Cambridge University "infiltrated" by Chabad Lubavitch

A News Summary/October 7, 2008

In June 2007 a group of 30 undergraduates, postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers at Cambridge University were mentored disicples of someone that never even attended a university. That man was the local "emissary" of Chabad-Lubavitch, a small Jewish sect that has become quite active on British campuses.

"Hassidic" is a term used to describe certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects, which most often are led by a single rabbi. It is a historic movement within Judaism, whcih began in Eastern Europe during the 18th Century. Most members speak Yiddish (a German dialect) as a first language and shun modern culture.

The Cambridge Chabad Rabbi Reuven Leigh, 28, from Essex, though a passionate convert to the movement and has no degree. But on Friday nights in Cambridge, he presides over a group university students as their teacher. The rabbi reportedly encourages drinking, facilitates religious discussions and dispenses personal advice.

Leigh's Chabad group reportedly was "one fastest-growing organisations on campus."

But ironically the rabbi says, "Chabad does not promote attending universities as it argues that young people at the most impressionable time of their lives should devote their time to being well educated in their own heritage and culture." He claims that university life culminates in "a confused environment that pulls young people further away from their roots'."

Others might observe that though Chabad emissaries like Rabbi Leigh seemingly hope to exploit the open mindedness of college campuses for their own purposes and perhaps proselytizing, they correspondingly don't want their own young people involved in an environment they cannot control.

In 2007 there were 85 Chabad centers set up at universities worldwide, The first such center in England was established in 2001, but by 2007 there were six.

2,000 UK college students were reportedly involved with Chabad by 2007. And it was estimated that such outreach efforts by the sect across the world may have as many as 100,000 participants.

"We give people the experiences; what they do with them is their choice," Leigh claimed.

However, Tal-Chen Straussman, a 28-year-old finishing an MPhil and starting a PhD told The Guardian that Chabad "offers something that is very definite in terms of religion..."

One of Leigh's regulars Pete Flemming, 22, from Surrey, told The Guardian that Chabad was "an antidote to the endless questioning of the seminar room." The student added, "Given that I don't have a clear Jewish identity or position, it means a lot to go somewhere where I can participate in and enjoy a Jewish environment."

But critics of Chabad have pointed out that the sect frequently expresses rigid intolerance of those Jewish denominations which it considers less stringent and therefore does not recognized as "true Torah Judaism," such as the Conservative and Reformed movements of Judaism.

Professor Geoffrey Alderman, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and prolific author on British Jewry, believes that before Chabad came to Cambridge there was more unity amongst its Jewish students.

Alderman told The Guardian that he was "very aggrieved" and considered Chabad "an imposition" and alleged that it is "separatist." He pointed out that rather than joining to support cooperative Jewish efforts Chabad had instead established its own exclusive centers. The professor claimed Chabad was "undermining the unity of the Jewish community on campus."

Alderman described Chabad as "infiltration on campus..." The professor told The Guardian that many of the sect's adherents consider its past leader, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to be the messiah even though he has been dead since 1994.

The Guardian reported that one of Leigh's followers, Darren Gower, a 20-year-old land economy student from Southend had been converted.

Gower was transformed within one summer from a typcial teenager to an ultra-Orthodox Jew dressed in Hassidic traditional clothing.

Note: This news summary is based upon an article originally published by The Guardian July 10, 2007 titled "A logic of their own" by Nathan Jeffay.

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