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Melbourne Chabad turf war exposed

December 7, 2010 – 7:18 pm64 Comments

By Anthony Frosh

Turf wars are nothing new.  They exist both in the secular sphere as well as in the religious sphere – and the Jewish world is sadly no exception. Certainly, they are not unique to the Jewish community of Melbourne or even Australia.  Indeed, the website FailedMessiah has a whole section devoted to them. The problem with turf wars in general is that they almost always result in a misallocation of resources. It is the intended recipients of the would be services that end up being adversely affected. This is why it is important that turf wars be exposed publicly.

A serious turf war has apparently been going on within the Melbourne Chabad-Lubavitch community for quite some time. Several respected (although you’ll have to take my word on this, as for reasons explained later, they are anonymous) members of that community have banded together and decided that enough is enough, and have chosen to blow the whistle.  Galus Australis has learnt that for some time, concerned members of the Lubavitch community have been raising these issues and attempting to resolve them internally, but all to no avail. The decision to blow the whistle has not been taken lightly, and it is very much a decision of last resort.

These whistle blowers have started a new blog, The Fifth Chelek, so named as the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) has four sections; the so-called fifth chelek (section) is the unwritten law of common sense.

More details of this turf war can be found at The Fifth Chelek, but in short: It is claimed by the whistle blowers that the head shliach of Chabad CBD, Rabbi Chaim Herzog, has put his turf protection well ahead of serving the community.  Some outrageous behaviour from R’ Herzog is outlined on their blog.  Arguably even more seriously, it is claimed that several of the most weighty figures within the Melbourne Chabad community including Rabbi Telsner, Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, and Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner have turned a blind eye to the behaviour of R’ Herzog, and in some cases have actively facilitated it.

It is likely that some people will criticise the fact that some of the writers at The Fifth Chelek are remaining anonymous.  I myself have long maintained that anonymous commentary lacks the weight of commentary attached to a real life identity.  However, often in the case of whistle blowing, anonymity is almost a necessity.  If anonymous whistle blowing were not permitted (or at least always ignored due to its anonymity), then many grave and scandalous situations would have never been exposed to public scrutiny.

If even some of the claims of The Fifth Chelek whistle blowers are true, and my own independent research indicates that this is likely the case, then this is a serious problem for the Melbourne Jewish community, and not just Chabadniks.  After all, Chabad is pervasive in Jewish religious life in Melbourne, and thus a dysfunction within Chabad will likely impact on much of the wider Jewish community.  It is time for these esteemed leaders within the Chabad-Lubavitch community to recognise the damage that this turf war will inflict on Chabad, as well as the damage it is doing to the level of service that Chabad provides the community in terms of shlichim.  It’s still not too late for them to act.

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64 Comments »

  • Nooky says:

    Rabbi? That guy trashed Donneli’s a few weeks back because they were supplying food to another outfit doing some real torah work in the city. Runs amok at the drop of a hat. Makes fake phone calls to radio stations. Posed as rabbi Groner then proceeded to bag the up and coming rabbi in docklands. He should be packed off and sent back to Brooklyn. [Eds: Some comment removed. Please don’t provide medical or pharmaceutical advice without verifying your professional credentials].

  • Nifty says:

    I have a difficult time believing that this issue is a major problem for the Jewish community here. Unfortunately the majority of our rabbis are not known for standing up to wealthier members of the community no matter what their “sins”. I don’t see this sad situation changing anytime soon.

  • Marky says:

    Is this from Wilkileaks?

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    For all of the good work that Chabad does there comes a price. In two conversations that I have had in the past with two people intimately involved in seperate communties abroad with small Jewish populations they have both complained of an almost identical issue in almost identical language. This seems to be part of what is going on here aswell.
    Both people complained that before Chabad’s arrival there were functioning communal institutions and after their arrival they had left such institutions in shambles leading people away from the community and Jewish education. Both stated that Chabad is good when they are in the middle of no-where and also when they are in the middle of a large community but that they destroy small functioning communities. Seemingly this is because their agenda is based around propogating Chabad chassidism and hashkafa over many other things.
    Perhaps such an approach has created this current controversy.

