Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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.


  • 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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Was Shia LaBeouf’s performance art piece at Manhattan’s Angelica Film Center (where he spent three days watching his own films) a sign of madness or genius? Judging from the lines and the fans, it was the latter. Shortly before 6 a.m. on Thursday, approximately 140 people were on line for the last day of the live-streamed event at Angelica Film Center. Fans who waited were happy to give their opinions. “I don’t think he’s crazy,” said Elliot Quartz, an 18-year-old student at the New School, who waited […]

    Read more →