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.]