  • Eli says:

    I anticipate that the notion of a “lack of common sense in our community” will soon be more than just a subtitle.The claims and counter claims between the protagonists will no doubt bring with it the usual suspects adding their own cripes and slander. We wait and watch in anticipation as “ChabadLeaks” takes its toll on the reputation of the Jewish community.

  • Ben says:

    There is hand full of trouble maker it’s time you throw them out of the Yeshivah Rabbi Telsner
    that will make the shul flourish

  • Ilana Leeds says:

    B”H
    Sounds like there are some agendas here. Chabad like any organisation has some hiccups in the system but the whole thrust of the movement is positive and it reaches out to connect people to their Jewishness and Yiddish neshama. Yes there is a need for more a mussar approach in Chabad, but you cannot deny they do a lot more good than harm.

    Oh and @Ari it is ‘separate’. There is no such word in English as ‘seperate’ at least in the lexicon that I have learnt and taught. Maybe you are writing a new dictionary of Modern English?

  • frosh says:

    Ilana,

    How does chastising someone for a typo fit in with your theology?

  • Ari,

    While I don’t know about the specific instances you refer to, your comments are not that relevant to Melbourne, nor I think to this specific controversy.

    There has been a strong and effective Chabad presence here for over 60 years, particularly since the arrival of the “five families” sent by the previous Rebbe (my late grandparents were one of them), and indeed since the pioneering days of Moshe Zalman Feiglin ZL.

  • Avi says:

    It’s clearly up to Rabbi Telsner yechi hamelech”

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    David,

    I agree with what you wrote. Indeed Chabad has done a great deal for the Jewish Community in Melbourne – more than many other groups or movements. I don’t even need to say that they have done a great deal for Judaism around the world – indeed they pioneered much of what the religious world takes for granted today. Things such as kiruv, multimedia, organisational structure, reaching out to fellow Jews and the the list goes on and on.
    I was merely pointing out that a movement that encourages an all or nothing approach to hashkafa may one day be devoured by such an approach from within.

    Ilana,

    Thankyou for your handy comments and I will take them into account when I write my dissertation.
    Just a couple of comments:
    * You should have begun your first sentence with “It” or other similar word.
    * You should have utilised a pair of commas in your second sentence after the first word and after the word organisation. Otherwise it doesn’t make much sense.
    * Neshama, Mussar are not in my lexicon either.

    – Try and discuss the point next time – you are making my blogging experience stressful and I prefer relaxed.

  • Marky says:

    Avi, if Rabbi Telsner would have removed the yechi sign, you would be adding just one word “It is clearly NOT up to Rabbi Telsner yechi hamelech”

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    “Neshama, Mussar are not in my lexicon” – lol

  • Malki Rose says:

    It’s interesting because the nature of the turf war seems very similar to the turf war which has been occurring in Surfers Paradise in recent times, especially the past year.
    There seems to be a pattern whereby heartfelt and totally selfless community ‘givers and sharers’ are being ill-treated by the ‘official Chabad shaliach’ whose primary concern seems to be his own failure to win over the locals and become the ‘alpha Jew’.

    In essence, because they are losing the popularity war… they insist on a turf war.
    What is certainly a common factor in both is a total failure of Chabad Leadership to step up and peacefully, internally resolve the dispute, instead opting to bury their heads in the sand and insist that they ‘don’t want to get involved’.

    The disputes and ‘broygi’ (plural of ‘broygus’?) carry on unhelped for months and years until Johnny-come-lately ‘leaders’ pipe up with unhelpful words like “Cheirim” (with the ‘Moshiach Dancers’) and “Din Torah” (in the case of R’ Moshe Serebryanski, David Mond et al).

    Sadly, this is the kind of strong, sensible and constructive leadership which has been sorely lacking in the Australian Chabad world since 1994.

  • Milhouse says:

    Nooky, Herzog can’t be sent “back” to Brooklyn. Unfortunately he’s Melbourne’s problem, and no other community has any responsibility to solve it. Brooklyn has enough of its own problems; why would it want some crazy Ozzie?

  • Avi says:

    To Marky
    Rabbi Telsner is the Rabbi of the Yeshivah

    yechi hamelech

  • Marky says:

    Yes we all know that. But had Rabbi Telsner removed the yechi sign, would you still say that’s up to him.

