Saturday, March 5, 2016

Why in the World Is Chabad at Muhlenberg College?

  Muhlenberg College is a small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, embodying the Lutheran ideals of its namesake, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the founder of the Lutheran Church in America. The school promotes intellectual curiosity and growth, creativity, and an ethical responsibility to humankind the world over. The school boasts a small student to faculty ratio with over a hundred clubs and organizations--including a campus Hillel that addresses the needs of an array of Jewish students who make up 33% of the student body. So why is Chabad--a well-known utlra-orthodox kiruv/outreach group--attempting to establish roots on this small private college's campus? It looks like the college newspaper wants to know the same.
  According to The Muhlenberg Weekly's article Analyzing Chabad's Role on Campus: New Option Geared for Jewish Students Proves Controversial, Chabad first appeared on campus this school year  and the reaction has been mixed.
“Many students have shared with me that they feel sad that, with the arrival of Chabad, they see the shifts in what had been a unified Jewish community,” said Rabbi Simon, and added that students have also shared that Chabad’s proximity to the campus “has been really divisive.”
Aaron Brandt ‘17, the president of Muhlenberg College Hillel and a former attendee of an Orthodox day school, agrees, and offered a potential explanation for the divisiveness. “Chabad has been attempting to attract students who are already active members of the Hillel community, rather than students who have not yet found their place in Jewish life since coming to college.”1
  Chabad's modus operandi is to send shluchim, or missionaries, to set up outposts on college campuses, and in towns and cities all over the globe in order to attract Jews to greater Jewish observance. The group is decidedly not pluralistic, and teaches Judaism solely from an orthodox perspective. They do not recognize non-orthodox denominations as legitimate, and the late rebbe Menachem Schneerson--the last Lubavitcher rebbe, had stated in a letter that "My considered opinion . . . is [that] the doctrines and ideology of the Conservative and Reform movements can only be classed in the category of heretical movements which have plagued our people at one time or another, only to disappear again, having no basis in our everlasting Torah."2


Rebbe Schneerson: Other expressions of Judaism are heretical.
Click to enlarge.
  In the handbook for Chabad emissaries, Shlichus: Meeting the Outreach Challenge, Rabbi Eliyahu Cohen gives advice to campus missionaries in his article "The Campus Approach." In addition to addressing the point that existing Jewish groups such as Hillel may have issues with Chabad trying to establish themselves on campus, Cohen urges missionaries to "become a resource for questions on Jewish life"3 and provides information on how to appeal to college students for maximum impact. He stresses the importance of becoming a chartered club and states that:
Apart from providing the organization with legitimacy, [a charter] may also provide privileges such as access to campus rooms, media equipment and reduced rates in the school newspaper. In private colleges where issues of church and state do not come into play, financial aid may be offered. Ask administrators about including a flyer with the registration, housing or dining information sent to the student's home. It may be appropriate to ask parents to enroll their children as members of Chabad House for $10 or $18 a year.4
  Setting up outposts on college campuses provides Chabad missionaries with the perfect environment in which to proselytize. Not only is there a sizable and changing Jewish student population that they can groom for present or future observance and/or yeshiva study, but there are campus resources which can be harnessed to further their agenda, as well as students and parents who will serve as a source of funding--sometimes long past graduation. Chabad isn't innocently coming to Muhlenberg College to provide something that's missing from Hillel's diverse offerings--unless you consider indoctrination to be innocent.

For more about Chabad on this blog: and use the Search this Blog function for more:
Is Chabad Ultra-Orthodox?
Chabad's Double Standard: Outrage Over Being Duped
Who *are* the People in Chabad.org's Fundraising Letter?
What BuzzFeed Forgot to Tell You About the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Chabad
Use the Search This Blog function to find more.

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1. Kantor, Gregory. Analyzing Chabad's Role on Campus: New Option Geared for Jewish Students Proves Controversial. The Mulhlenberg Weekly. March 3, 2016.
2. Schneerson, Menachem M. The Conservative and Reform Ideology. Correspondence by Rabbi Menachen M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe. July 21, 1959. qtd. on Chabad.org.
3. Cohen, Rabbi Eliyahu. "The Campus Approach."Shlichus: Meeting the Outreach Challenge. Nshei Ubnos Chabad, 1991. p117. 

4. ibid.

14 comments:

  1. I strongly suspect Chabad targets geographic regions where there are likely to be many targets - i.e non chabad jews, but especially jews from a more progressive form of Judaism or unaffiliated jews. Chabad views Hillel as a competition to be displaced.

