Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chabad's Kiruv Double Standard: Outrage Over Being "Duped"

     By now you've probably heard about Baci Weiler, the University of Chicago student who was mistaken for a male by a Chabad kiruv worker who then went on to help her don tefillin. If you haven't, feel free to read the story here. Orthodox Jews consider the wearing of tefillin to be a male-only mitzvah, (commandment) despite stories that the daughters of Rashi, a well-known biblical commentator from the Middle ages, wore the little black boxes.
     As expected, much of the orthodox community--especially the Chabad community--is outraged  that an unsuspecting yeshiva bocher (student) was "duped" into believing that Ms. Weiler was a guy based on her haircut and clothing. It is the responsibility of the Chabad missionary to make sure he's practicing what he believes in the correct manner. It isn't the responsibility of the person he approaches to rebuke him, because many times, that random person on the street might not know the minutiae of Jewish law--or that there even is a law.
     As it turns out, Baci Weiler does wear tefillin on a regular basis, and obviously has no issue with egalitarian Judaism. And yet, many Chabadniks--the very people who publicly preach about loving all Jews, who often refer to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's belief that all Jews are like one body and each Jew is important, had no problem blaming Baci Weiler for "taking advantage" of this kiruv worker.
     Now, to be clear, I don't blame anyone. I don't believe that there was any wrongdoing in this situation. If anything, there was a misunderstanding. He offered, she accepted, she wore it, it was good. She posted a picture on social media, it got around. Now, many in the Chabad community are showing their true colors and rather than seeing the good (nothing bad happened, this woman's Judaism was inspired, maybe others might be inspired,) many are choosing to denigrate Baci Weiler. You know, blame the woman, the evil temptress who led the man astray--you know, the typical witch hunt accusations that have been tossed around throughout human history. But this isn't about feminism, right?
     I've provided a few screen shots of some of the comments from Collive.com, a Chabad community news site. There are some comments that genuinely reflect modern, progressive, and mainstream views. There are more that represent a community mired in both fear and ignorance of gender equality, feminist issues, and progressive thought. There are some people who feel bad for the yeshiva student. (Click pictures to enlarge.)
Click individual frames to enlarge.
From Collive.com.1
Click to enlarge photo.2
     The above are some examples of what people in Chabad are saying online. Baci Weiler did write an explanation on her public Facebook page, and I'm including that as well. Towards the end, she states:

On another level, and more importantly, the photo is powerful because it depicts an instance of accidental pluralism and of shared joy in the mitzvah of hanachat tefillin. It is a serendipitous glimpse of the world I wish I lived in: a world where both he, a bearded chabadnik guy, and I, a buzz-cut egalitarian girl, could be “frum”, regardless of gender or labels, equally bound by mitzvot.2

Baci's response sums up so many issues inherent in ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach.
     Within kiruv, there is a constant and deliberate white-washing of women's roles within the ultra-orthodox community. During the kiruv process, women are pushed into the community's rigid gender roles while receiving nice, stock answers about why women do certain things and not others, all while pushing them away from egalitarian thought and practice.
     Within kiruv, all are accepted as Jews, but Chabad (and other ultra-orthodox groups) do not recognize Reform, Conservative, and other liberal forms of Judaism as legitimate expressions of Judaism. The only pluralism that exists is the "accidental pluralism" that Baci Weiler experienced. Chabad writer Shalom Paltiel claims that "the problem is the labels" and asks:
Why can't we all just be "Jewish"? Why the need to label ourselves based on our level of observance?
It's true some of us are more religiously observant than others. Is that reason to categorically divide us into splintering groups? Let us each observe Judaism and its precepts to the best of our knowledge and ability, without the need of a name tag proclaiming ourselves a particular brand.
In addition to dividing us, the labels also limit our growth as Jews. Once we've been labeled, we no longer feel the need to learn more about our heritage than is typical for members of our particular group. Remove the label, and Judaism is yours to explore, completely and freely, without fear you might cross the line and observe some tradition that's not for your type.3
Click to enlarge.4