  • Slow news day here at GA? Running out of topics to create a stir lately? What is the motivation behind this article? Is it written by someone who loves the Rebbe, Chabad and their fellow Jews and is so hurt to see that perhaps the behviour of some of the Chabadniks may be keeping their precious fellow Jews from coming closer to Yiddishkiet? Maybe, but I doubt it. It seems to me that this article is another thinly veiled diatribe. Don’t you have anything better to do, something constructive, something that will strengthen Yidden in this city?

  • Marky says:

    You still haven’t answered my question. I know what Rabbi Telsner said, but if he had removed the Yechi sign would you still agree with him?

  • M.S says:

    [Eds: Link removed. Please do not paste links without a context, please do not paste comments that are gibberish, and please do not paste comments under multiple pseudonyms within a single thread].

  • Nooky says:

    M.S.

    Blowing your own trumpet aren’t you Chaim? Posting lovely links again? I was there last night & thank god for Rabbi Jacks and Tooraks involvement and your mum who drafted your talk. Hey, if you’re that good how about doing a live interview on that Jewish radio station with Silcove? She’s Chabad and is aware of all the ins and out and goings on. She would certainly ask the right questions. We’d love to hear you live. Please, pretty please?

  • Ari,

    “… a movement that encourages an all or nothing approach to hashkafa …” What do you mean by this? Sounds like a gross generalisation to me, as well as being incorrect.

  • Zalman says:

    I think the issue here is actually the difficulty that so many in our community still experience in the face of mental illness… Parents that although well meaning do untold damage to their child…community leaders that dont have the skill, insight or leadership qualities and a community that either lives in fear, confronts directly or worst of all goades and entices the patient into ‘loosing it’…Its sad and requires massive education and probably a generational leadership change in our community.
    Turf wars do exist in Chabad..this story is sadly so much more!

  • ariel says:

    David W,

    I just had this Chabad hashkafa conversation the other day with someone.

    One of the issues that many other Orthodox Jews have with Chabad is that most shlichim will only teach the “chabad way” of doing things (minhag?) and of what to believe.

    For example, when a bar mitzvah boy goes to chabad to learn tefillin, he is invariably taught the chabad minhag. What should happen, is the shaliach should interview the family and find out what their background is and then teach tefillin according to their ancestral minhag. This is just one example which comes to mind.

    The Chabad rabbis who occupy pulpits in more Modern Orthodox shules tend to be more open with their halachic and minhagic answers.

  • Marky says:

    Ariel, because the Chabad Rabbis in M.O. shuls have no choice. It’s not because they choose to do it that way. The Shul would not tolerate only Chabad minhagim.

  • winchester cathedral says:

    The problem in this case and a number of other ‘shlchim’ and rabbis of (and this is not limited to Chabad – I can think of a number of ‘mainstream orth’) shuls is that they are of very low talent and knowledge.

    Quite a few of these ‘rabbis’ do not have a clue on how to study a page of gemara. (Artscroll’s English translation has been a boon for them.)

    Test for you.

    Study a random page of Talmud and the go over to the shliach/rabbi holding an old-fashioned non-translated Gemara and ask him to read and explain this to you.

    You’ll be shocked.

    Same deal, Look up the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch of the laws of, say, making a bracha on different types of foods, or the din if one forgets to say yaaleh veyavo on the 2nd night rosh chodesh..

    See if he has a clue..

    Will he say ‘what’s a Lamborghini?” or “What’s a bracha?”

    Very sad. And these gaonim make up the majority of the RCV issusing bombastic declarations which they expect us to respect.

    Oh, and Shoshana, whose side are you on here? I can’t work it out from your attempt to have this affair ignored .

  • Marky says:

    Winchester Cathedral???

  • Ariel,

    Do you think it’s reasonable for a Chabadnik to teach other hashkafot? They teach what they are brought up with & know. Would you expect an Aish person to not teach their own hashkafa?

    Marky,

    There are plenty of cases of Chabad Rabbis of non-Chabad shuls who are very comfortable abiding by the local customs. I don’t think they do it begrudgingly, or because they have to, and certainly don’t seek to change the established customs of the shul.

