Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidism

Note: The name "Chabad" is a Hebrew acronym for the expression "Chokmah," "Binah" and "Da'at"--Wisdom, Intelligence and Knowledge. These Kabbalistic terms are central to the distinctive intellectual theology of the movement.

The name Lubavitch refers to a town in Lithuania that was the centre of the movement for a brief period during the nineteenth century.

Rabbi Shneiur Zalman of Ladi (1746-1812)

  • Chabad in Recent Generations

    Chabad Hasidism continued to be a major force among Russian and Lithuanian Jews from its inception. Under Soviet rule, the dedication of the movement provided a powerful underground force active in keeping alive traditional Judaism in spite of government persecutions. With the collapse of Russian Communism, Chabad was one of the important participants in educating a generation of Jews that had been forcibly deprived of their religious heritage for generations.

    In 1940 the head of the movement Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson moved to America from Russia. From the outset he expressed his determination to make the Lubavitch movement into an American religious movement (e.g., by abandoning the traditional European long frocks in favour of American-style dress).

    The aggressive posture was especially encouraged by his successor Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson.
    Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch
    Under his leadership the movement established a complex of religious and educational institutions (including publishing houses, billboards, telethons, as well as children's clubs and summer camps) whose principal objective was to reach out to the vast numbers of American Jews who had grown up without any real exposure to "authentic" religious Judaism.

    In pursuing its objectives the Lubavitch movement made efficient use of the full range of American advertising and public relations media. Chabad was particularly influential during the 1960's and early 1970's when the youth culture of the day was rebelling against the materialistic institutions of the large religious movements in favour of spiritual alternatives. Through its campus "Chabad Houses," the Lubavitch movement was able to present itself as a credible alternative to Eastern religions, drug culture, radical politics and other foreign paths that were attracting Jewish youth.

    Here is an alternative version of this account, from a follower of Chabad

    Dear Professor Segal,

    While perusing your interesting and informative website for the first time, I came across several statements concerning the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of whom I am a follower, that I feel are inaccurate and need to be addressed.

    You state that "towards the end of his life he became unable to communicate, and various factions began to make statements in his name." You cite several examples, the first being statements concerning the giving up of land in Israel, G-d forbid. Please note that the Rebbe himself spoke many times about this, emphasizing the fact that it is abolutely forbidden according to the Shulchan Aruch to give up land, and well as similar ideas. To claim that this is a recent innovation on the part of his chassidim is patently false.

    Also, concerning the coming of Moshiach, please note; the Rebbe himself stated clearly that the "time of your Redemption has arrived," and he emphasized that he was making this statement as a prophecy. He said much more than to simply prepare ourselves for the Redemption, as you state. He said that the Redemption has begun. No Lubavitcher will argue with this. The Rebbe also said quite clearly that he is Moshiach, in many sichos. True, he never said the words "I am Moshiach," but he make numerous unmistakable allusions to that fact, so that there can be no question regarding his identity.

    As to what transpired on Gimmel Tammuz, there is some debate. But note that many sources state clearly that Moshiach can come from among the dead. Of course, in my opinion and in the educated opinion of many Lubavitchers, the Rebbe did not die. In the sefer Arba Meos Shekel Kessef, by R. Chaim Vital, he states that Moshiach will disappear briefly, while he receives the soul of Moshiach, and will then reappear, at which point everyone will flock to him.

    Also note that the Rebbe himself said that this generation is different than the previous generation in that there will be no histalkus, and that the Nasi haDor is not subject to geniza. There are many other things the Rebbe stated, telling us that he is Moshiach, and to one who is intellectuallly honest with himself, there is no doubt.

    When Moshe Rabbeinu went up on Har Sinai, the satan showed Bnei Yisroel -- Moshe Rabbeinu's "chassidim" -- an image of Moshe indicating that he had died.

    The Rebbe said most importantly that all that remains is Kabballos haAm, that the Jewish people accept Moshiach as Moshiach. That is our avodah now. Yechi haMelech.

    Towards the end of his life Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson suffered from a series of strokes and became unable to communicate directly with his followers. During this time various factions of the movements began to make statements in the name of their "Rebbe" that moved Chabad into new directions.

    For example, the movement, which had previously refrained from active involvement in questions of Israeli politics, began to take outspoken positions against the Israeli government's readiness to withdraw from occupied territories as part of a peace settlement.

    More significantly, Rabbi Schneerson's exhortations to prepare for the coming of the Messiah were perceived as predictions that the redemption was immanent. This developed into a conviction that their Rebbe was himself the designated Messiah. This latter perception was fueled by a combination of factors: The Hasidim's reverence for their extraordinary leader; the remarkable historical events surrounding the victorious expansion of Israel and the collapse of the Eastern bloc; and the fact that Rabbi had left no heir or designated successor.

    So great was their faith in Rabbi Schneerson that, following his death in 1993, the Chabad movement did not appoint a new leader. Many of the Hasidim still await his return as the Messiah.

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