The Modernization of Chabad

By: Sholom Kesselman

It is a fact that Chabad is becoming increasingly modern. I’m not suggesting that the movement or the ideology is becoming modern; rather that vast numbers of our young are settling for a “lighter” version of what it means to be Lubavitch.

While there have always been such people in Lubavitch and in every other Frum sect, we are now seeing more than ever before unprecedented numbers of youngsters embracing this modern Chabad lifestyle.

The question needs to be asked, why? Why all of a sudden are we seeing this turn to modernization?

I believe that there are four major factors that contributed to this and understanding them will help us find the way to stem this tide.

  1. Technological Revolution. 20 years ago, the world was closed off to the average Lubavitcher. It was difficult to find “the world” and besides for a few exceptions, most youngsters didn’t know about much else other than Torah, Chassidus and the Rebbe. But technology and the internet changed that all. All of a sudden the world was opened to all and this presented a big challenge to all Frum communities, Chabad included.
  1. Gimmel Tammuz. There is no question that this played a major role. Lubavitch for 40 years was a movement in which the Rebbe was everything. The average Chossid’s life centered very much around the Rebbe and Gimmel tamuz was unthinkable. When it happened, we were totally unprepared. The older generation didn’t suffer as much but the young found themselves lost. The Lubavitch they knew had drastically changed and many were left confused and angry.
  1. Machlokes. The years after Gimmel tammuz were tumultuous to say the least. The vacuum of leadership gave way to extreme machlokes. Whether about Moshiach, shlichus or Rabonim, Chabad was engaged in heavy dispute. To a young adult growing up in such an environment, this can be extremely off putting and often leads to them saying, “I want no part of this.” This is especially true when the machlokes involves Rabonim and causes us to see the ugly side of our spiritual leaders. A Rav represents the truth of Yidishkeit and when they are reduced to petty fighting and name calling it is very damaging.
  1. Shlichus culture. There was (and maybe still is) a culture that prevailed in Lubavitch, where if you were worth anything as a Chossid you had to go on Shlichus. The Shluchim were the pride and joy of Chabad and anyone else was Nebech a loser and second class. For those that became Shluchim this was great for, but for those that didn’t, the feeling of not making it and being less worthy quickly led to what we’re seeing today. After all, if one is anyways not a “real” chossid, why even bother.

On top of all of this, I believe a further problem existed in our schools and yeshivohs and that is where the solution can ultimately be found.

You see, even though we faced all these challenges, had the schools and Yeshivos been more understanding and sensitive to the changes in the air, they would’ve been better prepared to deal with it.

Instead the schools and Yeshivas kept teaching the same ideas and in the same way they had for the last 40 years, without realizing that there was an entirely new set of challenges that had presented themselves.

I’m not suggesting that the principles of Chassidus had to change chas vsholom, but the emphasis, delivery and packaging had to.

The new generation needed to be taught in a way that they could relate to and when that didn’t happen… here we are.

Once the schools and Yeshivos start to address these new found challenges and give our youth the tools and motivation to stay strong, Chabad will once again flourish and be the pride of the Frum world.

46 thoughts on “The Modernization of Chabad

  1. I believe there is another factor which you failed to mention.

    Namely, the fact that in Chabad, we are not a community. We dont have the social pressures, both positive and negative, of communities like the Chasidim, Litvish, etc. All of the members of these communities need to adhere to a certain standard, or risk being considered an outside. This effects everything from which schools they attend, to who they marry.

    In Chabad, this pressure doesn’t really exist. You can do whatever you want, and still be considered a Chabadnick.

    Obviously, this approach of inclusion is the Chabad way. We need to have Ahavas Yisroel, for real. But the challenges are real nonetheless.


      1. I humbly disagree.

        Crown Heights, Kfar Chabad, Los Angeles, Toronto, and other Chabad communities used to have a vibe of Chasidishkeit. Less pressure than the non-Chabad communities, but a stronger vibe of what we stood for.

        Today, those communities are melting pots.

        As a case in point, the Erev controversy could never have been dreamed of 30 years ago, not just because the Rebbe was against it, because he was against many otherthings that people did anyway, but also because the community had a certain vibe, and people would feel the social pressure.


