Chabad, also known as Habad, Lubavitch, and Chabad-Lubavitch, is a Hasidic movement. Chabad adheres to the Orthodox practice of Judaism. Founded in Russia in 1775, Chabad is today one of the world's largest and best-known Hasidic movements. Its official headquarters are currently located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Organizationally, it is the largest Jewish religious organization in the world today.
The name "Chabad" (Hebrew: חב"ד) is a Hebrew acronym for Chochmah, Binah, Da'at (חכמה, בינה, דעת): "Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge". The name "Lubavitch" (meaning the "Town of Love") is the popular name for the Russian village Lyubavichi where the movement's leaders lived for over 100 years.
Chabad maintains a network of over 3,600 institutions in over 1,000 cities, spanning 70 countries. Chabad institutions provide outreach to unaffiliated Jews, as well as religious, cultural and educational activities at Chabad run community centers, synagogues, schools and camps.
The movement is thought to number between 40,000 to 200,000 adherents, and up to one million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year.
An adherent of Chabad is called a Chabad Chasid (or Hasid) (Hebrew: חסיד חב"ד), a Lubavitcher (Yiddish: ליובאוויטשער), a Chabadnik (Hebrew: חבדניק), or a Chabadsker (Yiddish: חבדסקער).
Today, Chabad is among the world's largest Hasidic groups, and it is the largest Jewish religious organization. The vast network of Chabad institutions have placed the movement at the forefront of Jewish communal life today.
While the movement has spawned a number of other groups, the Chabad-Lubavitch branch appears to be the only one still active, making it the movement's main surviving line. In the early 1900s, Chabad-Lubavitch legally incorporated itself under Agudas Chasidei Chabad ("Association of Chabad Hasidim").
The Chabad movement has been led by a succession of Hasidic rebbes. The main line of the movement, Chabad-Lubavitch, has had seven rebbes in total:
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812), founded the Chabad movement in the town of Liozna. He later moved the movement's center to the town of Liadi. Rabbi Shneur Zalman was the youngest disciple of Rabbi Dovber of Mezritch, the principal disciple and successor of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism. The Chabad movement began as a separate school of thought within the Hasidic movement, focusing of the spread of Hasidic mystical teachings using logical reasoning (creating a kind of Jewish "rational-mysticism"). Shneur Zalman's main work is the Tanya (or "Sefer Shel Beinonim", "Book of the Average Man"). The Tanya is the central book of Chabad thought and is studied daily by followers of the Chabad movement. Shneur Zalman's other works include a collection of writings on Hasidic thought, and the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, a revised version of the code of Jewish law, both of which are studied regularly by followers of Chabad. Shneur Zalman's successors went by last names such as "Schneuri" and "Schneersohn" (later "Schneerson"), signifying their descent from the movement's founder. He is commonly referred to as the Alter Rebbe (Yiddish: אלטער רבי) or Admur Hazoken (Hebrew: אדמו״ר הזקן) ("Old Rebbe").
Rabbi Dovber Schneuri (1773–1827), son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, led the Chabad movement in the town of Lyubavichi (Lubavitch). His leadership was initially disputed by Rabbi Aaron Halevi of Stroselye, however, Rabbi Dovber was generally recognized as his father's rightful successor, and the movement's leader. Rabbi Dovber published a number of his writings on Hasidic thought, greatly expanding his father's work. He also published some of his father's writings. Many of Rabbi Dovber's works have been subsequently republished by the Chabad movement. He is commonly referred to as the Mitteler Rebbe (Yiddish: מיטעלער רבי), or Admur Ha'emtzoei (Hebrew: אדמו״ר האמצעי) (Middle Rebbe).
