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Chabad Myths


The Lubavitcher (Chabad) Rebbe was undeniably a great man and arguably the greatest Jew of his generation. Many of his followers have done outstanding work around the globe. But sadly as with every large organization they have their crooks, their swindlers and their charlatans. Amongst their failings is an exaggerated tendency to maximize miracles the Rebbe performed (while ignoring his limitations) and inventing myths.

For many years there has been a story circulating that my father, who died in March 1962, was promised he would be cured by the Rebbe provided he did not tell anyone, but he did and that’s why he died. These stories caused my late mother a great deal of distress. Her very different record of the events was actually published in a Lubavitch book called Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch-Chabad and at one stage she even toyed with legal action.

The facts of the situation are that in the autumn of 1961 my father was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of leukemia and he needed regular blood transfusions. The doctors described his condition as terminal. Initially he kept repeating that he was in the hands of God, not fallible human doctors. As he deteriorated, his initial optimism began to wane.

He went to see the Rebbe in New York and was tremendously impressed. The Rebbe encouraged him to devote his remaining time to preparing himself to meet his Maker. He suggested my father grow his beard full, wear a gartel when he prayed and study the Tanya daily. The visit certainly gave my father a lot of spiritual comfort. When he returned he wrote many letters to friends and pupils telling them that he was nearing his end but facing it with confidence. His health continued to deteriorate, of course, and in the winter he went to New York again for a final visit to the Rebbe. He kept very detailed notes of both visits, so we have written evidence apart from what he told us from memory.

The Rebbe reassured him that he would live to dance at his daughter’s wedding (she was two at the time), and that Purim would be a time of turning sadness into joy. One can argue whether this was honest or not. Let us assume he was just trying to give him courage or speaking mystically. But medically there was no chance of recovery. He died less than two months later, a week before Purim.

Although I have never joined Chabad, when I was a rabbi in Glasgow I helped Chabad establish itself there. The Rebbe was instrumental in my returning to Carmel as Headmaster, and I made several trips to New York to see the Rebbe and to get Chabad teachers to come to Carmel. But I was always a fellow traveler rather than a believer.

Recently this myth resurfaced in the rather sick variation excerpted below, written by a rabbi in Kfar Chabad in Israel. My comments are in brackets.

The scene is London 1963.

[My father died in 1962.]

Three religious bearded Jews are sitting around a table and one, a noted rabbi and community leader by the name of Rabbi Koppel (sic) Rosen was weeping. Usually he was known almost as well for his disdain toward the Chabad Chassidim as he was for his erudition.

[Strange. He came to visit when I was in Beer Yaakov Yeshiva in 1957, and together we went to Kfar Chabad to meet some friends of his. He was responsible for getting Lord Wolfson to fund the building of Lubavitch House in Stamford Hill in the 1950’s, and he was a very old friend of Reb Laizer Spector, zl, one of the main early supporters of Chabad in London, who actually went with him to the Rebbe the first time. My father was in contact with the Rebbe long before his final illness, as letters exchanged between them in the fifties attest.]

Whenever there was an opportunity to belittle or even vilify Chabad he took it.

[It is true that he made fun of the credulous and superstitious, but neither I nor anyone else I know of ever heard him belittle Chabad.]

Several weeks later Rabbi Rosen was standing before the Rebbe. It had all come about so suddenly, he had always shuddered in repulsion at the name Chabad

[Oh no, not that lie again.]

and now it was so obvious that the Rebbe was unequalled in holiness and knowledge that he was actually shaking with excitement. But the Rebbe wasn’t enthusiastic about his idea of becoming a Chassid. “Chassid?” he answered, “I am willing to accept you as a partner. But not a Chassid.”

[The part about being accepted as a partner is the only element of this story that is mentioned in my father’s notes.]

Rabbi Rosen stayed for over a week in Brooklyn

[He has got the two visits confused and time scales wrong]

and every day he felt better and better, in some ways better than ever before in his life. For the first time the hatred he had always carried in his heart was gone.

[Hatred? Of whom, Chabad? Then why had he been helping them for so long?]

That Shabbat he attended the ‘Farbrengen’ (gathering) of the Rebbe. Rabbi Rosen was elated. After the Farbringen he told everyone he met of the amazing miracle that was happening to him;. how just reading the Tanya and seeing the Rebbe completely cured him of the worst disease and made him young again.