      2. …and good for them! So often, the bochurim that “graduate” from smicha have the discipline of a juvenile delinquent. I’m sorry to say it, but I observe it time and time again.


  2. It’s do easy to blame the system.
    What about people having Bechira
    Chofshis and taking responsibility for their own behavior.
    The biggest factor is all the Chabad lite themselves who choose to behave the way they do.


  3. The point about machlokes is spot on. I have children that are “Chabad lite” and this is something I hear from them a lot.
    It’s ironic how the same rabbis whose fighting brought this whole thing upon us are now the ones screaming and condemning our children.


  4. With shlichus being such a priority this has taken a toll on our schools and yeshivos. But I think more then that unfortunately the attitude of shluchim these days is that the MOST important thing is to make sure we make a “kidush Shem lubavitch” so I think its no wonder we are loosing many people to a more modern way. if shlichus is taking most people and most talent and the shlichus attitude is all about impressing the world with chabad and building mosdos etc.. where is the investment in taking care of our own ??


  5. How about the fact that the Rebbe had us believing and expecting Moshiach any day. Now we’re 20 something years later and still in golus. I think there is a feeling out there of confusion and a sense that we were “misled” and this could be a big factor in the Chabad lite community.


  6. Good points but no real discussion of what will change it.

    During the ten years that lubavitch had no active Rebbe as the Rashab did not officially accept the Nisios were called by the Rayatz as “the Churban of Lubavitch”. That was w the sons of the Maharash around, w the city of Lubavitch and in less then modern Russia w/o internet, TV etc etc.
    When the Rashab wanted to start Tomchei Temimim he had less then 20 bochurim who were ready to come to the Yeshiva and of those 20 most WERE NOT ANASH.

    I t was the Rebbe and the Rayatz who built up the yeshiva and Chabad.

    2nd and most important the A”R writes in Tanya perek 41 “Vyeser al kein bcholl dor vdor etc.
    That there is a Rebbe who is a Neetzuts of Moshe meaning that thru him we all have somewhat of the perspective that Moishe Rabeinu had of this world and Eloikus. Meaning Eloikus, Toiroh etc became tangible and real. That is what the Rebbe did for Chassidim and the world. You take that away and yo see the results in addition to everything else that you pointed out.

    Besides the Aleph bais of Chassidus which is supposed to Bitul is seen to be a big joke as all the heads of Chabad including and especially the head shluchim etc are just full of themselves and damn everybody else. It is one big ego trip. As one head of state said years ago Let 95% Frei out as long as the 5% do it my way. None of the leadership want a new Rebbe as then they loose their status and they will have someone telling them what to do.


  7. I’m sorry. All you people are missing the obvious.
    Chabad lite was born out of Chabad extreme.
    When Chabad was less rigid people didn’t feel the need to “get out”.
    The moment we turned ultra Chareidi and imposed crazy tznius rules and white shirts only for me , Chabad lite was born.
    Chabad will become less modern when the system stops policing the young.


    1. The following comment has been modified by our editors:

      I’m typing from south florida, and I sure wish we had some more of those Chareidi Chabadnicks you mentioned!

      The 20-40 year old “chabadnicks” here whosee chassidus consists of their beards and shabbos dress-up coats. Most are addicted to gashmiyus, I’m talking VIDEO GAMES for a grown man, or other even more worthless “hobbies”. When did shteiging at night go out of style for chabad baalabatim????

      The teens in yeshiva can identify maybe one rabbi outside of chabad. maybe. I had to explain who the Ropshitzer was to a 45 year old chabadsker once. (I think if the Berditchever wasn’t a mechutan, you guys would be clueless that any tzaddikim exist outside of chabad!) These teens follow sports on TV, and watch the super bowl, and then some, mind you. Was this thinkable 30 years ago????

      The women dress like … enough said!

      there are more lakewood boys in the mikvah every morning than chabadnicks. What happened to tzedaka, chassidus and mikvah before davening???

      A friend of mine – 20yo – got married recently and had no idea who to go to for chosson classes. I told him, your rebbe tells you which chosson rebbe to go to. I asked him, who’s your mashipia? your rebbe? your meyaetz.