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1789–1866), a grandson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman and son-in-law of Rabbi Dovber. Following his attempt to persuade the Chabad movement to accept his brother-in-law or uncle as rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel assumed the title of rebbe of Chabad, also leading the movement from the town of Lyubavichi (Lubavitch). He published a number of his works on both Hasidic thought and Jewish law. Rabbi Menachem Mendel also published some of the works of his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. He is commonly referred to as the Tzemach Tzedek, after the title of his responsa.
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn (1834–1882), was the seventh and youngest son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel. He assumed the title of rebbe in town of Lyubavichi (Lubavitch), while several of his brothers assumed the title of rebbe in other towns, forming groups of their own. Years after his death, his teachings were published by the Chabad movement. He is commonly referred to as the Maharash, an acronym for "Moreinu HaRav Shmuel" ("our teacher, Rabbi Shmuel").
Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (1860–1920), Shmuel's second son, succeeded his father as rebbe. Rabbi Shalom Dovber waited some time before officially accepting the title of rebbe, as not to offend his elder brother, Zalman Aaron. He established a yeshiva called Tomchei Temimim. During World War One, he moved to Rostov-on-Don. Many of his writings were published after his death, and are studied regularly in Chabad yeshivas. He is commonly referred to as the Rashab, an acronym for "Rabbi Shalom Ber".
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880–1950), the only son of Sholom Dovber, succeeded his father as rebbe of Chabad. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was exiled from Russia, following an attempt by the Bolshevik government to have him executed. He led the movement from Warsaw, Poland, until the start of World War Two. After fleeing the Nazis, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak lived in Brooklyn, New York until his death. He established much of Chabad's current organizational structure, founding several of its central organizations as well as other Chabad institutions, both local and international. He published a number of his writings, as well as the works of his predecessors. He is commonly referred to as was the Rayatz, or the Frierdiker Rebbe ("Previous Rebbe").
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), son-in-law of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, and a great-grandson of the third Rebbe of Lubavitch, assumed the title of rebbe one year after his father-in-law's death. Rabbi Menachem Mendel greatly expanded Chabad's global network, establishing hundreds of new Chabad centers across the globe. He published many of his own works as well as the works of his predecessors. Rabbi Menachem Mendel's teachings are studied regularly by followers of Chabad. He is commonly referred to as "the Lubavitcher Rebbe", or simply "the Rebbe". Even after his death, he is revered as the leader of the Chabad movement.
The Chabad community
The Chabad community consists of the followers (Hasidim) of the Chabad Rebbes. Originally, based in Eastern Europe, today, various Chabad communities span the globe; the communities with higher concentrations of Chabad's Hasidic followers are located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Kfar Chabad, Israel. Other communities hold smaller population sizes.
The members or adherents of the Chabad movement are formally called "Chabad Chasidim" (Hasidim). Other designations include "Lubavitchers", "Chabadskers" (Yiddish) and "Chabadnikim" (Hebrew). Chabad's adherents include both Hasidic followers, as well as non-Hasidim, who have joined Chabad synagogues and other Chabad run institutions.
Oppression in Russia
The Chabad movement was subject to government oppression in Russia. The Russian government, first under the Czar, later under the Bolsheviks, imprisoned several of the Chabad rebbes. The Bolsheviks also imprisoned, exiled and executed a number of Chabad Hasidim. But since the fall of communism in 1991, Chabad has enjoyed warm relations with the Russian government.
Chabad Hasidic philosophy focuses on religious and spiritual concepts such as God, the soul, and the meaning of the Jewish commandments. Classical Judaic writings and Jewish mysticism, especially the Zohar and the Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria, are frequently cited in Chabad works. These texts are used both as sources for Chabad teachings, as well as material requiring interpretation by Chabad authors. Chabad philosophy is rooted in the teachings of Rabbis Yisroel ben Eliezer, (the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism) and Dovber ben Avraham, the "Maggid of Mezritch" (Rabbi Yisroel's successor).
Rabbi Shneur Zalman's teachings formed the basis of Chabad philosophy, as expanded by succeeding generations. Many Chabad activities today are understood as applications of Shneur Zalman's teachings.
