There is no doubt that Chabad takes whatever it does to extremes. There is no Jewish group more active in more far-flung places of the world than them. Despite a lack of local resources that would drive out less-committed Yidden, Chabad emissaries live full Jewish lives in scattered places around the globe, providing a taste of Yiddishkeit to any of our brethren who happen to wander by. Their dedication to kiruv is also unmatched and they work with great fervour to bring back lost Jews to Torah.
Unfortunately it is human nature to let extremism cut both ways. While a moderate often refuses to take a defined stand on anything, an extremist will have a firm opinion about everything and a refusal to budge from it. The problem with Chabad's extremism is that its desire to bring Jews back to Judaism is matched by a belief that their Judaism is the only real kind.
As Rav Shmuely Boteach, former black sheep of the movement, notes in a recent piece in The Jerusalem Post:
I knew then in theory what I just witnessed in practice: Chabad emissaries would one day take over the Jewish world. Why? Because of the grandness of their vision and the passion with which they pursued their mission. Other Jewish organizations sought to educate people about their tradition, but Chabad sought to raise all Earth’s inhabitants to a higher God-consciousness, and to make Judaism the driving force in every decision of daily life.
The passionate dedication of the Chabad emissaries was infectious. They did not preach the Torah. Rather, it coursed through their veins, seeping out of every pore. Hassidic teachings about the approachability of God and the accessibility of a higher spiritual reality were grafted onto the average Chabad activist’s very DNA, becoming an inseparable part of his or her character and personality.
WITNESSING THE fulfillment of that promise at the conference was an awakening. Chabad is no longer merely a Jewish movement. It is Judaism. I find it astonishing that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew in to attend the Jewish federations’ annual General Assembly but bypassed the Chabad conference. If an Israeli prime minister wants to be part of the unfolding of modern Jewish history, he has to address Chabad. No other organization even comes close to its global reach or grassroots impact. And it is growing exponentially.
They don't read newspapers and are unlikely to care about what Rav Boteach says but one can imagine going to the Rebbes of Ger, Belz and Satmar (both of them), all of them significantly larger in size than Lubavitch despite a total lack of outreach, and telling them: "Did you know that Chabad is Judaism?"
Indeed, Rav Boteach should know this. All the shluchim should know that theirs is not the largest sect within Orthodox Judaism and that within the Chareidi community they are relegated to the fringe with the Bratzlovers, a kooky sect that might be scrupulous in the performance of some mitzvos but which endorse beliefs and worldviews unacceptable to the main group.
Then there's the Modern Orthodox and Dati Leumi who would also be shocked to know that they are not Judaism. Never mind the pantheon of thinkers and towering figures they lay claim to. Never mind all the learning and practice. They aren't Judaism because they're not Chabad?
Yet there is the other side that Rav Boteach mentions and must be emphasized. As Rav David Berger notes in his book on the subject, Chabad is expanding within significant parts of the Jewish community through a clever strategy. Just as leftists realized long ago that if one infiltrates the school system to ensure that children are raised with a socialist/politically correct philosophy so as to create a large group of support later on, Chabad realized long ago that going where no frum Jews could be found was like mining for gold. There is a reason Chabad is found in isolated small Jewish communities that no one else pays attention to, why they show up on campuses even in cities with a large Torah-observant population and why they pay so much attention to Jewish communities and travellers in such places as Russia and India.
Generally one does not find Chareidim in these places since they prefer large centres where they have resources, yeshivos and other such supports. One doese not find Dati Leumi there either since the movement's focus is on Eretz Yisrael, not golus. Asd a result, if you're a non-religious Jew living in a small town in the American mid-west, or a student venturing onto a university campus, or a villager someone in Siberia, chances are the only frum Jew you'll ever meet is a Chabad shaliach.
The consequence of this is obvious - if all you ever want from the Chabadnik is chicken soup on Friday night and the occasional raucous Purim party, that's fine but if you want to learn more about Judaism you will be introduced to Torah observance but through the Chabad lens which is, in many ways exhaustively documented elsewhere, different from conventional Torah observance. What's more, you will be taught that theirs is, like Rav Boteach say, the Judaism of our ancestors, the only real type, the kind that Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, brought down from Har Sinai.
One might raise an objection by pointing out that Aish HaTorah and Ohr Sameach are hardly different in that approach to kiruv. This is definitely true. Ask an Aish or Ohr rav about the age of the Earth and you will be told the only legitimate answer is 5771 years. They won't teach you about the Rav or Rav Kook either in those places.
But the significant difference is that Aish and Ohr generally restrict themselves to large communties, as I noted above regarding Chareidim in general. You won't find Aish in Woebegone, Minnesota. You just might find Chabad.
Through their kiruv, Chabad is indeed working very hard to present a specific type of Torah Judaism to the non-religious masses who don't know about the depth and variety of Torah observance. They are working hard to convince the multitudes that Nusach Ari is the only siddur God hears you pray and that a certain deceased rabbinical figure really is the Moshiach, that it is a fundamental principle of Judaism and an actual halacha to believe this, and that he is just waiting for the opportunity to reveal himself and bring the final salvation.
That Chabadniks don't realize that Judaism is far bigger than them and that their beliefs are not standard in the rest of the Torah community is regrettable. That the rest of the Torah Jewish community is sitting back while they divert our non-religious brethren into their narrow camp isn't.