Habad, Leadership, and Abdicating Responsibility

I have a confession to make – I am not Habad*.

The reason for this is that I do not believe in certain elements of their ideology, and that is fine. They would say the same about me and that is the reason that they are Habad and not religious-Zionists.

However, I have over the years had a number of interactions with the Habad movement, and have a tremendous amount of respect for them and the work they do.

This brings me to the point of this post, which is less about Habad than it is about all the other Orthodox Jews in the world.

How is it that everyone else has managed to drop the ball so comprehensively that the religious elements of the Melbourne community have been outsourced almost exclusively to the Habad movement?

The Beit Din (Jewish court of law), Kosher food certification, and a majority of the shules (synagogues) and communal institutions all have the stamp of Habad on them. In fact it is rare for an organisation not to have some element of Habad on its clerical team.

For that, Habad should be congratulated. And all other Orthodox Jewish groups should be condemned.

I would like to focus for a moment on the religious-Zionist and modern-Orthodox movement (I am still unsure how to divide them). When was the last time that they produced a rabbi or religious leader in Australia? Why do they need to put on a black hat before they can consider becoming a rabbi? Is the belief in their ideology so weak?

Why is it that there are shules and centres run by Habad popping up all over Melbourne, while the other communities are still loath to leave the Caulfield/East St Kilda area?

Why are there so many shules that claim to be Modern Orthodox, yet their clergy are almost exclusively Habad? And of the few rabbis that are Modern Orthodox almost none are Australian born or raised.

There is an apathy that seems to run through the Melbourne community. No one wants to be the first, no one wants to stick their neck out.

Through this attitide, we have gifted our spiritual legacy to people whose religious beliefs are not ours. Granted they are still Orthodox and Jewish, and I am not suggesting that by appointing Habad rabbis we are leaving our religion, but I would want certain non-Habad ideals preached to me and my family by my rabbi.

There are a number of ways however, that we can redirect our efforts to succeed in changing the course of events.

1) Schools: The Jewish school culture needs to shift from an obsessive focus on elite university courses to a wider variety of vocations. A carpenter, plumber, electrician or even a rabbi need to be presented as legitimate vocations. There should not be a fear of the unknown, rather we should embrace the possibilities and how great our communities could become.

2) Community: We have no reason to fear living outside of the Jewish enclaves. Before opening various bush shules, we can start with areas closer to home. There are significant Jewish communities in all of Caulfield’s surrounding suburbs but few other than Habad are willing to set up shop there.

3) Money: Talk is cheap. If we want our children to believe that we genuinely want them to participate in communal life, we have to prove it. Communal professional positions need to have prestige. We should be giving scholarships to those who wish to follow this path (there are some schools who are beginning this process), and most importantly, such vocations need to be able to compete with other professions in terms of desirability. If a person wants to be either a rabbi or an accountant, the position of rabbi has to compete favourably in conditions and wages.

4) Action: Most important of all is to act. From numerous discussions with many people, I know that many people will agree with the sentiments presented here.  But without concrete action to change things, this will become just another article.

If we really believe in our religious traditions, the schools, institutions and families need to be encouraging our youth to pick up the slack and see communal work as a vocation rather then a bit of volunteer work that needs doing.

And it needs doing here. There is no point running off to Israel – which is thriving Jewishly – while there is a leadership void in Australia that threatens continuity.

The only way we can truly judge our religious education is through its outcomes in adulthood. And outside of Habad, our education in Australia has proven itself to be incredibly selfish. It is now up to us to change it.

*Habad is an ultra-orthodox movement within Judaism.

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20 Responses to “Habad, Leadership, and Abdicating Responsibility”

  1. Mohan says:

    I prefer to leave religious practices to personal choice. But regarding schools, the very point of expensive private education is that the people enrolling will seek a “return” on investment. And often the stated aim of such schools is to train future “leaders” with Judges, QCS, surgeons,Ambassadors, Vice chancellors,bankers et al as role models.
    Carpenters and plumbers are not shown are role models or considered “leaders”. To change this will require a radical change in the fees and culture to allow intake from the non-professional classes. AKA closer to the model of the public schools.