Sefer HaTanya, Shneur Zalman's magnum opus, is the first schematic treatment of Hasidic moral philosophy and its metaphysical foundations. The original name of the first book is Sefer Shel Beinonim, the "Book of the Intermediates." It is also known as Likutei Amarim — "Collected Sayings." Sefer Shel Beinonim analyzes the inner struggle of the individual and the path to resolution. Citing the biblical verse "the matter is very near to you, in your mouth, your heart, to do", the philosophy is based on the notion that the human is not inherently evil; rather, every individual has an inner conflict that is characterized with two different inclinations, the good and the bad.
According to Shneur Zalman's seminal work Tanya, the intellect consists of three interconnected processes: Chochma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), and Da'at (knowledge). While other branches of Hasidism focused primarily on the idea that "God desires the heart," Shneur Zalman argued that God also desires the mind, and that the mind is the "gateway," to the heart. With the Chabad philosophy he elevated the mind above the heart, arguing that "understanding is the mother of fear and love for God".
Chabad often contrasted itself with the Chagat schools of Hasidism. While all Hasidism have a certain focus on the emotions, Chagat saw emotions as a reaction to physical stimuli, such as dancing singing or beauty. Shneur Zalman, on the other hand, taught that the emotions must be led by the mind, and thus the focus of Chabad thought was to be Torah study and prayer rather than esotericism and song. As a Talmudist, Shneur Zalman endeavored to place Kabbalah and Hasidism on a rational basis. In Tanya, he defines his approach as moach shalit al halev (Hebrew: "מוח שליט על הלב", "the brain ruling the heart").
Chabad adherents follow Chabad traditions and prayer services based on Lurianic kabbalah. General Chabad customs, called minhagim, distinguish the movemment from other Hasidic groups. Some of the main Chabad customs are minor practices performed on traditional Jewish holidays:
Passover – It is customary in Chabad communities, on passover, to limit contact of matzah (an unleavened bread eaten on passover) with water. This custom is called gebrokts (Yiddish: געבראָכטס, lit. 'broken'). However, on the last day of passover, it is customary to intentionally have matzah come in contact with water.
Chanukah – It is the custom of Chabad Hasidim to place the Chanukahmenorah against the room's doorpost (and not on the windowsill).
There are a number of days marked by the Chabad movement as special days. Major holidays include the liberation dates of the leaders of the movement, the Rebbes of Chabad, others corresponded to the leaders' birthdays, anniversaries of death, and other life events.
The days marking the leaders' release, are celebrated by the Chabad movement as "Days of Liberation" (Hebrew: יום גאולה (Yom Geulah)). The most noted day is Yud Tes Kislev – The liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement. The day is also called the "New Year of Hasidism".
Demographic accounts on the Chabad movement vary. Chabad adherents are often reported to number some 200,000 persons. Some scholars have pointed to the lack of quantitative data to back this claim, and some place the number of Chabad followers at around 40,000 but note that the number may be higher if the non-Hasidic Jews who join Chabad synagogues are included as well.
Compared to other Hasidic groups, Chabad is currently thought to be the third or fourth largest Hasidic movement.
An estimate for Chabad in the United States places the movement's followers in the US at around 18,600. The estimate is drawn from existing data on the Montreal Chabad community, and Chabad Day School figures.
Crown Heights – The Crown Heights Chabad community's estimated size is 10,000-12,000. Though there is no published quantitative data to back the claim. The Crown Heights Chabad community is led by the Beis Din (rabbinical court). The community legal representative body is the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council (CHJCC).
Student body in the United States
The report findings of studies on Jewish Day Schools and supplementary Jewish education in the United States show that the student body currently enrolled in some 295 Chabad schools exceeds 20,750.
Kfar Chabad – Kfar Chabad's estimated size is 5,100; the residents of the town are believed to all be Chabad adherents. This estimate is based on figures published by the Israeli Census Bureau. The Chief Rabbi of Kfar Chabad is Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi.
