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The Myth of Chabad Outreach

The Myth of Chabad Outreach


There are many myths about Chabad. Like the one that Chabad invented Jewish outreach. Don't believe a word of it. Chabad never did outreach. The term is antithetical to everything that Chabad and the Rebbe stand for.

Take the case of the rabbi who wrote to the Rebbe boasting that he was involved in outreach. He used the Hebrew term, kiruv rechokim, which translates as "bringing close those who are distant." The poor rabbi must have really regretted that letter. The Rebbe wrote back, indignantly:

You call them "distant"?! What gives you the right to say that you are close and they are far? You must approach each one of them as though you are the King's servant sent with a message to His most precious child!

Others who spoke with the Rebbe on the subject have similarly groped and fallen. One Chabad supporter told the Rebbe about a shabbaton he had sponsored for over forty couples who "had no Jewish background."

"No what?" the Rebbe responded, as though in shock.

"No Jewish background," was the hesitant response.

"Tell them that they have a background! Their background is that they are children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!" the Rebbe replied.

So I don't believe that the Rebbe preached outreach, and Chabad, from what I've seen, doesn't practice it. Sure, the word gets used, but there are days I think we should ban it. We don't need any more distinctions between Jews. We certainly don't need to divide ourselves between those who are on the inside and those who are on the outside. In Chabad, there is one Jewish people, all of us in the same inside of the same boat.

So what do we practice? What is a Chabad House? What is the Mitzvah Campaign? What are all these beards and black hats, sheitls and long skirts doing in the most bizarre places, if not outreach?

Quite simply, we are patching up the boat.

In the Rebbe's words:

A Jew may say to you, "Why can't you leave me alone? Why can't you just go and do your thing and let me do mine? What does it bother you if I drill this little hole in my little boat?"

You must answer him, "There is only one boat and we are all in it together."

That is and always was the theme behind the mitzvah campaign. Again, in the Rebbe's words:

The soul of the mitzvah campaign is Ahavat Yisrael -- Love of the Jewish People. And the meaning of that love is that we are all one.

That's why there was never a campaign that was only meant for "them out there." Every campaign encompassed and embraced the entire Jewish people. When there was a tefillin campaign, not only did we run out on the streets to roll up sleeves and apply the "Jewish blood pressure test" -- we took our own tefillin to a scribe to be checked, as well. When the Rebbe initiated the mezuzah campaign, he made sure to discover a cranny of his own office that could use a new mezuzah, as well. When he started a campaign to have a charity box in every Jewish home, he started personally handing out dimes and dollars to children and grownups to give charity.

So if a Chabad House is not an outreach center, what is it?

Chabad is an idea. An idea that is valid no matter where you are and who you think you are. It wasn't invented yesterday and it's not going away tomorrow. It is the idea that every person has to use his own mind to awaken his heart and connect with his G-dly soul. A Chabad House is a place that facilitates that. For anybody who wants to make that connection.

So why are we "out there"? Why do we make such a big deal of traveling to the furthest reaches of the world, as long as another Jew might be found there? Aren't there enough Jews to take care of in Brooklyn and Jerusalem?

Because this is the mandate given us in our time, to "spread the wellsprings to the outside." As the Rebbe pointed out, not that the water from the wellsprings should spread to the outside. That would be outreach. The wellsprings themselves should be outside. The "outside" should become wellsprings. Every single one of us, without distinction.

There's a Jew somewhere in the world who imagines he's "out there." He doesn't find in himself -- if he ever stops to look for it -- any connection left with his people. Maybe he's far away on the globe, maybe further in ways of life, ways of thinking.

We come to him and tell him, "Really, you are on the inside. Really, you never left. The fact that you find yourself so 'out there' -- you were guided to this place, this mindset, so that even here you would find the Torah and even here you will delight in its living water. Until you yourself will become a wellspring to this part of the world."

In Chabad, every reach reaches deeper within.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (19)
April 26, 2015
thankyou for this beautiful insight. I was directed to Chabad many years ago and still feel I have a place and can be a part even tho I am not Jewish, as I learn with you and travel with you as a Noahide and for that I will always be grateful, as Chabad helped me understand this. More so when one day I was able to travel to London and not just see from the outside, but equally walk amongst you and visit the Chabad House in London. May Hashem continue to bless you in His service. love x
November 26, 2014
great article
Keep up your holy inreach!
September 28, 2013
This entire article confused my view on how I viewed Chabad/shlichus since I was born (I am a FFB Lubavitcher).
Since I was young I was told "chabad is outreach, you reach out to people and give them the happiness of living a Yiddishkeit life to them" "You teach them, and reach out to them", etc.
And here I am told "Chabad was never outreach". So what were/are we? Clarification needed!!!
December 7, 2010
Either way, Chabad does wonders
I don't know if it's right or wrong to describe Chabad as outreach or inreach. But I do know that I feel welcome, accepted and appreciated there, regardless of my level of observance. Also, whatever step in the right direction I take, however small, whatever mitzvah I do, however small, is greeted with great encouragement. Which encourages me to take the next step, do a somewhat bigger mitzvah.
Borås, Sweden
November 4, 2010
Very insightful
I've never thought about Chabad as an outreach organisation, but rather as the builders of Chasidut

For me, that's not outreach -that's nothing less than sharing the beauty of Torah and the beauty of the world G-d has given us!

And is because of you that people like me are today Torah observant. And for that, I'd like to say: thank you!
Paris, France
November 3, 2010
What is mythical about outreach? True, The Rebbe did not like the term or the process of doing outreach to those who are "far". This is not the way of Chabad. We do outreach to ALL Jews. Regardless of our level of observance. Even observant Jews need to do tshuvah and need to be encouraged to do kiruv, to grow in their mitzvohs & learning. Kiruv to us is to assist one another in growing Jewishly - but it is definitely 100% outreach, KIRUV. And to deny it is only a lie to ourselves. What is the shame. Opposite! We should stand tall! Look at all the yeshivot and other organizations that used to yell at Chabad, make fun of Chabad, for reaching out to the "not yet observant Jews". Now look at them - running to catch up to us. But their outlook is in reaching out to those that are "far" = they still don't understand the point of reaching out to ALL. And that none are "far". Nebertheless, Please don't preach that we do not do outreach. We are the stars of outreach. To others & to ourselves.
June 25, 2009
I don't agree. Chabad is beautiful and wonderful, and I wouldn't be frum (observant) today it it wouldn't be for Chabad. That being said, it's nothing more than semantics; it's ridiculous to say that Chabad doesn't do "outreach." Chabad IS NOT insular, and Chabad pioneered outreach in the modern era and continue to lead the pack in this area. Why mask what Chabad does best? Chabad deserves a hearty "yasher koach" and a pat on the back for its OUTREACH errorts.
Moshe Kapora
Tarzana, CA
November 21, 2008
just reading your comment
Hi Malka
Just reading your comment. See, I find you everywhere.
Barbara, Stu's mom
November 17, 2008
You are right, and those who profess to do outreach sometimes don't have a clue.

The only thing worse than the word "outreach" is the term "outreach professional"!
Malka Stern
October 26, 2008
Rabbi Tzvi, you are so right.

But why does my Chabad calendar have a phone number for "outreach"?
Chana bas Leah
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