Saturday, July 16, 2005

Don't ever tell me Chabad is a cult.

[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.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your new family member. Your cult is filled with liars and cheats. They beg and profit for their own lifestyle. They treat woman like cattle and anyone other than people like them are in the wrong. Grow out of it and become a member of the human race.

Zoe Strickman said...

It sounds so funny to me that you would write such a thing, and that you would purposefully neglect to sign your name. I hear such hatred from your words, and yet all I spoke about in my post was how these people sacrifice their lives to help others reconnect with their Jewish identities.

I have been convinced for a while that you ARE this family member I have been speaking about, and now I feel as if you have confirmed my feelings. Drop your hatred, it is eating away at your soul and causing us separation. Why do you hate me for the group of people whose minhagim (customs), Rebbeim, and Chassidus I follow?

Remember that you are commanded by G-d to have Ahavas Isroel (love your fellow Jew) rather than to cause more strife and fragmentation within the Jewish people. Your misnagdishe hatred causes others to look down on Jews as a non-unified people. Your force is destructive, not productive. Can't you see that?

Rowan said...

As you know I am not Jewish. However, in the religion I keep meaning to turn back to, the true devotees wear uniforms, and are taught that it is a sin to surround yourself with sinners (unless you are offering them a hand up). Does this mean that I was once a member of a cult as well? BTW, we also are taught that men and women should not intermix without chapperones and intimacy prior to marriage is strictly forbidden. Personally, I think more people in the world could benefit with a set of morals and scuples. So many seem to be lacking, and worse than that, are completely ignorant of why they are living a life of sin. I personally, would like to take the blinders off more people. There is nothing wrong with being passionate about your beliefs. Besides, whoever you are, attacking Zoe and his methods....why does it matter to you? Do you think he's contagious? Why shouldn't he be allowed to live in any manner he sees fit. If he was a large sinner, would you even care?

[sorry for that Zoe, your post just got me heated up a little, *sigh* I'm better now]

Zoe Strickman said...

Wow, you stuck up for me! Thank you! I must admit, there have only been around three times IN MY LIFE that someone has stuck up for me. First time - my mom protecting me against my dad, and second time - the class heavy metal cool muscle guy (Fred) when the popular kids tried to beat me up (again). The third time was when my female cousin stuck up for me when my friends started to make fun of me. You're right though. People shouldn't attack other people for their value judgments, especially when they are helping other people in the process. It's not nice.

Rowan said...

hopefully you took my sticking up for you as a compliment and not a girl fighting a guy's battle for him. Wasn't trying to hurt your ego.

Zoe Strickman said...

Yup. It was nice.

Anonymous said...

I am a secular Jew who lived in a neighborhood into which ultra-Orthodox families began to move about eight years ago. With teh exception of one neighbor (a rabbi who made it his mission to make non-religious Jews more religious) the Orthodox did not say hello to their secular neighbors - not a smile, or a nod of recognition. I have never known any group of people as rude and arrogant as these. But I am grateful to them: their behavior toward me, toward other secular Jews, and to non-Jews was so disgusting that I credit them with turning me from a Jew who attended synagogue three times a year to a Jew who does not attend synagogue. Chabad-Lubavitch and Aish Hatorah are creepy religious cults. Parents: keep your kids away from these nut jobs. They sure know alot about Orthodox Judaism, but not much about being kind.

Zoe Strickman said...

It appears to me that you have found this web site by searching the terms Chabad and cult which is the first issue or that you are one of my personal friends who have had personal encounters with me and my peers. This is an old post, but it is still as true as the day I wrote it when I was in China in 2005.

I feel that your comment is uninformed because the whole purpose of Chabad is to teach people like yourself about who you are and to inform you of your obligation to practice the commandments that have been given to you. You might be a banker, a soldier, or a McDonalds burger-flipper, but you're still a Jew. Pardon your neighbors not coming over to your house to eat or for not joining you in your secular activities of which they have no interest or part -- the life of an orthodox Jew is a busy life with lots of responsibilities which you as a non-observant Jew either do not know about or have no interest in practicing.

I was studying with a close friend of mine who lived in Borough Park for many years -- a Jewish guy with a good heart, but limited observance. He means well, but I fear that his view of himself and his observance level is quite larger than is his actual practice. I learned Gemara with him shortly before he left to Iraq (at his request), and then before leaving, after me offering to provide his troops with Siddurim and reminding him to remember the Shabbat when he was abroad, he accused me of being a Lubavich missionary when I've been his been his best friend for over 10 years.

It is people like you who baffle me by allowing your egos to overcome your sense of sensibility and honesty about your level of observance of G-d's commandments. You think you are holier and mightier than the highest Rebbe, and you belittle religious people who actually know their place in the world and know how limited they are in their greatness in contrast to your own self-righteousness which convinces you that you are just as "religious" as they are. If only you knew how disastrous it is for you to pick up a phone or turn on a light on the Sabbath, you would never do so, but you do so unknowing the implications. That is where a fellow Jew comes in -- to remind you of who you are and to bring you closer to the truth which is Torah, mitzvos, and doing G-d's will.

As for your cult comment, forgive me for sneering at your ignorance. I am familiar with what certain Jewish organizations do, and I too believe some of their methods are creepy, but not Chabad. I've spent my entire life around them and now am part of them and I believe as one of them that their only interests are your best interests. Chos v'sholom you call a group of individuals who don't befriend your heiness (I spelled it that way on purpose) a cult.