Montreal – The estimated size of the Chabad community of Greater Montreal is 1,590. The estimate is taken from a local community study.
Chabad Ashkenazim and Sephardim
Though the Chabad movement was founded in Eastern Europe, a center of Ashkenazic Jewry, it has in the past several decades attracted a significant number of Sephardi Jews as adherents. Some Chabad communities are now a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chabad Hasidim. In Montreal, close to 25% of Chabad households include a Sephardi parent.
Chabad's influence since World War Two has been far reaching amongst world Jewry. Chabad pioneered the post-World War IIoutreach movement, which spread Judaism to many assimilated Jews worldwide, leading to a substantial number of baalei teshuva ("returnees" to Judaism). The very first Yeshiva/Rabbinical College for such baalei teshuva, Hadar Hatorah, was established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is reported that up to a million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year.
According to Steven I. Weiss, Chabad's ideology has dramatically influenced non-Hasidic Jews' practice with regard to Jewish outreach issues.
Because of its outreach to all Jews, including those quite alienated from religious Jewish tradition, Chabad has been described as the one Orthodox group to evoke great affection from large segments of American Jewry.
Local Chabad centers and institutions are often incorporated as separate legal entities.
As of 2007 there are 3,300 Chabad institutions around the world. As of 2006 there were Chabad centers in 75 countries.
Listed on the Chabad movement's online directory are around 1,350 Chabad institutions. This number includes schools and other Chabad-affiliated establishments. The number of Chabad centers vary per country; the majority are in the United States and Israel. There are over 40 countries which have a small Chabad presence.
In total, according to its directory, Chabad maintains a presence in 950 cities around the world: 178 in Europe, 14 in Africa, 200 in Israel, 400 in North America, 38 in South America, and about 70 in Asia (excluding Israel, including Russia).
A Chabad house is a form of Jewish community center, primarily serving both educational and observance purposes. Often, until the community can support its own center, the Chabad house is located in the shaliach's home, with the living room being used as the "synagogue". Effort is made to provide an atmosphere in which the nonobservant will not feel intimidated by any perceived contrast between their lack of knowledge of Jewish practice and the advanced knowledge of some of the people they meet there. The term "Chabad House" originated with the creation of the first such outreach center on the campus of UCLA by Rabbi Shlomo Cunin.
In the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the local Chabad house was targeted. The local Chabad emissaries, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, and four other Jews were brutally murdered. Chabad received condolences from around the world.
Funds for activities of a Chabad center rely entirely on the local community. Chabad centers do not receive funding from Lubavitch headquarters. For the day to day operations, local emissaries do all the fundraising by themselves.
Chabad emissaries often solicit the support of local Jews. Funds are used toward purchasing or renovating Chabad centers, synagogues and Mikvahs.
The Chabad movement has been involved in numerous activities in contemporary Jewish life. These activities include providing Jewish education to different age groups, outreach to non-affiliated Jews, publishing Jewish literature, summer camps for children among other activities.
Chabad runs a number of educational institutions. Most are Jewish day schools; others offer secondary and adult education.
Day schools – In the United States, there are close to 300 day schools and supplementary schools run by Chabad.
Secondary schools – Chabad runs multiple secondary education institutions, most notable are Tomchei Tmimim for young men, and Bais Rivka for young women.
Much of the movement's activities emphasize on outreach activities. This is due to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson encouraging his followers to reach out to other Jews. Chabad outreach includes activities promoting the practice of Jewish commandments (Mitzvah campaigns), as well as other forms of Jewish outreach. Much of Chabad's outreach is performed by Chabad emissaries (see Shaliach (Chabad)).
