Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Torah Im Derech Eretz in Chabad

Respect for the dignity of humankind and compassion for gentiles by the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe and a Lubavitcher Chossid.

The Backstory of the Chassidim Who Got Criminal Justice Reform Done

Inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a group saw prison reform through from proposal to law

"The U.S. Senate’s overwhelming 87-12 approval last week of the First Step Act, the most sweeping package of criminal justice reform in a generation, was lauded by those on the right and the left as a much-needed step in the right direction for the U.S. criminal justice system. The bill will expand early transfer to home confinement via participation in job training and re-entry programming designed to reduce recidivism; modify some mandatory sentencing laws; and ensure that the incarcerated stay more closely connected to their families by placing them within 500 miles of their homes, among other steps."

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Key quote:

“If a person is being held in prison, the goal should not be punishment but rather to give him the chance to reflect on the undesirable actions for which he was incarcerated,” the Rebbe said in Yiddish in a 1976 talk. “He should be given the opportunity to earn, improve himself and prepare for his release when he will commence an honest, peaceful, new life, having used his days in prison toward this end.

“In order for this be a reality a prisoner must be allowed to maintain a sense that he is created in the image of God; he is a human being who can be a reflection of Godliness in this world. But when a prisoner is denied this sense and feels subjugated and controlled; never allowed to raise up his head, then the prison system not only fails at its purpose, it creates in him a greater criminal than there was before. One of the goals of the prison system is to help Jewish inmates and non-Jewish inmates ... to raise up their spirits and to encourage them, providing the sense, to the degree possible, that they are just as human as those that are free; just as human as the prison guards. In this way they can be empowered to improve themselves ... ”


  1. Why do you think it is "compassion for gentiles"? My guess is that their concern is mostly for Jewish prisoners. Of course it benefits gentiles as well, but I don't think it is their motivation.

    1. "One of the goals of the prison system is to help Jewish inmates and non-Jewish inmates ... to raise up their spirits and to encourage them, "

    2. The context of the speech of the Lubavitcher Rebbe would be interesting. I'm not sure what to make of it, given other highly problematic attitudes in Chabad about gentiles.

      Regarding the current campaign I do not believe that it would have taken place if there were no Jewish prisoners.

    3. What do you mean? The Tanya has some strong statements that I personally have struggled with. But it's talking on a kabbalistic level. Chaim Miller in his book the Practical Tanya lists a bunch of references that supposedly try to deal with that - chapter one. I never looked them up. I think the Tanya (and Kabbalah) in general is talking in a super idealistic sense. The purpose of life is attaching to Hashem. Anything else is evil. It means evil in that way, not in the serial killer way. How can you be in this world and not be filled with love of Hashem and want anything other than service to Him. Gentiles don't do that really. Not sure how many Jews do it anymore either. How many true Bnei Noach are there? 100? 500? Anyway, the Rebbe took a practical 20th century approach and there are all kinds of stories of him working with gentiles and helping them in crown heights. Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm says he encouraged her to do something with surplus food and that lead to her landmark bill to expand the foodstamp program. Could be the Rebbe was influenced by German Orthodoxy and Hirsch during his time in Berlin like R' Soloveitchik appeared to be.

    4. Also see this post:

  2. Yes, I was referring to the Tanya.

    Actually, I'm not so sure if gentiles overall are doing a worse job keeping the sheva mitzvos bnei noach than jews overall are doing in keeping all 613.

    What are your criteria for "true Bnei Noach"? I know one person who regards himself as such, and another whom I've never asked, but who might as well do so. And the big question is whether they have to keep the mitzvos because G'd gave them to Noach/repeated them in the Torah, or whether it suffices that they keep them. There are quite a lot of monotheists who keep them.

    1. It's for the Lord to judge. But the Rambam says a ben noach must do it because Hashem commanded it through Moses. That knocks out many people. Also can't add in other religions like Xianity. That knocks out a billion or so. But I'm not well versed in the topic of what makes a ben noach so I won't get into it. the main point is that when the Tanya talks about evil it doesn't mean serial killer. It means anything not focused on Hashem. It's a high standard.