Anonymous said...

well chabad recruiters sure act kinda funny.

this is how they talk to a normal jew.

uiyui said...
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ariel said...

Chabad is not a cult. they try to increase knowledge in the jewish community. they encourage people to ask questions. that is the opposite of a cult.

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Moss David Posner said...

I stumbled across this site while doing some research. I chose to attend Chabad services and to learn. No one cohered me to do anything. Moreover, each individual makes his own choices.
Halacha is what it is. It has not changed. You have three choices: 1) follow Halacha, 2) chose which Halichot you decide to follow, 3) don't follow Halacha.
Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?
As far as rudeness, or whatever, worse case, that should be the most tragic thing that befell you. Best case, people are people; and committed Jews often don't choose to spend their attention with non-committed Jews. I don't believe I am rude, or lacking in compassion, but I feel similarly. It's a choice.
Finally, can't you think of anything more important to you to worry about?

Anonymous said...

my worry is that the difference between a cult and a religion is almost negligable. How can one tell that someone has been brainwashed or been uplifted by g-d's words?? i'm worried that soon all that will be left is non believers and extremists of religion. having just come back from my first shabbat dinner at chabad i found everyone so warm and welcoming however the whole way through dinner all i could keep thinking was 'they are all so nice, why?' is this a sign of modern times, that i can not trust anyone without thinking there is an alterior motive? or are my suspicions correct? that perhaps this loving family that i was welcomed into was all a front to recruit more members to the 'cause' as of yet i'm undecided but its an interesting argument...

masaru said...

Your mother's husband is ignorant, I agree. But that doesn't meen that Chabad is not a racist cult. I was raised in a modern orthodox shul with many mitnag rabbis. After going to UCSB where I went to Chabad many times, the things they teach Jews is absurd, such as gentiles being "less human" than Jews for not having a neshama. I was never taught that growing up. Chabad and all other Chasidism are not Orthodox, b/c the rebbi in the religion halachically presents a problem. Altough assimilation of Jews is bad, I have more respect for gentiles/less of a problem with secular Jews who have academic wisdom than to Chassids so long as they don't discourage observant jews from practicing.

Rangdrol said...

I like your blog, you say what you believe. Underneath it though, I sense a lot of anger, mostly anger, at your father-in-law, and at others.

The frightening thing about Chabad is how they relate to non-Jews, and what about people like me, an avowed atheist who believes in humanism?

I worry about my ex-Jewish friend who left Brookline to go live in Israel, and who stated one day, that he would level the playing field and get rid of every Arab in Israel, using his pistol and his skills he had acquired at the local firing range. And I used to think of him as a spiritual guy, yet after that, several years ago, I still tremble at his words, his hatred.

Now, living in Montreal, I think about a young gay Jewish teenager who hides his sexuality in drugs and alcohol, and who claims to love beating up Arabs at local bars...and the fact that he says he is proud to be a Jew.

How is it that the only way he can feel proud of his religion and his being is to lose himself in drugs and alcohol, in physical violence, and in denial?

That is what saddens me about the organization. I think that people need to lessen their grips on their faiths, their nationalities, their beliefs and start seeing that they are no different that those who claim that it is "they" who claim to have the TRUTH. From what I have seen, it is those who claim to know the truth who are the furthest from it, and for that to happen, one simply has to desire knowledge, and one never has to walk into temple, church, whatever.

I hope that you will continue to live an ethical life but that you will try to open your heart and go from there.

Anonymous said...

This is a very old post, so this comment on it probably won't get read. Nevertheless, my reaction to the post is that the author has not debated any of the criticisms of chabad but merely expressed some animus towards a family member.

I would suggest reading David Berger's analysis of chabad doctrine which is academically rigorous and builds an extremely convincing case. In a nutshell, Chabad institutions tend to revere Schneerson as the Messiah (who will return, now that he's dead), in some cases even as a vessel of God Himself, an extremely Christian notion. Chabbad also teaches a version of radical pantheism drawn from Lurianic kabbala which was, for thousands of years, never part of normative Judaism.
In fact, it's worth noting that Chassidim in general of which Chabbad are a subset, are an extremely recent phenomenon in the grand sweep of Jewish history. When they first appeared, the Vilna Gaon, the foremost Torah scholar of that era, issued rulings that Chassidim were in fact heretics and were to be avoided, even persecuted. In my view, the emphasis on pantheistic mysticism in Chassidis is a parallel of gnostic influence on the Christian church. Basically, these are beliefs incompatible with the central core of traditional Judaism, which is that God is one, indivisible and perfect, as opposed to being divided into "heavenly spheres" and a "female and male" presence, etc.

If you wish to be a religious Jew, I would suggest to you there is nothing stopping you from joining a modern Orthodox congregation, which does not engage in "rebbe worship" and, in my opinion, has a closer link to the authentic Torah tradition.
If you wish to stay part of chabad, I would think it incumbent on you to investigate and meditate honestly on the criticisms against the movement you seem to revere (if you still do in 2011), if only to be able to answer them in your own mind with a better argument than simply, 'I like those people.'

Best wishes from a fellow Jew

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Anonymous said...

You haven't learned as much Torah law as you claim if you think its okay to refer to your own father as an "asshole".

Zoe Strickman said...

Obviously I was and am not perfect, and I harbored many negative thoughts about my father, even as I became frum. I agree with you that parental respect (kibud av'v'aim) is hugely important, and that was something I was never taught growing up.