Category Archives: Chabad: Rebbes and the Abdication of Responsibility

The Lies of the Rebbe, cont.

In his infamous 1983 letter to me responding to my pleas to help Ethiopian Jews, the late Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote:

Equally, your claims regarding scholarships and other projects you
mention in your letter are not logical and they do not fit in with the
activities and duties of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions or
representatives.

Of course, this was complete bullshit. Chabad had long been involved in using these same methods to save Iranian Jews. (So, to be clear, had Satmar.) But Chabad’s operation had come to a halt early in 1982. And it was no state secret. Iranian Jews saved this way were very evident in Crown Heights and LA, and they didn’t hide how they were saved. Many had moved from the US to Israel, as well.

Many of you questioned me on this point, claiming Chabad had not used student visas to save Iraninan Jews. Well, just to keep the record clear, here is why you were so very wrong:

One late afternoon in October 1978, Hertzel Illulian, a Chabad student from Brooklyn, was silently praying mincha outside the Intercontinental Hotel in Tehran. He took three steps back after reciting the Amidah, the service’s central prayer, and found himself surrounded by a wall of men, secret police dressed in street clothes.

They threatened to cart him off to jail, eventually dismissing him and taking a local Iranian Jew instead.

This was a period of massive unrest in Iran, as pro-Ayatollah Khomeini supporters engaged in often violent street demonstrations against the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had imposed martial law and whose tanks and troops patrolled the streets. But Illulian, then 19, didn’t feel scared.

"I was courageous," he said. "I had the purpose to save Jewish children."

He was an official Chabad student shaliach, or emissary, working on behalf of [Chabad’s] Brooklyn-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, and armed with the coveted blessing of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. This was the beginning of his now-legendary mission to help transport about 3,000 young Jewish Persians, most ranging in age from 12 to 19, using I-20 student visas, from an increasingly dangerous Iran to safety in the United States.…

Illulian, who was raised in Milan, Italy, by parents born in Tehran, has a bona fide track record in this area. It was his idea to bring almost 3,000 young people out of Iran, working tirelessly from 1978 to about 1982 to accomplish it.

Sholem Hecht, rabbi of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation and Center in Queens, N.Y., who accompanied Illulian on his first trip to Tehran and assisted in the rescue, said, "There’s no question he played a very special role in the history of Iranian Jews in America."

The Rebbe lied. Ethiopian Jews died. Period. End of story.

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Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Ethiopian Jews

Rav_moshe_feinstein_ej_1984Recently, I found Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s 1984 teshuva-letter on Ethiopian Jews stuck between two file folders. (You can click the thumbnail image for a larger, more readable image or download a PDF.) This letter was written in response to a question I asked through Rabbi Moshe Tendler, Rav Moshe’s son-in-law. He referred the question to his son, Mordechai, who then served as Rav Moshe’s secretary-assistant. What follows is a (rough) translation:

With the Help of HaShem

26 Sivan 5744

To the honored, my beloved grandson ha rav ha-gaon moreinu ha-rav Rabbi Mordechai Tendler, shlit"a, with blessings of peace and blessing and all good:

With my best regards,

Here as per your request, I reaffirm what you wrote in my name several years ago regarding the "Falashas," that it is known what is written in the responsa of the Radba"z, section seven, §9, that it is understood he considers them to be Jews; however for practical application of the law it is difficult to rely on this, for it is not clear if the Radba"z knew well the reality regarding them, nor is it clear whether up until our time their status has [remained the same and] not changed. But in regard to practical application of the law they are not mamzerim or the like, for the Radba"z mentions there that many many doubts apply to them. Review my responsa where I detail at length the qualifications of the rabbinical prohibitions regarding the legal status of ‘an illegitimate child of unknown fatherhood’ and ‘a child found in the street whose parents are (both) unknown’.

Regarding their Judaism, we must consider it a safek [doubt], and one must require of them true conversion before we permit them to marry within the Jewish community. Yet even before their conversion it is an active precept to save them from being drawn into a non-Jewish creed and from danger as the law is for any Jew, for "safek nefashot l’hakel" ["a doubt involving saving lives is judged leniently"] even where here the doubt is in their very status as Jews.

One should also know that even if in practical application of the law they are not Jews, nevertheless since they think they are Jews and sacrifice their lives for their Judaism, we are obligated to save them.***



As you mentioned, they should not be brought to the Land of Israel* unless they have underdone a conversion**, in order to not increase the concern for assimilation [i.e., intermarriage with Jews who do not have a doubt regarding their Jewish status and also a weakening of the faith of Ethiopian Jews themselves]. But if they have legally converted, and as I have heard they are doing, we shall consider them like all Jews, and one must assist them and support them for all needs of livelyhood, both physically and spiritually. And I suffered great aguish because I have heard there are those in Israel who are not drawing them close in spiritual matters and are causing, G-d forbid, that they might be lost from Judaism. And it seems to me these people are behaving so only because the color of the Falashas’ skin is black. It is obvious that one must draw them close, not only because they are no worse than the rest of the Jews – and because there is no distiction in practical application of the law because they are black – but also because one can say perhaps they are gerim [converts], and are therefore included in the mitzva "and you shall love the convert."

And I will conclude with the hope that the situation will improve, and in the merit in observing all the mitzvot, we should all soon merit to the ingathering of the exiles by our righteous messiah.

Your grandfather who loves you in heart and soul,

Moshe Feinstein

[All emphasis added.]

* Suggestions were made to bring Ethiopian Jews to Cyprus or Italy (or even the US or Canada) first to fulfill this request, but it proved impossible to do so. I told R. Mordechai Tendler this would not work. His answer based on conversations with his grandfather was to try anyway, which we did, and to note "safek nefashot l’hakel" in the teshuva. In other words, you have to save them no matter what. Rav Moshe wanted to give Baruch Tegegne and I brachot (blessings) to do so and asked us to come to the mountains, where he was vacationing, so he could bless us in person. Illness on our parts prevented this.

** Rav Moshe would later specify a giur l’humra, a form of pro forma conversion that allows conversion without first pushing away the potential converts and without first teaching them Jewish law. He would also later note that the Israeli Chief Rabbis’ decision on these matters should be respected.

*** Rav Moshe had long before signed a public letter with non-Orthodox rabbis calling for the immediate aid for Ethiopian Jews and for rescue. It is linked here. Rabbi J. B. Soleveitchik signed the same letter. This is the campaign the late Lubavitcher Rebbe refused to join.

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Chabad And Ethiopian Jews – The Shame Grows

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The Dirty Racist Underbelly Of The Haredi World – R. Moshe Sherer, Rav Moshe Feinstein, And The Rescue Of Ethiopian Jews

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Chabad And The Holocaust, Part 3: “He was a moral failure at this time to condemn us and the Jewish people as a whole for the Holocaust when he in turn did hardly anything except rescue his books and few students’ lives.”

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Chabad And The Holocaust, Part 2

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Chabad And The Holocaust: A Legacy Of Shame

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