Tea Parties and #Farbrengens – An Overview of the #ChabadCalendar

Tea Parties and Farbrengens: An Overview of the Chabad Calendar

By: Dovi Seldowitz

The Chabad movement is widely known for their public celebrations of Jewish life and ritual; these celebrations are very often aimed at encouraging other Jews to celebrate Jewish religious holidays and to perform the rituals and customs associated with that day. Less widely known to outsiders is the additional number of Chasidic holidays on the Chabad calendar. These days carry a special significance to the Chabad community and are commemorated each year, mainly by the students and faculty of Chabad yeshivot, as well as a number of people living in various Chabad communities. The Chabad holiday is a particular type of Chasidic celebration, found in abundance in the Chabad movement; few other Chasidic groups claim so many days of celebration.

There are around two dozen Chabad holidays, each with varying degrees of notability and celebration.[1] Some are well known even outside of Chabad and are celebrated by many within Chabad. Others are relatively unknown and are celebrated in a number of yeshivot but little elsewhere. Chabad holidays usually involve three kinds of celebration, “liberation days” (or “chag hageula“), birthdays and yartzeits (anniversary of death). The “liberation day” typically involved the release of one of the Chabad rebbes from imprisonment by the Russian authorities (Czarist or communist), other days which loosely fit in this category include events which are considered as having the same spiritual associations as the other liberation days.[2] The Hebrew dates in this category include the 10th of Kislev, the 19th of Kislev and the 12th and 13th of Tammuz among others. Notable birthdays include the birthday of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad (on the 18th of Elul), and the birthday of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (11th of Nissan) among others. Notable yartzeits include the 3rd of Tammuz (passing of the Rebbe), the 10th of Shvat (passing of the previous rebbe) and the 22nd of Shvat (passing if the Rebbe’s wife, the Rebbetzin, Chaya Mushka Schneerson) among others. Birthdays and holidays are important days for Chabad Chasidim; among other Chasidic groups, birthdays are not commonly celebrated. There are some miscellaneous days, such as the marriage of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin (14th of Kislev), which do not fit in the above mentioned categories but are treated in a similar manner as birthdays or yartzeits.

For sociologists, holidays are seen as days serving to socialize members of society, however, no two holidays serve the same exact societal role. Also, holidays are often recast or re-engineered to render continued significance in societies undergoing significant changes.[3] In the case of Chabad holidays, this effort at socialization is quite salient as the most typical form of celebration of a Chabad holiday is in the form of the farbrengen, a gathering of Chasidim where the story and moral lessons of the holiday is retold and an effort is made by the participants to reaffirm their connection to God and their commitment to the teachings of the Rebbe.

Interestingly, Chabad holidays contain a certain level of innovative spirit in comparison to traditional Jewish holidays (as practiced in Orthodox communities); there are a number of stark differences between Chabad holidays and ordinary Jewish holidays. The most obvious difference is that Jewish holidays contain both cultural and religious elements; Chabad holidays have, for the most part, little or no “religious” aspect to them (there are no blessings to recite, etc.) leaving the day to be solely a celebration of Chabad history and culture.[4] And unlike traditional Jewish holidays which usually involve an event that occurred to the Jewish People, Chabad holidays revolve around the lives of the rebbes; that is not to say the original events did not involve the Chasidim, but that they occupy a peripheral space in the day’s history and celebration. Additionally, Chabad holidays are, for the most part, not celebrated in a uniform manner; there is little or no specific instructions on how these dates are to be celebrated, though there is plenty of open-ended customs (e.g. organize a farbrengen, commit to resolutions for additional Torah study and the study of the teachings of Chasidut)[5] all which lend to a good deal of variances in practice.

The Chabad calendar is a significant example of how the movement stands out among other Chasidic (and for that matter, Jewish) groups with regards to cultural innovation. The numerous Chabad holidays celebrated by the movement’s yeshiva students may help account for the high level of commitment the young men and women of Chabad have in dedicating themselves in outreach activities. Chabad holidays should be seen as exercise in some of the many ways the Jewish People may be reinvigorated, celebrating their heritage and living as proud Jews.

Footnotes:

[1] See, Nachum Rabinowitz, Yomei D’pagra, Ledorot – Eshel, Kfar Chabad: Israel, 2012.

[2] For example, Hey Teves, the day marking the legal victory in the lawsuit over the ownership of the Chabad library, is considered in Chabad not merely a decision over physical books but over the spiritual approval for the spreading of Chasidic teachings. See, Chaim Miller, Turning Judaism Outward: A Biography of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Kol Menachem, 2014, pp. 364-366.

[3] See, Amitai Etzioni, “Holidays: The Neglected Seedbeds of Virtue,” The Monochrome Society, Princeton University Press, 2003, pp. 118-119, 130-132.

[4] The rare example of a specific religious custom associated with Chabad holidays is the practice of omitting the confessional prayers (tachanun) on a number of Chabad “liberation days.” See for example, Menachem Z. Greenglass and Yehudah L. Groner, Sefer Haminhagim: The Book of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs, Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn: New York, 1994, pp. 89, 150.

[5] See for example, Menachem M. Schneerson, Hayom Yom… From Day to Day, Kehot Publication Society, Brooklyn: New York, 1988 pp. 4-4a.

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