≡ Menu

I’m fond of chabad on my campus, have I been brainwashed?

If you wish to send letters to the editor please email them to me at frumsatire@gmail.com – they can be published with any name you wish.

“I am a relatively long time admirer of your blog and I really enjoy reading it. I am a student in Liverpool, UK and I am one of a few kippah wearing student throughout all 3 universities in the city but there is a small but quite involved Jewish Society here. The purpose of this email is to find out if I’m normal, I am not Chabad but since arriving at university my fondness for them has grown, the Campus Rabbi here is brilliant, so brilliant he has featured on a BBC documentary about university chaplains, however when I get bored whilst working in the library my first port-of-call is watching videos of the Rebbe at Kinnus or when they are singing Niggunim, I don’t know why it is just what I do and I really enjoy them. Do you reckon the Rabbi has got to me or is it a perfectly normal thing to do.”

Alex D.

Thanks for the letter Alex, there are two sides to every story and hopefully I can show you the multiple points of view and do it justice. Someone once said to me that Chabad are the Jews of the Jews, everyone has an opinion and most of those opinions are negative. I’ve even met folks who’ve never personally had anything to do with chabad, yet they had all these crazy opinions based on what they’ve read or heard. I can tell right away by the language of your letter that you yourself probably had those opinion. Due to the fact that you used the terminology “brainwashed” you probably feel that anyone who would be drawn to chabad must be brainwashed, yet since you have “fallen” prey to their supposed brainwashing tactics you must now defend or justify this thing.

The mere fact that chabad is the only one offering any sort of Orthodox Jewish service on your campus could be labeled as a monopoly. Apparently, the snags (derogatory word for misnagdim used by chabad, yet misnagdim don’t much exist anymore, now there are those who oppose chabad alone but support other streams of chassidus) used to make fun of chabad for its outreach, especially on college campuses, now those same snag institutions are trying to capitalize on college campus kiruv.

Rather than call it brainwashed, why don’t you look at the fact that you have found warmth and love (some may argue that it’s fake – but I would say that those exposed to chabad on campus would beg to differ) and a place to explore Judaism in a place where no one else had the gumption to move to. I would encourage you to explore all of your Jewish options before settling on a specific hashkafa. One of the criticisms people lay on chabad is that they don’t allow their subjects the proper exploration of other paths within Judaism (I would argue that none of the black hat sects offer such things) The thing about chabad is that they really believe that what they’re doing is bringing us closer to moshiach, other kiruv seems to be more about the money. Ah, you may point to fancy mikvaot and chabad houses built with donor money, but no one wants to go to a crappy old shteeble when they can keep going to their fancy reform temples.

Brainwashed is a snag term, you’re perfectly normal to be inspired by chabad, they are very sincere and really believe in what they are teaching you.

The flip side:

Of course you’ve been brainwashed, those kiruv con artists have taken a perfectly normal kid like yourself and shoved their ways down your throat. Sure, they made nice shabbos meals which were filled with mythological chassidic stories of the rebbes being thrown in jail and the baal shem walking in the forest, but you didn’t know any better and you fell for the classic chabad marketing. Then you probably didn’t realize that with food alone they got you to keep coming back. The supposedly genius rabbi (you’ve probably never met a smart rabbi and so you have nothing to compare) and his flowy beard have entranced you.

Good thing those chabad on campus folks have enjoyed a monopoly for so long, only recently has Aish tried to break their trust and chabad is definitely not Anti-Trust. They view any encroachment onto their turf as unfair competition and love to bring up all these stories about the snags and how they were so anti-kiruv just a few years ago. Slowly, as you’ve been brainwashed to think the Rebbe was the gadol hador and that Rav Shach, The Vilna Gaon and Rav Ahron were all evil men.

Soon you will be venture to Israel and be further brainwashed at Mayanot with a spiritual shabbaton at Ascent in Tzfat where you will finally see real live meshichistim aka Tzfatim. Upon returning to campus with dreams of learning full time in Morristown and marrying one of those Machon Chana girls you will ask your genius rabbi about the rebbe and his chances of being moshiach. The rabbi on your campus will probably say “I’m not sure if he’s moshiach, but we hope he is” or one of the other we’re meshichists but chabad on campus’s official policy is that we aren’t responses.

You’ll know you’re really brainwashed when you start to consider cholov stam as treife.

{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Annon January 15, 2013, 11:20 AM


  • Alex D January 15, 2013, 1:36 PM

    If you look through the email I didn’t use the word “brainwashed” so all that you written I have taken on board, thanks for publishing it though.

