what are their biases, and methodologies?

  5. Anonymous

    “I’m told that Chabad is now the largest single Jewish institution in the world.”

    That’s like saying that Neusner has written more Jewish books than anyone else. Going by such indices, maybe Neusner should be the new Lubavitcher Rebbe ?

  6. Paul Freedman

    aaron–there certainly is a frum Chabad lifestyle (we could say the yom-yomii sum of mitzva-observances, rituals, social standards, minhagiim, etc. reflect and grow ideology “X”)–but if (a big if) no programmatic effort is felt appropriate at this time to attract the various participants in the “outreach” activities–study groups to ski-trips to heritage retreats to large-scale seders–to that lifestyle–then the money might be better spent given to less Orthodox institutions that could ground the participants in some kind of daily religious life rather than provide them with Torah “highs” or accumulate “mitzva points” to bring Mosiach. If the point is getting the “Fifth Son” to a seder to be acquainted with matza and learn the Pesach story there are many congregations that can accomplish this.

  7. Speaking with the authority that studying for a number of years in Lubavitch yeshivas may or may not give me, I disagree strongly with the quote, “Chabad is the first major Judaic religious movement that lacks any kind of theology or intellectual program. And I say that knowing that they have their holy book, the Tanya.”

    There were seven Rebbe’s, and each left behind a large body of work that is studied by students today in Yeshiva. The Alter Rebbe, ie: the Baal HaTanya, alone was a prolific writer. Each succeeding Rebbe produced huge quantities of texts. Upon what is that above quote substantiated?

  8. Paul Freedman

    Mordy, Jacob Neusner can be abrasive and has a way of re-inventing the theological wheel–for a while he seemed to be trying to patent “Judaism is the religion of the Oral Torah” as a unique discovery–usually he has something in mind though when he opens his mouth but that doesn’t mean he’s always appraised with the facts. I don’t think the key is in the much debated Messianist-NM schism/secret collusion/fill in your personal take but the sentences: “And I say that knowing that they have their holy book, the Tanya. They repeat the sayings, or they quote, but they have no context or no intellectual structure.”

    He doesn’t seem to be saying “once they had an intellectual structure but now they lack one and have become rote”–he seems to be saying–they don’t have mastery over Western-style (or traditional Lithuanian) analytics, while also telling us, and I, jacob Neusner just don’t know very much about the entire corpus of Chabad literature although I am aware of the Tanya and I think Chabad still refers to it but this is all beneath me.

  9. aaron

    jacob nueser is a total fool because just look simply and you will see that lubavitch has more customs and books than any other mainstream orthodox group like litfish or modern orthodox

  10. Avtalion

    yea yea yea , they have abook , for anash only !
    their shuls however seem often to cater to jews of the cardiac and gastronomical persuasion.
    pity, they have no books of derekh eretz.
    they will take Avot & will rewrite it from the chassidus, i.e. kaboleh angle .
    where all contents are annuled, and subjected to the interpretation of an inebreated rov du jour !

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