  • Nooky says:

    Marky

    My brother had a Chabad rabbi teach him his barmitzvah requirements who asked what our family minhag was, then taught my brother how to put on tefillin the way our dad did. He showed the greatest respect and never pushed his own derech. I recall at the time he said there are 70 faces to the torah and who is to say mine is better than yours? However today a different breed is emerging as in evident from the saga being witnessed on this thread. The rabbi who is featuring here also has claims to Alma Rd Caulfield area based on this little two-penny shul he’s operating and wait for it, has also had territorial issues with a nearby chabad house. In short he should just go back to school and redo basics. I’d love to see his smicha and who the heck issued it! Never heard or seen him give a shiur, just these fancy photo-op events. Makings of a movie here “Clueless in Melbourne”?

  • Malki Rose says:

    ‘Winchester Cathedral’, a nice touch.

  • The Loyal Opposition on Galus says:

    GA references Failed Messiah as a credible source?? What a joke! FM seethes of anti religious hatred, lies, slander and has zilch credibility. GA is now the Australian version of Failed Messiah, a blog of loshon hora and rechilus re Chabad in particular but all frummies in general. GA is in free fall down to the lowest basest levels of self hatred and lies.

  • Sam says:

    The Loyal Opposition

    Are you an official opposition like Tony Abbott’s Liberals? If you are, then give us your real title or name. However I suspect that you wish to remain anonymous, so in almost everybody’s eyes you are are the one with zilch credibility.

    Do you think that your criticisms on GA and Failed Messiah are possibly in the realm of hysterics, rather than being based on reasoned argument that would have at least some chance of convincing readers?
    What a joke!

  • Ari says:

    In one of the instances that was described to me, in a small community(not in Australia) that had a functioning cheder system whereby the children would learn all day sunday + 1-2 afternoons a week – Upon arrival, the Chabad shaliach set up a cheder consisting of a few hours on Sunday morning only claiming that the children would learn the same amount. The parents then sent their children their instead and the cheder system collapsed, also causing the children to be less connected with the Synagogues, since they no longer went there for cheder. By the time these children were Bar Mitzvahed they did not even know to read Hebrew(something which was not the case before).
    Now I do not know all of the facts and it could be that there were other issues at play. What it does show though is that Chabad Shlichim can come into communities, and even, if they are well meaning, wreak havoc and act against the wishes of the established community.

    David,

    I would expect a Chabadnik, who’s goal is the spreading of Judaism and Torah(and not Chabbad Chassidut) to teach other hashkafot. I would expect a Rav to be aware of more than what they were brought up with(as some Chabad Rabbi’s are).
    There is a difference between Chaabd and Aish in terms of their activities and size. Chabad is an international organisation that spans the globe and runs entire communities for many irreligious Jews. Given that, it is entirely fair and healthy to ask that they take a 70 panim approach – else it seems like they have more of an agenda than simply spreading yiddishkeit. Furthermore, if such an approach is not taken, it could be that some Jews are not connecting to Judaism precisely because it is only presented in a Chabad Chassidic accent. I’m sure Shoshanna would disagree but surely you can see that Chabad Chassidut is not a philosophy that speaks to everyone.

  • Ari says:

    Sorry Ilana,

    ‘who’s’ should be whose

  • Malki Rose says:

    Ironically enough Ari, Chabad Chassidut was formed precisely for that purpose.. to speak to everyone or rather to anyone.

    It is rather sad when an unfortunate few “representatives” of Chabad do the Alter Rebbe (Schneur Zalman of Liadi)’s initial work little justice, and use Chabad for their own personal glorification.

    I think it is important to understand that this discussion is not about Chabad versus a person of some other sect or denomination, despite the insistence of several posters who seemed to have missed the point of this ‘Turf war’ discussion.

    This, much like the turf war on the Gold Coast, is about one Chabad individual’s communal work versus that of another Chabad individual.

    One of them, is often there for the wrong reasons, and this is usually evidenced by the simple fact that the community will tend to gravitate towards one over the other.

    Most likely the one which best understands, supports and nourishes the community’s needs and wants.

