50 Influential Jews: Chabad - No. 50

Chabad has become a dominant role in Jewish life worldwide. While Diaspora communities may be on the decline, Chabad continues to thrive and shape the future of Jewish spiritual life.

 A group of Chabad rabbis. (photo credit: David Dee Delgado/Reuters)
A group of Chabad rabbis.
(photo credit: David Dee Delgado/Reuters)

The recent ordination ceremony of Chabad rabbis at the Rabbinical College of America (RCA) in New Jersey marked a significant pivot in North American rabbinic leadership. As non-Orthodox Jewish streams saw a decline in rabbinic students, ordaining roughly 100 rabbis in 2023, Chabad celebrated the ordination of about 200. Moreover, a 2020 Pew survey noted that nearly one in five US Jews engage with Chabad’s activities or services.

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Internationally, Chabad’s influence is profound. Despite being a relatively small hassidic group, its emissaries (shluchim) are revolutionizing Jewish life in unexpected corners of the world. Dedicated to their communities, Chabad emissaries stand out from other rabbis or Jewish Agency representatives. This dedication was particularly evident recently in Ukraine and Russia, where many Jewish leaders fled amid escalating tensions, leaving predominantly Chabad rabbis to navigate the challenges. Historically, even before these crises, Chabad had established itself as the dominant rabbinic force in former Soviet Union nations.

Originating in 1775 from the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement recognized for its global outreach efforts, notably towards secularized Jews. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s leadership from 1951 significantly bolstered Chabad’s worldwide footprint. However, after his death in 1994, not only was a successor not appointed, but debates over his perceived messianic role also arose.

Chabad’s unique approach sets it apart. Unlike many Jewish entities, Chabad does not impose membership fees or prerequisites to join communal prayers. Emphasizing inclusivity, Chabad emissaries are trained for open dialogue with Jews of all backgrounds and beliefs.

While several Jewish communities outside Israel are diminishing, Chabad thrives, increasingly shaping the religious landscape in numerous countries. In many, Chabad’s presence is synonymous with the future of spiritual Jewish life.