Chicago Chabad House avoids foreclosure

A Chicago Chabad House avoided foreclosure by filing for bankruptcy.

The brownstone housing the Lubavitch Chabad of the Loop, Gold Coast and Lincoln Park was to have gone on the auction block Wednesday, but the bankruptcy filing this week gave Chabad additional time to repay a bank loan, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The group has found a way to pay its debts but needed more time, Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun said, according to the Tribune.

Seven years ago, Chabad sought to build a new center at Chestnut and Clark streets, on Chicago’s so-called “Gold Coast,” and used its building on North Dearborn as collateral to the bank on the $4.9 million loan.

Following the economic downturn, donations for Chabad took a hit, the bank changed its rules and the organization was unable to finance its loan on the new property.

The Chabad House has served as a residence, classroom and a place to stop for Jewish travelers on visits to Chicago.

Thousands of Chabad emissaries gather for Brooklyn banquet

Thousands of emissaries from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement gathered for their annual banquet in Brooklyn.

The nearly all-male crowd of about 4,500 at Sunday night’s gala dinner included nearly 4,000 Chabad emissaries from around the world, according to The event was hosted at a massive port facility building in the Red Hook neighborhood.

Guest speaker Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi, talked about the influence of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, on his own life. Sacks credited meeting Schneerson with inspiring his own rabbinic career.

He called Schneerson “one of the greatest Jewish leaders not just of our time but of all time.”

“Throughout Jewish history there were great leaders, but I know of no precedent for one who transformed visibly and substantively every single Jewish community in the world, including many parts of the world that never had a Jewish community before,” Sacks said.

The banquet is a highlight of the annual international Chabad emissaries conference that brings the far-flung representatives back to the Chasidic movement’s home base in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

The banquet’s signature roll call of all the locations served by emissaries highlighted the diverse locations on all six regularly inhabited continents where the Chabad movement has a presence—from Bolivia to Laos to the Congo.

The movement’s female emissaries—spouses of the male emissaries—had a separate conference in January.

The Rebbe’s army soldiers on


Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries brutally murdered last week in Mumbai, ran the Jewish center they established in that Indian city on their own. But the young Israeli American couple were part of a worldwide network of Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim — more than 7,000 men and women who devote their lives to doing Jewish outreach in more than 73 countries.

The outreach effort has become the hallmark of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, set in motion 55 years ago by their late rebbe, Menachem Mendel Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackSchneerson. In the 15 years since his death, “going on shlichus,” or becoming Chabad emissaries, has been a point of pride with young Lubavitchers — the best and the brightest, they say, become the rebbe’s emissaries.

Chabad has become so ubiquitous that Jewish travelers around the world, no matter how far they stray, have come to expect a Shabbat meal, a holiday celebration and a warm welcome from one of these Chasidic couples, no questions asked. All that’s required is a knock on the door.

An online tribute to the Holtzbergs posted recently at is filled with postings from American, British and Israeli travelers who passed through the Mumbai Chabad center the couple established in 2003.

People recall 29-year-old Gabi’s broad smile and 28-year-old Rivkah’s efforts to make every guest feel at home. Some write of playing with the couple’s 2-year-old son, Moshe, and wondering who will raise him now. One traveler called the Holtzbergs “a beacon of Judaism” in a world that often made him feel alone and alien.

Over the past decade, both during and after my research for “The Rebbe’s Army,” my 2003 book about Lubavitch shluchim, I have heard similar stories from countless American Jews. They talk of spending Shabbat with Chabad in Venice, Hong Kong, Anchorage, Bangkok. They marvel at the fortitude and commitment of these young couples who leave comfortable lives in New York, London or Jerusalem to take up residence in Russia, Brazil, Zambia and, yes, India — countries where they live to serve their fellow Jews, where they raise their children in a language and culture not their own.

Often I meet these Jews at fundraisers for other Jewish organizations. As we munch on hors d’oeuvres and sip wine in fancy banquet halls from Los Angeles to Miami, those who relate these stories don’t seem to realize that the Chabad centers they have come to expect around the world don’t pop up by themselves, and certainly they don’t continue to function without the tireless work and endless fundraising by the emissaries who run them.

At the Passover seder I spent in Bangkok in April 2001, the Chabad center on Khao San Road had been completed just hours before the dinner began; the rafters were still unpainted. Nearly 300 tickets at $15 a pop had been presold to Israeli backpackers who filled the nearby guesthouses.