  • AlmightyMexijew January 15, 2013, 2:05 PM

    You know, it’s funny. This topic I can very much relate to. My Chabad House was actually quite fun and exciting. A large group of us(with several subgroups that hung out at different times) were friends and it was a much better social alternative than some of the other stuff going on at the campus I was at. We also had other kiruv but they were way less………socially developed?

    I lived at mine for something like 4 years as well. Over the time, I grew religious and participated in the whole experience. It was enough that I eventually went to a Chabad yeshiva and that is where I really saw things differently.
    At other yeshivot, it was different(I’ve spent some time hanging around Hadar HaTorah in NYC and it was way more laidback). My own had an intense schedule of “chassidization”. Everything was focused more on being a chassid, and chassidut, and less so on the other facets of basic Judaism. Guys were growing beards and wearing hats and suits and yet had no clue what morning brachot were or that they had to say shema by a certain time. I personally taught 6 guys how to read basic Hebrew or alef bet.

    Before I left the yeshiva, I was at a farbrengen and speaking to a guy from the local FFB yeshiva. We hadn’t seen each other in a while and he asked what we learned. When I gave him the schedule, he asked why BTs are learning more chassidut than FFBs in the system. Needless to say, I didn’t have an answer and it confirmed already high understandings that something was funny there.

    While my experience is colored(obviously), it doesn’t take away from the facts. There are some good yeshivot (Morristown, Mayanot) and then there are the propaganda yeshivot (Tzfat, Seagate, Torah Ohr somewhat). Hadar could be either way really, depending what mashpia you cleaved to.

    Probably the most frustrating thing was when our hosting Sefardic shul would ask us not to do certain things and the hanhola would dafka say “OK” and then proceed 5 min later to go and do those things. How dare they ask us to keep things clean or spend time re-arranging our seforim from the chaos. WE GIVE THEM THE ZCUT OF HOSTING TALMIDIM! AND NOT JUST ANY TALMIDIM BUT TALMIDIM OF THE REBBE!! 😉

    Rants aside, I do miss the old days in college. It’s a lot more pure and innocent.

    • nachrock January 16, 2013, 2:19 PM

      “Everything was focused more on being a chassid, and chassidut, and less so on the other facets of basic Judaism. Guys were growing beards and wearing hats and suits and yet had no clue what morning brachot were or that they had to say shema by a certain time. I personally taught 6 guys how to read basic Hebrew or alef bet.”

      This is true and my major criticism of Chabad’s BT yeshivas. When I left Mayanot, which was excellent for many, many reasons BTW, I felt many important aspects of Halacha were not taught and had to round out my education with a Shulchan Aruch chavrusa.

  • Velvel January 15, 2013, 2:16 PM

    If I didn’t know this was satire, I’d punch you in the face for that last part. I mean that as a compliment, because that means your satire was biting and effective. However, as someone who originally ‘fell for’ ‘Snag’ kiruv and then drank the kool-aid of Chabad both near my home and on my college campus and has done the whole Mayanot > Ascent > Morristown > asking about the Rebbe’s Moshiach candidacy thing, I will say it’s relative. Like most BTs the words the terms, ‘brainwashed’ and ‘propaganda’ have been hurled at me numerous times. I have come to the realization that these are relative terms one side only used to bash that with which they disagree. For example for a Democrat what might be a political ad is propaganda in the eyes of a republican and vice versa.

    However, I will say the objective truth does lie somewhere and it’s every individual’s responsibility to find it in this life. Within Torah/halachic Judaism there are many equally true paths that place emphasis on different things. Find the path on which you believe Hashem wants you. In my case I am proud to call that path Chabad Chassidut.

    • Heshy Fried January 15, 2013, 3:27 PM

      It was partial satire, it’s kinda true, but not nec. how I think.

  • Dan January 15, 2013, 2:23 PM

    I can’t really hate on chabad. I eat there most weeks, and they’re really nice to me. I can’t say I agree with all the stuff they do there, but they feed me and welcome me.

