The Chabad Paradox

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Shneerson
by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman
Princeton University Press, 382 pp., $29.95

Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and The Mystical Revolution of Menahem Mendel Schneerson
by Elliot R. Wolfson
Columbia University Press, 472 pp., $35.00


The Hasidic group known both as Lubavitch, after a town in Russia, and as Chabad, an acronym for the three elements of human and divine intelligence, Chochma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), and Da'at (knowledge), is not just the most successful contemporary Hasidic sect. It might be the most successful Jewish religious movement of the second half of the twentieth century.

While mainstream Orthodox Judaism has seen extraordinary growth through the ba'al teshuvah movement of "returners" to religious observance, the foundations were laid by Chabad. And while Orthodox Jews often express disdain for Chabad and its fervent shluchim (emissaries), they also rely on them for prayer services, Torah study, and kosher accommodations in out-of-the-way places from Jackson,Wyoming to Bangkok, Thailand, not to speak of college campuses around the world.

The Conservative movement historically caters to moderate suburban traditionalists. But many suburbanites now find themselves more comfortable at Chabad's user-friendly services. Once the source of a distinctive middle-class Jewish nightmare—that one's child might come home with tzitzis, a fedora, and extraordinary dietary demands (an "invasion of the Chabody snatchers," as a joke of my childhood had it)—Lubavitch is now a familiar part of the suburban landscape.

This article is locked

Subscribe now for immediate and unlimited access to Web + Print + App + Archive
  • Already a subscriber? Log in to continue reading.
  • Not quite ready to subscribe? Register now for your choice of 3 FREE articles per quarter.
  • Already a registered user? Log in here.

About the Author

Abraham Socher is the Editor of the Jewish Review of Books and a professor of Jewish Studies at Oberlin College.


No comments yet.

Want to post a comment? Please register or log in.

Most Read

What Jesus Wasn’t: Zealot

When Fox News' Lauren Green asked Reza. . .

Conservative Judaism: A Requiem

In 1971, 41 percent of American Jews. . .

Editors' Picks

A View from Reservoir Hill

A shul that never left the Old Jewish. . .

Poland’s Jewish Problem: Vodka?

Jewish-run taverns—rowdy, often very. . .

In The Next JRB

  • Uri Bar-Joseph on Guy Laron’s The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East
  • Jon D. Levenson’s reconsideration of Allan Bloom and the “Great Books” idea on the 30th anniversary of The Closing of the American Mind
  • Ruby Namdar on an ambitious new translation of S.Y. Agnon
  • And more...
Copyright © 2017 Jewish Review of Books. All Rights Reserved. | Site by W&B