Unlike the other Orthodox groups discussed above, Chabad-Lubavitch is a movement with a mission and purpose to effect substantial change in Jewish society, and through it, the world. This mission and purpose is to reach out to as many Jews as possible, all over the world, to bring them closer to God and the practice of Judaism. The underlying religious philosophy behind the movement is based on the teachings of Chabad Hasidut and especially those of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of Lubavitch, who died in June 1994, after leading the group for 43 years. Critical principles of this philosophy are the following beliefs: the unique elevated character of the Jewish soul and its yearning to be united with its Divine source; the cosmic significance of every mitzvah performed by a Jew; and that we are living in the period just prior to the advent of the Messiah, whose arrival is dependent upon the return of the Jewish people to belief in God and the observance of His commandments. An ethos of ahavas yisrael, a love for every Jew, emerges from these principles and drives the ever-expanding outreach work of the group. (For additional discussion of Chabad theology see the 2014-2015 JPPI Assessment, pp 151-152.)
Chabad performs its outreach efforts through a variety of programs. It is best known for the centers it has established throughout the world, each of which is run by a Lubavitch couple referred to as “shluchim,” or emissaries. There are presently 4,400 shluchim couples posted worldwide in 88 countries, with around 1,700 couples in the United States.17 There are regional directors who exert some oversight over the centers in their region, but a great deal of leeway is afforded shluchim to run their centers in their own particular style and as they see fit. The central Chabad offices based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, provide some financial support, as well as provision of additional manpower and a vast amount of educational materials, to the shluchim. In addition to Chabad centers in cities and towns, there are also a great number of centers on college campuses all over the country. According to an administrator at the Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn, the annual worldwide budget of Chabad is $1.5 billion.
Chabad centers provide a range of programming and services that can include synagogue services, a mikveh, pre-school and even day-school education, adult education, visits to Jews in hospitals and prisons, and kosher catering. Shluchim regularly invite people into their home for meals on Shabbat and holidays and make a great effort to meet personally and establish relationships with as many Jews in their local area as possible. Other Chabad outreach programs include commando-like projects (mivtza’im), mostly conducted by young yeshiva students in urban centers where the yeshiva students stop people on the street to ask them if they are Jews, and if they answer affirmatively, attempt to convince them to perform a mitzvah, such as donning tefillin, shaking the lulav in sukkot, or lighting Shabbat candles.
As pointed out in the discussion of Chabad in JPPI’s 2014-2015 Annual Assessment, Chabad differs from other Orthodox groups in that it does not demand an all-or-nothing commitment and welcomes all Jews whatever their level of observance. There are many Jews who retain their affiliation with Reform or Conservative Temples and synagogues, or as members of other Orthodox communities, yet regularly pray at Chabad centers or participate in Chabad programs. Such individuals would not identify themselves as Chabad in population surveys, although their relationship with Chabad is an important part of their overall Jewish identity. The 2014-2015 Assessment also explains how Chabad well suits the “individualist-consumer” orientation to religion common in American society today, in which discrete and eclectic spiritual experiences are preferred to a total and exclusive commitment to a specific religious path.