The Mashpia in Chabad

The Mashpia in Chabad

By: Dovi Seldowitz

In sociology, significant attention has been drawn towards people of power and influence; generally speaking, the major types of “power elite” are those who are most influential in the world of business, military and government,[1] although elites exist on a number of levels in various different fields and sub fields. In Chabad, the mashpia (spiritual mentor), exists in a category of its own, and elite mashpiim exert their influence beyond their traditional role of mentor.[2]

Traditionally, the mashpia (either male or female, though more commonly male) was the title of a spiritual mentor in Chabad yeshivot and/or for the general community. Both of these roles concerned men and women who provided inspiration and teaching to other Chasidim. The mashpia typically leads public gatherings (“farbrengens“) and would speak about personal growth (“avodat Hashem“) and Chabad philosophy. The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, sought to expand this role and encouraged and expanded both communal and private mashpia roles. The Rebbe advocated for communities to appoint a mashpia To guide the community as well as a rabbi who aside from his training in Jewish law should be versed in Chabad teachings, the rabbi would then be in the unique position to be able issue halachik rulings while keeping in mind the values of Chabad Chasidus. The private mashpia role concerned the Rebbe’s imperative that the individual Chasid should seek a mentor to help guide him or her through difficult life decisions.[3] Thus, a mashpia is a term that may be applied to a number of types of people with varying degrees of social influence.

While individual instances may vary, generally speaking, the influence of mashpiim rank according to the number of people who seek the mashpia’s advice, the official title carried by the mashpia, and the social status of the community, congregation or yeshiva they are associated with. On the lower end of the influence spectrum is the “private mashpia” who advises one or several people but does not hold any official post. Their influence extends to those who seek their advice and at times to the family members of those people seeking advice. The “mid-range mashpia” is associated with a local yeshiva or a small community; the extent of this influence will vary and may be decided by the degree of the mashpia’s charisma or the stature accorded to him/her by the yeshiva or community. The “elite mashpiim” are those who are associated with prominent yeshivos, congregations and communities; the degree of their influence would also depend on their personal charisma and the honor accorded to them.

Unfortunately, prior social scientific research on Chabad has tended to overlook the mashpia and his/her role in the Chabad movement. Research on Chabad and its organizational structure would be incomplete without establishing the place and influence these men and women occupy in the Chabad community. Particular attention should be paid to the “elite mashpiim,” their influence may very well help shape the course the Chabad movement takes in the future.

Footnotes:
[1] See, C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, 1999.
[2] The term “mashpia” is also used for spiritual mentors in the Breslov Chasidic community. In some non-Hasidic communities the term reserved for such mentors is “mashgiach ruchani“.
[3] See for example, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “Purim,” Sefer Hasichot 5747, Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn: New York, 1987; Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “2 Adar,” Sefer Hasichot 5748, Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn: New York, 1988.

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