My Experiences with Chabad

Teaneck author and Rabbi Chaim Jachter recounts his visit to a Chabad House community and some valuable lessons he learned during his brief visit.

By Rabbi Chaim Jachter – Jewish Link

It was a very exciting visit to the Chabad community of Myrtle Beach to explore the possibility of creating an eruv. I had several interesting experiences that typify the differing Torah styles of Chabad and Modern Orthodoxy.

Omitting Tachanun on 12 Tammuz

I joined the Shacharit minyan on Monday, July 11, and was pleasantly surprised at the interesting blend of Sephardic and Chabad tefillah. I found it shocking that the minyan skipped Tachanun, noting it was the 12th day of Tammuz. I had never heard of the special character of this day, but the rabbi explained that it was a special day for Chabad since the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchak, was freed from a Soviet prison on that day in 1927.

Most interestingly, I had prayed Shacharit on the 10th of Kislev in the Stamford Chabad — the previous December — before reviewing its eruv. They skipped Tachanun on that day, the 10th of Kislev, since it was the day that the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav DovBer (the Mittler Rebbe), had been freed from prison.

For those not raised in the Lubavitch tradition, omitting Tachanun on these days is most jarring. After all, the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 5:1 and 13-14) presents Tachanun as an integral part of the Amidah.

However, upon reflection, I realized the importance of respecting the Chabad minhag. After all, I would expect a Chabad visitor to a Modern Orthodox synagogue on Yom HaAtzma’ut or Yom Yerushalayim to respect our practice of omitting Tachanun on these days. Likewise, we would expect similar respect from Ashkenazic visitors to Sephardic congregations, which skip Tachanun on the day a boy becomes bar mitzvah and wears tefillin for the first time as an obligation.

We can be respectful of different customs regarding the omission of Tachanun, especially in light of the Tur (Orach Chaim 131) who quotes Rav Natronai Gaon that Tachanun is “reshut” (loosely translated as “optional”). Teshuvot Rivash (412) cites Rav Sar Shalom Gaon and the Ritz Geat who also agrees with this, and the Taz (Orach Chaim 131:1), Maran HaChida (Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 131:13) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 2:8) rule accordingly. Thus, it is most appropriate to yield to the custom of omitting Tachanun at the congregation one visits, even if it is not in harmony with his own practice.

I think it was not coincidental that the two days of 5782, in which I recited Shacharit at a Chabad minyan were ones when Chabad skipped Tachanun due to a Lubavitch day of celebration. I think it was Hashem’s way of teaching me to broaden my vision of Am Yisrael and to embrace the varied holy practices.

Non-Chalav Yisrael Milk

Another gap in practice emerged regarding food. As is well-known, Lubavitch does not accept the lenient views of Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik regarding chalav yisrael. This posed a challenge for me, since I consume large quantities of Chobani yogurt — especially on days when I spend hours walking in the hot sun reviewing eruvin.

I asked my Chabad hosts if they could provide me with unflavored Chobani yogurt. The message, though, did not come across clearly, and flavored yogurts were purchased, which I could not eat. Upon reflection, I believe it was good that the plan to provide me with a non-chalav yisrael product did not work out. This is due to a concern for the violation of: “Lifnei iver lo titen michshol — do not place a stumbling block before the blind,” which Chazal understood as a prohibition against causing others to sin.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 2:35:17) suggests that one who adopts a chumra (stringency beyond the law) can ask someone who follows the letter of the law to violate this chumra. However, if one is strict because he believes a more lenient view to be mistaken; perhaps, he should refrain from asking others to infringe what he considers an absolute prohibition.

While I felt that the Lubavitchers could provide me with non-chalav yisrael products, it was probably best for them to avoid doing so — since, they believe that non-chalav yisrael products are absolutely prohibited. I think it was min haShamayim (Divine influence) that the yogurt purchase did not work out. I found plenty of suitable alternatives in the synagogue’s refrigerator.

An Eruv in Myrtle Beach?

I spent several happy hours with two of the Myrtle Beach Chabad rabbis exploring the possibility of creating an eruv in two portions of Myrtle Beach. Although Chabad generally does not embrace the creation of a community-wide eruv, they often recognize that, sometimes, it benefits their congregants.

My conclusion was that we could not make an eruv in Myrtle Beach. This community has most of its utilities underground, due to the fact that it is located in a frequent hurricane path. Sadly, this makes eruv construction a near impossibility.

I noted to the Chabad rabbis the advantages of not having an eruv. A downside to the ubiquity of eruvin is that we tend to forget that the Torah prohibits carrying on Shabbat. I have encountered many observant youngsters who are unaware of the differences between carrying on Shabbat and Yom Tov. The many tourists who visit beautiful Myrtle Beach have the opportunity to experience a Shabbat without an eruv!

I do not view the trip to Myrtle Beach as a failure. Quite the contrary, the Gemara (Pesachim 22b) teaches:“ כשם שקבלתי שכר על הדרישה כך אני מקבל שכר על הפרישה,” that just as I am rewarded for that which I do (when appropriate); so too, am I rewarded for that which I refrain from doing (when applicable).

A Visit to the Beach? No Way!

One humorous moment came during the short break, when a community member suggested I take time off to visit the beautiful beach a few short blocks from Chabad. I smiled and responded that the beach is the last place a Jewish man should be during the summer (unless it is a separate gender beach)!

Tefillin for the Uber Driver?

Finally, the Chabad rabbis kindly arranged for an Uber driver to take me to my next stop, Charleston, South Carolina, to review its three community eruvin. The driver was a very kind and friendly man whose maternal grandmother was Jewish. Although he does not identify as Jewish, I gently told him he is a Jew. When I texted the Chabad rabbi that the driver was Jewish, he urged me — as Lubavitch love to do so — to try to convince him to put on my tefillin. Lubavitchers are eager for each Jewish male to wear tefillin so that he is not disqualified from the Next World (Olam Haba) due to his being a“קרקפתא דלא מנח תפלין — a head that did not wear tefillin.”

While I shared the Chabad rabbi’s sentiment, I felt it was important to be effective. My conversations with the driver went very well, I shared my food and drink with him and the rabbi in Charleston offered him the use of the bathroom in his home. I felt that we — as rabbis — made a good impression on the driver and feared undermining that connection by pressuring him to do something he likely would have regarded as invasive. Nevertheless, he seemed interested in some Jewish topics and urged him to be in touch with the Chabad of Myrtle Beach. I hope this connection will blossom, and that the Chabad rabbis will connect him appropriately to tefillin and, hopefully, many more mitzvot.

Conclusion — Visit Other Orthodox Groups With an Open Mind

Yishayahu HaNavi teaches (54:2) “הַרְחִיבִי מְקוֹם אָהֳלֵךְ —  expand your tent.” I suggest we expand our worldview to accept and even celebrate the different approaches within mainstream Torah Judaism. When one opens his mind to different legitimate methodologies within Orthodoxy, the result is a very enriching experience — such as the one I just had with the warm and welcoming Chabad of Myrtle Beach. A strong dose of ahavat chinam is exactly what we need, especially now during the Three Weeks.

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