  • Al January 15, 2013, 2:31 PM

    a. i dont think the rabbi’s beard is flowing it is quite a bushy one see here http://www.shturem.org/pTb/phpThumb.php?src=%2Fimages%2Fnews%2F53400_news_12122011_47772.jpeg&w=400&hash=21060cdedb4fe30d527cb06f81d2c45f

    b. Alex D is already brainwashed he supports liverpool

    c. someone i know on frum satire made my day

  • yu January 15, 2013, 3:24 PM
  • Elissa January 15, 2013, 4:16 PM

    My very first Shabbat was spent at a Chabad house. I was talking about conversion with one of my friends a couple of years ago and said friend’s recommendation was to go to shabbat at a Chabad house since their job is outreach to all Jews, to teach non/less observant Jews about the Jewish lifestyle. I was also warned that this friend did not agree with all of Chabad’s teachings, but that it would be a good starting point experience.
    I had a wonderful time there. Everyone was kind and welcoming to me, and the Rebbetzin even set me up with a girl who was helpful and walked me through everything tradition-wise, like netilat yedayim. They let me help light the candles, even, and had a fantastically delicious meal, multiple unlimited alcohol options, positive reactions towards interest in conversion, and the students of various levels of observance were holding interesting conversations and engaging everyone at the table, myself included…
    The negative thing was, when I addressed my desire to convert to the Rabbi himself in person, he referred me to the Rebbetzin, who told me to add their account on Facebook and talk further from there since that’s where they did most of their communication.
    I had Facebook at the time (and the Unfriend Finder app, judge away) and it showed me that she had canceled my friend request. My sensitive, giyur-curious self was crushed, and it was a big factor in setting me back in seeking conversion (they’ll act nice to my face but they really don’t want me!). I didn’t attend another Jewish function for over a year.
    Maybe she did it by accident, or they wanted to focus on the observance of born Jews and a convert was too much to deal with, but I wish they would’ve at least referred me to someone else.
    All things considered, that shabbat was special, and one of the reasons I eventually returned to seeking conversion.

    • AlmightyMexijew January 15, 2013, 4:23 PM

      I went through similar in my own giyur. Imagine being counted for a minyan until the words “Yeah, my dad is Jewish” come out of your mouth and suddenly “oh we need 1 more, ‘just in case'”.

      I can tell you that it’s a hard process, a hard life, and only worth it if you want it to be. Nobody HAS to take converts. That’s the thing people commonly get upset about. What I had more personal beef with was the attitude that zeira yisrael(“wrong siders” aka patrilineals) don’t need any outreach or help.

      If you’re still in the process, I wish you luck. Even though there are no entitlements, act as if you have one if you wish to get through. Always call a million times. Read, then learn, then read, then relearn. Learn practical stuff. I had friends that fried out in the conversion process because they focused on all the weird, high level gemara and kaballah stuff that is trendy to do and spent less time learning and applying basic halacha to life.

      • Elissa January 17, 2013, 7:14 AM

        Thank you for your wishes and advice! I supposedly have “right” side Jewish relatives: my great-great-great matrilineal grandmother, Cecilia Cohen, may have been Jewish, and my mom, who somewhat recently took interest in her until-then-not-discussed geneaology and DNA, took a DNA test and the only markers she matched up with were Jewish from Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and England.
        I was not raised Jewish and have no way of proving that g-g-g-granny was despite her name and what people who study DNA say.
        The family certainly had odd, non-mainstream Christian beliefs and were not willing to discuss heritage, but I don’t think that that is enough to prove anything, and no one kept kosher/honored the Sabbath… overall, I feel like conversion is the way to go rather than trying to prove something I wasn’t even raised with.

        • AlmightyMexijew January 17, 2013, 11:42 AM

          For such things, they call it a “Geru(s) b’chumra”. A conversion in strictness. As with “Zeira Yisrael” which commonly fall into that category(especially if Mom converted by any means which can’t be disproven offhand) , it’s a step above the “total stranger” level but absolutely everything is equal in conversion. Conversion = conversion. No easier or harder.

          The sooner you start living it, the easier it’ll be overall. The worst approach one could take is an academic “cram” approach. Someone could know every halacha in the book but still fail to perform them and thereby show a breach of honesty.

          When it comes down to it, who would you rather take, the simple person doing their part or the genius who still feels attached enough to the “old life” to wait til mikvah before eating kosher and keeping shabbat?

  • Anonymous January 15, 2013, 7:03 PM

    What bothers me is the Con was a strawman. Those who are against Chabad are more nuanced than you make them out.

    • Z January 15, 2013, 8:32 PM

      Anti-Chabad people are nuanced? Yes, well I suppose dick comes in all shapes and colors so there must be room for variety.

      • Ghottistyx January 15, 2013, 11:04 PM

        Yes, nuanced. You might want to check out David Berger’s book “The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of the Orthodox Indifference”. There are others. But this one is a good start.