Some 700 young travelers tromped happily up the stairs to the seder, more than half brushing past the Lubavitch yeshiva students who were quietly collecting tickets and smiling at every arrival, whether they had paid or not.

A free dinner! Of course, it’s Chabad. It’s always free. It’s always there.

During my visit with the Chabad emissaries in Salt Lake City, I listened as Sharonne Zippel spoke of the sadness she felt as she and her husband prepared to send their 11-year-old son off to Montreal for yeshiva, in accordance with Lubavitch custom. When the couple, as young marrieds, decided to spend their lives as shluchim, Sharonne told me, they hadn’t realized it meant dragging their future children into the same lifelong commitment.

Did Rivkah and Gavriel Holtzberg think about that when they decided to move to India? As her three children were born — one died young, a second was in Israel with Rivkah’s parents last week — did Rivkah look into their tiny, perfect faces and wonder whether they might have been happier growing up in Brooklyn or Israel? When the gunmen burst into the Mumbai Jewish center on Nov. 26, did Rivkah or Gabi waver in their resolve to see it through to the end?

The weekend before the attack, 3,000 Chabad emissaries gathered in New York for their annual convention. They danced, they networked, they took their famous roll call during the closing-night banquet, standing up country by country to celebrate the movement’s continued growth.

The number of Chabad institutions has doubled in the past decade from 745 to 1,326. According to a 2001 survey by the American Jewish Committee, one-tenth of the synagogues in the United States are Chabad congregations. The movement’s Web site receives 75,000 unique visitors every day.

The growth is qualitative, too. More sophisticated adult educational programs have been created and emissaries have become involved in a wider range of activities, from prisoner rehabilitation to new media development.

New emissary couples are taking up postings around the world in ever more remote locations. Chabad centers were established last year in South Korea, Serbia and northern Cyprus. Four new Lubavitch couples every week, on average, set out to somewhere around the globe, intent on spreading their rebbe’s message to do good, study hard and love one’s fellows.

The word from Lubavitch global headquarters in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn is that the Mumbai tragedy will not slow down the movement, nor deter new emissaries from taking up their postings.

Next week, Rabbi David Slavin, 27, and his wife, Chani, 26, head to Yassi, Romania, a city with 7,000 Jewish families on the Ukrainian border.

Speaking by phone from their current home in Kiryat Malachi in Israel, David said the news from Mumbai has not affected their plans.

“We are not afraid at all,” he said. “We can’t understand why this happened to the Holtzbergs; it’s very hard, of course. But we are sure this is the right path for us.”

Like other emissaries, the Slavins will bring their children with them: 2-year-old Dovi and 2-month-old Chaya Mushka.

David, whose American-born parents were sent as Chabad emissaries to Israel by Schneerson, noted that Dovi and Chaya Mushka will be third-generation shluchim. That’s quite a responsibility to lay on the shoulders of two toddlers. But it’s the life they have chosen.

Grim news from Mumbai hits home

” alt=”complete coverage on mumbai chabad attack” title=”Click here for complete Mumbai Chabad coverage” vspace = 8 hspace = 8 border = 0 align = left>NEW YORK (JTA)—Until confirmation finally came that the Chabad emissaries in Mumbai were among the more than 170 victims killed in this week’s terrorist attacks in India, Chabad Chasidim and emissaries the world over prayed for the best while fearing for the worst.

By the morning of Nov. 28, the hostage standoff at the Chabad’s Nariman House was over some two days after it had begun.

Early that day, witnesses saw a series of explosions at the community center as Indian special forces stormed the site and battled with the gunmen who had taken over the house—one of 10 sites in the city attacked Nov. 26 by terrorists

When the smoke had cleared, the bodies of five hostages were found, including those of the couple that ran the center, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.

At a Nov. 28 news conference at Chabad world headquarters in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., the mood was one of shock and grief.

“This news is fresh and this news is raw,” the chairman of Chabad’s education and social services arm, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, told reporters. New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly also was on hand.

Chabad has more than 3,500 emissaries, known as schluchim, who run Jewish outreach centers around the world. The centers began to be established at the behest of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Those who knew the Holtzbergs—Gavriel, 29, and Rivka, 28—spoke of them as highly dedicated to the Chabad mission of spreading Judaism to Jews around the globe. The couple moved from Brooklyn to Mumbai in 2003 at the urging of Chabad’s leadership. Their apartment in Colaba, in the southern part of Mumbai, quickly became a hub both for Jews traveling in India—many of them Israeli backpackers traveling in the country following their service in the Israeli army—and for those living in India.