      Why didn’t he feel comfortable asking one of his rebbe’s from yeshiva? Didnt’ anyone become “his” rebbe. Of course not. How can a yid have no rebbe in 2016? It’s as unthinkable as it was in 1916 or 1116 ?

      The communal Bais Menachem rebbe in each community is not the answer. Where’s the chabad rabanus? Not crown heights rabanus, but chabbad rabanus!

      And the fabrengings. don’t get me started how they act. I’ve been to fabrengens where you can smell olam haba. These smell like …

      Where’d you guys go wrong?????

      I guess I’m describing symptoms that the author is bemoaning as well, but it’s so disappointing as my rebbe ( I am not a chabadnik) stuffs us with chabad chassidus – well all chassidus – and I belong to a chaburah shteiging the ma’amarim of chabad, and I live with the tanya, and most of my hanhagos – especially in tefillah – are from chabad, and I am just SO dissapointed – or rather, crushed – when I see born and bred chabadnicks (I call them “third generation”) who disregard the alef bais of what the Rebbe – and all the nesi’im- intended for their daily lives to consist of.

      I want to grab them by their shabbos coats and shake the gashmiyus and laziness out of them, and show them how beautiful THEIR OWN WORLD is!

      It’s almost like you need shluchim, for your OWN kinderlach.

      It really really bums me out, no other way to say it.


    2. If anything, the ones that are keeping a high standard are the ones holding up the fort that it shouldn’t become even worse.
      They just have to feel more responsible to reach out to the “lite” ones that are struggling by encouraging them to overcome all the hurdles of our times. Just like Chabad were primarily the ones keeping the coals aflame in communist Russia so too in our times we will overcome machlokes, gimmil tamuz, making all a shliach in their own way, while using technology in a kosher manner!


  8. I am somebody that you would probably consider “Chabad lite” and it wasn’t any of your reasons that made me what I am.
    I grew up in a very “chassidish” family but it wasn’t a happy one. My parents had a cold relationship with each other and I never saw them enjoying there chassidish lifestyle.
    To me the message was clear, if you want to be happy and enjoy life, don’t be chassidish. So here I am.


  9. Most chabad chevre who are “lite” (vague idea what that means but I’ll run with it) that I know of are because of the hypocrisy and machlokes.

    It truly is devastating and pained the Rebbe to no end the few times he spoke about it.


    1. That’s what happens when others come to our community and start making demands.

      Instead of being sensitive to those who have been the heart and soul, trudging along. They bulldoze through and leave havoc in their wake. Let’s be honest most of the people ‘lite’ as they were called. Won’t be in crown heights (or even Chabad for that matter, their kids forsure not) for much longer.

      Blow in like a hurricane and mess things up. On behalf of everyone thanks but no thanks. Seriously we’re good. We have our issues and WE shall deal with them.

      I know what you’re thinking no-one has done anything until. Valid point, but this isn’t the solution to burn the house down.


    2. I must agree with Berry. This is a “machlah” in Crown Heights and among the community of Shluchim. Sad to say but true. This is not to say it didn’t exist during the time when the Rebbe was “b’almah dein”. It did. The difference was then there was at least some “busha” and that says something. Yes, it is hypocritical but it also shows a level of shame. A willingness to change if someone would deal with the person.

      Today none of that is true. “Machlokes” is now “b’reish g’lei”, some legitimate most not. Even “machlokes l’shem Shamayim” which can sometime’s be the worst and leave huge scars as it has throughout history is “sofah l’hiskayem” (in a play on words) lasts forever. Especially when the parties have no shame.

      Worse, however, and in a much more egregious manner, has become the “machlokes” between our leaders in all our Lubavitch communities. It has been tearing us apart and the youth see it, feel it and are disgusted by it. They’ve lost all respect because of it and as such many are losing their way.

      I do NOT blame them I blame our leaders and warn them that if they do not change and do not begin to sublimate their egos for the greater good, even at a cost to themselves monetarily and their popularity, all will lose and Lubavitch is in for a world of hurt. Not to mention the pain and anguish we cause our Rebbe and really that should’ve been sufficient to make a difference. But it seems it isn’t.