[There was no cure, no remission. But, yes, he did feel tremendous spiritual elation from being with the Rebbe.]

When the Shabbat was over he called home and told his wife to advertise the miracle until everyone knew.

[Rubbish, confirmed by my mother. In all he said to his wife and children, he never mentioned a cure.]

Rabbi Rosen never felt better in his life.

[He was on blood transfusions!]

He exclaimed that he was healthy and he felt it would last for ever. “I’ll begin by telling everyone about my miraculous recovery!” He exclaimed enthusiastically.

[His letters, notes and conversations say nothing about this at all.]

But the Rebbe emphatically stopped him. “No! You must tell no one!” But it was too late. Rabbi Rosin (sic) had already advertised.

[Strange that none of his family had been told any of this.]

He returned home a different man, full of life and Chassidic joy and began several projects to spread and teach but after a few months he contracted a cold which developed complications

[He had leukemia!]

and, as the Rebbe foresaw, he passed away.

I find it fascinating that the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament contains a similar story of a man being warned not to reveal a miraculous healing, but publicizing it anyway. It seems that it’s not just the Second Coming that some people in Chabad are borrowing from Christianity! If people can invent nonsense like this to bolster their belief systems, then every story they tell becomes suspect. Myths and lies certainly won’t help bring “Moshiach Now!”

My mother’s Yahrzeit was this past week. Out of respect for her memory, let alone my father’s, zl, I hope someone in Chabad has the integrity and authority to put an end to this for the sake of its own good name.

As a result of my objections, the author of the piece quoted above apologized to me and promised to correct the story. However I notice that all he has done is to give a very qualified apology in his weekly mailing and simply taken out my father’s name and substituted “Rabbi J” in the story that remains online. That’s interesting. I wonder if in future years J will turn into Jeremy! But either way the “myth” is being perpetuated and told as fact. This is simply unacceptable, not to say dishonest.

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16 thoughts on “Chabad Myths

  1. Rabbi Jeremy-

    First off, blessings on your mother and fathers’ memories.

    Now, please tell me how you, their living representative on earth, are elevating their memories by ranting against an entire movement when it is possible only one or two people might be responsible for taking liberties with your family’s personal story ?

    Obviously your father, z’l, even by your reckoning respected the Rebbe. Does this manner of venting in a public blog serve heaven? Or the opposite.

    Only blessings.

    Yisroel Jacobs

  2. Since when did I criticize a whole movement? I only criticized those individuals within it who perpetuate myths. If I criticize individual Jews does this mean that I am criticizing Judaism in general? I don’t think so!

  3. However it is true that there are members of the movement who persist in this kind of thing and this is not an isolated incident. They do indeed, perhaps unfairly, bring dishonor on the movement!

  4. Rabbi-

    You want it both ways.

    Claiming you are trying to right a wrong, that you are only “criticizing individuals”…

    “Since when do I criticize a whole movement?”

    You entitle the piece “Chabad Myths” !

    How many times on your blog or sites do receive conditioning (rationalization) to liberate ourselves (like you have done so proudly) from hesitation to walk in churches and sit thru their requiems. In your opinion, if we ‘can’, must we?

    Can we assume you are the representative of all non-Chabad Rabbis? Would it be fair to generalize and include all non-Chabad Rabbis in your broad opinions or actions? Can we therefore assume all non-Chabad Rabbis are similarly poskining independently.

    One individual wasn’t a mensch (in your reckoning) and yet you wrote:

    “But sadly as with every large organization they have their crooks, their swindlers and their charlatans. “

    You are part of a disorganization?

    “I find it fascinating that the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament contains a similar story of a man being warned not to reveal a miraculous healing, but publicizing it anyway. It seems that it’s not just the Second Coming that some people in Chabad are borrowing from Christianity!”

    Some non-Chabad Rabbis are sitting in churches and listening to requiems. I read it on a blog.

    Please, we should (at least intend) to repair and patch bonds within our people at least as much as we write about
    why it is permissiable to stand apart from almost all other orthodox rabbis.

    In another blog entry you wrote:

    “When I criticize individuals in Lubavitch for inventing myths, I am accused of attacking the whole movement. What’s wrong with us? Can’t we disagree politely? Are we so damaged by thousands of years of anti-Semitism that we are simply crippled?”

