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The Chabad community consists of the followers (Hasidim) of the Chabad Rebbes. Originally, based in Eastern Europe, today, various Chabad communities span the globe; the communities with higher concentrations of Chabad's Hasidic followers are located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Kfar Chabad, Israel. Other communities hold smaller population sizes.
The members or adherents of the Chabad movement are formally called "Chabad Chasidim" (Hasidim). Other designations include "Lubavitchers", "Chabadskers" (Yiddish) and "Chabadnikim" (Hebrew). Chabad's adherents include both Hasidic followers, as well as non-Hasidim, who have joined Chabad synagogues and other Chabad run institutions.
According to sociologists studying contemporary Jewry, the Chabad movement fits into neither the standard category of Haredi nor that of modern Orthodox among Orthodox Jews. This is due in part to the existence of the "non-Orthodox Hasidim", the general lack of official recognition of political and religious distinctions within Judaism and the open relationship with non-Orthodox Jews represented by the activism of Chabad emissaries.
Chabad adherents follow Chabad traditions and prayer services based on Lurianic kabbalah. General Chabad customs, called minhagim, distinguish the movement from other Hasidic groups. Some of the main Chabad customs are minor practices performed on traditional Jewish holidays:
- Passover – It is customary in Chabad communities, on passover, to limit contact of matzah (an unleavened bread eaten on passover) with water. This custom is called gebrokts (Yiddish: געבראָכטס, lit. 'broken'). However, on the last day of passover, it is customary to intentionally have matzah come in contact with water.
- Chanukah – It is the custom of Chabad Hasidim to place the Chanukah menorah against the room's doorpost (and not on the windowsill).
- Prayer – The founder of Chabad wrote a very specific liturgy for the daily and festival prayers based on the teachings of the Kabbalists, primarily the Arizal.
- The founder of Chabad also instituted various other Halachic rulings, including the use of stainless steel knives for the slaughter of animal before human consumption, which is by now universally accepted in all sects of Judaism.
There are a number of days marked by the Chabad movement as special days. Major holidays include the liberation dates of the leaders of the movement, the Rebbes of Chabad, others corresponded to the leaders' birthdays, anniversaries of death, and other life events.
The days marking the leaders' release, are celebrated by the Chabad movement as "Days of Liberation" (Hebrew: יום גאולה (Yom Geulah)). The most noted day is Yud Tes Kislev – The liberation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement. The day is also called the "New Year of Hasidism".
The birthdays of several of the movement's leaders are celebrated each year include Chai Elul, the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad movement, and Yud Aleph Nissan, the birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh rebbe of Chabad.
The anniversaries of death, or yartzeit, of several of the movement's leaders are celebrated each year, include Yud Shvat, the yartzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth rebbe of Chabad, Gimmel Tammuz, the yartzeit of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh rebbe of Chabad, and Chof Beis Shvat, the yartzeit of Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the wife of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Demographic accounts on the Chabad movement vary. Chabad adherents are often reported to number some 200,000 persons. Some scholars have pointed to the lack of quantitative data to back this claim, and some place the number of Chabad followers at around 40,000 but note that the number may be higher if the non-Hasidic Jews who join Chabad synagogues are included as well.
Compared to other Hasidic groups, Chabad is currently thought to be the largest, the third or fourth largest Hasidic movement.
An estimate for Chabad in the United States places the movement's followers in the US at around 18,600. The estimate is drawn from existing data on the Montreal Chabad community, and Chabad Day School figures.
- Crown Heights – The Crown Heights Chabad community's estimated size is 10,000–12,000. There is no published quantitative data to back the claim. The Crown Heights Chabad community has its own Beis Din (rabbinical court) and Crown Heights Jewish Community Council (CHJCC).
Student body in the United States
The report findings of studies on Jewish Day Schools and supplementary Jewish education in the United States show that the student body currently enrolled in some 295 Chabad schools exceeds 20,750.
