Why Chabad and Jewry Urgently Needs an Institute of Jewish Values

May 10, 2011 2:44 am 4 comments

Shmuley Boteach addresses a gathering at the launch of his Jewish Values Institute as Congressman Eric and Mrs Cantor look on.

Forgive the imperfections contained in this column. I am writing it quickly and late at night in order to respond to Chabad feedback I have received the entire day concerning the launch event I staged this past Sunday in Alpine, New Jersey with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor as guest of honor.

I have long lamented the fact that Chabad, the most important Jewish educational organizational in world history, is successful in every area but one: communication. We are a community of extraordinary Rabbis, activists, builders, and fundraisers. But our reach has little to no penetration in the mainstream media. We are rarely represented on television, radio, film, or leading websites. We are largely unknown beyond the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community of large cities.

And yet Chabad’s goal is a Messianic world, a global society suffused with a knowledge of G-d based on ancient Jewish values and teachings. Can that be achieved without a mastery of the media?

I have therefore long dreamed of creating an institute that would train young Jewish scholars – both from Chabad and elsewhere – in the art of becoming exponents of Judaism in the media. The institute would focus on teaching source materials on Jewish values pertaining to five critical areas:

1.  Marriage and Relationships

2.  Parenting and Child-rearing

3.  Media and the Culture

4.  Politics and Foreign Policy

5.  Finance and Materialism

These are the areas that America, the world’s most influential nation, requires the most guidance. Divorce continues to hover at fifty percent. A growing generation gap separates parents from children. The media becomes more shallow by the day and the culture more decadent. Politics are polarized between right and left and American foreign policy vacillates between remaining silent on the slaughter in Syria, on the one hand, and taking aggressive action against murderers like Bin Laden on the other. And materialism has so corroded the soul of America that in 2008 we nearly collapsed a $10 trillion economy.

All five areas can use a healthy injection of Jewish values if only we could create the exponents to deliver them. The urgency of bringing Jewish values to the masses is all the more pressing given the shocking lack of happiness in a nation that now consumes three quarters of the world’s anti-depressants.

I was honored that the highest ranking Jewish elected official in American history, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, accepted my invitation to headline our launch event. Eric is a man of patriotism and vision, a public servant with a steely core, great pride in his Jewish tradition, all coated in a deep layer of humility. I have the privilege of studying with Eric Jewish texts relating to Jewish values in his Congressional office and, as a political leader who loves this nation, he agrees that the United States is great because of its values.

As the event came together, I reached out to a wide spectrum of Jewish personalities to join us. Touro President Dr. Alan Kadish was present as was Rabbi Menachem Genack, the global head of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Division and one of America’s greatest orthodox scholars. Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, worldwide head of Chabad, also graciously accepted an invitation I conveyed through his son, my friend Rabbi Shmaya Krinsky, as did other Chabad leaders who are doing outstanding work through its global network. Their participation saluted Congressman Cantor’s tireless efforts on behalf of Americans in general and the State of Israel in particular. It also did honor to my dear friend David Slager, one of the prime backers of the new institution who was my student at Oxford and served as President of my organization, the Oxford L’Chaim Society. At Oxford David deepened his commitment to Judaism and has now emerged as a global philanthropist supporting Chabad activities globally.

It is no secret that amid my incontrovertible Chabad identity I clashed with my superiors at Chabad UK, who taught me so much, over the participation of thousands of non-Jews at our events as we grew to become the second largest student society in Oxford’s history. These well-intentioned and selfless men feared that the huge non-Jewish presence might dilute the Jewish character of the organization. I responded that we were educating thousands of non-Jewish future leaders in Jewish values and raising the profile of Jewish learning and tradition. I saw their passion for our activities as a sign that Jewish wisdom could enrich the lives of all the earth’s inhabitants.

Matters came to a head when a young African-American Christian Rhodes scholar by the name of Cory Booker, with whom I studied Torah nearly every day, became our President. Having a non-Jewish president shook the Chabad establishment and an order went out to rescind the membership of all the non-Jewish students. It was an order I simply could not follow. I explained that Cory was one of the most unique individuals I had ever met, a man of warmth, brilliance, and magnetism whom I knew would emerge as a respected world leader and would be an incomparable friend to the Jewish people. I could not embarrass Cory or any of the other non-Jews who were my students, supporters, and friends. I was supported in this decision by the legions of Jewish student members, many of whom were actually brought to our Chabad House by their non-Jewish friends.

With pressure mounting and a legal battle brewing, my wife and I agreed, on one of the saddest days of our lives, to resign our positions as Shluchim of the Rebbe in Oxford. We both signed the resignation papers with tears that have never fully left us.

It gives me both pride and pain to see how Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, recently voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, has been embraced as Chabad’s most sought-after speaker in the United States. Pride, because the Torah that Cory and I continue to study serves to inspire hundreds of thousands of Jews the world over with his eloquence and passion for Jewish teachings, amid his firm devotion to his Christian heritage. Pain, because the unresolved issues created by Cory’s presidency and my alienation from my own community continues to affect me and my family.

I give thanks to G-d that so many former Presidents of the Oxford L’Chaim Society occupy positions of leadership that positively affect world Jewry, from Ron Dermer who is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s chief advisor, to Cory Booker who is the most beloved speaker in the American Jewish community, to David Slager who supports Jewish institutions the world over.

But when I see good men like Chabad head Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky being criticized for attending events that simply seek to promote Jewish values in the mainstream culture, I question whether the Rebbe’s dream of an all-encompassing Ahavas Yisroel will be fully realized.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 26 books, the London Times Preacher of the Year, and the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. His books on Jewish values, “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” and “Judaism for Everyone: Renew Your Life Through the Vibrant Lessons of the Jewish Faith”, have both been published by Basic Books. His columns regularly appear in the Wall Street Journal, The Jerusalem Post, and The Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @Rabbi Shmuley.

4 Comments

  • Rabbi Boteach, we must remember that our Rebbe taught us that a Bais Chabad is a home for every Jew, where to learn about Torah and Mitzvot. It is true that we must also be a light unto the nations, but that should arise from another plane. do you wonder how many Jews have found their partner in a Bais Chabad and thus formed a Jewish family? Do you feel comfortable knowing that maybe some Jewish student found his non jewish partner in your Bais Chabad? It is true that he could found it in the university, but our responsibility is that a Bais Chabad is what the Rebbe asked from us.

  • Mr. Boteach you speak quite well but we all know that you have nothing to do with chabad. you may wear a beard but your actions of welcoming michael jackson and homosexuality have nothing to do with religious jewry. Your holiness depends on where tv cameras are.

  • That was a very good article. Sadly it has been forgotten they we are to be a ” Nation of Coahnim “

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.