Friday, January 25, 2008

Chabad: there's no big secret

A recent published report on a plan to expand a West Street building into a synagogue and community center for Chabad Lubavitch called the project "a secret."

But the plans are no secret, and the organization, led by Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach, has every intention of pursuing its plans for the project. Whether it can and will sue the historic district commission on its ruling to deny the plan, or comply with its suggestion to reduce the size of it, remains to be seen.
"The issue is that right now the process the team is putting together is not a secret," Rabbi Eisenbach said Monday. "They just haven't done anything yet. That's the only secret.
"The bottom line is there's really nothing's happening ... our plan of action is that there's no secret. We haven't decided on what we're going to do," he said.
The proposal would expand the historic building on West Street and would include administrative offices, kitchen facilities, a swimming pool and a ceremonial bath, classrooms and a synagogue, as well as residential quarters on one floor of the addition.
Chabad Lubavitch bought the old building in 2006 and presented its expansion plans to the Litchfield Historic District Commission last year, participating in a hearing process that requested that board to grant them a certificate of appropriateness for the plans. The commission, after numerous hearings and discussion, ruled that the size of the plans were too large for the historic district and asked that it be scaled back, noting that it would allow the Chabad to create an addition that would double the size of the building, not quadruple it. The existing building is about 2,600 square feet.
The additions proposed to the West Street structure, a house that was designed by the Deming family in the 1870s, would create an extension to the building behind it. The front of the original structure would have a clock tower and a Star of David added to the façade as well as stonework on the front of the building. The rabbi said recently that the changes his architects are proposing to the original building maintain its historic character. But because it is a religious facility, some changes must be made to reflect that fact.
One of the controversies surrounding the proposal is the claim that the Chabad's freedom of religion rights are being impeded by the commission ruling. The controversy began in the fall when commission chairman Wendy Kuhne noted that the Star of David and changes to the front of the building might not comply with the character of the district, resulting in a firestorm of criticism that her comments were somehow "anti-Semitic."
Ms. Kuhne was eventually asked to recuse herself from the hearings on the proposal, which she reluctantly did. She was then criticized on an online blog, which included a photograph of a woman in a Nazi uniform with her name next to the image. That blog was linked to the Cool Justice Web site, a blog run by Litchfield resident and journalist Andy Thibault, This outraged many citizens in town, including Rabbi Eisenbach, who said any connection to the Nazis and the Holocaust was inappropriate.
Bloggers and opinions aside, the commission members have maintained at hearings and through their attorney, Jim Stedronsky, that they are charged with preserving the historic character of the borough of Litchfield and that they are simply trying to uphold their responsibilities.
When the vote was made at the commission's hearing late last year, however, Rabbi Eisenbach said he believed that the Litchfield of today was supportive of the plan to expand the house and that his organization has outgrown its current home on Village Green Drive, which proved the need for the new facility.
Rabbi Eisenbach, however, said that at this point, there are no plans in place to sue anyone. He has, however, maintained that the 20,000-square-foot addition is necessary.
"What we're going to do, and how we're going to proceed; it just hasn't been decided yet," the Rabbi reiterated. "We have not had any contact with the historic district commission, because we're still digesting the information we received from them at the last hearing. Our team is going over it."

©The Litchfield Enquirer 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Excerpt from: Righteous Indignation: How Are We To Understand the Alleged Spinka Scandal?

..To this day, the most renowned Hasidic sect, Chabad-Lubavitch, religiously celebrates the anniversaries of the release from Russian jails of its revered founding Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Lyadi in 1798, as well as the subsequent liberations of his descendants, Rabbi Dov Ber Schneerson in 1826 and Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson, who had been imprisoned by the Soviets in 1927. Behind all these unjust incarcerations lay the mischievous work of Jewish informants, initially from among the misnagdim, Hasidism’s mainstream rabbinical opponents, later the maskilim or Jewish champions of the European Enlightenment, and finally the radicals of the notorious Yevseksia, the “Yiddish division” of the Communist Party. Indeed, during the dark days of Soviet Communism, zealously anti-ecclesiastical members the Yevseksia did the government’s dirty work of shutting down synagogues and yeshivas and jailing their rabbinic leaders. It is thus for legitimate historical reasons that, in the Hasidic psyche, the deepest contempt is reserved for Jewish informants, or mosrim.

