Avi Becker, a former senior official with the World Jewish Congress, writes in Ha'aretz on the virtues of Chabad. First Dr. Becker repeats the standard lines about Chabad's growth after the death of the Rebbe:
The extent of the Chabad network, with 4,000 centers in 70 countries, is unprecedented in the Jewish world and is difficult to explain in conventional sociological terms. The expansion continued despite the loss 11 years ago of its renowned spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who championed the cause of bringing Jews together and under whose direction Chabad became famous for its aggressive marketing of Judaism.
Chabad's growth is not all that difficult to explain. Shlichus (Chabad 'missionary' work) is a jobs program. It is the family business and the family calling all rolled up into one. When the Rebbe died he left hundreds of teenaged students whose only training and only aspiration was to be a Chabad shaliach. The family business expanded to accommodate them. This, combined with the opening of Russia and the FSU and oligarchs who quickly saw the advantages of having Chabad on their side – and the very real disadvantages of the opposite – explains much of Chabad's growth. But numbers of centers do not tell the whole story. Many centers are operational only in the most restricted sense. The shaliach raises money and does a few – very few in some cases – programs that attract only a tiny number of people. Another Chabad "center" shows on the map, but few people are influenced or helped. This "center" helps Chabad's overall PR image at least as much as it helps local Jews.
And, after all, it is Chabad's PR image that is paramount. Dr. Becker continues his "report":
Chabad has recently underscored efforts to shake off the messianic image that has adhered to certain sectors of the movement; it has rejected out of hand the extreme sect that has transformed Schneerson into the messiah. The organizers of the New York convention went out of their way to express their opposition to messianic elements.
Really? Can we see that "rejection" in writing, please? Messianic signs, banners and flags fill Chabad communities worldwide. Chabad's major educational and religious institutions are controlled by messianists. Chabad institutions in entire countries are dominated by messianists. So where is the "rejection," Dr. Becker?
But, more to the point, Chabad's "anti"-messianists do not themselves reject the view that the late Rebbe is the messiah – far from it. They reject publicizing that view, because that view hurts fundraising and outreach efforts. No major "anti"-messianist leader has ever said publicly that the late Rebbe is not the messiah – and none ever will.
Chabad is expert at using naîve secular Jews, like Dr. Becker and Alan Derschowitz, as its "kashering agents." Chabad is successful at this largely because the Jewish media fails to do its job. Just as it provides minimal reporting on the activities of the Federations, which, after all, are "representative" of all Jews, it provides far less hard coverage of Chabad, that represents so few. But Chabad has changed the theology of Judaism in ways that demand our attention.
Asking a dead man for blessing and advice – and expecting and "receiving" an answer – once the sole purview of polytheistic religions, is now a mainstay of Judaism.The focus on the personality and charisma of a supposed messiah now surpasses the deeds that messiah must do to be authentic. And a second coming of the messiah – once an exclusively Christian concept that marked the divide between Christianity and Judaism – is now a standard Jewish belief.
But these are theological issues, issues that effect the heart and soul of Judaism, not its pocketbook and stomach, and as such they are lost on the Steinhardts, Derschowitz's and Beckers of the world, who care more about nostalgia and warm cholent than they do about truth.
Once upon a time in a land far away, truth mattered. But no more.