  10. There’s also a positive perspective – that our children are so comfortable with their Jewish identity that they don’t need to conform in order to affirm it. Also, we teach kids not to conform – to think for themselves, to rebel. There’s good in that but obviously we can improve.


  11. to be a chabadnik, one needs to have an untrimmed beard, wash negel vasser by his bed, not eat gebrots first 7 days of pesach, follow rulings of the Alter Rebbe


  12. Is the author suggesting Chabad become like the rest of the Charedi world? I see it happening a bit, at least from individual Lubavitchers. This “modernization” is nothing new and exists in every Charedi community. Satmar and Skver for example have major issues balancing Yiddishkeit with modernity, and we see a significant percentage of their youth on the edge, eventually leaving with such intense negativity and hatred for anything Jewish. By many so called Chasidim, once you leave, it’s over and you got no second chance.


  13. WOW – Chabad lite…such a label. What is that exactly? And by the way, who said moderization won’t save Chabad?


  14. What about child abuse in the community (and the community’s slow response)? It’s obviously not the sole reason for all the liteness, but certainly it’s a contributing factor.


  15. Rabbi Kessleman,,

    All your points on why their is a phenomenon of (so called) Chabad Lite sounds good but are incorrect.

    This is plain and simple evolution of a religion. Chabad is no longer a sect, but have become their own religion (this is not making fun etc, this is how it is). No one who is born into Chabad will change their sect, no one will become Satmar, Belz, Mizrachi, Litvish, Modern Orthodox etc, etc,. This is because Chabad is a religion to itself.

    Just as there are various denominations (types) within Judaism, so too there are various types within Chabad.


    1. I would describe it more as a community that accepts all,rather then a seperate religion CH”V.If KY or Skver is too strict ,one can move to BP or Flatbush.That too much you can move to Queens or the 5 towns etc. Eventually you can just give it all up and move to the village or something.In the Chabad community we simply keep everyone in.


      1. There is a saying, when you are in you’re out. I found this to be true, once you are chupped in, no one wants to know you anymore.
        The most heartbreaking is, in Israel, on one gives a flying hoot about the Olim coming in, no help of what Beitei Knessets or Yamim Tovim. You just gotta get on with it, swim or drown


    2. Ummmmm I know many ex Chabad that are modern orthodox or totally secular they come from the top families in Chabad


  16. Its ironic how isolated lubavitch is from other haredies.Outreach yes but no interface with other orthodox factions. The lites see their is a bigger world out there and like being participants.


  17. Isn’t all this discussion strangely romantic about the past? Even in the chofs, lameds and mems, you had trimmed beards, etc and people going to the Rebbe for aitzos in Parnassa and Shidduchim and he would mention to them that he didn’t see them by Tehillim Shabbos Mevorchim or cutting out of Shacharis early before finishing Chitas.


    1. There is no next Rebbe, and there’s never gonna be. Though I think i’m stating the obvious…

      You know what? The next Rebbe is Me and You. Yes. The Rebbe wanted and wants each and every one of us to live and breath “REBBE”. That is make yiddishkeit and the welfare of fellow Jews our own personal priority and mission.

      WE ALL need to embody the Rebbe.


  18. As a frum non-ChaBaDnik living in Crown Heights for a year and friendly with both hard-core Hasidim and ChaBaD-lite Chadidim, it seems to me that most of the community’s problems, or rather, the lack of solutions stem from being stuck in “Rebbe-ism.” Even the author refers to “gimmel Tammuz” in hushed terms – afraid to say “when the Rebbe died.”

    If the movement does not believe that a new Rebbe is to be apointed, then it must evolve. Rather, it will evolve wether or not you wish to acknowledge it and guide its evolution. Among sincere ChaBaD-lite Hasidim I see forays into learning Breslov texts, but also Tanya, Torah Ohr and other writings of prior Lubavitch Rebbeim. Amongst the hard-core, it’s mostly all ma’amarim of the Rebbe all the time. There is a stuckness there.

