Is Chabad a cult?
Anyone who is a Lubavitcher (both the term Chabad and Lubavitch are used to connote the Hasidic group) or who has had firsthand experience with the beauty and depth of Chabad will recoil from this simple question.
And yet I fought that statement for the worst eight years of my life.
I went to a hardcore Litvish yeshiva from first grade until ninth grade. Litvish is a sect that is very far in principle and practice from Chabad.
I was tormented, harassed and made fun of every day for eight years.
None of the kids were scholars, theologians or philosophers, they just knew I was different and that I was a Lubavitcher with that whole weird Rebbe cultish thing going on.
They called the Rebbe names, made fun of Chassidic customs, attitudes, and teachings.
I remember they used to jeeringly call me “pintele yid”. My own name was robbed from me.
They told me that any Litvish Rosh Yeshiva knew more Torah than the Rebbe. They told me that Chassidim are a cult and the closed thing to Judaism, i.e. not really Jewish. They told me that Chabad stands for chamor bli daas, “a donkey without intellect” and that the gematriya (Hebrew numerical equivalent) of chamor bli daas is 770 (770 is the address of the Rebbe’s place of worship and office).
They told me Chassidus doesn’t hold of the value of Talmud Torah (learning Torah) and that Chassidim waste time learning about the soul, and their emotions simply because they don’t have the self-control to learn Gemara. They told me Chassidim are lazy and can’t be bothered to wake up early and daven (pray) on time. They told me Chassidim are alcoholics. They told me the Alter Rebbe danced with women and other things less polite. And they told me other things about Chabad that I don’t wish to say in public.
Here’s the thing. They weren’t objectively wrong on most claims. Yes, Chassidim daven (pray) later than most. Yes, Chassidim (some) drink alcohol at times. And yes, Chassidim do take time away from learning classical Torah study to pursue knowledge of the soul, heart, and God.
But I knew that if I started to defend each claim specifically on the facts, I already lost.
Because when an aggregate of claims are made and a certain image is drawn, when you let the opponent draw the battle lines and what the arguments will be about, you’ve already lost. You can be right on each specific point but it won’t help you. It will be dismissed as justifications, rationalizations and excuses post hoc.
The reason for this is that all the claims had a kernel, however small, of truth in them. Which means that at soon as you acknowledge the true part, the presumption is that the rest of it is true. And when you combat that, it looks and sounds like a biased positive take on something that really is objectively harmful and toxic.
Instead, I chose to go on the attack. I made fun of every litvish gadol (leader) in the book. You name the “gadol“- I bashed them. I gave as good as I got (and sometimes more). Did I go home with black eyes, scratches, bloody bruises and wounds in my heart? Yes, of course, I did. Did I contemplate suicide in 4rth grade? Yes, I did. But that was the only way to maintain my sanity and my sense of pride as a Lubavitcher.