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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, sheitels 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 meant only 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 to 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. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (32)
July 5, 2016
as usual
October 10, 2015
My appreciation to all those who are or have become wellsprings of Chassidism
Only the lonely in their loneliness can appreciate in its entirety the uplifting power of these words. Not long ago I indulged in digging into some sources to know if I had Jewish roots. What a tragedy, I found that nor my father nor my mother families had any Jewish roots. Now that I know that all Chabadniks are in the same boat all Jews are I feel more relaxed. One source I consulted had a banner now I want to share with you. "Hearken, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother." Proverbs 1: 8. And certainly, we all are children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!
Qro. Mexico
May 6, 2015
Kiruv Rechokim
Interesting to point out that the Rambam in hilchos teshuva clearly states that before one does teshuva he is called "rochoik" etc.

Call it whatever you want, keep up your amazing work of bringing Jews even closer!
Chabad supporter
April 30, 2015
Chabad speaks for itself
The Holy Hebrew Letters bless ChaBaDa and they make this ministry a house of Mitzvot. Chabad is blessed by HaShem through the divine holiness of Chokmah, Binah and Da'at and Chabad blesses me much more than any other man made creation. The Power of the Torah is His Letters and Numbers as is the power of Chabad... not man's power but the power of HaShem when mankind TRIES to make Torah real here on Earth. B"H for His divine inspiration of ChaBaDa onto righteous men and women of great faith and fiery passion.
Bea (Devorah)
April 30, 2015
Thank you to The Rebbe and his shluchim for being there and reminding me that we're one nation. Also thank you to R. Freeman for writing articles like this to fuel us further along in our journey.
Monsey, NY
April 30, 2015
The right direction to see
Beautiful! I feel contented by just reading this.
Tamyla Abraham
April 30, 2015
The Myth of Chabad Outreach
I have never found Chabad going from door to door. I have found Chabad going through the streets to share in Mitzvot as in helping men if they wish to put on the phylacteries, or make the blessing in a Sukkah, give out candles to women for Friday night. Not once did they say something that encouraged people to follow their ways or lifestyles. If you seek them out, they are there for you.
April 30, 2015
I'm not all that observant and I'm not going to be. Chabad outreach is nice. It gives me an easy way to learn things... including things I wouldn't have though to ask about.
April 29, 2015
Wellsprings to outside
Great article, Rabbi Tzvi. I loved knowing else about that matter. Thank you so much.
Pessach Chusyd
S. Paulo Brazil
April 28, 2015
To Lila--

Find an orthodox Sephardic (Ladino) congregation. Or even an Ashkenazi congregation. Attend services. Ask to be invited to Shabbat dinner at people's homes.

If you like the people, ask the rabbi how you can be a Jew, if that is your desire. It will take a year (or more) to learn enough to be even an ignorant Jew.

I was trained in eating kosher from earliest infancy. I saw how my mother kept her dairy dishes and pots and pans and food in separate cabinets from the meat utensils. Learning as an adult is hard.

If the rabbi turns you away, go a second and a third time. It is customary to test people's sincerity and stamina by turning them away three times. It is hard to live as a Jew. Jews NEED a great deal of sincerity and stamina to endure.

But if, after that, he still turns you away, seek a congregation in a larger city, or in another country. Some congregations are more welcoming than others. I can tell you two welcoming congregations in Houston, Texas.