Chabad Good for Jews on US Campuses — Study Finds

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A Chabd rabbi helps a man put on Tefilin
A Chabd rabbi helps a man put on Tefilin

The Chabad movement is a positive force for Jewish identity on college campuses. This according to a study by the Hertog Foundation and published in The Berman Jewish Policy Archive.

Call them Chabad or call them Lubavitch, the Hasidic sect is the largest and most prominent in all of the Jewish world. They send out emissaries called “shlichim” to just about any spot on Earth where there may be a Jewish community and especially to university campuses.

College is a place where Jews from secular or unaffiliated homes are most likely to forsake their Jewish identities. It is precisely because of this that the Chabad takes such an active role in the religious enhancement of Jewish students’ lives on campus. Many a Chabad Jew will tell the story of how they were secular until meeting a Chabad rabbi.

But this has also come with a great deal of controversy. First there is the problem of the “Messianic” Lubavitch. These are the people who still cling to the belief that the last Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Scheerson, was the Messiah. They carry yellow flags with a crown to proclaim that he was the “King Messiah.”

Then there are the complaints from Reform and Conservative Jews that the Chabad have too big a profile while only representing one way to be Jewish.

The new study was conducted by a team of academic researchers and, according to its publishers, was designed to learn who comes to Chabad at college campuses, how Chabad works with undergraduate students, and what impact Chabad involvement during college has on the post-college lives of young Jewish adults.

Many of the results will not surprise anyone who is familiar with the Chabad and their activities around the world. However, one does stand out as unexpected. The study finds that few if any Jewish college students change their affiliation to the Lubavitch because of their activities on campuses.

The following is a list of the study’s major findings:

Chabad on Campus attracts students from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. Relatively few are Orthodox.

Many students are attracted initially by the social scene, food, and family environment at Friday night Shabbat dinners, rather than an interest in Jewish learning or ritual.

College alumni who were more frequent participants at Chabad during college had higher scores on post-college measures of Jewish attitudes and behavior than those who were less frequent participants, once other influences on post-college attitudes and behaviors were taken into account.

The apparent impact of involvement with Chabad during college is pervasive, affecting a broad range of post-college Jewish attitudes and behaviors. These include religious beliefs and practices, Jewish friendships, Jewish community involvement, Jewish learning, dating and marriage, emotional attachment to Israel, and the importance of being Jewish.

The impact appears to be greatest among those who indicated they were raised as Reform and those who were raised with no denominational affiliation. Effects are slightly smaller for those raised as Conservative. Based on the measures used in the study, Chabad participation appears to have little impact on those raised as Orthodox.

Relatively few students change their denominational affiliation to Orthodox as a result of their involvement with Chabad on Campus, and virtually none subsequently choose to identify with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The data suggest that the majority of those who are frequent participants are affected in ways that bring them closer to the mainstream Jewish community after college.

Personal relationships are central to Chabad’s work with students. Greater involvement with Chabad and subsequent change in Jewish belief and practice are most likely to occur when a student develops a personal relationship with the Chabad rabbi or the rebbetzin (the rabbi’s wife).

Gender matters. Men tend to be closer to the rabbi and women tend to be closer to the rebbetzin.

Relationships with the rabbi and rebbetzin tend to continue after college, especially among those who were frequent participants at Chabad during college.

Of those undergraduate students who participate in Jewish activities on campus, most attend both Chabad and Hillel. There are smaller groups of students who attend one and not the other.

In some respects, Chabad and Hillel offer similar engagement opportunities. At the same time, the two present very distinctive differences in style, substance, and programming.

[You can download the complete study here.]

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