“Jews from all nationalities stopped there—primarily Israelis, but also those from Singapore and other places,” said Elijah Jacob, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s country manager for India. “It was almost like a second home to them. Our country director used to say it was like a second home to him because of all of the Jews there on Shabbat.”

Gavriel “was one of the finest and kindest gentlemen you could imagine,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the vice chairman of Chabad’s education arm. He recounted the last conversation Gavriel had with the Israeli Embassy, on the night of Nov. 26, shortly after the center was taken over by the terrorists.

“He said, ‘The situation is not good,’ ” Kotlarsky recalled. “And then he was cut off.”

News of the Holtzbergs’ deaths hit hard in the Lubavitch neighborhood of Crown Heights, where tens of thousands of Chabadniks live. In this tight-knit community, nearly everyone is connected to one another.

“It is painful to see,” Rabbi Velvel Farkash said outside of Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. “It is a deep pain. I really have no words for it.”

Jacob described Gavriel Holtzberg as a community builder in Mumbai, home to some 4,500 Jews living in a western Indian city of 14 million. The city has eight synagogues, mostly in the southern part in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods.

“[Gavriel] helped out with some of the local synagogues. He helped them collect donations and did fund-raising for the synagogue T’feret Israel, in central Mumbai in Jacobs Circle. He helped build a mikveh there,” Jacob, who grew up in India, told JTA.

“He was also officially a shochet [ritual slaughterer] and made chickens available to the community. They also made challah for the community. They were available for the community. If people had questions about halachic principles, what is right and what is wrong in terms of the rights and customs of Judaism, they were basically guiding the local community.”

On Nov. 27, the day after terrorists took over the Chabad House, the gunmen released the Holtzbergs’ 2-year-old son, Moishe, and the building’s cook, Sandra Samuel, who reported that the Chabad emissaries were alive but unconscious. The Holtzbergs have another son who was not in the center when it was captured.

Krinsky said Chabad would take care of Moishe.

“The world of Chabad-Lubavitch and its emissaries will adopt this beautiful toddler, and raise him and give him a beautiful upbringing,” Krinsky said at the news conference.

On the morning of Nov. 28, as reports spread that five of the hostages being held at the Chabad house were dead, Erin Beser was holding out hope that the Chabad emissaries were not among them.

Beser, who spent a year in Mumbai as a volunteer for the JDC, said she spent nearly every Shabbat at the Chabad house during her time in India.

“I was by myself in India for two months as a volunteer,” Beser said. “And in India, your week is just so stressful and foreign, and everything is different, from the food to the climate. But going to Chabad was just like coming home. And I came back every week. If I didn’t come one week, she would call.”

Another victim at the center was Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, 50, a Mexican citizen who was scheduled to make aliyah on Dec. 1, according to a news release from The Jewish Agency for Israel. Two of her three children already were living in Israel.

Rabinovich, who was visiting the Chabad center, had been traveling in India with the intention of making aliyah at the end of her trip.

Unlike other Chabad houses in the Far East, which see a steady stream of Israeli backpackers, the Nariman House catered more to Israeli and foreign businessmen. A typical Shabbat dinner at the Holtzbergs would include up to 50 guests, ranging from locals to the Israeli consul general and his family, Beser said.

“They were so committed to what they were doing and they were such good people,” Beser said of the Holtzbergs. “They were so welcoming. It was amazing how many people came through that house. And still she was like, ‘How was your week?’ and was able to hold all of this information about what I was doing.”

Chasidic beatboxing keeps Matisyahu moving

Matisyahu is in a delicate place right now.

Not emotionally (although in conversation he is raw and perceptive — he always seems to know what you’re thinking, and he’s two steps ahead of the question you’re about to ask) and not physically (on the night we speak, he’s in Norfolk, Va., where soon he will play to a packed crowd of 1,500 in a refurbished 1920s theater). On Nov. 18 he’ll be at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles.

Careerwise, however, he’s straddling a chasm.

