The situation regarding the Central Chabad Organisation in Melbourne

I should say, that I have held off making any comment on this issue, as I don’t think my comments would help in any way. I’m viewed as an outsider. That being said, neither will this post contribute. But, it’s been on my mind, so I now give it voice through my blog.

I am not a member of the organisation, although we do have two seats for historic/emotional reasons. I didn’t join as I tend not to join things generally and I didn’t understand the complicated structures anyway.

On the issue of a history of offences of a sexual nature perpetrated by low lives and sick people and blind observers who perhaps medicine will one day discover a way to ‘control’, my wish is that we never hear of such occurrences in the future in any School or Institution, and where there is some remote suggestion that something may have happened, this be reported to the justice system to test, immediately.

It is true, that some lay and non lay people were members of  committees when offences were alleged to be occurring. Governance would suggest that unless there was a cone of silence that precluded them knowing, that they now give consideration to new people to take their place, simply on that basis. Those new people should not be “angry ones” or those with a vendetta. They need to be level-headed, thinking, and respected Ba’alei Batim with Chabad’s interests at heart.

It is also true that nobody can fully understand the victim who still suffers, and all assistance—psychologically and financially and apologetically—to help re-route especially those whose lives have fallen apart “back to a happier road” and that must be completed. Some of this has taken place. No doubt some has not. Having never been in the shoes of this type of victim, I am in no place to comment on the effects nor the approaches required to help lessen these effects or give advice.

It may be the result of the Royal Commission, or presumed result of that commission, but I’ve seen snippets of a new constitution and various concerned parents’ minutes. To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the details as they seem legalistic structures that are not my forte and I also lost interest and respect when someone close to me was scandalously marginalised within the School system, but not over anything related to the above. Those are matters for the new “structure” whatever that structure means in practice.

So why I am writing this post, and what is my message?

To me, Chabad is the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe is Chabad (a continuation of previous Rebbes agenda). It is a top-down hierarchy with the top now missing. I always had the very strong feeling that he had a finger on the pulse of any issue brought to his attention. He was a moral, unimpeachable genius who I am sure would have provided correct Halachic and personal advice if consulted. What actually transpired is anyone’s guess, but I certainly don’t hold him responsible and it doesn’t affect Chabad’s powerful philosophy and approach to Judaism and successes.

Democracy is a great thing—ask Donald Trump. Chabad or indeed any Chassidic group or institution cannot by definition be run by a vote of mass hands. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, upon the death of his Rebetzin, wrote a powerful Sicha, entitled בואו ונחשוב חשבונו של עולם. This Sicha, which was short and very powerful was not published or provided for his proof-reading. It was hidden from him a few times. People didn’t want it coming out. He lays out guidelines about how Chabad and private people should function should he pass on before Moshiach (but he didn’t say that fact explicitly). I don’t have a link to the Sicha, it is now printed at the back of Toras Menachem, but there IS a Video of him saying it on the stairs leading down, at 770, and those who were there were in shock. If someone finds it and posts the link, I will update the post. I don’t know if it’s been translated.

Accordingly, I would not deviate one iota from his wishes and those of his forebears. He asked that a committee of three unimpeachable expert and universally recognised Chabad Rabbis/Mashpiim oversee major decisions. They could be in different countries. Someone correct me if I have misunderstood. I can think of suitable apolitical candidates in other countries who are not part of the current power boards of Chabad.

There is now power play, politics and “rights of Yerusha” in Melbourne for there to be anyone unbiased in Melbourne that could consider this, as a group of three. They would not need to build a tome of complicated constitution, but would certainly need to lay down the guidelines about how voices from the Kehilla would be considered and respectfully responded to.

Nepotism must be eradicated. It is a plague. Excellence should be the only criteria.

There was, to my knowledge, never an instruction to insert a letter into his Igros and derive a conclusion about how to go ahead. We all know of “incredible” cases where direct advice was on the page, but we also know of the myriad of people who found nothing remotely connected, and that didn’t have anything to do with their lack of knowledge or depth. You can say the person wasn’t fit or ready, but you can also say anything.

I’m most disappointed that Chabad, which should be cohesive, has factionalism. They can’t even close down unsanctioned infamous Melbourne CBD “Chabad houses”, let alone expel the Tzfatim from 770. This is the anti-thesis of Hiskashrus. Sadly, we have too few great and straight Chassidim in Melbourne to look at the issue dispassionately, and through proper Halacha, which I have no doubt who would also comply with secular requirements, sans ego.

I also see strange “innovations” ever-creeping into the main Shule, none of which I saw in 45 years, and which are on the rise. These emanate mainly from those who are new to Chabad (not born into the dynasty) and I find them most alienating to those who are mainstream mispallelim davening in a Chabad Shule. Rabbi Groner never made someone feel alienated in the Shule. He even allowed a pregnant pause so people could say Veshomru on Friday night. This pause is now proudly circumcised as a sign of purity.

On Shemini Atzeres, at Hakafos in the main Shule, the audible calling up of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to “say” the first Hakofo occurred. I know some long term mispallelim who left the Shule at that point in disbelief. This is too much and is far removed from normative Jewish practice. Everyone will recall the Gerrer Rebbe encouraging Breslaver Chassidim to give Rav Nachman Hagbah.

There may well be a valid feeling that a Chassid feels internally that he would like nothing more than the Rebbe saying the first Hakofa. Have that feeling. Internalise it, and if it doesn’t happen, go home and weep, by all means, or find strength. But as part of a formal Tefilla and practice, I find it very hard to cope with and I’m not aware of a Halachic source for such a practice. Someone enlighten me.

I have a soft spot for the Shemini Atzeres Farbrengen  at Yeshivah which was always regaled by Rabbi Groner and whilst the format was new this year, I was interested. I was upset though that when the elderly R’ Mendel New got up to say a few words, albeit in a weak voice, there was a cacophony. Silence—complete silence, is what should have taken place, and there was nobody of authority to make sure that such should take place. He was talking about keeping Shabbos in the old days. Rabbi Groner would have yelled out (as he used to do with waiters at Simchas) that everyone zip their mouths. I was embarrassed, and moved right up to R’ Mendel and listened to his story, though I had heard it.

There were a few very learned Rabbis close by where I sat, and they are not drinkers. After kiddush on Vodka, as is the custom, though, it went straight to their heads. The result? Inhibitions were discarded and they started singing “Yechi”.  I left the farbrengen immediately, although discretely. It’s a great turn off for me and legions of others, but Chabad don’t care (though the Rebbe did). Ditto with the signage in some Shules and the other useless paraphernalia.

“Yechi” needs to become an internalised hergesh/feeling that materialises into positive action that people feel genuinely and materialise into lamplighters. Gyrating and singing the song, or plastering signs up in Shules only achieves acrimony from those who find this

  • not part of davening, before or after
  • not part of a shule’s decoration.
  • well passed its use by date

Is this the Chabad “Na Na Nachman”. What has that achieved apart from party revellers joining in.

I have grandchildren in the School, and I only pray that the place returns to becoming a bastion of normative behaviour with a Chassidic bent, staffed by honest, talented, trustworthy people with no other agenda except quality education (yes, and I include secular education). People who don’t live to fill their egos.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have naught​ 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.

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