What Chabad Lubavitch and Kiryas Joel Taught Me About Ahavos Yisroel

This article would be pointless- make that hypocritical– if I was anti-Satmar. If I hated Satmarers or saw them as lesser Jews, then I wouldn’t be qualified to use the words ”ahavos Yisroel” in my title. So I would like to begin by saying that although I would hate to live in Kiryas Joel, or in a Satmar community, I have nothing against the Satmarers as a people. Additionally, I don’t think every single person within the Chabad movement is a mensch or excels in the mitzvah of ahavos Yisroel. I really don’t, just as I don’t believe everything the kiruv professionals tell me, and I’m aware that I may be making generalisations here. But this afternoon, I read an article on the news website VosIzNeias, about a woman named Toby Greenberg. Toby lives (lived?) in Kiryas Joel, NY, and is a member of the Satmar Chossidic community there. And despite being a Jew, the daughter of Jews, and the daughter of Hashem, she was targeted by fellow Jews in viscious attacks. She was heckled, harrassed, and had her property destroyed. She and her family were intimidated and threatened with mob justice. Her crime? Wearing bright colours and long shaytelach.

I can’t say that these vile and repulsive actions (destroying property and heckling) are typical of Satmarers. To the best of my knowledge, there are many, many individuals within the community who would not ever do anything like this. But for the community as a whole, influenced by the herd-mentality, this is far from unusual. In Kiryas Joel, you might as wel be living on an island, not in a first-world country. Residents are expected to follow laws set by the community’s leaders, and when, as Toby did, they bend (not break!) these laws, repurcussions can be severe. Satmar leaders, Satmar role-models, and Satmar rabbonim all need to consider one thing- one very important mitzvah- which they seem to be forgetting. Avahvos Yisroel. Loving your fellow Jew.

Satmar and Chabad have held a long-standing rivalry. Satmar refuse to recognise the Chabad hescher, and never fail to criticise members of the Chabad movement for their Internet usage, appreciation for aspects of modernity, and womens’ dress. These issues dominate the Chareidi world. Smartphones and websites and shaytelach and hemlines feature in almost every moral and philosophical discussion. While most sects are busy debating these issues and sticking up posters warning women to ”please walk on this side of the road only”, Chabad are usually absent. I won’t deny that they sometimes take part, and that, yes, smartphones are an issue which is discussed sometimes. And yes, some Chabad rabbonim can be very fussy about tznius. But normally, they (we?) aren’t the ones obsessing over guidelines and measurements and the suchlike. Why’s that?

This may come across as self-promotion, or kiruv, but truthfully, I think it’s because Chabad- at least, the Chabadniks I encounter- are more interested in the big mitzvot. They see so much beauty in a woman lighting shabbes candles for the first time, that they honestly don’t care how long her skirt is. They are so proud of the man laying tefillin in the mitzvah tank, that they don’t mind what kind of hat he’s covering his head with. This is ahavos Yisroel. This is love for everyone’s spiritual wellbeing. Because if we push Jews away because they have a television, or don’t cover their hair, or have a university degree, then where are they going to turn instead?

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