Rabbi Zacks Joins Chabad Jewish Community Center

January 24, 2008


Special to the Palisadian-Post

Rabbi Shloime Zacks and his wife Moriel have joined the staff at the Chabad Jewish Community Center of Pacific Palisades. They will head two important departments: Adult Education and Community Outreach.

Rabbi Zacks is from London and received his rabbinical ordination from the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. Following his marriage to Moriel, he spent two years in New York attending college. He also lectured on various subjects (including law, Kabbalah, and character refinement) at two Jewish centers for adult education.

'Growing up the way I did brought me into contact with the full spectrum of Jewish affiliation,' says Rabbi Zacks. 'I learned to befriend, love and respect all people for who they are.'

Whether on the soccer field, at the Sunday farmers market, in synagogue, or just around town, he truly enjoys making new friends here in the Palisades.

  This month, as head of the adult education department, Zacks is teaching a crash course in reading Hebrew. On February 6 he begins the winter Jewish Learning Institute course, 'Beyond Belief: Reflections on Jewish Faith.'

'It is a great pleasure to teach in the Palisades,' Zacks says. 'I find that people here are bright and very insightful and from so many diverse backgrounds!'

The rabbi teaches the Talmud on Sunday mornings following a lox and bagels breakfast at the Chabad. He also lectures on contemporary issues.

Moriel Zacks was born and raised in the Palisades by her parents, Shimon Waysman, O.B.M., and Dr. Dalia Goldfarb-Hecht. She attended Bais Channah in Los Angeles, finished her high school education in New Haven, Connecticut, and continued her higher education in Israel.

After their marriage, the Zackses settled in New York, where Moriel worked with children with special needs and teenage volunteers in a program called The Friendship Circle. After seeing how successfully the program worked within several communities, Moriel is eager to implement and direct the same outreach program at Chabad in the Palisades.

'The Friendship Circle is enjoying great success in many communities worldwide,' Moriel says. 'The aim is to bring smiles and friendship to children with special needs, and peace of mind to their parents. The program also fosters the values of volunteerism and compassion among youth.'

Rabbi Zushe Cunin is director of Chabad in the Palisades. For more information, visit or write to

excerpt from: A Few Things Are Illuminated: A Wild and Crazy Roots Trip to the Old Country

...In order to find the best archivists and genealogists available in a certain town or region, it is best to contact the local Jewish community in advance. In Rostov, I contacted Rabbi Chaim Friedman, the Chabad-linked spiritual leader of Rostov Jewry, who not only put me into contact with archivist Yevgeni Gimodudinov but made sure Tanya and I had the chance to participate fully in the life of the community. A well-preserved 19th century city of over one million that serves as the unofficial capital of Russia's south, Rostov is booming these days with plenty of new construction, emblematic of a prosperity that has now spread from Moscow to major regional centers.

Rabbi Boteach, you're wrong about Chabad

In his Post column "Chabad Messianists: Wrong, but still Jews" (January 20), Shmuley Boteach asserts that the refusal of a rabbinic court in Israel to accept a convert who believes that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the Messiah is an "act of serious contempt for a non-Jew who has made sacrifices to ally himself with the Jewish people."

On the contrary, to accept such a convert would be an act of serious contempt for generations of Jews who gave their lives to preserve the theological boundaries between Judaism and Christianity.

Rabbi Boteach maintains that only two of the differences between Judaism and Christianity really count: the belief in the divinity of the Messiah and failure to observe the Torah. Since Lubavitch hassidim observe the Torah, and "no one in Chabad would ever assert" that the Rebbe is divine, the belief in a Messiah who announces that redemption will come in his generation, dies in an unredeemed world, and is then resurrected for his second coming does not disqualify the believer as a fully Orthodox Jew or, if he is not yet Jewish, as a prospective convert.