    The eruv is a case in point. Rather than engage is open halahik dialouge as Jews have done since Har Sinai, the old-school becomes heated and declares that the Rebbe said we shouldn’t. Of course, the Rebbe said wgat he said some forty years ago and some facts in the ground as adtessrd in his writings have changed since then. To end the discussion at “the Rebbe said” takes a great man out of the thousands year-old tradition of questioning, analysis and interpretation that is the backbone of Judaism. But to analyze what he said is to acknowledge that he can no longer comment upon the topic himself.

    The old-school saw the Rebbe, was inspired by him and will hold on to that inspiration. The younger generation simply cannot make due with their fathers’ Rebbe-ism. They don’t have a Rebbe to look at despite the many portraits in the neighborhood.

    Couple that with the culture of choice engendered by the internet, and you get ChaBad-lite. And I don’t mean less frum. I mean some seriously devoted spiritual and observant people who don’t care to dress the part in its entirety (think kapote and converse all-stars) and choose to expand their Judaism beyond Rebbe-ism.

    This is not neccesarily a bad development. However, if ChaBaD wants to make efforts to maintain itself as a guided if not homogeneous community, it needs to dig deep into its rich culture of seven Rebbeim and guide its own modernization rather than get stuck on the era of one great man who has been called back to his master.

    Incidentally, tonight is 39 days to the Omer which is 5 weeks and four days.

    May the Merciful One return the service of the Beit HaMikdash to its place speedily in our days.


  19. Decentralized leadership.

    Want your children to be chassidim? Send them to a rebbe in both park or some other place. Chabad of today is not the answer (unfortunately).

    The only way chabad can fix itself is with centralized leadership and a rebranding – no more focus on shlichus, rather a focus on chabad chassidim. No more money being sent to shluchim, instead money going toward lubavitch chinuch and programs etc etc etc.

    Shluchim already have their own structure and leadership (which will prob fall apart soon because of their own stupid politics).

    Kids don’t aspire to be shluchim….they aspire to having girl friends, TV and goyish music.

    The rebbe gave us clear directives and ways to succeed but it’s decentralized – so you get mixed messages.


  20. I am far from a Chabbadnik, but I think the story is written backwards. Kids from every chassidus and every group of religious Jews are becoming disenfranchised with the hard-core of their group, and many of those kids go off the derech. Chabbad appears to be managing to keep those kids in a lighter form of Chabbad, which is much better than their going off. This is great. And this is exactly what Chassidus in the early days did – provided a framework in which regular folks could be chassidim without being hard-core. If this is really true, kol hakavod.


  21. We learn from the Purim story that if there is a problem, it’s really a spiritual problem, not a logical one.

    The Rebbe says in Chayei Sarah 5752 that there’s a chiddush in the shlichus that he gave us, and that this chiddush is the Shaar of the whole shlichus. In the footnote there the Rebbe brings Sichos from the Frierdieker Rebbe that indicate that all of our hashpaos b’gashmiyus uv’ruchniyus come through this Shaar, depending on how well we live up to it. Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we’re really dedicated to teaching people (starting with ourselves) about Moshiach and Geulah–as that sicha specifies–in a way of Havana v’Hasaga. Maybe if we would teach Chassidus that way, we would get all the inspiration, resources, and kochos we need to be successful. BezH.


    1. Generally those that stick to the Rebbes teachings and message on Moshiach, are still standing strong in their yiddishkeit and chassidishkeit. Look around you’ll see… “generally”, they are some of the most chassidish and yirei shamaim people around. Go look…


  22. All very good points.
    I think Mashpiim are imperative and have not been addressed in comment section.
    Many ways to God, MashpiI’m are a key part of solution.
    Glad everyone’s on same page that there is a crisis that needs to be addressed


  23. Very interesting discussion.

    Here are my thoughts,

    The first and foremost problem in my experience is the undermining and cutthroat manner of some so called “official” representatives of the CHABAD organization –local ones and that of those that self identify as being members in good standing and part of the CENTRAL COMMITTEE..

    They have proven over time, 21 years and counting — to be interested in

    Not three times a day MINYAN
    Not Safe & Secure Israel – PIKUACH NEFESH
    Not Limud haTorah
    Not Limud HaChassidus

    I actually do not know what their interests are except for — more money, influence, and PR .

