[I'm sorry for starting this entry on such a bad note, and mom -- if you read this, I am sorry for insulting your husband (be happy that this blog is anonymous).]
I have a new family member who has hated Lubavichers since I've known him. This guy doesn't know how to shut his mouth and to exercise a bit of discretion when relieving himself of his need to give his opinion MONTHS after being fought, debated, and most recently and the most current trend, ignored. As if he is a child in diapers with the need to pee, he just lets it out and he feels good and hot and wet until the next time the urge arises. He doesn't realize that like a mosquito that buzzes in someone's ear, one day he is bound to get swatted. I have been very careful what to say to him and what not to say. In fact, I don't think I've ever held my tongue as much as I've held it around this man. I hope the day never comes when I let him have a piece of my mind where I tell him what I think of him.
The topic of his tirade is my religiousness. For a while, he felt inferior that I was living what he used to refer to as "the diamond standard" of Judaism, where one lives his life as a Jew, doing daily what a Jew does. Around a year ago, he began to change his tone when he realized that the end result of my being what he referred to as "a work in progress" would not lead me to becoming more like him. Recently, he has been on this war path with me trying to convince me that Chabad Chassidim are all members of a cult. Playing on my obvious weaknesses and my religious frustrations (i.e. style of dress, abstinence with women, the shidduch system of dating, etc.) like an asshole would, he has twisted the truth into a disfigured and warped picture that could make any onlooker vomit from the disgust for one's own kind his picture portrays. He is a Jew hater and he is a self-lover.
If it weren't for the Torah that I have learned and the simple laws of halacha (Jewish Law) that is the basis of everything we are allowed to do or forbidden to do, I would assert that his logic is correct. Since I have become religious, I was molded into the typical Chassidic Jew. I was influenced to grow a long, uncut beard which I have not trimmed (and I do not intend to trim). I was taught about halacha, the stringencies, and the leniencies. I was also taught about the customs of various tzaddikim (ultra-spiritual religious individuals) whom we follow, and we have a Rebbe who we believe was on a higher spiritual level than most. It is this last point about the customs and the following of a Rebbe that my mother's husband can not understand and will never want to understand. He sees him as an academic Torah scholar and nothing else.
His comparisons objectively of Hasidic Judaism (and more generally in my opinion, all orthodox Judaism) being akin to a cult are dead on. I have been taught to seclude myself from the other sex. I have been influenced to follow a senior authority figure. I have been taught the benefits of subservience of the individual to a higher power, namely bitul (self-nullification) to G-d's will. I have been influenced to dress differently and to separate myself as much as possible from the temptations of the secular world (movies, television, etc.) This is not a set of secret rules for cult members; these are the rules that every religious Jew (even my anonymous friend, JMO, who loves to give me hard answers) are obligated to follow.
The individuals who are in my circle of influence are some of the most religious and morally upright people I have ever met. They are simple, religious Jews. I have nothing wrong with even making the observation that they are the highest quality individuals I have ever met. They are all striving to be the best they can be, and they follow halacha (Jewish law) in a way I aspire to one day be able to. They have a devotion that drives them like I've never seen before.
They live their lives sacrificing their own desires to help others have a closer connection with G-d. There have been many times that my Rabbi has told me that he wishes that he could have a real job that makes a good salary instead of living on donations and fundraising. The Rabbi here in Beijing (I could see it in his face) loved being back in New York with the other forty-five thousand Jews who showed up last week to pay their respects to the Rebbe and to spend their weekend in a little uncomfortable tent next to the graveyard in Queens where the Rebbe is buried. The learning I know that the Rabbi from Beijing, my Rabbi, and all of the other shluchim did last weekend (shluchim, a.k.a. emissaries of the Rebbe are individuals who are sent out to the far corners of the world to build Jewish communities and to provide services such as kosher food, a shabbos meal, temple service, and a friendly hello to various Jews who are spread out across the globe) could not ever be compared to the months of daily learning they do with the simple Jews teaching them the Aleph Bais (Hebrew alphabet) or the concept of Shabbos (the Sabbath). They basically give up their own desires of good learning, and being close to their parents, and they move out and do what needs to be done so that the world does not lose its spiritual richness. These people give everything up so that another Jew will know what it means to be Jewish, and these are some of the kindest and most giving people I have ever met.
Don't ever tell me that they are conspirators in a cult designed to overthrow the Jewish orthodoxy.