- Kfar Chabad – Kfar Chabad's estimated size is 5,100; the residents of the town are believed to all be Chabad adherents. This estimate is based on figures published by the Israeli Census Bureau. The Chief Rabbi of Kfar Chabad is Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi.
- Safed – The Chabad community in Safed (or Tzfat) originates from the wave of Eastern European immigration to Israel of 1777–1840. The Chabad community established synagogues and institutions in Safed. The early settlement declined by the 20th century but was renewed following an initiative by the seventh Rebbe in the early 1970s, which reestablished the Chabad community in the city.
Rabbi Yeshaya HaLevi Horowitz (1883–1978), a Safed native and direct descendant of Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, author of the Shnei Luchot HaBrit, served as the rabbi of the Chabad community in Safed from 1908 until his immigration to the U.S. during World War I.
Members of the Chabad community run a number of outreach efforts during the Jewish holidays. Activities include blowing the shofar for the elderly on Rosh Hashana, reading the Megilla for hospital patients on Purim and setting up a Sukka on the town's main street during the Succoth holiday.
- Montreal – The estimated size of the Chabad community of Greater Montreal is 1,590. The estimate is taken from a local community study. The Chabad community in Montreal originated sometime prior to 1931. While early works on Canadian Jewry make little or no mention of early Hasidic life in Canada, later researchers have documented accounts of Chabad in Canada starting from the 1900s and 1910s. Steven Lapidus notes that there is mention of two Chabad congregations in a 1915 article in Canadian Jewish Chronicle listing the delegates of the first Canadian Jewish Conference. One congregation is listed as Chabad of Toronto, the other is simply listed as "Libavitzer Congregation". Sociologist William Shaffir has noted that some Chabad Hasidim and sympathizers did reside in Montreal prior to 1941 but does not elaborate further. Steven Lapidus also notes that in an 1931 obituary published in Keneder Odler, a Canadian Yiddish newspaper, the deceased, Rabbi Menashe Lavut, is credited as the founder of Anshei Chabad in Montreal and the Nusach Ari synagogue. Thus the Chabad presence in Montreal predates 1931.
Chabad Ashkenazim and Sephardim
Though the Chabad movement was founded in Eastern Europe, a center of Ashkenazic Jewry, it has in the past several decades attracted a significant number of Sephardi Jews as adherents. Some Chabad communities are now a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chabad Hasidim. In Montreal, close to 25% of Chabad households include a Sephardi parent.
Chabad's influence since World War Two has been far reaching among world Jewry. Chabad pioneered the post-World War II outreach movement, which spread Judaism to many assimilated Jews worldwide, leading to a substantial number of baalei teshuva ("returnees" to Judaism). The very first Yeshiva/Rabbinical College for such baalei teshuva, Hadar Hatorah, was established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It is reported that up to a million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year.
According to Steven I. Weiss, Chabad's ideology has dramatically influenced non-Hasidic Jews' outreach practice.
Because of its outreach to all Jews, including those quite alienated from religious Jewish tradition, Chabad has been described as the one Orthodox group to evoke great affection from large segments of American Jewry.
Chabad's central organization representing the movement at large, Agudas Chasidei Chabad, is headed by Rabbi Abraham Shemtov. The educational, outreach and social services arms, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel is headed by Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, as well as the Chabad-Lubavitch publishing house, Kehot Publication Society.
Local Chabad centers and institutions are often incorporated as separate legal entities.
As of 2007 there are 3,300 Chabad institutions around the world. As of 2006 there were Chabad centers in 75 countries.
Listed on the Chabad movement's online directory are around 1,350 Chabad institutions. This number includes schools and other Chabad-affiliated establishments. The number of Chabad centers vary per country; the majority are in the United States and Israel. There are over 40 countries with a small Chabad presence.
In total, according to its directory, Chabad maintains a presence in 950 cities around the world: 178 in Europe, 14 in Africa, 200 in Israel, 400 in North America, 38 in South America, and about 70 in Asia (excluding Israel, including Russia).