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Taking on Chabad

The latest issue of New Voices, the Jewish student magazine, is devoted entirely to Chabad, whose rabbis are rising in prominence on college campuses and often challenging the hegemony of the local Hillel chapters. As one JTA staffer noted, it’s pretty “ballsy” of NV to take on Lubavitch, though takedown is probably a more accurate description.

The articles – about a Chabad renegade and Iraq war vet, about the subordinate role of the typical Chabad rabbi’s wife, about the controversy surrounding Princeton’s Chabad rabbi, about the movement’s latent messianism, about its role in the settler movement (a topic virtually ignored by the media) – paint a picture of the movement that is almost uniformly negative. There are even two articles about the scandal at Agriprocessors, a company whose owners are Chabad affiliated but otherwise have little apparent connection to Jewish campus life.

As David Samuels contends in the latest issue of New York, Chabad’s success has much to do with filling a spiritual gap left by the existing Jewish communal infrastructure. On campuses, that indictment would extend to Hillel and, yes, the Jewish Student Press Service, which publishes New Voices. If Samuels is right, then the pushback from New Voices can be seen as an attempt to reclaim some of its lost territory – or to de-legitimize the competition.

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