Kingdom of Priests

Shmuley Boteach contributes a gracious and insightful essay of appreciation on Chabad in the Forward. Gracious because despite emerging from Chabad himself and subsequently meeting with disapproval from the movement and parting ways, he is far from having turned against them:

Chabad has been the love of my life since I was 10 years old. I gravitate toward its passion for Judaism, its emphasis on love for every Jew and its members’ preparedness to spread their movement’s message throughout the world, often at great personal sacrifice.

The piece is wise, too. He points out something I’ve often thought:

What the Rebbe understood more than anyone else is that ideologies are perpetuated through charismatic leadership.

To most people today, Judaism is simply not compelling. So we keep searching for ways to make synagogues and Jewish classes more interesting, forgetting all the while that it’s not the subject which is boring but rather that many of the teachers seem lifeless.

Unfortunately, this is painfully true. When I wrote the other day on the enchantment of Judaism, I was referring to a “do it yourself” version of Orthodoxy constructed from books perhaps more than from teachers, which is not the real Jewish way. Jewish teaching is intended to be personal, not simply learned from printed pages. The lack of charismatic active leadership in the Jewish world is a peculiar deficiency that afflicts us at the moment, but it’s quite recent and there’s no reason to assume it is a permanent condition. Rather, we are going through a dry spell. It happens.
Unlike modern Orthodoxy or Reform and certainly very much unlike fragile, decaying Conservative Judaism, Chabad actively cultivates charisma and has a strategy for it, which is one reason the Hassidic sect stands out as the most successful movement currently on the Jewish scene, despite its eccentricity on at least one subject.
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