Category Archives: Chabad

Chabad synagogue on the north shore in Massachusetts

Over the past few decades, many North Shore communities saw a decline in their Jewish populations; many synagogues shrank or shut down. Yet some communities have stayed strong, like Marblehead and Swampscott. And some places offer new life to the community.  Chabad of the North Shore is one many new outreach centers (nationwide and worldwide) that reaches out to Jews of all backgrounds and observance levels.


Chabad has a point of view, like any group worth respecting does. It’s an open-hearted Hasidic Orthodoxy that meets Jews where they are, offering pathways to a meaningful Jewish life. They’re not missionaries; rather, they inspire Jews to become educated about their own heritage, and to take a step up the ladder of observance, from wherever they are.

As is traditional, some rituals are for men, some are for women; only men can be rabbis; and there is a tasteful, translucent mechitzah (divider) between the men’s and women’s sections during prayer services.

Women and men are both valued equally, and that’s not rhetoric. Chabad encourages women to study Torah and Talmud, and to teach. At their community seder, the service was led equally by the Rebbetzin and Rabbi. The Rebbetzin teaches classes on Talmud and on Kabbalah. That’s egalitarian, even if not Reform style.

My family has been to the Chabad Community Synagogue for their community Purim party, a traditional Shabbat morning service, and to their community Passover seder. We felt most welcome!

I have been to many kinds of synagogues, and what matters most is this: Is there joy? Ruach (spirit)? Does it encourage people to come to again, and inspire children to think “Judaism is worth doing, learning, celebrating.” Chabad of the North Shore succeeds in this. Their Purim celebration and Passover seders are lively, and a joy. If you haven’t been to one, you are missing out.

The Shabbat service could use more Shlomo Carelebach-type melodies and harmonies. But that’s true of nearly all synagogues nowadays. It also could use a few more moments of prayers in English, which helps keeps people involved if they don’t know the format.  That aside, this is a place very much worth coming to, and a worthy addition to the Jewish community of the North Shore.


The realignment of American Orthodox Judaism

Hmmm…provocative ideas. On his blog, Alan Brill writes:

At a recent conference, a speaker noted as a forgone conclusion that Chabad was the only force shaping the last decade of American Jewry. Prof Adam Ferziger responded strongly and loaded with data that the Yeshivish world has had a great influence in shaping the current American reality. His latest work Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism, examines this claim and in addition offers several other essays where he investigates the changes in American Orthodoxy of the last two decades.

….In his prior work, Exclusion and Hierarchy (excerpt here.) , Ferziger shows how 19th century German Orthodoxy evolved two different approaches toward the non-Orthodox majority. In the initial approach, that became associated with Ultra-Orthodox, the non-Orthodox Jews were simply excluded from the purview of the minority community.

In the predominant approach, which emerged in the context of Neo-Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy created space for the nonobservant but spawned a hierarchical culture in which some were seen as keeping the tradition better than others, and as such more “authentic” Jews than others. Hence only the top of the hierarchy could have public religious roles.

In his latest work, Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism, Ferziger arrives at the binary conclusion that American Haredi movements such as community kollels have been socially outgoing, pragmatically protean, and concerned with outreach.

In contrast, Modern Orthodoxy – once the pioneering Orthodox movement that engages the spectrum of American – has gravitated toward an inward looking, boundary drawing religious style , and is focused more on raising its own education level.

In short, the former has recast itself as outward and outreach oriented, while the later has become more centripetal focused on its own narrow enclaves.

The first part of the book is a collection of Ferziger’s articles on a wide range of topics in American Orthodoxy: Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Grunwald , the Lookstein dynasty, and the SSSJ- Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.

The second part of the book is a theme and variations on the current approaches to sectarianism of American Orthodoxy. In 1965, Charles S. Liebman published a study dividing Orthodoxy into two groups, modern Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy. Liebman based this division on the sociological distinction between a “church” group that seeks to be open and broad, as opposed to a “sectarian” group that is only concerned for its own members. Ferziger traces a narrowing of the gap between the two Orthodox trends and ultimately a realignment of American Orthodox Judaism.

Ferziger shows that significant elements within Haredi Orthodoxy have abandoned certain strict and seemingly uncontested norms. He shows how Yeshivish Haredi Jews in the United States are outward looking, non-sectarian, college educated and acculturated in American life. Much of the discussion focuses on the emergence of outreach to nonobservant Jews as a central priority for Haredi Orthodoxy pushing even its core population to new attitudes.

In his focus on Centrism, Ferziger has a long essay, first published a few years ago, on Rabbi Hershel Schachter’s creation of a social boundary by labeling feminism as heresy. Centrism [the right-wing of Modern Orthodoxy] uses this heresy boundary to police its own sect by hunting down violators.

He also shows how Rabbi Schachter created an entire historical vision and criteria for authority based on his own newly minted ideas of mesorah….

Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism

On a related topic see Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy