R’ Shmuley Boteach, R’ James Kennard, and Diversity within Chabad

I am not a supporter of R’ Boteach’s approach. I am not a Chabadnik, and for reasons which I won’t go into, I most certainly don’t advocate the glamour and glitz approach of R’ Boteach. Recently, R’ Boteach spoke at Caulfield Shule. I am told it was a packed house and many enjoyed his talks. Yoshke isn’t Kosher in my eyes, and in the eyes of many, but came they did to hear Boteach’s messages on that and “Kosher Sex” and more.

Enter an Ashkenaz Shule, Sydenham, in South Africa. Yes, my Mechutan is the Rav of the Shule and a Chabadnik. He’s actually moderate for what it’s worth. They, for whatever reason, also had R’ Boteach speak. I don’t know how it went, but I’d imagine it was popular. R’ Groner in Melbourne spoke firmly, personally and with gentle persuasion to R’ Boteach to use his talents in other ways. That did not work.

Now Caulfield Shule is led by an arguably left-wing modern Orthodox Rabbi, who I believe is from Rhodesia? Either way, he allowed the talk to go ahead.

The Shule in South Africa, led by a Chabad Chosid, also allowed the talk to go ahead. That’s not to say either Rabbi agreed with the approach of Boteach. I don’t know the circumstances.

If we are to accept that a large Ashkenaz, mainly non-observant Shule in South Africa ought to also have a more diverse Rabbinate (as in Melbourne, Australia) as alleged by Rabbi Kennard, then I ask, in practical terms: what was the difference between the Caulfield event and the one in Johannesburg?

I think the answer is that were the Rabbi of Caulfield someone who asked his Sheylos to R’ Hershel Schachter, the pre-eminent Posek of the Centrist Orthodox community, and senior Posek of the OU, then he may have been advised that it was unwise. On the other hand, the Rabbi in Joannesburg found himself criticised in the Jewish Press by  scions of Chabad in the guise of the respected R’ Ezra Shochet. No doubt though he discussed it with his trusted colleagues.

If there is one thing I’ve observed about Chabad, is that it’s a binary system. The Rebbe was it, and everyone else is at the same 0 level. That is, a 1 and many 0’s. Again, while I agree with R’ Kennard that we do need home-grown Rabbis and more diversity, Chabad cannot be painted (any longer, if at all) with one brush. I’d say the quality, honesty and energy of the personality  is at least if not more important than their Hashkafa (in our day and age)

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have nought to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

4 thoughts on “R’ Shmuley Boteach, R’ James Kennard, and Diversity within Chabad”

  1. Been there before.
    Today happens to be 27 Adar I, when the Rebbe, OBM, had his stroke which effectively ceased communication from him to us. That, culminating 2 years later with his ‘petira’ marked a turning point in Chabad.
    The rest of the Jewish world were ready to consign Chabad to historical oblivion within a few years. We have not seen this. there has been a rejuvenation and an enervation in the work of the shluchim.
    Your words seem to echo those flawed prophecies. Though there would seem to be little external pressure to conform to the traditional haskafah it would appear that adherence has continued.
    This is obviously still a ‘work in progress’ and only time will tell where we will end up. It is hoped that the focusing on the goal and the Rebbe’s legacy will see us through to the geulah shleimah so that the naysayers are truly proven wrong.

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    1. Legacy doesn’t bring Geula. Yeshiva does and there are a myriad of ways to get there. The Gemora doesn’t mention Chassidus as a prerequisite to Tshuva. Diversity demands and is supported in Halacha as return. I am unaware that there is but one hashkafic way that is a prerequisite to return

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  2. I’m totally baffled as to why Boteach has been curve-balled into this discussion. Did he write an article in response to Kennard or Shochet that we’ve missed?
    Coincidentally, I was in South Africa last week at Green and Seapoint Shul in Cape Town. The Rav there is also Chabad, and not only was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach the featured scholar in residence, but that radical Rabbi Mordy Katz was also a star attraction! How low can Chabad sink?
    BTW, I’m pleased to report that Rabbi Boteach will be back at Caulfield Shul later this year.
    Let me also say that during his last visit, although his ‘Kosher Sex’ talk drew a large audience, the highlights of his series of talks were his impassioned and moving talk on Medinas Yisroel and his address to young, single professionals at a Friday night dinner which did more to effectively address the shidduch crisis in our community than has been done before or since. He may be outside the square and a little radical, but having observed him very closely, his shtick is all le’shem shamayim.

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