On one side is the possibility of being a one-hit wonder — his debut single, “King Without a Crown,” appeared on all three of his albums to date, and after a strong first few weeks on the Billboard charts, his most recent record, the major-label debut “

Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Legacy Expanding

Ten years after the death of the last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, his influence on the Jewish world continues to grow.

Tens of thousands of mourners visited Schneerson’s grave in Queens, on Tuesday for his 10th yarhzeit. Israel’s two chief rabbis had called for a worldwide day of communal prayer, saying, “The flourishing success of other groups, not only among Chasidic circles [but among] the Jewish community at large, is in large measure due to the rebbe.”

It is a big claim, but one that Jewish figures of nearly all movements echo.

“The rebbe has left an indelible impression on Judaism in the 20th century,” said Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University and one of the leading figures of the Modern Orthodox movement. Though he criticized Chabad for building a “personality cult” around its rebbe, whom many Lubavitchers believe to be the Messiah, Lamm said Schneerson “was an indomitable leader, a preeminent scholar and a truly creative visionary of organization. He consolidated the Chabad movement so that it was able to outlast his own life.”

Lawrence Schiffman, chair of New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, will hold an academic conference next year on Schneerson’s legacy, the first such conference outside the Lubavitch world.

“He showed the Jewish community that it was possible to revive and rebuild — after assimilation, persecution or both — and that this could be done on a tremendous scale,” Schiffman said.

Schneerson’s background was unusual for a Chasidic rabbi. Born in 1902 in Russia into a Lubavitch family of prestigious lineage, he learned in yeshivas as a youth but went on to study math and science at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1941, Schneerson fled Nazi-occupied Europe for New York. In 1951, a year after the death of his father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Schneerson was proclaimed the seventh rebbe by Chabad elders.

Schneerson died childless and without appointing an heir after two years of illness, during which he was unable to speak. The lack of an heir, and some ambiguous statements Schneerson made in the years before his illness, fueled speculation among many of his followers that the messianic age might be approaching and that Schneerson was the Messiah.

While many Lubavitchers still believe the deceased rebbe to be the Messiah, the power of the movement’s messianists decline with each passing year, although the issue remains a point of contention both inside and outside Chabad. The movement today is led by a 22-member board of rabbis that allocates funding from its headquarters in Crown Heights, adjudicates disputes and serves other administrative functions.

Chabad outreach activities are growing, with more than 4,000 shluchim (emissaries) spreading Schneerson’s message in more than 70 different countries, more than double the number a decade ago. There’s hardly a Jewish community anywhere in the world that doesn’t have a Chabad center, and hardly a Jew that does not know of “the rebbe” and his shluchim.

By sending his yeshiva students into the streets of middle America with beards and hats at a time when even observant Jews tried to hide their ethnic identity, Schneerson exerted the single greatest influence on the revival of Jewish pride in the United States, perhaps even more than the creation of the State of Israel, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said.

Many Jews say they’re inspired by Schneerson’s teachings, especially his sichos (weekly talks), which still are being compiled and published at Lubavitch headquarters.

Schneerson most often is credited for his outreach work — not just the practical accomplishments, such as the creation of schools, holiday services and adult education classes, but the underlying philosophy that focused on each individual Jew with caring, warmth and love.

“The rebbe was the first person on American soil to put priority on what today is called ‘kiruv [drawing Jews closer to their religion],” said Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive director of the Orthodox Union. “Today everyone is doing it, but there’s no question that Chabad was doing it decades before anyone else.”

Over the past 10 years Chabad Lubavitch on the West Coast’s growth has included:

  • 112 shluchim couples moving to the West Coast.

  • 84 new Chabad regional centers and outreach programs; 22 such centers have opened their doors in the last year alone.

  • 12 new Chabad Houses established at universities throughout California.

  • 42 new building projects launched and completed.

  • More than $125 million raised toward capital projects.

  • 10 new mikvahs.

  • More than 200 Jewish Web sites offering Jewish content, outreach and social services.

— Staff Report

Bloodless Coup

Escalating tensions in the Russian Jewish community exploded for all to see this week as authorities arrested Vladimir Goussinsky, the media tycoon who also serves as the president of the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC).

Tuesday’s arrest, reportedly on charges of fraud and embezzlement, came just hours after 26 Lubavitch rabbis gathered in Moscow to elect Rabbi Berel Lazar the chief rabbi of Russia.While unconnected on the surface, the two developments are linked in that they could have major implications for Russian Jewry and its relations to the Kremlin.Russia’s chief rabbi is important because that individual is the only official representative of the Jewish community recognized by the government.

