By Andrew Hingston
[Andrew sent me this email and I thought I would share it with you.]
I get along quite well with Lubavitchers (Chabad), far less well with Modern Orthodox. The Lubavitchers have a very open and joyous approach to life, and they are easily the most willing of Orthodox Jews to discuss their religion with non-Jews. I suspect this is because they are the most “proselytizing” of Orthodox Jews — they don’t try to convert non-Jews, but they do try to convert other Jews into Lubavitchers, and they are very successful at it.
At the same time, they can be pretty nutty. And they are not without controversy — they have a habit of taking over the Jewish communities of the cities where they set up. They are phenomenally well organized, as a visit to their website shows. In New York or Amsterdam or London or Jerusalem taking over the Jewish community is impossible; but in Riga, Vilnius, Prague, Lvov, Kiev, etc., it is very possible.
In Warsaw the war is on between the Modern Orthodox community and the Lubavitchers. I expect the Lubavitchers to win, because they are so well organized and well-funded. Also, the Modern Orthodox rabbi of Warsaw, who is also the self-proclaimed Chief Rabbi of Poland, has had more than his share of controversies, everything from rumors of adultery with college aged girls to financial misdeeds to the fact that he doesn’t even live in Poland (he lives in New York and visits Poland for one week each month). I should mention that there is also a Progressive (Reform) community in Poland, and it is also gaining ground on the Modern Orthodox. There used to be a Conservative Community here, mostly in Western Poland, but the Modern Orthodox succeeded in reducing them to unimportance — by very unscrupulous means.
A lot of Jews are frightened of Lub avitchers or simply hate them, because they can be very unforgiving of Jews who do not see the world as they do.
As you must know, their famous Rabbi (more than a rabbi, a Rebbe), Menachim Schneersson, died about ten years ago. Ordinarily there might have been a little succession fight — as there has recently been in some other Chassidic organizations — because the job of Rebbe is not merely important. A Rebbe can change the course of history for a Chassidic dynasty. Groups have split over Rebbes. But among his many duties, the Rebbe serves as the Supreme Court of his sect, the final word. It’s therefore hard to imagine how a dead person can be the Rebbe. But that is exactly what the Lubavitchers have done — they have declared Schneersson to
be their Rebbe. The Rebbe, they call him. Some consider him to have been the Messiah. This means a certain amount of chaos and controversy to say the least.
My favorite Lubavitcher Rabbi (not Rebbe; there is usually only one Rebbe, also sometimes called the Rav or Tzadik, for each Chassidic group) is Herschel Gluck. We met several years ago, because he is interested in Central Europe, and was intrigued by my project for the Poznan synagogue. He was Lubavitcher trained and still dresses in the manner of a Lubavitcher
(untrimmed beard, wide brim black fedora, dark suit, etc), but is now an independent orthodox rabbi in North London, which has a large orthodox community, living side by side with a large Muslim community.
Here is an article about Gluck that explains, I think, why I like him so much. He thinks outside the box. He is curious. He is humorous. He is not nationalistic. He makes his own (very well informed, very careful, and very scholarly) decisions about right and wrong, and then follows them. He is man of principle. He is anything but pompous. Wonderful guy. We met in the rather grand bar of the Park Lane Hilton in London — his choice. Everyone stared at us, as it’s not usually a hang-out for orthodox Rabbis.