"Every Jew is holy!"
Location: Magen David Square, Tel Aviv
The encounter: Chabad, a strictly-orthodox Hassidic movement, has become one of the most influential religious groups in Israel. These days, portraits of Rabbi Schneerson, whom many of his followers believe to be the Messiah, can be seen everywhere in Israel. In public places all over the country, Chabad representatives, like Oren, set up stands where they invite Jewish men to perform the mitzvah (religious obligation ) of laying tefillin. I talked to Oren at his stand on Magen David Square in central Tel Aviv. Every few minutes our conversation was interrupted by men who stopped by to put on a pair of tefillin and recite the morning prayer. Many of them were regulars whom Oren greeted by name.
What are you doing here right now?
I'm here to offer Jews the opportunity to perform the mitzvah [religious duty] of laying tefillin. I also teach Torah. I want to bring Jews closer to their religion. People of all colors of the rainbow and from all corners of the world come to my table to lay tefillin!
What is your occupation?
I am a representative of Chabad. I encourage people to perform their religious duties.
Can you tell me a bit about your family?
I am married and have four boys – may they be healthy – between the ages three to twelve.
Where is your family from?
My father – may he live long – is from Argentina, and my mother – may she live long – is from Poland. My father immigrated to Israel in his twenties. My mother had a hard life. She was born during the Second World War. Her father was killed in a concentration camp before she was born. She never even knew his exact name. Her mother was pregnant and escaped to Siberia. They came to Israel after the war. I don’t know all the details because my mother never had a chance to ask. She became an orphan when she was sixteen. Her mother died at the age of thirty-six.
How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I am a Jew: a religious, Haredi Jew and a Chabad-nik. But I didn’t grow up religious: I returned to the faith. I got involved with Chabad when I was traveling in India when I was twenty-three. I visited one of the Chabad houses there and started studying the Tanya, the Chabad philosophy of the soul. It’s very profound, and I was mesmerized by it.
My wife, too, became religious when she was traveling in India. Back in Israel, we both ended up studying at religious seminars in the city of Safed. That’s where we were introduced to each other.
But the Rabbi [Schneerson] is opposed to distinguishing between “secular” and "religious" Jews. We distinguish between holy and unholy, and between Israel and the other nations; but we never distinguish between Jews. Every Jew is holy! Some just need to make more spiritual progress. Jews who have not been educated in a religious framework don’t know any better: you can’t blame them for not following the mitzvot. We need to educate them and return them to the faith. The rabbi has taught us that every Jew is a treasure. Only, sometimes, the treasure needs to be polished.
Some people describe us as a missionary movement. But that's not true because we're not converting anybody. We're not interested in non-Jews. We just want to expose Jews to their true religion.
The Rabbi says that because we are close to the end of days, the souls of Jews are waking up. That’s the work of the Messiah. The big light of the Messiah attracts the small sparks of Jewish souls, like a big fire attracting smaller fires.
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
I hope and expect the final true redemption; and that the Rabbi will be revealed as the Messiah King; and that we will have the Third Temple; and that the whole of Israel will worship The L-rd; and that the L-rd will be revealed; and that everything will be good; and that there will be no more death or suffering.
In the meantime, Jews need to follow the Torah and the mitzvot and walk in the way of the L-rd. They should not give up one bit of the holy land of Israel, which was given to us by the Holy One, blessed be He. And they should not compromise on any laws from the Torah. They shouldn’t introduce changes to the law of the Torah, like suddenly saying that women can put on tefillin and all kinds of nonsense like that. And there shouldn’t be all kinds of improper Jewish conversions, like the Reform congregations, who undermine the wholeness of our nation by acceptinggoyim [non-Jews] as Jews.
We should follow the Torah exactly the way we received it from Moses, Our Teacher, without any changes. I say: wholeness of the people, wholeness of the land, and wholeness of the Torah!
Obviously, I’d prefer it if the laws of the Land of Israel would be the laws of the L-rd instead of laws that were invented by goyim. The whole legal system of the State of Israel is actually based on British laws. Even Ben Gurion – he didn’t follow the Torah. I'd prefer to live according to the laws of the Torah; not laws invented by people of flesh and blood!