Marvin Schick has an op-ed in yesterday's Jerusalem Post entitled "Where is Chabad heading?" Schick points out the degradation of halakhic observance so common to Chabad Houses today, and laments the lack of serious discussion within Chabad about this. He also notes the use of celebrities whose connection to Jewish-halakhic observance is often severely lacking. He points out that Alan Derschowitz, a key speaker at Chabad's shluchim (rabbi representatives) conference this year is a proponent of intermarriage.
I would add that Chabad's Crown Heights-based Jewish Children's Museum's annual fundraising dinner had the actor Jeff Goldblum as its honoree. Goldblum has been intermarried, is currently inter-dating with plans for marriage, has no connection to anything Jewish, told reporters he could not understand why he was honored because he had done nothing meritorious, certainly nothing Jewish, that would merit it.
And then we have US Senator Norm Coleman (R, MN), a kind and good man, who is very publicly married to a Catholic woman. Norm, when he was mayor of St. Paul, was honored with lighting Chabad's giant public menorah. I find it hard to believe the Rebbe would have allowed this.
I used to frequent a Chabad House where, on Shabbat, at least 1/3, and often much more, of the minyan drove to shul and parked in the shul parking lot. This was all done very publicly. The rabbi knew. Everyone else knew. And yet, every week the rabbi made sure to ask the same men to come. They all lived too far to walk. Two men used to drive in from 15 miles away on Shabbat morning, daven, eat cholent, and then drive home in the early afternoon. Without these men, Chabad had no minyan. It is this type of flagrant disregard for halakha that Schick is concerned with.
Over and over again, the halakhic standards enforced within the movement 20 years ago are falling by the wayside. When coupled with Chabad's messianism (a topic Schick does not even touch on), and its redefinition of Judaism as Rebbeism (and by this I mean the idea that everything done or believed is done or believed primarily because of the Rebbe, and good a person experiences comes from the active blessings of the Rebbe), one finds a dangerous situation. In many ways Chabad is like the Conservative movement, a neo-Orthodox grouping almost indistinguishable from Orthodoxy, with congregations made up of largely non-observant congregants but led by observant rabbis. But those early Conservative rabbis would not have asked Jews to drive on Shabbat to make their minyans, and they would not have honored intermarried Jews. (Those innovations came much later.) And the Conservative movement did not have a dead messianic figure.
It is this flagrant disregard for halakha that in large part endears Chabad to non-observant Jews. So little is expected of them other than affiliation. I have seen these Jews get aliyot on Shabbat and Yom Tov while wearing cell phones, with pockets full of change and car keys, and pens clipped to their shirt pockets. And these are not first-time visitors to Chabad.
As more and more non-observant Jews become connected with this new, post-Rebbe Chabad, Chabad moves further away from normative halakhic observance. Where will this all lead? In twenty years, maybe even less, America will have two viable Jewish movements – Reform and Chabad. Neither will be Orthodox as the term has been defined for the last 200 years. One of them will be humanist but moving toward tradition. The other will be messianic and moving steadily away from tradition. And where this will lead, nobody knows.