Mikvah: The Secret of Jewish Sisterhood


By Atara Kaye

The practice of mikvah was a conscious choice made Jewish women throughout history…. Contemporary studies of Jewry rebut claims that Jewish women are oppressed in this regard.

Mikvah, the ritual bath used by many Jewish women to purify themselves after their menstruation, is a subject of great significance to the Jewish People. It’s a ritual that traditional Jewish communities held sacred for thousands of years, one universally practiced in Orthodox Jewish communities today.

Contemporary Jews who are critical of the ritual maintain that mikvah oppresses the Jewish woman to be ‘sex ready’ and clean for their husbands. They assume that this ritual bath for women is forced upon them; they have no choice but to perform this hateful archaic ritual, a relic of an ancient world. Furthermore, the critics would understand this women’s ritual as an instrument of a patriarchy disgusted by menstrual bleeding, declared menstruating women as dirty and unclean. This fear by men was the reason for Jewish men to force their wives to accept oppressing laws that forbid intercourse during menstruation and took as far as forbidding the husband and wife to eat from the same plate of food. This fearful rite translated in Jewish women dreading their monthly menstruation, expecting to be met by the rejection by their spouses due to this oppressing ritual.

It’s likely that these arguments may be rooted in a Christian feminist allegation during the 1970s that the Jewish People invented the patriarchy and that Judaism is the source of society’s sexism, a claim which appeared to the Jewish community simply as a feminist version of classic Christian antisemitism.

Regardless of the source of the criticism of mikvah, this perspective very well may be the case for some women, at the same time, it would not reflect the entirety of the Jewish woman’s experience. Perhaps mikvah is more meaningful than one might think. Why would women continue to practice a law through the ages, even during times when performing any Jewish ritual could incur a death penalty from the non-Jewish authorities? If Jewish women were so oppressed by this seemingly ancient tradition, they would have dropped the ritual at the first opportunity, and there were numerous occasions throughout Jewish history to do exactly so (e.g. the Greek Hellenization, Roman occupation, Spanish Inquisition, etc.). Perhaps the reason this mitzvah continues to exist, even thrive, in a postmodern world is because this ritual is much deeper and meaningful for Jewish women. Perhaps the practice of mikvah was a conscious choice made Jewish women throughout history. Mikvah may just be the secret of the Jewish sisterhood, a sisterhood that both empowers women as well as gives them the feeling of equality in a patriarchal world.

If this positive perspective is true, mikvah may be a great historical example of feminism and sisterhood. The halacha of mikvah has been traditionally passed on to women, and many women see their fulfillment of the ritual at the very center of their religious identity. Of course, going to mikvah would be different for each woman. Context as well as environment can have a significant impact on a woman’s attitude to the arrival of her mikvah night. Some might see going to mikvah at night as exciting and even mysterious, while others may feel with anger and resentment for an obligation that would require them to go out late at night in the freezing winter or to pass through a dangerous side of town, etc. (Wasserfall, 1999). In some communities in Israel, women would see this ritual as either patriarchal (institutionalised by men) or increasingly politicised (Cicurel, 2000).

In any case, contemporary studies of Jewry rebut claims that Jewish women are oppressed in this regard.  Scholars have found that American Jewish women who are mikvah users do not have a significantly different negative view towards menstruation than non-mikvah users. Additionally, researchers found that mikvah users felt significantly more inter-menstrual arousal than non-mikvah users (Siegel, 1986). In fact, many observant American Jewish women see mikvah as an enhancement to their family life (Wasserfall, 1999). This finding may lend support for the Jewish understanding of the concept of mikvah as a tool for revitalising the marriage with passion (Boteach, 2000).

We see that the practice of mikvah is one Jewish women throughout the ages were proud of, and even today, it is a practiced embraced by many, a rite seen as a secret of Jewish sisterhood, a key to Jewish survival.

References

Boteach, S. (2000). Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy. Harmony Books.

Cicurel, I. E. (2000). The Rabbinate versus Israeli (Jewish) women: The Mikvah as a contested domain. Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, 164-190.

Siegel, S. J. (1986). The effect of culture on how women experience menstruation: Jewish women and Mikvah. Women & Health, 10(4), 63-74.

Wasserfall, R. R. (1999). Women and Water. Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law. pp.1 – 14.

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.

