The Visual Culture Of Chabad

Marc B. Shapiro blogs: …[L]et me also include this amazing picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It appears courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and I thank Rabbi Jerry Schwarzbard who first showed it to me a few years ago.

As you can see, it is an Israeli stamp from 1999, and it can now be added to Shnayer Leiman’s collection of stamps of rabbis.[19] Yet for some reason the stamp was never put into circulation. I have been unable to find the reason for this, and there is no mention of the stamp in Maya Balakirsky Katz’s recently published The Visual Culture of Chabad (Cambridge, 2010). There are many Lubavitchers who read the Seforim Blog. Perhaps one of you knows the story of this stamp and why it was never released.

As for Balakirsky Katz’s book, I urge Lubavitchers to read it, without preconceptions, and offer their opinions. It appears, to me at least, to be a quite interesting book. I stress the need for no preconceptions since Balakirsky Katz has now been placed by Lubavitchers in the “enemy camp”, along with other contemporary authors such as R. David Zvi Hillman z”l, David Kamenetsky, David Berger, Bryan Mark Rigg, David Assaf, Menachem Friedman, and Samuel Heilman. Balakirsky Katz angered Chabad with her recent article in the AJS Review 34 (2010; “An Occupational Neurosis: A Psychoanalytic Case History of a Rabbi”), and this article is summarized in the new book (but is only a very small part of the book). She argued that the Rebbe R. Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn (Rashab) was the rabbi who visited the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel in 1903. In those meetings the rabbi spoke about being sexually molested from his youth until his marriage. He also told about his sexual dreams and how he masturbated,[20] and described how his own brother carried on an improper relationship with his (i.e., the rabbi’s) wife (although it does not appear to have led to actual adultery).

I understand that Lubavitchers will regard Balakirsky Katz’s argument as beneath contempt. They will also regard as scandalous the fact that her essay was published in such a prestigious journal as AJS Review. I would not even ask them to dignify the argument with a response, any more than a non-Lubavitcher should be asked to respond to such claims about a close family member; for a hasid, the feelings for a Rebbe are just like those of a close relative. Yet there is a lot more to the book than the few pages dealing with the rabbi and Stekel, and I wonder how Habad insiders will appraise the rest of what she says.

…I don’t even think there was any need to REFER to her findings in the book. She did that in the article. The book focuses on a different topic and by including this in the book, it mixes apples and oranges. Because she included it in the book, this makes the book off limits to so many people because of “mius”, and I think that is unfortunate, because she probably has a lot to say on the Visual Culture of Chabad, which should be the exclusive focus of the book. I actually felt very uncomfortable reading the AJS article. I didn’t finish it, and from what I read I felt like I was invading the privacy of the therapist-patient conversation. Now I see that Chabad has put forth strong arguments refuting her

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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