Judge Posner slams college Chabad rabbi

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Group photo of Chabad "emissaries" from around the world

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Group photo of Chabad "emissaries" from around the world

Group photo of Chabad "emissaries" from around the world

Group photo of Chabad “emissaries” from around the world

Editor’s note: This post has been amended to clarify the original sources of the judge’s ruling and other opinions.

Last week, the eminent federal appellate judge Richard Posner brought one of his blunt opinions down on the head of Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, who has run the Chabad House at Northwestern University ever since it opened in 1985.

According to Posner’s ruling, Klein’s troubling history of serving undergraduates large quantities of vodka led Northwestern to sever their relationship, which included a contract under which he passed on all kosher food served at the university. The rabbi sued on the grounds that this was discriminatory and anti-Semitic. After a federal district judge dismissed the case, he appealed to the Seventh Circuit, albeit backing off the anti-Semitism charge.

Upholding the dismissal on behalf of a unanimous three-judge panel, Posner made short work of Klein’s legal arguments and his behavior as well. “The students who attended these affairs were not asked to present proof of age, though undoubtedly many were under 21 — most college students are,” he wrote. “Rabbi Klein testified that to require attendants at the events to carry identification would violate religious law. He made no effort to limit consumption of alcohol at the events and drank along with the students attending.”

As for Klein’s desire to be given a second chance to mend his ways, Posner declared:

He had gotten away for more than a quarter of a century with an irresponsible attitude toward excessive underage drinking that went on under his nose in the Chabad house, and seems to have thought that he could continue to do so, with impunity, indefinitely. He was given multiple chances. He was warned repeatedly, but did not did not react. Why should he be given fourth and fifth and nth chances?

Gentle (or should I say, Gentile) reader, you can be forgiven for wondering why in God’s name Klein didn’t clean up his act and make sure the undergraduates stopped drinking themselves into a stupor. The answer is that liquor is key to the success of Chabad houses on college campuses across the country, where they are now giving long-established Hillel houses a run for their money.

Like Johnny Appleseed, who supplied settlers from Pennsylvania to Illinois with the wherewithal for hard cider, Chabad emissaries use spiritus frumenti to purvey their brand of Judaism. “What does it take to motivate professional Jewish millennials to go to Shabbat services when pleas from Jewish mothers don’t do the trick?” a Jewish newspaper columnist asked last August. “Coax them with free top-shelf booze.”

Chabad is a neo-Hasidic operation that has prospered by persuading wealthy Jews that its missionary outreach to the less observant is the best way to guarantee Jewish survival. It is notorious for playing by its own rules and getting away with it.

Not this time.

  • Garson Abuita

    In fairness, the blog post refers to “professional Jewish millenials,” not college students. Of course, as someone who attended many Chabad Friday night dinners in college, I can attest to the use of alcohol to get people in the door. That wasn’t the only reason I went and it’s not the only reason most people go either. In college I thought this was great. Now I feel differently.

  • Stephen Kent Gray

    Alchol is an entheogen in some religions which makes getting drunk a religious rite to them.

    Judaism uses wine on Shabbat and some holidays for Kiddush as well as more extensively in the Passover ceremony and other religious ceremonies. The secular consumption of alcohol is allowed. Some Jewish texts, e.g. the Talmud, encourage moderate drinking on holidays (such as Purim) in order to make the occasion more joyous.