The Rebbes of Chabad have issued the call to all Jews to attract non-observant Jews to adopt Orthodox Jewish observance, teaching that this activity is part of the process of bringing the Messiah. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson issued a call to every Jew: "Even if you are not fully committed to a Torah life, do something. Begin with a mitzvah — any mitzvah — its value will not be diminished by the fact that there are others that you are not prepared to do".
In addition, Schneerson emphasized spreading awareness of preparing for and the coming of the moshiach Jewish messiah, consistent with his philosophy. He wrote on the responsibility to reach out to teach every fellow Jew with love, and implored that all Jews believe in the imminent coming of the moshiach as explained by Maimonides. He argued that redemption was predicated on Jews doing good deeds, and that gentiles should be educated about the Noahide Laws. Chabad has been a prime force in disseminating awareness of these laws.
Schneerson was emphatic about the need to encourage and provide strong education for every child, Jew and non-Jew alike.
Following the initiative of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson spurred on the movement to what has become known as shlichus ("serving as an emissary [performing outreach]") in 1950–1951. As a result, Chabad shluchim ("emissaries", sing. shliach) have moved all over the world with the stated mission of encouraging non-observant Jews to adopt Orthodox Jewish observance. They assist Jews with all their religious needs, as well as with physical assistance and spiritual guidance and teaching. The stated goal is to encourage Jews to learn more about their Jewish heritage and to practice Judaism.
The Chabad movement, motivated by Schneerson, has trained and ordained thousands of rabbis, educators, ritual slaughterers, and ritual circumcisers, who are then accompanied by their spouses to many locations around the world. Typically, a young Lubavitch rabbi and his wife, in their early twenties, with one or two children, will move to a new location, and as they settle in will raise a large family who as a family unit, will aim to fulfill their mandate of bringing Jewish people closer to Orthodox Judaism and encouraging gentiles to adhere to the Seven Laws of Noah.
A mitzvah tank is a vehicle used by Chabad members involved in outreach as a portable "educational and outreach center" and "mini-synagogue" (or "minagogue"). Mitzvah tanks are commonly used for advancing the Mitzvah campaigns. Mitzvah tanks have been commonplace on the streets of New York City since 1974. Today, they are used all over the globe, in countries where Chabad is active.
In recent years, Chabad has greatly expanded its outreach on university and college campuses. Chabad Student Centers are active on over 100 campuses, and Chabad offers varied activities at an additional 150 universities worldwide. Professor Alan Dershowitz has said that "Chabad’s presence on college campuses today is absolutely crucial", and "We cannot rest until Chabad is on every major college campus in the world".
Chabad publishes and distributes Jewish religious literature. Under Kehot Publication Society, Chabad's main publishing house, Jewish literature has been translated into 12 different languages. Kehot regularly provides books at discounted prices, and hosts book-a-thons. Kehot commonly distributes books written or transcribed from the rebbes of Chabad, prominent chassidim and other authors who have written Jewish materials.
The Chabad movement publishes a wealth of Jewish material on the internet. Chabad's main website Chabad.org, is one of the first Jewish websites and the first and largest virtual congregation. It serves not just its own members but Jews worldwide in general. According to Alexa.com, Chabad.org is currently the largest Jewish educational website worldwide.
Popular Chabad community websites include COLlive.com (and a Hebrew site, COLlive.co.il) and CrownHeights.info.
Chabad has set up an extensive network of camps around the world, most using the name Gan Israel, a name chosen by Schneerson although the first overnight camp was the girls division called Camp Emunah. There are 1,200 sites serving 210,000 children — most of whom do not come from Orthodox homes. Of these, 500 camps are in the United States.
Schneerson involved himself in matters relating to the resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He maintained that as a matter of Jewish law, any territorial concession on Israel's part would endanger the lives of all Jews in the Land of Israel, and is therefore forbidden. He also insisted that even discussing the possibility of such concessions showed weakness, would encourage Arab attacks, and therefore endanger Jewish lives.