Is There a Doctor in the House? #ChabadPhD

Is There a Doctor in the House? The Little Known Story of the Chabad PhD
By Dovi Seldowitz

When comparing and contrasting Chabad to other Chasidic groups it is fairly common to note their different attitudes towards general society. Other Chasidic groups are often described as “insular” and resistant to modernity, Chabad, on the other hand, is deemed open, welcoming and willing to utilize technology for the advancement of Jewish ideals. But looking deeper, Chabad has not only a different attitude towards the outside world, its community includes different types of Chasidim not found in other groups. Among the unique kinds of Chasidim in Chabad is the rather surprising “Chasid PhD.”

The idea of Chasid with a PhD is somewhat counter intuitive; the general Chasidic community and the world of academia are two realms not often bridged; the exception usually being some researcher wishes to study Chasidism and is compelled to spend time in or around the Chasidic community as part of their fieldwork. But in Chabad, mostly due to its intensive outreach, specifically its outreach on universities and college campuses, a significant number of men and women who have earned their doctorates have become a part of the Chabad community. And while the majority of Chabad PhDs joined the community as adults, a few Chabad PhDs were in fact Chasidim their entire lives. A number of these Chabad PhDs enjoyed a personal connection with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was known to have encouraged the PhDs with regards to their work in their respective disciplines, while the younger PhDs have earned their degrees (or joined the movement) after the Rebbe’s passing

Perhaps the most well-known Chabad PhDs are Rabbi Dr. Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel and Dr. Herman (“Yirmiyahu”) Branover. In the Chabad community these three men are well-regarded for their various contributions to the community and have somewhat become “household names.” Immanuel Schochet (PhD in philosophy) authored and translated a number of works for Chabad. Some of his best known works are The Great Maggid, a biography of the Maggid of Mezritch (Rabbi Dovber ben Avraham, teacher and rebbe to the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi), the translation of the Baal Shem Tov’s ethical will (Tzava’at Harivash) and Mystical Concepts in Chassidism.[1] Nissan Mindel (PhD in philosophy, Semitic languages) is noted for serving on the Rebbe’s secretariat but is also highly regarded for his translation of the Tanya, the classic book of Chabad philosophy by Rabbi Schneur Zalman. He also is noted for writing a biography on Rabbi Schneur Zalman, his translation and editing of the previous Rebbe’s memoirs as well as for a number of books and magazines for children which he either authored and edited. Herman Branover (PhD in physics, a pioneer in the field of magnetohydrodynamics) is mostly known for his personal connection with the Rebbe and his work assisting Russian Jews who had migrated to Israel; Branover was also instrumental in the publication of the B’or Hatorah journal (geared specifically toward religious scientists and academics) and organizing the B’or Hatorah conferences.[2]

A number Chabad PhDs have become somewhat known in the Chabad community due to the popularity of stories about their personal connection with the Rebbe;[3] these include Drs. Velvl Greene (biology and epidemiology), Irving (“Yitzchak”) Block (philosophy), Jack (“Yaacov”) Hanoka (physics) and Avraham Michael Hasofer (mathematics) among others. Several Chabad PhDs used Chabad as a subject for their thesis and/or for subsequent academic treatment; included in this group are Drs. Nissan Mindel, Naftali Loewenthal, Kate (“Miriam”) Loewenthal (married to Naftali), Malcolm (“Menachem”) Kovaks, Yaacov Lefcoe among others.[4]

The Chasid PhD certainly plays an important role in the Chabad community but it can be expected to evolve over time. The Chasid-PhDs have been around for some time now and soon one might be able to clearly distinguish between the “first generation” of ChabadPhDs, who earned their degrees during the the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s, from the “second generation” of men and women in the Chabad community, who have earned their PhDs from the mid-90s on. Understanding where these men and women came from and their impact on Chabad will  certainly assist one to gain a finer and more comprehensive understanding of the societal makeup of the Chabad community.

In memory of Rabbi Dr. Akiva (Bernard) Greenberg, a Chasid and professor of sociology.

Footnotes:

[1] See, Eli Rubin and Yaakov Ort, “Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, 77,” Chabad.org, July 28, 2013.

[2] See, Dovid Margolin, “Torah and Science Conference: Putting the Universe in Perspective,” Chabad.org, December 12, 2013.

[3] See, Chaim Miller, Turning Judaism Outward: A Biography of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Kol Menachem, 2014, page 226; Joseph Telushkin, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History, HarperCollins, 2014; Yocheved Miriam Russo, “The Rebbe and the rocket scientist,” Jerusalem Post, January 10, 2007; Dovid Zaklikowski, “Chasidic Scientist, Solar Energy Pioneer, Passes Away: Yaacov (Jack) Hanoka, 75,” Chabad.org, May 11, 2011.

