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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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