Chabad must remain apolitical

Chabad emissaries have the right to express opinions on partisan issues and politics, but doing so diminishes their real message. Opinion.

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko ,

International Conference of Shluchim 5771
International Conference of Shluchim 5771
Baruch Ezagui

There is no question that of all existing Jewish groups and movements, Chabad has been the most successful at expanding, reaching out, and imparting a message that resonates with the broader Jewish - and non-Jewish - community. Much of this success has been due to the tireless work of Shluchim and non-shluchim members of the Chabad community, their non-judgmental demeaner, and their non-partisan equal treatment of all.

Because I cherish and value this success and wish to see it go even further, I am writing today to Chabad leaders about a trend that concerns me immensely: the highly increased partisanship I see among the younger generation of Chabad Shluchim.

As someone who is active in the public sphere, I have seen Chabad Shluchim (emissaries) strongly advocate against vaccines, oppose mask-wearing measures, strongly argue issues of pandemic response, gun advocacy, who should be president, and other vitriolic debates that have been ravaging societies.

Of course, every one of these shluchim was the full right to speak their mind on any of these issues, but as I have warned in my TED Talk “The High Price of Political Polarization,” taking polarized positions is likely to weaken their message, not strengthen it.

Passions in America are running at record highs; there is no question about that. Yet, in some way, now more than ever, Jews are looking for the adult in the room. Jews are looking for a happy space where they can just connect to their Judaism, free of the cultural wars raging in every corner of society. Chabad has done a phenomenal job at being that happy space and should do everything in its power to preserve that sacred status.

I do not mind being attacked by a Shliach for arguing that vaccines should be mandatory, which I have been doing. However, I do hurt when realizing that his target audience has gotten larger because of that public position. I beg, chusa al amalach. have mercy on your work - paraphrasing a prayer to G-d to have mercy on humankind - I do not mind being criticized by a Chabad rabbi for favoring stronger social distancing, supporting the ADL, or for any other position concerning the broader Jewish community. I do hurt when I know that by doing so he diminishes his own message.

There is no question that belonging to Chabad does not diminish your basic right to express yourself politically in any way. Expressing yourself politically, however, does diminish your message as a Shaliach of the Rebbe. It has a price.

For years I have thought the world of the tireless work Chabad has been doing and continue to admire it. I have even been criticized by friends and colleagues in the Yeshivish community for my unwavering public adoration for the work Chabad does. I have no question that I will continue to admire and praise the incredible work Chabad is doing no matter what.

My only personal request to Chabad leaders is: keep up your good work, and do not allow partisan politics to destroy the precious work you are doing. Let your younger generation of emissaries know how much of your success has come about from your non-partisanship and that in these turbulent times, those very policies are needed now more than ever.

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City and is the president of EITAN - The American-Israeli Jewish Network



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