The Multicultural Chabad: Trends of Ethnic Diversity in a Chasidic Movement

The Multicultural Chabad: Trends of Ethnic Diversity in a Chasidic Movement

By Dovi Seldowitz

Ethnicity amongst Jews may be crudely conceived as a simple divide between East and West. Eastern Jews consist of both Sephardic and various Oriental groups (referred to generally as “Mizrachim”) of the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia. The Jews of the West are the Ashkenazim originating from Russia and most European countries.[1] Chabad, a movement that began in White Russia and whose early followers may be presumed to be all Ashkenazi, has in the last century begun to blur the old lines of Jewish ethnicity in a mix of activist efforts, integrating Jews of various backgrounds under the banner of the movement.

Ethnic diversity in Chabad is fairly unique among the Chasidic movements, other groups may include non-Ashkenazi adherents, but Chabad appears to have the highest proportion of such members. Chabad Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews include those hailing from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Chabad influence is felt in various particular communities such as the Yemenite community in Israel, the Moroccan diaspora in France and Bukharian Jews in New York.

Outreach attempts by Chabad to directly reinforce attachments to Judaism amongst Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews are not recent stories. The very first Chabad emissary sent out by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was to Morocco, in 1950 (the Moroccan effort was actually first initiated by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, shortly before his passing).[2] Chabad activities in Bukharian communities began even earlier with the emissaries of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneersohn, prior to World War One.[3]

For sociologists and other social scientists studying Chabad, a significant but limited amount of scholarly material exists on the state of ethnicity in Chabad; only a single study examines Chabad’s ethnic diversity using quantitative measures.[4] Other sources examine the interactions between Chabad and a particular Sephardi or Mizrachi group.[5] Chabad’s attitude toward Jews of various ethnic backgrounds is quite inclusive; Chabad’s outreach and its Chasidic philosophy has lead to the integration of Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi families in daily life in the Chabad community. These families have been joined together by sharing a common ideology, participating in the same communal events, educating their children in the same schools and allowing them to join in marriage. What has yet to be explored is the existence of a cross-acculturation, how traditional Sephardi and Mizrachi life and culture may have influenced or been incorporated and adopted by Chabad communities.

The Chabad movement has long sought to strengthen the identities of Jews in Sephardi and Mizrachi communities. This multicultural trend in Chabad has been the result of emphasizing the movement’s Chasidic philosophy and ideology over its geographic roots. Chabad communities themselves have become ethnically diverse on account of the movement’s outreach efforts which led to the integration of Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Chasidim. This initiative that began some hundred years ago has translated today into the multicultural heritage of many Chabad Chasidim today.

[1] This crude geographic measure is obviously limited as many Ashkenazi Jews migrated to Israel (and other Middle Eastern countries) centuries ago, and non-Ashkenazim have lived in various parts of Europe alongside their Ashkenazi brethren. This measure also omits African-Jewish groups.
[2] See, “1950: Leadership,” The Life and Times of the Rebbe, (
[3] See, Naftali Loewenthal, “Lubavitch Hasidim,” The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (, August 27, 2010.
[4] See, Charles Shahar, Main Report: A Comprehensive Study of the Ultra Orthodox Community of Greater Montreal (2003), Montreal, Canada: Federation CJA (Montreal), (2003): pp. 7–33. Shahar’s study found that one in four Chabad households in Montreal included at least one Sephardi parent.
[5] See, Moshe Shokeid, Children of Circumstances: Israeli Emigrants in New York, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1988, pp. 139-160; Laurence D. Loeb, “HaBaD and Habban: 770’s Impact on a Yemenite Jewish Community in Israel,” New World Hasidim: Ethnographic Studies of Hasidic Jews in America, ed. J.S. Belcove-Shalin, SUNY Press, (1995): 69-85.


At last: Estimate for Chabad in the US!!! #ChabadUSA #ChabadStatistics #ChabadSociology

In a previous post, we’ve speculated that the population size of Chabad in the United States could be calculated by working backwards, starting from the number of students in Chabad day schools, and multiplying that number by the average household size.

Well, in this post, we’ve estimated the number of students in Chabad day schools (whom we assume are being raised in Chabad homes) at 12,296. And in this post, we’ve reported that the average household size and other figures in the Montreal Chabad community. If we assume that the demographic profiles of Chabad in Montreal and that of Chabad in the US match each other, the formula to estimate the size of Chabad in the Unted States would be:

•The number of schoolchildren divided by the number of households with children equals the number of US Chabad households with children.
•The number of households with children times the average household size (for households with children) equals the number if persons in households with children
•The number of households with children times itself plus percentage of childless households equals the total number of US Chabad households
•The number of total households times the average household size (for all households) equals the total number of persons in US in Chabad households.

So there you have it!!! An formula for estimating for Chabad in the United States.

And here’s the numbers…

Schoolchildren to households
12,296 Children in US Chabad Day School
4.63 Mean number of children per non-childless household (Montreal)
2,655.72 Mean number of US households with children (12,296/4.63)
6.67 Mean size of household with children (Montreal)
17,713.68 Mean number of US households with children times mean size (2,655.72*6.67)
5,417.68 Adults and others members of household not in school (17,713.68-12,296)
2.04 Average number of persons per US household not in school (5,417.68/2,255.72)
Households continued
22% Percentage of (total) households with no children at home (Montreal)
47% Percentage of childless households with only one occupant (Montreal)
3,239.98 Mean US households, both with and without children (2,655.72*1.22)
584.26 US households without children (3,239.98-2,655.72)
274.60 US households with one occupant (584.26*0.47)
309.66 US households with no children but with two (or more) occupants (584.26-274.60)
17,713.68 Number of persons in all households with children
>619.31 Number of persons in childless households with two occupants or more (309.66*(>2))
274.60 Number of persons in childless households with one occupant
>18,607.59 Total number of persons in US Chabad households

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


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)

•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.

•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.


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