    I think they call that, being FOR and OF the people.

  • The examples cited by Nooky & Ari are exactly that. Neither of them show that there is an systemic issue with Chabad being overly exclusivist or territorial. There are good shluchim, and there are not-good shluchim; they are all humans, after all.

    Ari,

    Because Chabad happens to be the pioneer and largest outreach organization, they have to teach other hashkafot? Why? The “agenda” is simple: spread yiddishkeit. Period. There is no agenda to spread Chabad chassidus to, for example, mitnagdim. Some Chabadniks have a broader education than others, and they draw on whatever they know to fulfil their shlichus.

  • M.S says:

    Nooky is E.A. ha ha

  • And I suppose the Aish guys’ outreach does not in include their hashakfo but something else? And Modern Orthodox, or even Reform for that matter–when they go outside to recruit, whose hashkafos do you suppose they teach? Another groups’? Of course not, because that would be absurd! Every theological sect/school of thought propagates its own philosophies, outlook, views of the world, as that is natural. So, the accusation that Chabad is somehow guilty of doing something wrong by teaching its own theological ideas is an absurd, baseless, and empty accusation based on animosity.

    In reality, Chabad is much more flexible than most other groups in allowing individuals to participate in the Torah learning/activities they offer while remaining the way they are. Chabad Rabbis in general are extremely tolerant and rarely try and transform people into Chabadniks.

    Anyone who knows the Rebbe’s outlook would know that the Rebbe had very little interest in pushing Chabad minhagim. Literally thousands of Jews from myriads of other backgrounds had a connection to the Rebbe and received spiritual guidance from the Rebbe while keeping their own minhagim and the Rebbe would not ever encourage any of them to replace them with Chabad minhagim. In fact, the opposite was true-the Rebbe often would discourage a Yid from leaving their own mesorah/tradition to take on Chabad stuff. He told them to keep to their own, not to change a thing. The Rebbe’s mission was neveer to make everyone a Chabadnik, not at all! The Rebbe’s mission was to alow every single Yid to become empowered by recognising that Torah also belongs to him/her no matter who they were, no matter their level of observance or knowledge or lack thereof. His message included to be proud to be a Yid, stand tall! His message was a love of Torah and it relevance to each individual in the world and the spreading of godliness, but it was never, ever to become Chabad and anyone who thinks it was is suffering under a great misconception.

  • anon says:

    David,

    I think your loyalty to Chabad is admirable, but has left some of your comments ‘off base’

    I agree that there are good and bad in every group, religious or not. Here in Melbourne we have turf wars in the Adass between Satmar, Belz and the handful of Oberlanders. In Kollel Beis HaTalmd, there is a disgraceful display of pure hatred in the turf war between the Roshei HaKollel and their Sycophants.

    However, I think that you are playing down the ‘Us vs Them’ mentality of Chabad. As a general rule there is an under current in the philosophy that Chabadniks are the real jews and through the Rebbe and the chasidus of Chabad, we are able to reach levels that other Jews can’t even fathom. The topics as discussed at Farbregens expose this, particualrly when Mashpiyim say over stories. Reb Zusha of Annapoli and Reb Levi of Barditchev are at all these farbrengens, but they are never explained in the rich context of ALL the chassidic movements, it’s as though no other chassidic group exists. The only relationship is to Chabad – > very one dimensional!

    NOTE: The miftzoyim (missionising) of Chabad is NOT exclusive to those who have lost their Mesorah, but include other Chassidic groups and Misnagdim as well. Certainly the Modus Operandi is not overt like the Friday afternoon Miftzoyim but it is there and has been there for many years.

  • anon,

    Chabad definitely suffers from being blinkered. There is not enough education about what else is there in the Jewish world. As a result of the directed succession of the Mezritcher Maggid to the Alter Rebbe, Chabad does consider itself to be the “true” embodiment of the Chassidic movement as founded by the Baal Shem Tov. However, there is no “us vs them” between Chabad and other Chassidic groups. But again, each group largely teaches its own history and doesn’t refer to or draw on others.

