New Indian Chabad House to reach out... to gentiles

Israeli rabbi isn't looking for converts, just to teach the 'Noahide laws'.

Dharamsala Chabad (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dharamsala Chabad
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gentiles will be the focus of a new Chabad House to be opened in northern India's Himachal Pradesh state. Inspired to increase its activities in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Chabad plans to open a new center in Dharamsala "for all the nations," to promulgate Judaism among non-Jews and encourage adherence to the Seven Noahide Laws. The Dalai Lama's Tibetan government-in exile has been located there for decades. Rabbi Dror Shaul, 38, runs the existing Dharamsala Chabad House, and hopes to open the new center by March. "The town has thousands of visitors throughout the year, some of whom are Jews, many not," Shaul told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. He is in Israel accompanying his wife, Michal, who is expecting their seventh child. "All of the people who come are in search of spirituality and it's time that they find the true spirituality - Judaism," he said. Yet Shaul, who has lived in Dharamsala with his family for 10 years, has no intention of converting non-Jews. Rather, in accordance with the teachings of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Shaul wants to encourage the nations of the world to adhere to seven laws that, according to Jewish tradition, were given to Noah, the biblical figure who is seen as the ancestor of all humanity. These laws are the prohibitions against murder, theft, sexual licentiousness, idolatry, blasphemy and tearing off a live animal's limb, as well as the obligation to create a just legal system. However, although Shaul sees himself as a Chabad emissary, the mainstream leadership of Chabad does not recognize him. A spokesman for Chabad in Israel, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Shaul's initiative was not approved by Chabad's leadership and that Shaul did not represent the Hassidic movement. The spokesman added that the Chabad House in Dharamsala was one several unofficial ones in India. He added that these Chabad Houses were affiliated with the movement's messianic wing. Asked about his status within Chabad's official institutions, Shaul said he was aware of the "political infighting" within the movement's ranks. But he added that he did his best to distance himself. "I received recognition from Rabbi Shalom Mendel Simson of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch," Shaul said, "and that is enough for me." According to Chabad sources in Israel, Simson, a former secretary of Schneerson, belongs to a breakaway group of Chabad followers. They are known as Messianics, because of their strongly voiced belief that Schneerson, who died in New York in 1994, will soon reveal himself as the messiah. The sources added that only Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, the vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, was authorized to recognize official Chabad emissaries. Shaul said that he himself was a product of Chabad's outreach when, 15 years ago, he, like thousands of Israelis, embarked on a trek to India after IDF service. "The rebbe [Schneerson] taught that since the Jewish people were the only nation that stood at Sinai and received the Torah, they have a special duty to be a witness of this revelation to the nations of the world. And that is what I plan to do."