Marc B. Shapiro: The Worst Thing Chabad Did

According to Wikipedia: “[Yosef Yitzchok (Joseph Isaac), the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe] Schneersohn argued against his Hasidim leaving Russia[in the 1920s, 1930s], even if they were able do. He explicitly forbade his followers from leaving, describing those who did as “deserters”.”

In his first lecture on R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin for Torah in Motion, historian Marc B. Shapiro says: Any rabbi [in the Soviet Union in the 1920s] who could get out, did. Rabbi Zevin remained.

For all the problems living under the czar, he was not concerned with how you lived your private life. As long as you were not interested in getting involved in politics, you could have religious freedom.

The communists were interested in uprooting religion. Their primary persecution was against Christianity.

Legally, anyone could go to church or synagogue, but if you wanted to advance in society, you could not go.

The Hasidic rebbes took many followers with them [out of the Soviet Union]. They encouraged them to leave.

In the summer of 1925, it was obvious that there was no future for Jewish life [in the Soviet Union].

Yosef Yitzchok (Joseph Isaac)Schneersohn issued an opinion that emigration from the Soviet Union was forbidden.

In 1927, the rebbe was arrested. After being released, he left the Soviet Union and by 1930 he was telling his followers that there was no future for them in the Soviet Union and that they should leave.

In my family, there was eight children. Four came to America [circa 1921], four remained in the Soviet Union. All of them assimilated. All intermarried. Only one moved to Israel. He was intermarried.

It should’ve been clear that this was a hopeless mission [to remain] in the Soviet Union. It meant sacrificing thousands of people and their families and their futures at a time when they would’ve been able to leave. His intentions were good but the results were disastrous.

The ones left in the Soviet Union had no education, no nothing.

This was a terrible terrible mistake to tell thousands of Hasidim who could leave that there place was here [in the Soviet Union]. It was a tragedy.

It’s only in the 1930s that Yosef Yitzchok (Joseph Isaac)Schneersohn realized he had to get out.

The Communist era was something entirely new. For the first time in maybe 2000 years, you had a government telling you that you could not observe Judaism. The Rambam is clear that if you are in a place where you can not openly observe Judaism, you are obligated to get out of there as soon as possible.

On the one hand, this says great things about Chabad. Who’s going to Bangkok, Thailand and trying to open up a shul there for tourists? And Nepal? It’s not people in the yeshiva world. You can’t ask someone to move to a place where there is a not a Jewish school and yet Chabad has always been willing to make that sacrifice.

They’d go to cities in America where there was no yeshiva and they would home-school their kids, and send their kids to public school and teach them on their own until sixth or seventh grade and then send them off to Crown Heights. It’s all coming from a good place. They were willing to make the sacrifice to stay in the Soviet Union because they are selfless people and the rebbe was selfless and they weren’t thinking about themselves. But if you look at what it led to, it led to a complete disaster. It led to complete assimilation of all these Chabad families. These families that were cream of the crop.

That’s when Reb Moshe Feinstein decided he had to leave, when he saw that he could not raise his children Jewish.

According to Wikipedia:

At a young age Rabbi Zevin was appointed rabbi of his birthplace, Kazimirov, and served as editor of the journal “Shaarei Torah.” He later served as rabbi of Klimon and Novozybkov.[2] He took an active role in the underground struggle to preserve Jewish observance in Soviet Russia after the Communist Revolution; this effort was headed by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. Beginning in 1921, he edited a Torah journal, Yagdil Torah, together with Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky of Slutsk; for this crime he was imprisoned by the Communist authorities.[3] He founded Orthodox Jewish journals that dealt with problems of the time.
At the age of 18, Rabbi Zevin began corresponding with leading sages. He also began at a young age to serve Russian Jewry in various communal capacities. During the brief period of Ukrainian independence after World War I, Rabbi Zevin served as a member of the Ukrainian parliament. He also served as a member and officer of the parent body of Jewish communities in Ukraine.
In 1935, Rabbi Zevin settled in the Land of Israel and began teaching at the Mizrachi-affiliated Bet Midrash L’morim. He also served as a member of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate Council.
In 1947 the first volume of the Encyclopedia Talmudit was published under his editorial oversight. Zevin continued to serve as editor-in-chief until his death in 1978. This multi-volume work continues today.
Rabbi Zevin frequently corresponded with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe; this correspondence is printed in the Igrot Kodesh series. He used concepts in Chabad philosophy to clarify halachic principles.

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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