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  2. Gedalia says:

    Over the past two years two RZIA (Religious Zionist Institutions of Australia) conferences have been hosted (Melbourne and Perth), with a focus on religious zionist influences and resources within Mizrachi shules, Bnei Akiva, Torah MiTzion and day schools. Many of the points you raised have been matters of discussion at these events. In particular, why the modern orthodox organisations in the community are not grooming future leaders, teachers, and Rabbis. The height of achievement for Chabad is to go on shlichut. For the srugot crowd, anybody pursuing a non-professional career outside of law or medicine is an underacheiver. Certainly to pursue a career in Jewish education is not currently attractive to our youth. Roy Steinman spoke very passionately about this issue in Perth. There are very few locally produced leaders, and the stringent requirements of the education systems in Australia make it very hard to recruit people with the requisite blend of Jewish knowledge, teaching skills and charisma. Some exceptions stand out – Rabbi Danny Eisenberg in Sydney, Adam Segal in Melbourne etc etc – products of the Australian Jewish community who have become very effective and successful Jewish educators. In Perth there are currently at least four graduates of Carmel School who are spending five or six years in Israel Yeshivot and who will likely emerge as Australian Religious Zionist rabbis. I’m not sure how many Melburnians or Sydney Jewish school graduates are pursuing smicha study as a form of tertiary education.

    Your posting identifies one of the most critical issues facing Australian Jewish continuity today, yet one that is hardly placed onto the radar as a matter of importance. It is about Rabbis for our Shules, teachers for our schools, and informal educators to support growth and outreach. I think you have hit on one element of the problem – the lack of professional salaries and packages to encourage people into these roles. However there is a second problem, and that is so long as shules/school/institutions are run and led in a voluntary capacity by community influences, who would want to work for a a Jewish organisation? When people working in these educative roles start to report to Executive Officers and don’t have their employment relationships managed by organisational Presidents, we stand a lot better chance of creating a recongnisable Rabbinic career path.

    Hopefully in 2011 there will be a third RZIA conference in Sydney Hopefully it will be broader in scope, and deliver some much needed discussion on the issue that you have raised. Hopefully it will also lead to some solutions. For example, the provision of funding to fund several Australian’s every year into education and study (Religious Zionist hashgafa) towards a career in Jewish education and Rabbinic leadership. Scholarships could be created that bond recipients into returning several years of activity into pre-determined employment. This is simply a matter of where our funding priorities lie – is it in bricks and morter, or investing in people?

    Yisher Koach on your post.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      You raise some interesting points that I did not raise as well as point to some of the practical ways that things are changing.

      There is however what I would consider the central point that has been ignored. The average person. We can attempt to run around and appoint the few to leadership positions, but in order for these people to want to change there is a need to build the willingness to take up these positions from the community as a whole rather then to hand pick individuals.

  3. There is no secret to the success of Chabad. The Rebbe gave us the blueprint that the movement follows, and because of this there are more motivated and committed young people in Chabad that are willing to selflessly serve and go that extra mile for their fellow Jew than in other groups. Nothing can replace people power. Nothing can replace pure idealism. Idealistic dedicated people will always work hard and overcome obstacles to reach their goals. No amount of money or wonderful buildings or organisations can ever make up for plain old grass roots people power, and the Rebbe in his genius understood that better than any other leader.

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    • Yaron says:

      You have seemed to miss the point. I am not diagreeing with you about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was an organisational genius is many ways not just in mobilising his followers, but also in the uptake of new technologies to spread his message. And he was a pioneer, often doing it before other movements.

      The point of the article is focusing on others and why there is a lack of motivation in others. If people truly believe in their ideologies why are they not trying to spread their message.

      It may surprise some people from inside the Chabad community that there is legitimate Judaism outside of Chabad and their strong presence enhances the positions of the Chabad movement.

      So for the moment please just accept that someone from outside your community was using your movement as a positive example for others to follow

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  4. Your time stamp is in American time, on Sept 18 at 5:36 pm (see my last comment posted above) it was Yom Kippur and I would not have posted then. Please change it.

