Get the best of content every week!
Find answers to fascinating Jewish questions, enjoy holiday tips and guides, read real-life stories and more!

Social Vision Symposium

A series of talks responding to a new book on the Rebbe's social vision. Hosted by the Chabad Society at Oxford University, a group of renowned scholars offer thoughts and reflections on Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Transformative Paradigm for the World, by Professor Philip Wexler.

To what degree should markets be regulated? To what degree must the community cater to the needs of the destitute? These questions are already debated in the Talmud. An interesting ruling by Maimonides, together with Philip Wexler's recent discussion of the Rebbe's concept of "reciprocity," offers new perspective on contemporary debates about the meaning of equality.
In addition to the advantages for rehabilitation, reduction of recidivism and the like, this talk takes up this issue from a retributive perspective. If prison is intended to serve a retributive purpose should the "punishment" be softened through visits or furloughs? If punishment too can be understood as having an inclusionary and dialogical dimension it provides a basis for a more nuanced understanding of the role visitation and furloughs can play. The Rebbe's teachings introduce another consideration, namely the "vertical dimension" of the relationship with G-d, which takes justice beyond purely utilitarian considerations.
Drawing on the specific intimations of the term "essence" as it is explained in Chabad thought—namely, as the singular point that holds opposites together—we can find several points of connection between Chabad teachings on social questions and the socialist ideology espoused by Karl Marx: 1) Concern for the pain and plight of one's fellow human being, 2) the desire to change things for the better, 3) the identification of the problem of alienation and the search for an antidote.
What are the theological underpinnings of the Rebbe's forward-looking social vision? Rather than seeing the messianic redemption of the future as a return to the glory of the past, Chabad theology sees the future redemption as surpassing anything achieved in the past, including during the period of the first and second temples. The future redemption is something entirely new and it is attained through the transformation of the flaws and darkness—which result from the tzimtzum—into greater perfection and greater light.
Reciprocity and Normative Empowerment: Kabbalistic and Philosophical Sources
How can kabbalistic and hasidic concepts be adapted into wider culture, including the realms of philosophy and policymaking? One example pointed to by Wexler, and before him Jürgen Habermas and Franz Rosensweig, is the influence of kabbalah on German Idealism, which is currently undergoing a revival. Via the 1677-84 publication of Kabbalah Denudata, the concept of Tzimtzum, whose purpose is recognitive reciprocity, was adapted by Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) to provide a grounds for natural right, i.e. fundamental principles of justice.
A fresh reading of the “Holy Epistle” of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov—a founding document of sorts that has been much discussed both in internal Chassidic discourse and in academic studies of Hasidism—yields six elementary principles of what Wexler calls "the Hasidic ethos" as an alternative paradigm that can be fruitfully contrasted with Max Weber's analysis of "the spirit of capitalism."
On the one hand, it is clear, the Rebbe never erased the fundamental distinction between the Jew and the non-Jew. It is equally clear, however, that he did have a universal vision that included all nations in the fulfillment of the ultimate destiny of humankind and creation. A review of relevant teachings and policy positions in light of the analysis in Social Vision.
The importance of worrying about inequality is a matter of justice, wellbeing, and efficiency. Inequalities, especially socio-economic and political ones, have also been shown to be the cause of many of the violent conflicts that have erupted in the modern era. In this context, Wexler's Social Vision makes important interventions that deserve critical engagement, especially around the idea of reciprocity, which requires a relationship of "broad" equality, and respect for the individual.
The Rebbe turned Chabad into an international movement that transcended the narrower denominational interests of other orthodox Jewish groups in America. Wexler correctly centers our attention on the Rebbe's social vision, and its strong universalist component. This should not be confused with pluralism, nor misconstrued as imperialism, for it was shared with love rather than imposed with power. In addition to reviewing many aspects of the Rebbe's social activism, this talk also explores some ways that the Rebbe's positions and aspirations were supported and shared by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
Noted scholars and experts in their fields share their knowledge at the Oxford University Chabad Society.