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    1. I completely agree, Alter Cocker Jewish Atheist. The article states that while Chabad's "aim is to engage students who are not already leading a Jewish life on campus as well as to provide those who are with another outlet,” the president of Hillel reports that “Chabad has been attempting to attract students who are already active members of the Hillel community, rather than students who have not yet found their place in Jewish life since coming to college.” This isn't a unique example. The same thing happens when Chabad moves into an area with existing non-orthodox options. Shluchim take classes in marketing--it pays off big time.

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  2. Maybe it's not possible for one organization, no matter how well-intentioned, to be all things to all Jews.

    From the article:

    "During the 2015-16 academic year, Chabad Serving Muhlenberg emerged as a new choice for Jewish students. Danielle Levin ‘16 and Nicole Berger ‘16 were instrumental in Chabad’s formation and the group’s popularity has increased in the past year.

    “Although the Muhlenberg student population is small, we feel that it is also very diverse,” said Levin and Berger. “Having more options for Jewish expression enables a greater number of students to find their niche." "

    I found a good, pretty balanced and comprehensive article comparing Hillel and Chabad, and looking at how each impacts the other: http://www.jewishjournal.com/cover_story/article/sharing_the_next_gen_how_chabad_is_changing_hillel_and_reshaping_campus_lif

    It's the market economy, operating in the religious realm. Monopolies of any sort can get comfortable, and stop innovating. Established players generally feel threatened by competition. In the end, though, competition is generally healthy, and it often leads to better outcomes for the consumer. If Chabad attracts "customers", it's generally because they offer a unique product and meet a need in the marketplace. The way for other organizations to deal with Chabad is to innovate and improve. For example, Hillel offers their own free Shabbat dinners now.

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  3. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/10/29/jewish This is an old article that mentions Muhlenberg. Apparently, some colleges that hadn't competed for Jewish admissions now seek them. Perhaps Chabad saw the same article some time ago and just followed along for the same reasons the college began to reach out to Jewish kids. I'm always so glad when you publish something. I know it's work to find the information, publish it and then deal with the comments. Diana

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    1. Meanwhile, a local paper in my city had a screaming headline that my alma mater is now a toxic environment for Jewish students.

      It's sort of nice to think that there are other places where administrators actually care about Jewish students.

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  4. Agreed Cynthia. I have been reading about Oberlin, but other campuses are tough, too. I wonder if we have prepared our kids for all the haters. Diana

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  5. Agreed Cynthia. I have been reading about Oberlin, but other campuses are tough, too. I wonder if we have prepared our kids for all the haters. Diana

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  6. Why in the world Chabad is in Central an East Europe?
    Why in the world Haredi Kiruv organisations are sweeping all over Central and Eastern Europe?
    Why in the world the MO Kiruv Movement - if there is at all - is not sweeping all over Central and Eastern Europe?

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  7. To be honest with you, Chabad is very necessary at Muhlenberg. As a student at the school I see how a huge population of the Jewish students there love Chabad. There was not a unified Jewish community before. Actually, a group of students who were dissatisfied with Hillel were the ones who brought Chabad to Allentown. Hillel at Muhlenberg does not cater towards the more Orthodox students, and they do not even have services for them every week. Services and dinner at Hillel and Chabad are at different times and students are encouraged to go to both. The Jewish population at Muhlenberg will grow now so that all types of Jews can practice and learn the way they want. The goal should be for all students to be involved and learning about Judaism in whatever way they feel comfortable with. This is quite the bias blog. Maybe next time you should ask students or the very group you're questioning before spreading false and information to the public.

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  8. Necessary? Are you kidding? No, I don't imagine you are. But you are being fooled and led down a rosy trail by a professionally trained kiruv worker whose goal is to make you ultra Orthodox. You are being sold a bill of goods about learning and heritage, and much of what they tell you are pre planned, one sided lies.

    For much of history Jews were poor and uneducated and had no choice but to huddle together & blindly follow their rabbis. In the last 150 years those who were able to leave poverty were also able to leave the ridiculous constraints that ultra Orthodoxy put on followers, especially women.

    You're being love bombed by "amazing" people.

    Think about this:

    Do you want to present your panties to a rabbi before having sex with your husband? Ask you kiruv guy about that. One trait of cults & cult-like groups is that with enough indoctrination or "learning," the bizarre & unimaginable become acceptable.

    Do you want as many children as you can possibly produce? Because, that's what will be expected of you.