Sounds great in theory, and yet, there is no true freedom in a Judaism (or any religion, culture, community, etc.) divided by prescribed community gender norms and expectations.
In a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, dated July 21, 1959, it's quite clear that Chabad's official stance is that anything other than orthodox Judaism is heretical. To explain Paltiel's question regarding why we all can't "just be Jewish," it needs to be understood that according to Chabad doctrine, if you are born of a Jewish mother, you are Jewish, but your liberal denomination is not Judaism. Paltiel, Schneerson, the Chabad commenters, and many ultra-orthodox Jews do not recognize other forms of Jewish expression as Judaism, but rather, as heresy. Sure, they'll reach out to you and tell you that "we're all Jews" without a second thought as to the duplicitous nature of their own actions when they want a donation, or when they want to nudge you towards greater observance. What is being left out of all kiruv, is that these outreach organizations--including Chabad--don't, and won't, consider non-orthodox Judaism as legitimate.
     There exists a double standard within the Chabad community. Chabad missionaries deceive by intentionally withholding information in order to do kiruv, yet many in Chabad (and other orthodox communities) feel that Baci Weiler's choice to not reveal her gender was what was truly deceitful. Knowing what the Lubavitcher Rebbe preached, and knowing what his followers believe, I can only hope that those who are so outraged by Baci Weiler allowing this Chabad bochur to put tefillin on her, will take a good look in the mirror and realize that this is minor compared to the deception that they are perpetrating daily through the willful suppression of information that might change the minds and actions of the non-orthodox Jews that Chabad approaches.


Works Cited
1. Rabbi Calls Out Liberal Hypocrite. Collive. June 23, 2015

2. Weiler, Baci. Facebook post. June 23, 2015.
3. Paltiel, Shalom. Labels are for Suits. Chabad.org.
4. Schneerson, Menachem M. The Conservative and Reform Ideology. Correspondence by Rabbi Menachen M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe. July 21, 1959. qtd. on Chabad.org.
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8 comments:

  1. maher shalal chash bazJune 24, 2015 at 2:50 PM

    That guy quoting the Rama that a woman putting on tefillin should be protested against- exactly. Funny how he didn't explain why the Rama is against women putting on tefillin. The Rama literally says that women don't know how to keep clean enough to wear tefillin. i.e. women are dirty beasts who can't be trusted with this precious mitzva. Hm. I guess they don't want that coming out while doing their little kiruv spiel, right?

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    1. (Note: I'm a Lubavitcher.) Go ahead and tell people that, but don't leave out the rest of the story: that the "dirty" concern applies to men equally as to women. The reason we nevertheless don Tefillin is because we are commanded to, while women are not. Ideally, we would wear tefillin all day long; one of the main reasons we don't is because we can't keep ourselves clean enough.

      Delete
  2. A beautifully written & well thought out argument, especially this line: Chabad missionaries deceive by intentionally withholding information in order to do kiruv, yet many in Chabad (and other orthodox communities) feel that Baci Weiler's choice to not reveal her gender was what was truly deceitful.

    Many Thanks

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    1. If you read the letter that was sent to Ms. Weiler, you'll see that the offense she committed wasn't that she didn't reveal her gender. It was that she knew that this bochur was out there to wrap tefillin on men only - and moreover, that as an orthodox Jew he's dedicated to not touching women - and nevertheless she chose to deceive him. That's a big double standard for her. You can't claim to be open-minded and liberal, and then purposefully deceive a member of a different group because they practice differently than you.
      Chabad (and other outreach institutions - by the way I'm not a fan of the word outreach), on the other hand, at least in my experience, doesn't hide the fact that we don't accept liberal denominations as legitimate. .If you ask us about other denominations, we're ready to talk. But that's not a starting point for a relationship or even a conversation.
      The fact on the table is that the outstanding majority of American Non-Orthodox Jews don't actually subscribe to any denomination at all - they simply are non-observant. So when approaching such people, how are we supposed to initiate the dialogue? By handing out a pamphlet that explains how we reject the liberal denominations? That's an awkward way to meet someone. We just want to get people excited about being Jewish and doing mitzvot.

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  3. What is wrong with people who think being caught playing bait & switch is shameful to the victim? Does anyone actually believe that putting tefillin on a stranger is for any purpose other than to lure them into Ultra Orthodox Judaism? Tefillin wrapping is NOT the altruistic act that Chabad presents it as. It's a piece of bait intended to ensnare strangers into the fold. Let's call it what is.

    Fed Up With The Lies

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    1. Explain the lies. I dont see any. Their stated mission is to make the less observant more observant.

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  4. WHERE, exactly, do kiruv rabbis state that their mission is to make the less observant more observant??? When I asked one kiruv rabbi point blank if his goal was to make people frum he was highly offended and told me NO! He was merely there to teach people about their "heritage," so he claimed. Where is it stated that the goal is to make people more observant? WHERE????

    Feeling Duped

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dumb post, from a dumb blogger...

    ReplyDelete

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