He certainly didn’t pull any punches when it came responding in last week’s Mishpacha interview to a question regarding Chabad.
Whether the question was or wasn’t loaded is a matter of opinion. It went thusly: “How should the chareidi community react to phenomena such as Chabad and the wide publicity it engenders with its Mashiach campaigns periodically splashed across the non-Jewish radio and TV Media?”
At best, the question is legit: How indeed are frum Yidden to react to acheinu b’nei yisroel doing such seemingly bizarre and irresponsible things? Is this the Chabad we know and, yes, love? And who speaks for Chabad-Lubavitch?
But it was Rav Belsky’s response that really raised Lubavitcher hackles. After fellow interviewees Rabbis Heinemann of Baltimore and Rabbi Miller of Toronto both proffered rather neutral responses, the senior OU posek had this to say:
“I disagree. Chabad used to be about disseminating Chassidic teachings which the Baal HaTanya wrote, saying his divrei Torah, etc. In America, Chabad started out with shlichim [sic] going out and bringing the masses back to Judaism. These are goals which we share and do not contest.”
“But present-day Chabad has nothing to do with the above. Present-day Chabad has become a personal cult centered on the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. Everything they do, from beginning to end, revolves around this. They constantly project his image, talk about him and how great he was, how smart he was, how he was a better strategist than all the generals, that he was Mashiach, etc. This is the way people talk about a cult figure. There’s no room in Yiddishkeit for a personality cult in which an individual is deified and glorified. Whether he was great or wasn’t great is immaterial. There have been many great people in Judaism. The personality cult of glorifying an individual person, giving him unique titles, elevating the shape of the building he was active in, etc., has no place in Yiddishkeit.”
Poor publisher Eli Paley and his Mishpacha crew endured a hailstorm of letters, forcing a rare letter of regret e-mailed to every maddened Chabadnik. Even the venerable Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb, executive vice president of the OU, breathlessly emphasized his respect for Chabad and that Rav Belsky’s opinion did not speak for the Orthodox Union.
Rav Belsky, for his part, continues to stand by his words, despite repeated calls for an apology.
VIN has until now stood on the sidelines. But in response to mounting calls for a reaction by klal’s yisroel’s leading blog, we take the following position: Rav Belsky has done a mountain of good whether he realizes it or not (and we’re not sure he does).
How can we say that? Consider:
What has been the main thrust of the Lubavitcher response? One, a spirited defense of the legitimacy of the “cultish” Rebbe/Chosid relationship, both in Lubavitch in particular and in Chasidus in general. Two, an emphatic and unimpeachable assertion of worldwide Lubavitch’s peerless kiruv work, which orbits not around worshipping a human being but worshipping HaKadosh Baruch Hu through the popularization of Torah and Mitzvos. And finally, a clear and unmistakable divorce of the minute fanatical extreme within Lubavitch by the overwhelming mainstream of Lubavitch.
VIN feels that it’s been a long time since anyone really understood Lubavitch. A thousand voices created an undecipherable cacophony, and things were just getting worse.
Until Rav Belsky came along and opened his mouth.
K’ish echod b’leiv echod, in one fell swoop, Chabad has retorted in one mighty voice, making the record clear about who and what it is and isn’t. Is this not a good thing?
To Lubavitch, we say: Welcome back! We always knew you weren’t crazy. Thank you for speaking up finally. VIN record of admiring Chabad’s field work speaks for itself, and we’re not saying that to jump on the bandwagon. (To those tiny few who call themselves Lubavitchers and do insane things in the name of “Yemos HaMoshiach” like not fasting on 17 Tammuz or 9 Av, we say: Do you think that’s what the Rebbe wanted? Feh! We wouldn’t be defending Rav Belsky if you didn’t make us do so.)
And to Rav Belsky, shlita, we say: Kol hakavod. You may not have intended such a hurricane, though a tremendously new-found respect for Chabad seems to be rapidly rising phoenix-like from the wreckage. But if you cleverly engineered this entire episode, you are a profoundly wise, conscientious and caring leader indeed.
Because what has resulted is not sinas chinom and sinas Chabad, but quite the opposite. Now Yidden know what Chabad is, why it is not a cult after all, that there are normal people within Lubavitch—and that a tzadik’s last will and testament of dragging the subject of Moshiach Tzidkeinu out of the cold is a subject of respectable discussion at klal yisroel’s table, despite the chaos created by a few misguided fanatics.
We believe this can ultimately only engender unity, and in that respect, Rav Belsky not only has not hurt Lubavitch, but has done it a historically momentous tovah that will carry forward for generations. We would even say that this has brought Moshiach, whoever he is, one step closer.
We might even crown him an honorary Lubavitcher.