FOR MORE than a thousand years, Jews have told Christian missionaries that the Jewish denial of a second coming is a bright line dividing the religions. From Nahmanides to R. Hayyim of Brisk, from R. Yom Tov Lipmann Muelhausen to R. Judah Aryeh da Modena, the Messiahship of Jesus was ruled out of court on the explicit grounds that Judaism affirms that once the Messiah begins his redemptive career, he completes it during his lifetime.

In the words of R. Pinhas Elijah Hurwitz of Vilna (1765-1821) in his Sefer ha-Berit, "We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive [Exodus 22:9] is not the one and was not sent by God." Not only does this position stand at the core of the historic Jewish defense against the Christian mission; it served as the criterion for the uncompromising rejection of movements of false messianism after the death of the messianic figure.

THE ISSUE before us is not whether belief in a second coming, which shatters the parameters of the messianic faith of Judaism, is outright heresy. Not every non-heretic has a presumptive right to be welcomed into the Jewish people. To allow a non-Jew to cross the line into Judaism while affirming a belief that Jews through the ages have seen as a defining characteristic of a rival faith is to declare that that belief, while probably incorrect, is acceptable in Judaism. It is to declare that on a matter of fundamental principle, our martyred ancestors were wrong, and their Christian murderers were right.

But this is not the end of it. Tragically, Rabbi Boteach's assertion that no one in Chabad would ever assert that the Rebbe is divine is also misguided. Without engaging in theological niceties, I present quotations from statements by religious mentors in respected Lubavitch institutions in both Israel and the United States.

1. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Ginsberg (written after the Rebbe's passing): Yes, the Rebbe's body is composed of flesh and blood, but as far as he's concerned he is not compelled or limited by anything - not by physical limitations nor by spiritual limitations. He "is what he is." [This refers, of course, to the divine name in Exodus 3:14.] Even as he is enclothed in a physical body, he remains limited by nothing whatsoever and he has the ability to do everything and be everything in an unlimited manner.

2. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Ginsberg (written after the Rebbe's passing): The Rebbe is the "master of the house" with respect to all that happens to him and all that happens in the world. Without his agreement no event can take place, and if it is his will, he can bring about anything, "and who can tell him what to do" ….In him the Holy One Blessed be He rests in all His force just as He is (because of his complete self-nullification to God, so that this becomes his entire essence).

3. Rabbi Sholom Charitonow, asserting that the Rebbe manifests the Essence of the unlimited God and explaining why it follows that even his physical body remains alive in the deepest sense: Interruptions can only apply where there are borders and limitations (as opposed to Essence), which have been utilized to a maximum, making it necessary to proceed to new borders and limitations. Concerning the Essence, however, in relation to which borders and forms do not conceal at all - on the contrary, they actually become united with the Essence - all causes of interruption do not apply. In other words - not only is the interruption unnecessary, it is in fact impossible. This can apply to something which has a form (whether of a physical or a spiritual nature); it cannot, however, apply to something that is eternal by nature, having no form whatsoever.

4. Rabbi Yashovam Segal (written in 2003):

We Lubavitch hassidim believe that the House of our Rabbi in Babylonia [i.e., 770 Eastern Parkway] is the Temple, and the Rebbe is the Ark of the Covenant standing on the Foundation Rock in which [referring to the Rebbe/ark] the divine Being and Essence rests.

He goes on to say that the prohibition against associating God with something else (shittuf), which is the classic category used in Judaism to analyze the status of Christianity, applies to the sun and moon but not to the supremely righteous, who are one with God.

THERE IS much more, but these quotations will have to suffice. If a published report that the prospective convert in question believes that the Rebbe is physically alive is correct, then he belongs to a group suffused with this theology. Thus, it is more than likely that to accept him into the Jewish people is to erase even a line that Rabbi Boteach wishes to preserve.

I do not, however, want to "define deviancy down." Belief in posthumous false messianism is sufficient to disqualify a potential convert. The decision of this rabbinic court provides a small glimmer of hope that Orthodox Judaism will refuse to legitimate the historic betrayal of Judaism that has unfolded in the last decade and a half. I hope against hope that the decision will be allowed to stand.

