Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is Lubavitch a Cult?

There is an interesting article in the Jerusalem Post by Rabbi Dr. David Berger about who really controls Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in light of a recent court ruling. To say the least, Dr. Berger is right on target as he always is on this subject. It is important reading for all. The issue is far from resolved and the Messianism there, whether it is overt or covert is as rampant as ever.

As I have stated many times, I think the Lubavitcher Rebbe was in large part responsible for the situation as it is. Lubavitch has in the past been accused of being as cult. I think that not only does this claim have some merit but that the Rebbe actually headed it in that direction.

The Rebbe in fact was a great man and did many great things. But I'm not so sure that he didn't actually want Lubavitch to turn into a cult, not that he would have thought of it that way. And I think that this, as much as anything else precipitated the problems Torah Jewry face with Lubavitch today.

If the Rebbe was anything, he was brilliant... a genius in fact. And he was a very charismatic figure. Most cult leaders have those qualities as well. In my view, one of the things that distinguish a movement from a cult is the ability to integrate and interact with the rest of society. Cults by contrast do everything they can to separate themselves from the rest of society.

Lubavitch may not be an extreme cult but it has enough characteristics of one to qualify at least minimally. The Rebbe's goal was to make Lubavitch... the entirety of Torah Jewry. His every move... his every action was designed to inspire loyalty to Lubavitch as defined by him so as to be able to control his flock. And he did so magnificently.

Some examples: He discouraged most Lubavitchers from eating anything other than Lubavitcher Shechita thus nearly eliminating an important socializing experience with Torah Jews outside of Lubavitch. His schools were separate and apart form other schools and rarely, if ever had any joint functions. Those schools emphasize Lubavitch Inyanim (their differences from Klal Yisroel) rather than Torah Inyanim (their commonalities with Klal Yisroel) His Kiruv was directed at Kiruv to Lubavitch first and Judaism later. His Shiddach system consists of Lubavitchers who marry only other Lubavitchers. While this is true in other streams of Chasidus too, I think Lubavitch is more insistent on it. They have their own organizations often duplicating what other organizations such as Agudah do. He inspired his followers to follow him unquestioningly... like any cult leader does.

This does not mean that his plans were evil. Quite the contrary. He was completely L’Shma. I truly believe that all his actions... in fact every fiber of his very being... was dedicated to Torah Judaism and Kiruv. But it was a Torah Judaism as dictated by Lubavitch which he defined.

In no way did he consider Lubavitch as a cult. He did not think of it that way. No cult leader ever defines their movement as a cult. Nor do the members of the cult think of themselves that way. And they will bring you proof after proof to show they are not. But they are, and if one looks at the way they were before the last Rebbe, one can see that.

Before the Rebbe, Lubavitch was not a cult at all. Thye were far more integrated into the Torah world than they are now. In the late fifties and early sixties, I had many Lubavitchers in my day school in Detroit and several Lubavitch teachers. They may have thought of themselves as a bit more "self important" than other streams of Torah Jewry, but that was hardly worth noticing. It was a matter of understandable pride to think of themselves that way, as any movement might. But the Rebbe changed all that. He knew what he was doing. He was successful beyond anyone's wildest imagination, probably including his own. But in the end he created one huge cult and he did it on purpose. Now that he is dead, his Messianist legacy prevails and is fueled by the cult-like loyalty of his flock.