[4] See for example, Nissan Mindel, “Sefer Liqqutei Amarim (Tanya),” PhD diss., Columbia University, 1962; Naftali Loewenthal, Communicating the infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School, University of Chicago Press, 1990; Kate Loewenthal, “Marriage and religious commitment; the case of Chabad Chasidic women,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 5, no. 1-2 (1988): 8-10; Malcolm Kovacs, “The Dynamics of Commitment’: The Process of Resocialization of Ba’alei Teshuvah, Jewish Students in Pursuit of Their Identity at the Rabbinical College of America (Lubavitch),” PhD diss., Union Graduate School, 1977; Yaacov Lefcoe, “Project for a Judaism-inspired Transpersonal Psychology,” PhD diss., York University, Toronto, 2011.

Organizational Leadership in Chabad

The Rebbe as Organizational Leader

By Dovi Seldowitz

The seventh rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), is credited for overseeing one of the largest networks of Jewish institutions and centers following the World War Two. His role as leader of the Chabad movement has been examined in a number of works by scholars and journalists. But a mere description of the Rebbe’s activities will not capture the core nature of the his leadership. One of the many ways to better understand the Rebbe’s leadership is in light of some of the popular theories of leadership. In the case of the Rebbe, organizational leadership, as opposed to institutional leadership, is a theoretical model that may be used to expand our existing understanding of the Rebbe’s role.

In studies on leadership theories, scholars have differentiated between organizational and institutional leadership. A basic difference between the two is that institutional leaders will stress the existing values and power held by the group, promoting an existing (or past) vision (“this is what we stand for”), while organizational leaders promote a new vision and new values for the group, focusing on future change (“this is what we can become”).[1]

Chabad is often noted for its unique position among Chasidic groups. Other Chasidic groups are described as “insular” in the way they separate themselves from contemporary secular society. Chabad, by contrast, has devoted itself to Jewish outreach and is very much involved in the general Jewish world as well society in general. This difference is a direct result of the efforts of the various Chasidic rebbes; most Chasidic rebbes regrouping after World War Two sought to rebuild their communities, focusing inward. The Rebbe, however, focused his efforts outward. The difference between the Rebbe’s leadership and that of the other Chasidic rebbes may parallel the different between organizational and institutional leaders.

The non-Chabad Chasidic communities regrouped and emphasized institutional growth, founding communal institutions, the synagogues and yeshivot, in small neighborhoods in New York and Israel, resembling the shtetls of old. Chabad, to a certain degree, also emphasized institutional building, but the founding of Chabad yeshivot in America was mostly promoted by the previous Rebbe and the Rebbe’s brother-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary,[2] while the Rebbe’s leadership, especially in the early years, was clearly defined by his administration of the Chabad outreach organizations.

The various types of leadership styles, including the organizational and the institutional, have a strong and discernible impact in the groups where those leaders are active. It is interesting that of the major Chasidic groups other than Chabad each rebbe focused on institutional growth, displaying their abilities as institutional leaders. The Rebbe appears as the sole exception, displaying the rare feat of a Chasidic rebbe who excels at organizational leadership.

Footnotes:

[1] See, Marvin Washington, Kimberly B. Boal, and John N. Davis, “Institutional leadership: Past, present, and future.” The Sage Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism (2008): 721-735.

[2] See, Chaim Miller, Turning Judaism Outward: A Biography of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Kol Menachem, 2014, pp. 149-150.

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.

The Mazkirus

The Mazkirus: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Executive Staff

By: Dovi Seldowitz

In understanding the current forms of leadership in Chabad it is essential to be familiar with the role of the Lubvitcher Rebbe’s secretariat, known in Chabad circles as the mazkirus. The seventh Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), “the Rebbe,” had led the Chabad movement assisted by his secretariat who served as his executive staff. The mazkirus were assigned to help oversee the movement’s numerous activities passing on all reports directly to the Rebbe. They communicated the Rebbe’s directives to the movement’s various branch leaders, received all incoming communications (from community members and others), scheduled his meetings with those who wished to speak with the Rebbe privately (knowns as yechidus) and penned many of the Rebbe’s correspondences.

Getting a better idea of who the members of the mazkirus were, what they did and were responsible for, especially in the context of the historical role of the Rebbe’s assistant (the shamash) of previous generations, will help us understand the development of the contemporary form of Chabad leadership. While the Chabad movement today is accustomed to the abundance of rabbis and emissaries acting in central and local leadership positions, this trend is not common to other Chasidic groups. While Chabad’s emphasis on outreach (shlichus) has been the main proponent of this trend, one cannot discount other social forces acting beneath the surface, one of these factors is the Rebbe’s choice of the mazkirus as his executive staff.