The election of Lazar as chief rabbi comes just a week after the country’s chief rabbi for the past decade, Adolph Shayevich, accused the Russian government of seeking his ouster.Shayevich, who is backed by Goussinsky’s RJC, later backtracked from his statement, but has insisted that he had felt pressure to resign, especially from Russia’s Lubavitch community.

Both observers and players on the scene have expressed concern that the communal in-fighting is clearly linked to the bitter rivalry between Goussinsky and Russia’s new president, Vladimir Putin, and that the rivalry has spilled over in dangerous ways to the Jewish community, which numbers an estimated 600,000.Goussinsky’s problem is that he supported Putin’s political rivals, and the offices of Media-Most, the tycoon’s media empire, had been targeted in recent weeks by the government, which has been cracking down on the media.

Putin, who was out of the country when Goussinsky was arrested Tuesday, told Russian reporters he was surprised by the move.The arrest prompted American Jewish organizations to come to Goussinsky’s defense.Goussinsky “enjoys the strong support” of the organized American Jewish community in his leadership role” as president of the RJC,” said a statement by NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.Saying that “basic freedoms appear to be challenged” in Russia today, the statement added: “We expect the Russian authorities to follow due process and international legal standards with respect to Mr. Goussinsky and to assure the full rights of the Russian Jewish community.”

Jewish officials also expressed skepticism over Putin’s reaction, saying he most likely was involved.For his part, Lazar, the new chief rabbi called upon the Russian government to immediately free Goussinsky and that he was sure Goussinsky would comply with the authorities’ investigation.The Lubavitch rabbis who elected Lazar chief rabbi were delegates of the Congress of Jewish Communities in Russia, which opened Monday and was organized by the Lubavitch dominated Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

The Federation, which became a legal entity last November as an umbrella structure, immediately received clear-cut signs of support from the government, including a meeting between its leaders and Putin, who was then acting president.

The Federation was immediately promoted by the state-controlled TV channel ORT, which is controlled by the controversial media tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, a rival of Goussinsky.The promotion led to accusations that the Federation was being supported by “Berezovsky’s people” in the Kremlin, most likely, according to sources, Alexander Voloshin, the head of Putin’s administration.Pavel Feldblum, the executive director of the Moscow Jewish community, said that since Lazar was elected only by Lubavitch rabbis, he can only be the chief rabbi of Lubavitch in Russia.

For their part, Lubavitch officials say the Federation represents 85 religious communities, and that the Lubavitch rabbis at the Moscow conference this week were authorized by their communities to elect a chief rabbi.

Gorin, Lubavitch’s spokesman, said after Lazar’s election that this is not “a putsch, it is a Velvet Revolution.”

Missionary Passions

Five years after his death, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson seems to be influencing more people than he ever did in life. But not in ways he might have expected.

It’s ironic, perhaps. Pundits were sure that Schneerson’s demise in June 1994 would lead to the disintegration of the Chassidic movement he led for nearly a half century. Instead, the movement has experienced an explosive burst of growth. New Chabad-Lubavitch outreach institutions are springing up worldwide at a rate of more than 100 a year, perhaps double the rate of a decade ago.

Growth could be having an unexpected effect, though. Movement officials deny it, but an outside observer might conclude that Lubavitch’s massive involvement in the world around it isn’t simply influencing the world anymore. It’s beginning to influence Lubavitch, too.

Of the two effects, Lubavitch’s impact on the world is easier to detect. Just days ago, the movement dedicated its spanking-new, five-story outreach center on Embassy Row in Washington. The festivities featured a senator, a Cabinet member and various other dignitaries, all singing the praises of Lubavitch and its affable Washington representative, Rabbi Levi Shemtov. Just 31, Shemtov has made himself one of the most unlikely players in the nation’s capital.

In southern Florida, Lubavitch recently announced plans for a $3.5 million, 18,000-square-foot synagogue complex in Boynton Beach, near Palm Beach. The new, um, synaplex will be located just 12 miles from an even larger, 22,000-square-foot Chabad complex opened this year in Boca Raton. Neither community, incidentally, has any Chassidic population, other than the local Chabad rabbis and their families.

Continuing east, Chabad plans to open a nursery school this fall in its newest outpost, Shanghai. The school will initially serve a dozen children of Western Jewish businessmen resident in China’s commercial capital.