        • Critic January 16, 2013, 8:06 AM

          Is Lubavitcher messianism without any redeeming merit? Berger’s answer is an unequivocal yes, but there is reason to rethink the matter. Clearly, at the level of theology, the messianists have administered a jolt to Orthodox Judaism. The appearance on the Jewish scene of hasidim espousing a version of Second Coming theology is bizarre and disorienting. Still, under current conditions, the religious tremors it has set off may prove a boon for Orthodox belief. Let me explain.Readers of Berger’s book cannot fail to gain the impression that belief in the messiah is a central religious concern of Orthodox Jews today. For the bulk of the Orthodox, however, this is just not so. Certainly in the “modern Orthodox” camp, which is Berger’s home base, messianic expectation exists more as a verbal formula to be repeated than as a live religious option. (The non-Orthodox long ago abandoned belief in a personal messiah; they look instead to a messianic age.) The classic formulation of the Maimonidian principle—“I believe with complete faith in the coming of the messiah, and even though he may tarry I await him each day, hoping that he will come”—lacks existential meaning for a majority of Orthodox Jews in the contemporary context. This has everything to do with the impact of secularization, which has weakened the “plausibility structure” (the phrase is Peter Berger’s) of all faith affirmations, and made the messianic hope seem like a pious dream. Ironically the very same process of secularization goes a long way toward explaining why the messianists have run into a stone wall in seeking non-Lubavitch, Orthodox converts to their position.Seen from this perspective, the messianic fervor of the Lubavitchers—messianist and non-messianist alike—is a welcome indication that the religious juices continue to flow in Orthodox Judaism. This ties in with a crucially important point about the belief in the messiah made decades ago by the great German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig
          “The expectation of the coming of the messiah, by which and because of which Judaism lives, would be . . . empty babble, if the appearance again and again of a false messiah did not render it reality and unreality, illusion and disillusion. The false messiah is as old as the hope for the true messiah. He is the changing form of this changeless hope. He separates every Jewish generation into those whose faith is strong enough to give themselves up to an illusion, and those whose hope is so strong that they do not allow themselves to be deluded. The former are the better, the latter the stronger. The former bleed as victims on the altar of the eternity of the people, the latter are the priests who perform the service at this altar. And this goes on until the day when all will be reversed, when the belief of the believers will become truth, and the hope of the hoping a lie.”
          What Rosenzweig understood, and what Berger does not begin to comprehend, is that genuine longing for the coming of the messiah is bound to trigger periodic eruptions along the lines of Lubavitcher messianism. Simply put, this is the price of religious authenticity. Far worse than the disruptive presence of the Lubavitcher messianists on the current Orthodox scene would be their total absence. An Orthodox Judaism in which hope for the messiah remained permanently fixed at the level of pious affirmation would be nothing more than a religious mummy. Call them crazy, call them heretics, the Lubavitcher messianists bear powerful, if strange, witness to the continued vitality of Judaism’s belief in the messiah.

          • Critic January 16, 2013, 8:24 AM

            You might also want to check out this book which is a rebuttal to Berger’s attack on Chabad. “The Messiah Problem: Berger, the Angel and the Scandal of Reckless Indiscrimination” by Rabbi Chaim Rapoport. There are others. But this one is a good start.

            • Velvel January 16, 2013, 6:45 PM

              I love Chaim Rappaport.

          • Should be working January 20, 2013, 2:25 PM

            Critic, thanks. I learned a lot from reading this. Sheds a new light on the thing.

  • PeleYoetzElGiborAviAdSarShalom January 17, 2013, 7:44 PM

    Alex :

    What you have to understand about Chabad is that they think they know better than everyone else – and they only want you to ask questions inasmuch as it serves their purposes. If you want to be entertained by Chabad double talk – ask them to say a prayer for the STATE of Israel during prayers – then you will see the double talk start, when they try to convince you that their position is different from that of Fatah and Chamas in this regard. Satmar won’t say the prayer either, but they want give you some bullshit about how much they support the State of Israel. Most people who daven by Chabad don’t quite get this – and they would prefer to keep it this way. Enjoy the show !

    • Critic January 18, 2013, 7:52 AM

      So the major sin of Chabad is that they don’t say a prayer for the state of Israel during prayers Well their in quite illustrious company.Neither did David Ben Gurion,Levi Eshkol,Golda Meyer,Yitzchok Rabin,Arik Sharon,Olmert and many other Zionists to numerous to mention here.
      In addition I challenge you to find me ONE major Litvish,”yehivish” yeshiva that recites prayers for the well being of Israel.The Reform movement as a whole has historically not been very supportive of a Jewish homeland and I highly doubt whether any prayer for Israel is recited.Most right wing Shuls do not recite a prayer for Israel in any form or way.I even know some MO orthodox Shuls that make no reference to Medinat Yisroel in their prayers.
      Below you will find a more specific description the positions of the Yeshivish/Litvish approach in their attitude towards Israel and the position of Chabad. Methinks that your letting your own personal prejudices get in the way of your intelligence.