Naturally, the immediate precursor to the mazkirus was the secretariat of the previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s staff was in fact quite unique for Chabad as the earlier rebbes had only the need for an attendant, a shamash, whom the Rebbes would normally chose one from the simple folk in their hometown of Lubavitch. Some of these attendants also acted as the servant to the Rebbe’s household. Several anecdotes in Chabad folklore illustrate their simplicity.[1] But Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, in his struggle to preserve the Jewish faith under communist rule, required more than just the help of a simple shamash. Under Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, Chabad had to fund and operate a network of religious institutions, coordinate activities with American Jewish charities and organize Chabad supporters in the U.S. and Canada. Out of this administrative need did the shift from shamash to mazkirus occur. By the time Rabbi Menachem Mendel assumed a formal administrative role (towards the end of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s lifetime), the Chabad community had long become accustomed to the presence of an administrative staff. Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s staff was first formed prior to his assuming the leadership of the movement. The initial team of assistants included the following men who unless indicated served on the mazkirus until the Rebbe’s passing in 1994:

o Chaim Mordechai Aizek Chodakov (joined 1941), Chodakov assisted the previous Rebbe and was instructed by him to assist Rabbi Menachem Mendel in the movement’s new outreach and publication activities; Chodakov served as the head of the mazkirus until his passing in 1993
o Nissan Mindel (joined 1941), Mindel, like Chodakov, assisted the previous Rebbe and was instructed by him to assist Rabbi Menachem Mendel

After the previous Rebbe’s passing in 1950, the staff expanded by another six members, two of them were “inherited” from the staff of the previous Rebbe.

o Avraham Eliyahu Quint (joined 1950 until his death in 1974), prior to 1950, Quint served in the previous Rebbe’s secretariat
o Moshe Leib Rothstein (joined 1950 until his death in 1967), prior to 1950, Rothstein served in the previous Rebbe’s secretariat
o Yehuda Leib (“Leibel”) Groner (joined 1949), among the younger staff Groner was the only one to be hired before the previous Rebbe’s passing
o Shalom Mendel Simpson (joined 1952), Shalom Mendel’s father, Eliyahu Simpson, served in the previous Rebbe’s secretariat
o Yehudah (“Yudel”) Krinsky (joined late 1950s)
o Binyamin Klein (joined late 1950s)

This eight man team (later, six man) made up the Rebbe’s mazkirus.[2] And unlike the simple shamash of the past, these men were all ordained rabbis. Chodakov had previously founded the Torah ve-Derech Eretz School in Latvia and also served in the Latvian parliament; Mindel authored over a dozen works for Chabad including its first translation of Tanya, the foremost Chabad text; Quint authored a scholarly Jewish work of his own; Rothstein was responsible for drafting many of the Rebbe’s scholarly correspondences; the others (the “junior staff”) were all graduates of Chabad yeshivas (of these four Groner was the only one to publish a scholarly work, a book on Chabad customs).

The staff certainly achieved a degree of the Rebbe’s confidence and this meant they were expected to respect the confidentiality of many of the subjects discussed in their presence. According to Rabbi Binyomin Klein “When the Rebbe accepted me to the mazkirus, he told me in the ‘job interview’ that he can’t not make me see things because I have eyes, and cannot stop me from listening because I have ears, but I have control over my mouth and what I see or hear I should not repeat.”[3]

But the mazkirus did more than simply assist the Rebbe write letters; it is fairly certain that these men impacted the course of the movement in their position as the Rebbe’s executive staff. Zalman Schachter, founder of Jewish Renewal, termed the Chabad movement’s emphasis on Jewish outreach as the “Chodakov-ization of Chabad” (referencing Chaim Mordechai Chodakov, who acted as the Rebbe’s right hand in managing Chabad outreach efforts). Mindel’s contribution to Chabad’s English literature should not be underestimated. His works set the standards for the translation of Chasidic texts, the quality of children’s magazines, and guides to Judaism; Chabad has consistently republished his many works over the years. The younger staff became iconic figures in the movement after the Rebbe’s passing (though only Krinsky holds an official title). These men who worked so close to such a great leader share but a few anecdotes at public events and can capture the attention of an entire Chabad community. The status of the Rebbe’s mazkir is one treated with unique respect; their presence creates a tangible connection to the years that have past. Overall, the mazkirus can be said to have played an important part in shaping the Chabad movement, both behind the scenes as well as in the public eye.