In USA domestic politics, Schneerson supported government involvement in education and welcomed the establishment of the United States Department of Education in 1980, yet insisted that part of a school's educational mission was to incorporate the values espoused in the Seven Laws of Noah. He called for the introduction of a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day, and for students to be encouraged to use this time for such improving thoughts or prayers as their parents might suggest.
In 1981, Schneerson publicly called for the use of solar energies. Schneerson believed that the USA could achieve energy independence by developing solar energy technologies. He argued that the dependence on foreign oil may lead to the country compromising on its principles.
In the late 1980s, the Rebbe called for his followers to become involved in outreach activities with the purpose of bringing about the Jewish Messianic Age. Statements concerning the advancement of the Messianic age was a factor leading to the controversy surrounding the messianic beliefs of some members of the movement.
A number of unrelated controversial incidents have occurred during the Chabad movement's history. Today, Messianism within the Chabad movement appears to be among the most frequently cited controversies within the Orthodox Jewish community.
A number of groups have split from the Chabad movement, forming their own Chasidic groups, and at times, positioning themselves as possible successors of previous Chabad rebbes.
Disputes over succession
Following the deaths of several of the rebbes of Chabad, disputes arose over their succession.
The death of Rabbi Shneur Zalman – Following the death of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rebbe, a dispute over his succession led to a break within the movement. While the recognized successor was Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, a student of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Rabbi Aaron HaLevi assumed the title of rebbe, and led a number of followers from the town of Strashelye. The new group had two rebbes, Rabbi Aaron and his son Rabbi Haim Rephael. The new group eventually disbanded, following Rabbi Haim Rephael's death.
The death of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the Tzemach Tzedek) – Following the death of the third Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the Tzemach Tzedek), a dispute over his succession led to the formation of several Chabad groups. While Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn was recognized as the heir to the Chabad-Lubavitch line, several of his brothers formed groups of their own in the towns of Kopys (forming the Kapust dynasty), Nezhin (forming the Niezhin dynasty), Lyady (forming the Liadi dynasty), and Ovruch (forming the Avrutch dynasty). The lifespan of these groups varied; Niezhin and Avrutch had one rebbe each, Liadi had two rebbes, and Kapust had four. Following the deaths of their last rebbes, these groups eventually disbanded.
The death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson – Following the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Chabad rebbe, an attempt was made by one follower to form his own group. Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutch assumed the title of rebbe of Liozna (after the town where Rabbi Shneur Zalman first led the Chabad movement). This attempt failed to gain broad support, and it is unclear whether Deutch continues to claim the title of rebbe.
Several followers of Chabad broke from the movement, forming their own groups. These former followers drew upon their experiences at Chabad. In some cases, their teachings incorporated ideas which they learned at Chabad.
The Malachim – The Malachim were formed as a quasi-Hasidic group. The group claims to recognize the teachings of the first four rebes of Chabad, thus rivaling the later Chabad rebbes. The Malachim's first and only rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Avraham Dov Ber Levine haCohen (1859/1860–1938), also known as "The Malach" (lit. "the angel"), was a follower of the fourth and fifth rebbes of Chabad. While Levine did not leave a successor, the Malachim group continues to maintain a yeshiva and minyan in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Chabad in film
The Chabad-Lubavitch community has the been the subject of a number of documentary films. These films include the following:
The Spark – a 28 minute film, produced in 1974, providing an overview of the Lubavitch and Satmar of New York
Religious America: Lubavitch – a 28 minute, 1974 PBS documentary focusing on a day in the life of a Lubavitcher man
King of Crown Heights – a 60 minute, 1993 film on Lubavitcher Hasidim by Columbia University student Roggerio Gabbai
Shekinah – a 70 min, 2013 documentary exploring the perspectives of the female students of a Chabad school in Montreal
^"Chagat" is an acronym for "Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet" (kindness, severity, beauty), the Kabbalistic terms for the three primary emotions. Schools of Hasidic thought stressing emotive patterns of worship have been termed "Chagat".