    If you truly believe “The Lubavitcher (Chabad) Rebbe was undeniably a great man and arguably the greatest Jew of his generation” can you (at least) see how your message seems conflicted, even hateful?

    Even a bit?

    A happy and kosher Pesach!

    Yisroel Jacobs

  5. I will concede that the title was too generalized and would have better been titled ‘Myths from Chabad’. However the fact is that a similar story has been published in Chabad journals and circulated in varioius forms for years and exclusively from Chabad, despite regular attempts to get it corrected and repeated ‘apologies’ received from personal friends who are very high up in the Chabad hierearchy.

    Now I actually and personally know of many cases of illegality, dishonesty and corruption perpetrated by Chabad institutions or their official representatives in the UK, South Africa, Australia and Miami to mention the most egregious and have heard of many more. But I have not gone public about them precisely because of my affection for the memory of the Rebbe.

    As for me, I am responsible for and only claim responsibility for me. No one else. As for paskening, I only believe in paskening on specific cases.

    Chag Sameach

  6. Jeremy,

    Thanks so much for setting the record straight on this. I for one did not feel offended by your post. I believe that people must be accountable for the stories and research them properly before printing or posting them — especially when they are about our great leaders. Unfortunately many within religious communities – not just Chabad are guilty of this type of misrepresentation in the name of pedagogy.

    Thanks for helping to make people more accountable.

    Rabbi Levi Brackman
    Evergreen, Colorado
    Formerly of Enfield, UK.

  7. I say this with the upmost respect of your father and mother a”h.
    A tzaddik does have the ability to perform miracles. You stated that his lukemiah was what killed him and totally dimiss any notion that perhaps he was really was cured by the Rebbe’s blessing and then passed away from another different ailment later on. why is this so hard for you to accept? do you believe a tzaddik can do this?

  8. Duh! It’s not the promise of a cure; neither is it the failure of a promise; it’s saying that the cure will be removed if he tells. This insults the memory of the Rebbe who would never say such a thing!

  9. This sounds like a case of broken telephone. What can start out as the ‘truth’ can change into a lie. G-d has given us the power of telling a story. You can embellish the story with your bias or you can tell it like it is. Moses was the most humblest of men. I believe this which is why I believe the five books of Moses are completely true. Even if there was a small fraction of error, that fraction would be so small as to be negligible. To think that humans are capable of being more humble than Moshe and transmitting a story 100% true all the time is to say we are as humble or more humble than Moshe.

    We can’t blame people who tell a story with their own bias because I believe we all have bias in us depeding on where we grew up, how we were raised, etc. I believe that if this story were told embellished, it started with a very small minute level of embellishment and then other Chabadnicks came along and embellished it a small amount more, and a small amount more.

    Maybe each person who told and retold the story, only mistold it by an error of .01% and then that adds up. To say that an entire movement is responsible for carrying a story that is embellished is true but many probably don’t realize it is untrue.

    Is it the responsiblity of a person to check the truth of a story before telling it? Maybe. This should be true for religion. If this story is part of the religious faith of Chabad or Judaism than yes it should be checked. And it is irresponsible to carry such a story if it represents the Rebbe as innacurate and gives him a power at a moment of time that he did not have.

    However, if there are other similar stories of the Rebbe that are true than can you blame a whole movment like Chabad for not checking one story?

    I don’t know where I entirely stand on this issue. I would be interested to hear your feedback.

  10. Yes, I think one can object to people who consciously tell lies. If they have been provided with evidence that the story they tell is inaccurate or wrong, and yet they refuse to correct them, or persist in disseminating untruths, then they are indeeed dishonest people, regardless of the cause. And, indeed, if one cares about the cause as I do, it is aitzva to correct them and try to get them to stop (and we won’t even begin to discuss loshon hara and speaking lies of the dead).

  11. That’s horrible people who spread lies about your family and anyone for their own religious/political gain.

  12. I’m sorry about your father. It must really upset you to have his name used in a lie, in a story meant to inspire the religious and win new beltshuva’s. Deceit in the name of religion is not good. It’s probably not what your father would have wanted, nor the Lubovich Rebbe for that matter.

  13. Chabad London in this state, a person dedicates himself to G-d not for the sake of physical or even spiritual reward, but solely for the sake of G-d’s glory, with no thought of self. By acting in such a manner a Jew becomes “ever the more loved by G-d.”

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