Wary of Chabad movement


To the Editor:

I want to respond to the “Have Faith” article, written by Connie Berry and published last Thursday, June 22. It is titled, “Chabad on the Vineyard.” 

Ms. Berry presents Chabad In very glowing terms, discusses the Chabad movement to some extent, and focuses on the background of the rabbi. 

I have a lot of questions and concerns about why this movement is appearing on Martha’s Vineyard, which already has a lively and very well-established, member-supported Jewish community. 

Firstly, the Chabad center did not emerge as an organic outgrowth of our community from a membership, but rather, seems to have been parachuted into the community by very wealthy backers —- with enough big money to purchase and renovate a space, pay the salary of a rabbi, support his family, and provide all kinds of programming (dinners, speakers, etc.). I am concerned about this in terms of buying a community, rather than helping it to emerge.

I also want to express my concerns about the Chabad movement itself. Chabad is a Hasidic sect of Judaism founded in the 18th century, and known for its conservative and traditional beliefs, as well as its dedication to spreading Judaism to nonbelievers. It engages in pretty aggressive outreach, or missionary activities, all around the world. I heard recently from a friend here that the rabbi has appeared uninvited at his house a number of times to try and convince him to “lay Tefillin” (a morning prayer ritual engaged in by men) and to join Chabad.

Chabad is driven by a messianic core of belief — particularly in terms of the role of a deceased rabbi (Menachem Schneerson), who has become an icon, and some would say, functions as if he were the Messiah himself.

Finally, because of the deep pockets of the backers and their more right-wing politics, Chabad is sponsoring a “Critical Conversations” speaker series at Slough Farm featuring, among other very conservative speakers, Naftali Bennett, former Israeli prime minister, who has spent his career promoting illegal settlements, supporting moves to expel and remove non-Jewish inhabitants of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as an ultra-nationalist. 

I know that the presence of Chabad on Martha’s Vineyard is enticing to some, but I also want to introduce some caution about it, and to highlight my respect for the work and dedication of those at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center who have been and are working tirelessly to create an inclusive and welcoming community for both Jews and non-Jews on the Island.


Ellen Levine
Chilmark and Toronto