  • Critic January 17, 2013, 11:26 PM

    A number of Lithuanian leaders like the Chazon Ish (1878–1953), Rav Shach (1898–2001), and Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv (1910-2012), have expressed strongly anti-Zionist views. Examples of this are found in lectures and letters of Rav Shach. One of the newspapers of the Litvish world, the Yated Neeman, regularly publishes articles strongly criticizing Zionism, naming it a “heretical movement”. The main Litvish community does vote, as per the instructions of the Chazon Ish. Rabbi Elyashiv urges his students to vote for the Degel HaTorah list. Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus, quoted in the book of his speeches about Purim, explains that in each generation the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) appears in different forms. Examples he gives are the Enlightenment and communism. He goes on to explain that nowadays, Zionism is a form of the Yetzer Hara.

    • Critic January 17, 2013, 11:37 PM

      Lets see how Chabad differs from the Litvish,yeshivish sector in it’s approach towards the state of Israel.
      The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson as well as his predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson insisted on trying to increase the observance of the Torah in Israel both among individuals as well as to make the state’s policies more in line with Jewish law and tradition, he also expressed overwhelming support for the State’s military endeavors, and vehemently condemned any transfers of land as against Jewish law. His reasoning, was based on the code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch which states that the Sabbath must be violated (carrying weapons) by the residents of a Jewish community (in any country) that borders a hostile gentile settlement, even if they are threatened in the most subtle manner. He viewed the whole of Israel as such a community and that was the impetus for his support. He argued that the safety of the Jewish people was paramount, and the physical presence of so many Jews in the land meant that its borders had to be protected as a matter of course. Nonetheless, he also drew support for his statements from the notion in the Torah that the land of Israel was given to the Jewish people, and that inherent Jewish ownership of the land could not be superseded by mere political interests.
      Many Chabadniks in the world live in Israel, and there are a great deal of Chabad houses there. They serve in the Israeli military. In line with the Rebbe’s instructions to vote for the a party that refuses to support giving away parts of the Land of Yisrael as part of any peace negotiations Chabad does not endorse any particular party in the election process.

  • Herschel Hartz January 22, 2013, 7:39 AM

    I was sent this article by a friend of mine.

    I am Lubavitch.

    This is the most incredible load of you-know-what that I have ever seen.

    I normally don’t comment on things on the internet as anti-Chabad is everywhere and it flows without truth and connection to reality.

    We respect the Vilna Gaon. He was a great kabbalist. End of story. For whatever reason, yes, there have been rabbis who have attacked Chabad and the Rebbe out of a hatred that is not based on truth or reality. But the Rebbe had relationships with dozens of Litvish, Chassidish, and many other gedolim.

    Secondly, who says that it is fair to attribute to other “kiruv” groups any negative intentions when they try to reveal in Jews their essential selves? Aish is good, Chabad is good, any other “kiruv” is good. I don’t know about this negativity as the Rebbe was never negative towards any “kiruv.” He had good relationships with bnei Akiva boys and there are plenty of stories of him encouraging them.

    Thirdly, cholov akum is a complicated issue and while we as Chabadniks do believe strongly that it is an issur, there are Rabbanim who disagree and there are heterim. So what? Not everything is black and white as your article indicates… We won’t touch it. Other Chassidim of other groups won’t touch it. Rav Moshe had his yeshiva continue to serve cholov yisrael even after his “heter.” But if you want to rely upon heterim, there are heterim. I am tired of hearing that Chabad thinks everyone else should stop drinking this, trimming this beard, and learn this. You don’t want to be Chabadnik. Fine. We don’t care.

    I agree that Chabad has problems. And they are there for everyone to criticize but no other community is putting themselves out there for public criticism as much as Chabad. We could care a lick about what people think about us. We have to do what’s right – Jews need to do mitzvos, we need to do mitzvos, we need to learn Torah, end of story. Criticism is something that small people can participate in. We want to do. You want to join in doing? Great.

    Don’t be Chabadnikim. End of story. Just don’t be. And get over it. We don’t want to convert you. We don’t want to brainwash you. We want every Jew to reveal their potential. If its Chabad, great. If Litvish, great. If Satmar, great. We don’t care. Get off these websites, learn Torah, and have a Jew do another mitzvah.

  • Pearl February 20, 2013, 4:23 PM

    Herschel, are you single?

Leave a Comment