The Forward asks what might happen when the two most senior Chabad rabbis, my old friend Yehuda Krinsky and no one's friend Avraham Shemtov, both in their late 70s, retire or pass away. Unfortunately, it asks the question from the perspective of its source – who appears to me to be a child of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Chabad's supposed 'chief fundraiser' – and not from the perspectives of Chabad hasidim themselves.
The Forward has a long piece on what might happen when the two most senior Chabad rabbis, my old friend Yehuda Krinsky and no one's friend Avraham Shemtov, both in their late 70s, retire or pass away.
The piece is largely good, but it contains a few errors – largely due the fact that Forward has again published a piece about Chabad without ever speaking to ex-Chabadniks and Chabad critics.
Instead, the Forward relies solely on Chabad insiders, most of whom refuse to comment or spout PC garbage that bears little resemblance to the truth, and on two academics, Sam Heilman (who at least knows a bit about Chabad) and YU Jeffrey Gurok (who really doesn't).
So, in no particular order, here is what the Forward missed or got wrong. (This is not by any means an all inclusive list.)
• Krinsky and Shemtov have been fighting each other for years and barely speak to each other.
• Shemtov is widely hated and feared inside Chabad (and outside it) because he is a ruthless person with no semblance of human emotion. As the old saying about him among older Chabad emissaries goes, far better that he's with us than against us.
• Krinsky is so unpopular in Crown Heights and elsewhere that when his wife passed away last year, only about 200 friends and relatives showed up at the funeral – far less than the number of people who normally attend funerals of longtime Crown Heights residents.
• Exactly what the late Rebbe really wanted done when died is still an open question. Several different wills allegedly existed, and Krinsky was accused by some of making sure the ones that didn't make him Chabad's senior rabbi were removed from the public discourse, so to speak.
• Crown Heights was openly messianist long before the Rebbe died. It did not, as the Forward clearly implies, "[gain] currency in Crown Heights, where men on the street wear yellow messianist flag pins on their lapels, and where Krinsky has had to fight to maintain control of the synagogue in the basement of 770 Eastern Parkway," after the Rebbe's death. (In fact, the Forward's own reporting in proximity to the Rebbe's death and his first yartzeit documents widespread messianism then, almost 20 yaers ago.
• Chabad in Russia has ignored or rejected the wishes of Chabad in Brooklyn for decades. Doing so has nothing to do with Krinsky's age or Shemtov's age. Instead, it has to do with backroom deals Berel Lazar, Chabad's chief rabbi of Russia, made with Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs who back(ed) him just before Putin's first election – a subject the Forward's reporter appears to be ignorant of.
• Even before that, the Rebbe had set up a form of governance for certain aspects of Chabad activities in the Former Soviet Union that is separate from the Krinsky-Shemtov-led Brooklyn organizations.
• Outside of a few Chabad emissaries and out-of-town BTs, no one in Chabad has ever viewed Krinsky and Shemtov as Chabad's leaders. Instead they are viewed as (at best) managers of two or three Chabad organizations that have little, if any, impact on the daily lives of Chabad hasidim in Crown Heights and worldwide.
• The Forward's article is clearly written from the perspective of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, a buffoon who is liked by Chabad emissaries primarily because he controls their grant money. The Forward's primary source is probably a Kotlarsky son and, as usual for the Forward, the idea that a Krinsky child or a Shemtov child might have a different perspective on much of the points made in the article appears to have escaped it.
• In the same way, the idea that Chabad hasidim in Israel are overwhelming messianist in one form or another and largely reject the Krinsky-Shemtov–Kotlarsky leadership is completely absent from the Forward's reporting.