    Regarding the Litvish/Yeshivish world, there certainly has been friction in the past; partly because of the deep history of Chassidim vs Misnagdim, and because of particular Chabad activities and/or theologies that others found objectional. Overt missionising to other Jewish groups isn’t encouraged. There are that many unattached Jews out there that there’s just not the time!

  • Marky says:

    D Werdiger writes: “As a result of the directed succession of the Mezritcher Magid to the Alter Rebbe Chabad does consider itself to be the true embodiment of the Chassidic movement…”

    Not taking away from Chabad, but there are other Chassidim who the father of their lineage were not only talmidim of the Magid, but also the Baal Shem Tov. eg. all the Rebbes of the Chernobyl dynasty(Square, Chernobyl,Merachemstrivke etc.), Viznitz.

  • BTW, all of this is getting very off-topic and is largely a response to Ari’s comments about Chabad. Zalman’s comment goes to the heart of this matter.

  • Ben CH says:

    http://chabad.info/index.php?url=article_en&id=21340
    Chiam your the best

    [Eds: Please do not use multiple pseudonyms to comment on the same post as it creates a false impression of consensus. This is the fourth pseudonym that you have used on this thread. Consider this a final warning. Further comments using different names will be removed.]

  • The Loyal Opposition on Galus says:

    [Eds: Comment removed. While the contents of the comment may (or may not) have been true, this comment has been removed as it is too personal, comes from an anonymous commenter who has not verified their identity with the editors, and is unverifiable in any case.]

  • didan says:

    Chaim, you’re the best self-publicist

  • Ben CH says:

    To Melbourne
    thats very good Melbourne
    10 December, 2010 at 3:45 pm
    The yeshiva rebels
    1. The yechi sign
    2 The elections
    2 Starting new stiebel
    3.YG Yechi Sichos
    4.Petition
    5.Railing in front of shul
    Rabbi Telsner
    I can go on and on
    All failed

  • wolfy says:

    Ajnwatch has a great new post

    Chabad Menorah turf wars: Calling the local galach…

    http://ajnwatch.blogspot.com/2010/12/chabad-menorah-turf-wars-calling-local.html

  • Ben CH says:

    Eds: Mr CH, you have been warned before about posting gibberish in our comments section.

  • Nooky says:

    Hey, here’s a perfect opportunity for you Chaim, Man of Many Names

    No special requirements
    Smicha not necessary
    Wife unnecessary – Refer to ad below as appearing in the link

    What more could one ask for?

    http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=10750

    Seeking Bochurim – A chabad house in brooklyn is looking for Bochurim , (English and hebrew Speaking) to run Shabbas and Weekly Activities, For children:

    For more information

    Call:646-523-2570
    E-mail: chabadofgeorgetown@gmail.com

  • Ben CH says:

    Benyomin Serebryanski, was not working with the Yeshivah Gedola shluchim for many years on pe’ulos,

    Tiferes Institute is not a recognised body and thus its actions are unauthorised. The attempt to couch its so called events activity from Yeshiva Gedola
    is not pe’ulos

  • eli says:

    this weird stuff will heat things up

  • @eli – lots of people were wondering if there would be another video this year.

    However, the whole meshichist/non-meshichist issue actually has nothing at all to do with this particular topic. It’s a different situation that Chabad needs to deal with here in Melbourne *very big sigh*.

  • Avi says:

    Is this how a The fifth chelek is run by several individuals, some of whom prefer to remain anonymous, for personal reasons. We are all known to each other, and all agree to be bound by a codeneed Is the best way to drag the Rebbe down

  • Ben says:

    Chillul hashem and Chillul Shem lubavitch
    but they very good at Masering on a Goyish blog

  • Ben says:

    Messira is a horrible sin

  • Ben says:

    It’s the same person in the Yeshivah that’s in the middle of all machloikess

  • Ben Achar Ben says:

    Ben, you seem afraid of mesirah, have you got something to hide?

  • fred says:

    who hasn’t got something to hide??

  • Ben Achar Ben says:

    Fred, an elephant is harder to hide than a mouse. People who are worried about mesira aren’t worried about minor issues.

  • Jake says:

    Frosh – must be a slow business day – Galua quoting Failed Messiah and reviving a post after almost two years

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