The present form of Chabad leadership appears radically different to the stereotypical Chasidic group where followers pay attention to little else but the charisma and personality of their rebbe. What may have helped bridge and transition the movement operating with the constant oversight of the Rebbe to the present wealth in local leadership? While the Chabad emphasis on outreach is an obvious factor, we should not discount the role the mazkirus had in representing a new form of Chasidic leadership. The mazkirus may have been the kind of group that appears once in a lifetime, but the place it occupies in the Chabad community, bridging the Rebbe to the people, must have assisted in the acceptance of the various leadership roles held by Chasidim today.

Footnotes:
[1] See for example, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Likkutei Dibburim (“Collection of Talks”), pp. 421, 757; Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Sefer Hasichot (“Book of Talks”) 5708, p. 235.
[2] See Chaim Miller, Turning Judaism Outward: A Biography of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Brooklyn: New York, Kol Menachem Press, 2014, pp. 194-198.
[3] See “Rabbi Klein Keeps a Secret,” COLlive.com, March 13, 2011.

Is it possible to estimate size of Chabad in the US? #Chabad #Statistics #ChabadSociology

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Chabad estimates vary a great deal. It is often reported that Chabad members number some 200,000.

Samuel Heilman has estimated Chabad at around 40,000. But even he is unsure whether or not to count the Jews who have joined the many Chabad centers across the globe as members of the Chabad movement proper.

Heilman’s figure might not be that far off. But suppose we could get a solid estimate for Chabad in the US using Jewish day school figures?

In the US, there are around 13,000 students in Chabad day schools. Jewish day school education is pretty much the standard among US Orthodox Jews. So it is reasonable to assume that these students are from Chabad homes.

If this is so, suppose we try calculating based on this figure? All we would need is the number of children per Chabad home. Working backwards, we might be able to get a safe estimate for the number of Chabad Jews in the US.

Chabad of Montreal: Here’s the stats!!! #chabad #montreal #chabadsociology

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In 2003, a study conducted in Montreal took a census of the ultra Orthodox in Montreal. Included in the reapondenta of that study, were 287 Chabad households (in this case, respondents self-identified as Chabad).

While the study was conducted a decade ago, it is the most current data on this community. So here’s what we know about Chabad in Montreal:

Total households
•There are around 287 households that identify as Chabad.
•Chabad households make up 13% of the ultra Orthodox community (there are an estimated 2,193 ultra Orthodox households), and 0.6% of the total Jewish population in Montreal (there are an estimated 41,125 Jewish households). Note that the general Jewish population has fewer persons per household.

Number of people
•The estimated number of persons living in Chabad households is 1,590 (the mean size of Chabad households is 5.54, and 6.67 when excluding childless households).

The number of persons per household varies:
•10.5% have 1 person (30 households in total)
•39.9% have 2-5 persons (114 households)
•39.2% have 6-9 persons (112 households)
•10.5% have 10+ persons (30 households)

Children
•The estimated number of children living in Chabad households is 1,038 (the mean number per Chabad household is 3.62, and 4.63 when excluding childless households).

The number of children varies per household:
•9.9% have 1 child (22 households in total)
•58.3% have 2-5 children (130 households)
•26.6% have 6-9 children (59 households)
•5.4% have 10+ children (12 households)

Fertility rate
•The fertility rate among Chabad women of Montreal is estimated at 5.06.

Age
•The mean age is 22.46.

Here’s a breakdown by age group:
•45.8% are aged 0-14 (712 persons in total)
•20.9% are 15-24 (324 persons)
•17.1% are 25-44 (266 persons)
•12.1% are 45-64 (188 persons)
•1.9% are 65-74 (30 persons)
•2.1% are 75+ (33 persons)

Ethnic background (Sephardi/Ashkenazi
•Of the 526 respondents and spouses, 94 (17.9%) identified as Sephardi, and 432 (82.1%) as Ashkenazi.

References

Shahar, Charles. “Main Report: A Comprehensive Study of the Ultra Orthodox Community of Greater Montreal (2003)”. Federation CJA (Montreal). (2003): pp. 7-33.

Chabad Synagogues Increase in MetroWest NJ #ChabadSociology #ChabadStatistics

MetroW NJThe 2012 MetroWest Jewish Population Update Study“, conducted by Ira Sheskin, updated the information from the 1998 MetroWest Jewish Population Study.

