Francine Klagbrun’s opinion column (“Synagogues Should Be More Welcoming,” Jan. 13), after complimenting Chabad for our genuine outreach to every Jew, regardless of financial means, offers a laundry list of old complaints
about Chabad. I would like to address one of her comments, which I hear repeated in some Jewish circles. Her statement “although my friend missed the more intellectual atmosphere of a Conservative synagogue, he enjoyed the enthusiasm and inclusiveness of the Chabad service,” seems to paint Chabad as intellectually second-class. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The word “Chabad” stands for an intellectual approach to understanding all aspects of Judaism. One hour of studying Chabad text or reading articles on Chabad.org will show the deep intellectual foundation upon which Chabad is based. In Chabad yeshivas, students spend hours each day studying Chabad chasidic philosophy, which includes explanations and discourses on all aspects of Torah and life, with a special emphasis on the complex relationship between intellect and emotions.
A Chabad rabbi may very well deliberately try to create an “enthusiastic and inclusive” spirit as opposed to an “intellectual atmosphere” for a very good reason. His goal is to inspire his audience to action. An intellectually stimulating sermon will perhaps stir the mind to thought and discussion, which is indeed important, but it will not necessarily inspire the heart, hands and feet to move. But don’t conclude from this that the intellectual foundation is not a driving force.
With that said, I think Klagsbrun has touched upon one of the reasons for Chabad’s great success. Most people want inspiration, and they know at Chabad they can get it.
Director, Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island