    Do you want to fight with & risk losing touch with your entire family - siblings, parents, cousins, and all your life long & childhood friends, to follow a religion? With enough indoctrination you'll be able to justify this shift. That's a cult, not a religion. Don't believe him when he tells you that only happens in extreme cases where there were other problems to begin with. This happens a LOT.

    Do you want to limit your future to only Jewish relationships? That is bigoted. And it's hypocritical coming from a group of people who cry anti Antisemitism and beg for tolerance whenever their wishes are not met.

    Do you really want to wear a wig? Are you kidding? Really?

    Chabad is all about growing the cult. They don't go after Orthodox students because they know too much. They're after secular kids or maybe some Reform & Conservative kids who they can hoodwink with romantic tales of Judaism.

    The students are not "learning" the way they want. They are being carefully groomed by paid professionals. Kiruv workers know what their goal is. Students are putty in their hands. Don't be fooled.

    Wide-Eyed

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  9. My child is a student at Muhlenberg and chose the school for the kosher food and the vibrant Jewish life that was promoted to us on the admissions tour. For a student who was used to observing Shabbat, once on campus, they quickly realized a Shabbat community did not exist. After starting the process to transfer schools, Chabad came to Muhlenberg and it was a game changer. Students who never went to Hillel starting showing up. By mid semester over 60 students were coming for dinner, many for lunch and the Chabad House became the vibrant Jewish life my child was looking for. Thanks to Chabad, my child had a wonderful experience at Muhlenberg and i can now comfortably recommend the school to other families like ours. Frankly, the Hillel was not diverse and what would be amazing for the school is if both Hillel and Chabad could work together so the Jewish community could be united.

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  10. Gee, it sounds too good to be true! You realize, of course, that Chabad's goal is your your child to become ultra Orthodox and that there is no room in their agenda for anyone to become MO. If they are successful in their mission your child may drop out of college in order to "learn." I assume that you're well aware that Chabad raised grandchildren do not attend college. You and your child are dealing with paid professional religious recruiters. Of course they're nice. Of course they're fun. Of course the meals are delicious. Of course the rabbi & his wife are "amaaaazing." They may be so amazing that parents protest having their presence on campus like parents at The University of Pennsylvania protested Meor.

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  11. I'm a Modern Orthodox Jew at Muhlenberg and Chabad is ABSOLUTELY necessary. First of all, Rabbi Simon was extremely problematic for students of ALL denominations and her contract has not been renewed. But aside from that—Hillel has not been remotely supportive of observant students at Muhlenberg for a LONG time. It got so bad that some of us (myself included) had to make Shabbos for ourselves in our dorm rooms. (And, let me tell you, it was really lonely and depressing and there was no way to have a decent meal.) Some people would even leave campus every week to celebrate Shabbos at other colleges. I personally know several prospective students who decided not to apply to Muhlenberg because there was not enough support for Orthodox students.

    But when Chabad came, it wasn't only Orthodox students who joined. In fact, Muhlenberg has a VERY small Orthodox population (and, as far as I know, not a single "Ultra" Orthodox Jew). Most Chabad goers are Conservative, Reform, and secular Jews. Many of them show up to Chabad in mini skirts and leggings. No one cares. My Reform friend came with me and told the rabbi about her sister, who was just ordained as the rabbi. The rabbi told her that was awesome. I've even brought two of my non-Jewish friends, and they were welcomed with open arms. People go to Chabad for three main reasons: (1) They're interested in connecting to their Jewish heritage, (2) they're interested in learning about Judaism, and (3) it's literally the only place on campus where they can properly observe Shabbos. Hillel wasn't helpful with any of those things. It's different at some colleges, sure, but at Muhlenberg? Our Hillel existed as a social organization, not a religious one, and they were vitriolic towards those of us who tried to talk to them about this. Chabad, on the other hand, is constantly encouraging us to participate in Hillel events and intentionally schedules everything so that people can go to both.

    Oh, and by the way—the rabbi's wife had to leave the country this past semester, and her husband joined her for most of that time. They allowed us to use their home and we made Shabbos there every week. THAT is how essential Chabad is to us. A student committee took it upon themselves to cook meals for all forty-odd members every single week. And we showed up every single week. We davened Ma'ariv, made kiddush and motzi, ate the Shabbos meal, had Divrei Torah, sang zmirot… Because, believe it or not, some of us actually care about this.

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    1. Clarification because I can't edit: My friend's sister was just ordained as *a* rabbi, not THE rabbi. And the *Chabad* rabbi told her that was awesome.

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