The study surveyed Jewish life in Essex, Morris, Sussex and northern Union Counties in the state of New Jersey.

Presented in the study’s report was the number of synagogues and affiliated households.

Chabad-affiliated synagogues were not specifically highlighted in the findings but were grouped within the Orthodox synagogue count.

After examining the report, it became clear that roughly half of the Orthodox synagogues are in fact Chabad. This was also true for the nuber of affliated households. See table below.

Synagogues 1998 Household Count 2008 Household Count 2012 Household Count
All Orthodox 33 1,031 3,217 3,378
Chabad 16 61 1,402 1,558
Chabad Percentage 48% 6% 44% 46%

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And when comparing Chabad to all synagogues in that area, Chabad appears to make up 20% of all synagogues, but only 8% of affiliated households. See table below.

Synagogues 1998 Household Count 2008 Household Count 2012 Household Count
All Denominations 82 12,108 19,247 18,781
Chabad 16 61 1,402 1,558
Chabad Percentage 20% 1% 7% 8%

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Methodology Note: We’ve identified this list of Chabad synagogues by a) having “Chabad” (or “Lubavitch”) in it’s name, and b) by visiting the synagogue website (e.g. on the “about” page). The other Orthodox synagogues either identified as “Modern Orthodox” or gave no indication as to being affiliated with Chabad.

Below is a complete list of Chabad synagogue totals, as listed in the report.

Synagogue City County 1998 2008 2012 2008-2012
Increase/
(Decrease)
Bris Avrohom/Congregation Shomrei Torah
Ohel Yosef Yitzchok
Hillside Union NA NA NA NA
Chabad at Short Hills/Ahavat Torah Short Hills Essex NA NA NA NA
Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey Rockaway Morris NA 250 250 0
Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge/
Chabad of Somerset, Hunterdon & Union
Counties
Basking Ridge Somerset NA 75 150 75
Chabad of Montville Township Montville Morris 0 50 75 25
Chabad of Mountain Lake-Boonton
Township-Denville
Denville Morris NA 30 30 0
Chabad of Northwest NJ-Western Region Flanders Morris NA 50 50 0
Chabad of Randolph Randolph Morris 0 60 40 -20
Chabad of Sussex County Sparta Sussex 0 70 100 30
Chabad of Union County Fanwood Union 0 15 30 15
Chai Center of Millburn/Short Hills Short Hills Essex NA 80 90 10
Congregation Levi Yitzchok/
Rabbinical College of America
Morristown Morris NA 100 100 0
Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah/
Chabad Center of SE Morris County
Parsippany Morris 25 35 30 -5
Lubavitch Center Shul West Orange Essex 36 52 68 16
Maplewood Jewish Center / Congregation
Beth Ephraim
Maplewood Essex NA 35 45 10
Union County Torah Center Westfield Union NA 500 500 0
Total: 16 61 1402 1558 156

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General Note: Many synagogues were unable to provide estimates for 1998 membership. Changes reflect only those synagogues for which 2008 and 2012 information is available. Italicized numbers are used to indicate reasonable estimates where data are not available.

References:

Sheskin, Ira M. (2013). The 2012 MetroWest Jewish Population Update Study. Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. http://databank.bjpa.org/Studies/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=2383

Chabad and Hillel Learn from Each Other #ChabadSociology #ChabadandHillel

Hillel-LogoIn the spirit of the upcoming Jewish New Year, we’d like to point to a finding that should warm your heart.

Chabad on Campus and Hillel are two Jewish organizations that serve the needs of Jewish students at universities all across the United States.

In may ways, they are engaged in a fierce competition. They compete for student involvement and public support. Their approaches are different, but they are playing on the same turf.

But one student found that Chabad and Hillel learn from each other.

In her Master’s Thesis, Heath Watenmaker at HUC points to some of the ways the organizations influence one another. According to Watenmaker: “Largely in response to Chabad’s presence on campus, Hillel has actively tried to incorporate more of a family feel into their Shabbat experience… Perhaps as an adaptation to Hillel’s ability to successfully reach large groups of students with highly social events, Chabad now holds events like paintballing… and they have monthly social gatherings.”

While this does not account for the experience at all campuses, this is a development that is wonderful to see.

References:

Watenmaker, Heath A. Building Bridges, Creating Community: How Hillel and Chabad Reach out to Students on Campus. HUC-JIR School of Jewish Nonprofit Management (formerly School of Jewish Communal Service) Masters Theses. Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion School of Jewish Communal Service. May 2006: http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=5126