If there's a strong force within Orthodoxy today, it's Chabad-Lubavitch. A few decades ago they were a small chasidic clan with a deep and esoteric Jewish philosophy. Today many consider them the de facto face of Torah Judaism. Under the leadership of their last Rebbe, z"l, they expanded to become a worldwide kiruv empire dedicated to spreading their brand of Judaism to any Jews they could find while attempting to bring as many of our brethren back to Judaism as they could. It's rare to find a mid-size town or university without a Chabad House next to it, never mind in the bigger centres. There are countless stories about shluchim and their families, about the efforts they'll make to reach out to disaffected and disconnected Jews and, through warmth and kindness, bring them closer to Judaism.
It's all such a well-woven tale that sometimes we forget that, in many ways, Chabad Lubavtich is actually Lubavitch Inc., a billion dollar company. And just as not employee at Canadian Tire or Best Buy is a helpful salesperson, so too not everyone within Lubavitch is a genuinely outgoing shliach.
A reminder of this has been in the news lately. The story, in a nutshell, seems simple enough. A large Modern Orthodox congregation in Crown Heights, the home neighbourhood of Lubavitchers everywhere, recently erected an eiruv in its part of town to accomodate its growing population of young families with young children who get around in strollers. The alternative to an eiruv is forcing mothers to stay at home all Shabbos long with their children because of the prohibitions on carrying in the absence of an eiruv. Since its erection the Lubavitchers in the neighbourhood have openly stated their opposition to its existence leading to tension between the two communities.
The reasons for the Lubavitcher opposition are well known. First of all, due to their fetish for any chumros they kind find in "seforim" they will not hold by anyone else's standards than their own. This includes eiruvim. They didn't put it up so it's not good enough for them. Secondly, and more importantly, the Rebbe apparently decided that a major highway going through Crown Heights has the status of a reshus harabim which means no eiruv can be set up if it crosses that road. This has led to a Lubavitch position that Crown Heights cannot have a public eiruv.
In a reasonable world, the outcome of this situation would be simple. The Lubavitchers would announce that they don't consider the eiruv valid and advise their members not to carry on Shabbos just as they've always not carried. The Modern Orthodox community would announce that they consider the eiruv valid and that anyone who holds by it can carry within its boundaries on Shabbos.
As we know so well, we do not live in a perfect world. The authorities in Lubavitch have indeed announced that they consider the eiruv invalid but in addition to advising their own community not to abide by it they have gone further and demanded that the Modern Orthodox in Crown Heights also renounce it and not use it to carry on Shabbos. Why? Because their Rebbe said Crown Heights can't have an eiruv so therefore no one, even non-Lubavitchers, can have one there.
Here's where the hidden fist behind the smile comes in. Yes, Lubavitch spreads Judaism around the globe but it's their brand of Judaism, based on twin pillars of Chabad philosophy and Rebbe-as-Moshiach ideology. They are uncompromising in their approach to the point of relegated other Chareidi philosophies as second best and non-Chareidi Orthodox positions as invalid or illegitimate. While they get along well enough with other Chasidim and with some Yeshivish folks, they harbor a strong disregard for non-Chareidi Orthodoxy because such practice demonstrates a version of Torah Judaism from their own at the same time that they are trying to convince folks that their version of Torah Judaism is the only real one.
One might suppose that this is what is happening here. For a very long time Crown Heights' Jewish community has been synonymous with Lubavitch. It has now grown beyond that but perhaps the powers that be in 770 want Lubavitch rules to still be the system that governs everyone living there. As a result they have dropped the friendly mask in a bid to enforce their version of the rules on those who aren't even part of their community.
Folks following the news on Lubavitch out of Australia know the troubles they're in down there with the ongoing revelations of child abuse and pedophlia in their yeshivos. It's interesting, others have noted, that Lubavitch seems more outraged with other folks using an eiruv than with their own people committing terrible crimes.
It also should cast a new light on your local shaliach the next time he approaches you for a donation or to tell you about his latest farbrengen. What exactly is hiding behind his smile?