The writer is professor of Jewish history at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University and author of The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Comedy Central Chabad from NYT


AS usual, Mendy Pellin wore the traditional black coat and hat of a Hasid and sat on a high stool facing the camera. He read quickly through a page of notes, shook his head vigorously in the way of preparation, and signaled his readiness with a nod to his cameraman, Dovi Trappler. As the camera rolled, Mr. Pellin’s voice dropped to the confident baritone of an overeager news anchor.
Mr. Pellin, a garrulous 25-year-old, was beginning yet another segment as the host of “The Mendy Report,” an Internet news broadcast on the Web site He runs the broadcast out of his childhood bedroom, now cluttered with production lights and videotape cassettes, in his family’s fourth-floor walk-up apartment on Kingston Avenue in a Hasidic enclave of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Standing 6 feet 2 inches and wearing a long, dark beard, Mr. Pellin is aware that his appearance may suggest, to those outside the Hasidic community, an intense humorlessness. “The Mendy Report” is his lighthearted attempt to prove otherwise by parodying local, national and international news, in a style that sometimes recalls Comedy Central staples like “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.”
“There’s a certain stereotype of Hasidim, and I think this has been a big tool in breaking that stereotype,” Mr. Pellin said of his program, which, he said, has been viewed a half-million times since its debut last January. It was the subject of a recent article in The Jewish Sentinel, a local weekly newspaper.
“The Mendy Report” is also a looking glass for Mr. Pellin’s fellow Hasidim. Most Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights don’t own televisions, Mr. Pellin says, and despite its lighthearted tone, his online broadcast has emerged for some members of his community as a legitimate source of news. “We’re not really that exposed to the outside world,” he said, half-jokingly.
On Tuesday afternoon, from a stool in his bedroom studio, Mr. Pellin filmed a few segments for the show’s third season, which will begin on Feb. 18. Afterward, he went down to the street to film a segment about what he described as “the happiest people in the community” — school crossing guards. Who are they, he wanted to know, and what is the source of their boundless cheerfulness?
Mr. Pellin and his cameraman found their crossing guard standing at an Eastern Parkway median, in front of the Oholei Torah elementary school, and began firing questions at her. Do crossing guards get paid? (Yes.) Did she like her flashy yellow uniform vest? (No.) What would happen if a child crossed in front of a speeding car? “Is it like a presidential bodyguard,” he asked, “where you’re required to jump in front of the child?” The guard said it was not like that.
As Mr. Pellin conducted his interview, bearded men in dark coats and hats paused to snap his picture with their cellphones. One man declared Mr. Pellin “the best man in town.” Mr. Pellin later identified the individual as his former principal, who, since his school days, it seemed, had grown more tolerant of his antics.
Mr. Trappler, the cameraman, is another admirer of Mr. Pellin’s approach.
“He was the first one to venture out and do things in a casual way,” Mr. Trappler said. “A lot of people got the chills. But he took a black-and-white community and turned it into color.”

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lubavitch Non-Messianists Win Court Battle

by Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Staff Writer

In the fight for control of 770 Eastern Parkway— the headquarters and heart of the Lubavitch movement, which has been the site of passionate and sometimes violent fights between messianists and non-messianists — a court decision last week has come down clearly on the side of the non-messianists.The strongly worded decision from Justice Ira Harkavy of New York State Supreme Court on Dec. 27 says that the only parties with the right to determine what happens at 770 are its owners, two of the movement’s central organizations, Agudas Chasedei Chabad and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (Association of Chabad Chasidim and the Lubavitch Educational Organization).The decision marks a victory for those in the movement who have been trying to marginalize the messianists — who believe in proclaiming the last, late Lubavitch rebbe as the messiah —since the faction began asserting itself when the rebbe was debilitated by a stroke in 1992, two years before he died. A spokesman for Agudas and Merkos, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, said, “We’re very gratified by the court’s decision. We’re pained by the events that led us here and still harbor hopes that those responsible will recognize the error of their ways.” [follow link for the rest]