    They appear to be afraid to look in the mirror and see what the problems are and attending to them in a constructive manner. They always take the easiest route of –circling the wagons.

    Their main priority appears to be NOT the revelation of MOSHIACH and BINYAN BEIS HAMIKDOSH, for if it was –their conduct would be very different.

    Yes, appearances are what they are. If you are a leader you must appear and be seen as honest, sincere and loyal to whom and what you represent.

    The problem on the local level and on the “leadership ” level is the unique AMERICAN sickness described by the Previuos Rebbe in a letter to a Chossid in America on Shlichus
    encouraging him to free himself from the thinking of …..

    “if my business competitor (another Shliach) is successful its a personal affront to me and I must drive him out of business with any means at my disposal”

    The idea of working together or at least not undermining one another is not part of ones conscience by some working on SHLICHUS.

    Wow! This really stinks for lack of a better word.

    Please re-read the above and you will see where the CHABAD “lite” i.e. darkness stems from.

    The cure for this is that every Talmid of Lubavitch – Every Chossid of the REBBE get to work together in tandem to bring more togetherness and unity within and among our ranks.

    Sadly, the guilty ones – most assuredly will see themselves as blameless and pure as the driven snow.

    The innocent ones -most assuredly are going on with their SHLICHUS and spreading light and goodness,

    The children who experienced the frightening reality of seeing parents devoted to doing good in the face of corruption by those sitting at the feeding trough of KOVOD – MONEY-and INFLUENCE in the Central Committee are being affected.

    And these same children seeing first-hand how the Central Committee covers for the local trouble-maker official Shliach –as long as they are loyal to the Central Committee – have made the simple and most straightforward decision.

    We will not sacrifice our happiness or connection to the REBBE and Chassidus by such unworthy people.

    Hence we now have illustrated the direct correlation for children becoming or acting “lite” in the face of the hypocrisy.

    You cannot weaken a child’s commitment to a life of Torah, Mitzvah and Chassidic loyalty.
    However, Hypocrisy, can and will!

    The main thing is to realize that EMES truth is very rare and real inspiration can only come from personal commitment and direct connection to the REBBE and his Torah teachings.

    No one should be so foolish and waste their time, talents, efforts or creativity and precious life looking to find favor or grace in the eyes of the corrupt and selfish and worse –nebech– insecure ones in leadership role.

    Let the fraudsters and imposters count the hours of Torah study, Mezuzas placed, homes Koshered, local area Minyans created and supported, Bal Teshuvas made, that they themselves personally accomplished — when in fact they undermine this very work by acting so callously with the lack of AHAVAS YISROEL, ANASH brotherhood etc.

    In conclusion its time for everyone to do Teshuvah and improve. Enough said time to put good and honest thoughts into positive action.


  24. I think the author is right about the general trend but I don’t find his explanations very convincing. In particular I think he’s missing the most important/dramatic reason for this modernization which is Chabad’s acceptance of a wide range of practice (both from people raised Chabad and people who found Chabad later in life). Whereas in the past, or in other denominations, lack of frumkite would see you entirely ostracized from the frum community. That it no longer means that is, I think, a big positive.


  25. Chabad as all religious groups have a modern contingency, imagine what the world would look like if nobody matured out of the Primitive beliefs? Imagine!


  26. Really.
    Why dont we work on being “Mekarev” these so called “chabad lite” people?

    Since when has the Rebbe’s approach been “us vs. them”? We are all about being mekarev frei yidden, how about being “mekarev” our own fellow lubavitchers.

    This “seperation” between the “chassidish” people, the ones wanting to live up to the Rebbes standards and the so-called Chabad “lite”, needs to stop.
    We need to make a bridge and not say Us, and Them…

    To often, I see the few Chassidish people still left, trying to stick to their own circles and within their own network of friends… How about reaching out to these so called Chabad lites and bringing them closer to the ways of Chassidus and the Rebbe?

    We can really make a difference. Dont just “preach to the choir”… Go OUT and talk to “not so chassidish” people, and influence them positively. I think that is much more constr


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