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  5. Yaron, why are you getting defensive? Of course you have a legitimate path in Judaism and I never suggested otherwise. You missed my point. The inspiration and idealism our Rebbe gives us cannot be bottled and sold as it is unique. The incredible self sacrifice of many Chassidim and the great love they have for their fellow Jew is rooted in their devotion to him and his teachings. We have scores of young people who are happy to give up all their own comforts and set aside their own needs to help another Jew. People feel the genuine concern and love the Chabad shluchim have in their hearts for them, and are amazed at how the shluchim will go to the ends of the earth to serve them and meet their needs as Jews. Try but might, no other movement can duplicate that without a comparable Rebbe of their own. Your movement has motivated people, but just not as many and not as motivated as the Rebbe’s army. Lubavs are motivated because of who they are– they are Chassidim of the Rebbe, because of the relationbship they have with the Rebbe. I don’t see how you can imitate or borrow it, as it has to be genuine and come from within the soul.

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    • Yaron Gottlieb says:

      Are you seriously trying to imply that passion and initiative is a uniquely Chabad drive and it was given this gift by their Rebbe?

      Do you want us to believe that no other organisation could give birth to a group who would selflessly go and do work for others?

      The readers here are not so naive.

  6. jenny batesman says:

    Could you kindly discuss the ethical considerations of suicide and euthanasia from a Jewish perspective.

    Cheers Jenny

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Hi Jenny.
      Yaron’s in Israel at the moment and will be back in a couple of weeks. I’ll make sure he sees your comment.

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  7. jenny batesman says:

    Great Alex thought it would be interesting to discuss this issue at this point in time….


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  8. jenny batesman says:


    great new report of social cohesion in Australia hot off the press!!

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  9. In today’s Jewish world the passion and comittment of Chabad is unmatched. Unless some other group gets a comparable Rebbe to ours, I do not believe they can muster up an equivalent comittment or passion, yes that is my opinion. What you see is unique to Chabad in today’s world unless things change.

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  10. samantha says:

    Shoshanna…. i love the diagram on your blog about generational change.

    A great sociological analysis, very nice!!

    Further to that many adopt the worst from both cultures and saw too many of this at Uni sadly…

    Imagine how Josh Frydenberg’s kids will turn out.

    Love to know which demographic the Jewish Day school students would fit into,that would be really interesting!!!

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  11. gary says:


    This is a compelling film and i saw it at a film festival in Canada,some of the best acting of any-one i have seen for a while in a independent film

    Thought it would be of interest here.

    Cheers Gary

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  12. Nifty says:

    As a former Bnei Akiva member (for over 10 years in my youth) and now a Chabadnik I agree 100% with Yaron’s article. This exact topic is something that I have discussed often with a number of my Chabad friends and also Chabad rabbis of non-Chabad shules. We all agree that it is a sad situation that the modern Orthodox community in Australia appears to discourage their children to pursue a career in Jewish education or the rabbinate.

    In Chabad, even if one does not go into the rabbinate, Jewish education or the like, many of us feel an obligation to do communal work in other ways. This could be taking an active role in our shul, charity work or other communal roles. As Shoshana says this is something the Rebbe encouraged and exemplified.

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  13. sally says:


    in lieu of Marieke Hardy’s story about Christopher Pyne that was removed, i put her aticle on Rachel Zoe which has a “heeb” twist to it and why she is still hilarious!!

    Don’t sensor humour and jews know more about that than any-one!!

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  14. pamela says:

    It was lovely to see Dr Mark Baker at the Wheeler Centre talking about his faith and his philosophical viewpoints on Judaism.

    Congratulations to Mark and i hope there are many more opportunities for other members of your community to speak in a forum like this and engage in a mature and creative debate for all Melbournians to enjoy.

    Well done!!

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  15. Melinda says:

    A lovely song:

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  16. Eli says:

    Having had a child of my own attended a local Chabad day school, I can say that the depth of Jewish education was limited and narrow.
    By that I mean, limited to a particular point of view from a religious standpoint.Narrow as to the terms of reference it used, to in fact re edit Jewish history and the role of Jews and Israel.

    Most of the curriculum was focused on either getting ready for marriage or a stint in a seminary then marriage.

    Off course I shouldn’t have been surprised, given it was a Chabad school. The point is that there is a difference between a Jewish education and a Chabad one.

    For a definitive Jewish education, our community school system fails because it focuses on splintering the resources based on theological and political differences. Instead we should be integrating our children within a comprehensive Jewish framework and leaving the finer points of our differences to be taught at home.

    As it stands now we are creating future generations that set themselves apart from other Jews in the community. For those that pray everyday of the oneness of G-D we forget that it requires the same of us.

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