That’s just a sample. Over the last five years, fully 511 new Chabad institutions — synagogues, schools, outreach centers — have opened around the world, bringing the worldwide total up over 2,500. That doesn’t include institutions in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section, Lubavitch world headquarters. Worldwide operating costs are estimated at $750 million a year, excluding construction.

“I don’t have any rational explanation for it,” says Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the movement’s caretaker administrator since Schneerson’s death. “The exponential growth counters everything that the prophets of doom predicted.”

The growth circles the globe from California to Hong Kong, Brazil to Belarus. Lubavitch officials invariably seek to explain it as resulting from spiritual forces in the air. “The world today hungers for spiritual direction, more than at any other time,” says Rabbi Hirsch Zarchi, 26, director of the 2-year-old Chabad House at Harvard University. “People are reaching out. It’s happening all around the world. People are turning to the teachings of Chassidism.”

Maybe so, but there’s at least one other reason: The growing missionary passion sweeping young Lubavitch rabbis such as Zarchi himself. Figures provided by Lubavitch officials suggest that of the 220-odd Lubavitch men ordained as rabbis each year — nearly all Lubavitch men are ordained — about half become shluchim, or outreach workers. Most take up their posts a year after ordination and marriage. The posts are considered lifelong commitments.

Schneerson’s 1994 death, at first expected to weaken the zeal, appears instead to have strengthened it. “My initial reaction was that I’m coming back to New York,” says Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, 30, who had been posted to Thailand in 1993. “But the next moment I thought: ‘No, that’s not what the Rebbe taught us. This is a time to add, not take away.’ The Rebbe taught us to use our energy to move forward and inspire others.” He’s since brought two more rabbis to Bangkok.

All told, some 3,900 Lubavitch families are scattered around the world today as shluchim. Counting husbands, wives and children, that means at least 12,000 to 15,000 Lubavitch Chassidim are out in the field. Scholars estimate the total Lubavitch community at between 25,000 and 50,000 (Lubavitch doesn’t keep population figures).

The math is clear. One-fourth to one-half of all Lubavitch Chassidim now live outside the cloistered framework of the traditional Chassidic community, and interact daily with non-Orthodox Jews rather than with their fellow Chassidim. Put differently, one-fourth to one-half of all Lubavitch adult males now serve as rabbis in congregations whose members mostly drive to services on Saturday.

Their impact on their neighbors hardly needs reciting. Even Chabad’s harshest critics acknowledge the affection it inspires and the lives it has transformed. “Many, many Jews will tell you that a Chabad rabbi was the first one to care, to really care, about their spiritual lives,” Reform leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie said in a speech last April.

Less obvious is their neighbors’ impact on them. It’s subtle, but it’s accumulating. Quite simply, Chabad rabbis are becoming more liberal.

The liberalism shows up in countless small gestures. Joint appearances in panel discussions with Reform and Conservative rabbis. Participation in programs inside Reform and Conservative synagogues. Encouraging Jews to observe a mitzvah even though it may entail violating another mitzvah, such as driving to synagogue. Increasing adoption of modern concepts, such as “empowerment of women.”

All of these are long-standing trends in Lubavitch outreach work, officials note, and all derive from Schneerson’s own teachings. But as long as Lubavitch was primarily a Chassidic community based in a few cloistered neighborhoods, the liberalism existed at the margins. As the balance tips toward dispersal, it’s becoming the norm.

The snowballing dispersal of shluchim is changing Lubavitch Chassidism into some new hybrid, half Chassidic shtetl, half something that doesn’t yet have a name, resembling nothing so much as a Jewish version of a Catholic missionary order.

Its members are as strict as ever in their personal observance of Torah law. But by ministering on a mass scale to flocks that don’t observe, they are becoming, despite themselves, a force for tolerance. Slowly, Lubavitch rabbis are taking the place once occupied by Modern Orthodox rabbis, as a bridge between Orthodoxy and the rest.

When Schneerson was alive, the force of his personality acted as a braking force on his followers. Moreover, his radiant warmth toward non-Orthodox Jews was balanced by his militant hostility toward non-Orthodox Judaism.

With the Rebbe dead, his followers are left largely to follow their own consciences and instincts. Most claim that they still obey him as closely as ever, by consulting his writings. But writings don’t talk back.

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.