ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Today we are all Ultra-Orthodox

I generally dislike using the arbitrary labels that are applied to describe Jews. I have little use for terms such as Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Modern-Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Reconformodox… need I go on? In fact when people ask me if I am Ultra-Orthodox I often reply, “No, I am industrial strength Orthodox.”

Now I understand that the labels are used to differentiate between ideologies… but people, not so much. However, in the spirit of the colloquial usage of those terms, I present the following.

The Talmud, when discussing the method for observing the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights, offers the following. “The Sages taught…: The basic mitzvah of Chanukah is a candle for each home, every day. The mehadrin, (those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot,) kindle a daily light for each member of the household. The mehadrin min hamehadrin, (those who are even more meticulous,) adjust the number of lights daily. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights.”

Now if we took a survey among the millions of Jews who observe Chanukah, we would hard pressed to identify even one who follows the basic, or even the meticulous, method of lighting the candles. On Chanukah all Jews become “industrial strength-Orthodox” performing the Mitzvah of kindling the Chanukah lights in the mehadrin-min-hamehadrin (highest possible) way.

This could the subject of a fascinating anthropological study of Jewish holiday observance… but I would like to offer the Chassidic explanation for this phenomenon. The core of the story is the Hellenist attempt to get the Jews to dilute the devotion to their religion. Study and practice, but don’t go overboard. Stick with the logical part and discard the rest. When persuasion didn’t work they resorted to violence. When attacking the Temple, they specifically targeted the pure oil, as it represented everything they didn’t appreciate about Judaism – a supra-rational devotion to G-d and His commandments. That is why the miracle revolved around the pure oil. The Maccabees demonstrated an “industrial strength” devotion to G-d by insisting on kindling only pure oil and G-d reciprocated with a miracle in kind.

So it all makes sense. When we celebrate Chanukah, the miracle of oil and the dedication of the Maccabees, of course we go all out and do it the most ideal way. That’s what they did; and that’s what G-d did in return.

Wishing you all a bright and joyous Chanukah. Look forward to seeing you all at the Riverwalk on Sunday at 4 pm.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Boldly Go Where No Rabbi Has Gone

Do you remember the internet before Google and Youtube? Does Alta Vista ring a bell? How about AOL, Netscape, or Webcrawler? Before the World Wide Web became publicly accessible in the early 90s, there was FidoNet, essentially a network of what was then termed BBS (bulletin board systems).

In 1988, Rabbi YY Kazen bucked all Chasidic stereotypes and informally started, what would later become known as, Chabad in Cyberspace or He used those BBS networks to interact with thousands of Jewish techies and geeks who were similarly using the BBS to communicate with each other. He would field questions, he digitized articles & books and post them, sharing them as part of a Virtual Jewish Library. Over the next 10 years, until his untimely passing in 1998, he managed to form the core of the most successful Jewish presence on the Internet. In the 20 years since his passing has become the absolute industry leader of Jewish websites, receiving billions of hits on its network.

Why would a Rabbi get involved in this? What inspired him “to boldly go where no Rabbi has gone before?” Weren’t Chassidic Jews scared of technology? In connection with his 20th Yahrtzeit, his son, Rabbi Peretz Kazen of Chabad of Baton Rouge, will tell his father’s story and demonstrate the results of that vision from 1988.

On Monday night, the eve 19th of Kislev, join us for Judaism: The Final Frontier. A festive dinner will be served and musician Daniel Gale will offer a harmonious overture of Chassidic melodies. The event is sponsored by an anonymous sponsor as well as the Rivkin and Horowitz families in memory of their mothers, Mrs. Miriam Gordon and Mrs. Ruth Cohen, whose yahrtzeits are on Kislev 20. Let us know that you will be there for this special event – [email protected] or

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Happy Birthday Chabad of Louisiana

Yesterday’s Hebrew date, Kislev 7 was the “birthday” of Chabad of Louisiana. On that day in 1975 my parents, Rabbi Zelig & Bluma Rivkin, arrived, with 2 year old me and my one year old brother Yochanan in tow. Their goal was to be the Rebbe’s ambassadors to the city and region, in strengthening Judaism and Jewish commitment in any way possible.

How does a young family just show up in a place to which they have no familial association or any connection at all, and expect to be successful in establishing a Chabad presence that would have an impact on the community?

My parents were privileged to have several private audiences (called Yechidus) with the Rebbe in the years leading up to their move to New Orleans. During those meetings the Rebbe gave them guidance and direction with respect to their own lives as well as their responsibility to others. Among the things that my father shared with me was that the Rebbe assured them that “if you will make it bright and warm for others, then Hashem will bless you with brightness and warmth in your own lives.” This is the type of empowering blessings and guidance with which the Rebbe dispatched his Shluchim to locations all around the world.

At the last Yechidus meeting prior to their departure for New Orleans, my parents took the two of us along. Over the course of that brief encounter the Rebbe blessed my parents with success and gave them each some money for Tzedaka to take along on the trip. While I don’t recall this happening, my mother shared with us that the Rebbe then gave us two boys a dollar as well, declaring “these are my Shluchim to New Orleans.”

Interestingly, while my parents would go on to have several more children after moving to New Orleans, the only two that settled in New Orleans as adults are the two of us. (My sister Mushka came back to Louisiana, but in Baton Rouge.) Looking back that seemingly casual statement of the Rebbe turned out to be quite prescient.

So happy birthday Chabad of Louisiana. We have come a long way since that day in 1975. We have partnered with this amazing community to achieve a lot together. There is still more work to do and we are eager to continue until the coming of Moshiach very soon.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Powerful Prayers

The last seven days were very intense. Last weekend I was with 4,000 of my colleagues in NY for the annual Shluchim conference. Upon returning to New Orleans we quickly prepared for the amazing evening we had with Eva Schloss and and audience of 600 hundred strong on Tuesday night at the JCC. I would like to share a poignant experience from my time in NY.

One of the highlights of the Shluchim conference (aka Kinus) is presenting ourselves as a group at the Rebbe’s Ohel. We pray to Hashem, reading Psalms together. A letter of petition for blessing from the Rebbe is written on behalf of us all collectively and every Shliach signs it. It is then read publicly for of us to hear and placed near the Ohel as is traditional.

The letter is very comprehensive and addresses requests for blessings in any conceivable area of our lives both communal and individual. The 4,000 Shluchim live in every corner of the world and are truly responsible for the welfare of each Jew and the Jewish people as a whole wherever they may be.

This year the letter included a special mention of the assault against Jews in Pittsburgh along with a blessing for the safety of the Jewish people worldwide. As those words were being addressed to the Rebbe, with thousands of Rabbis from around the world listening raptly, I felt a potent sense of togetherness with all of the Jews who are in need of Hashem’s protection. There is power in this blessing from the Rebbe and there is power in this group who presented the petition for this blessing. May Hashem indeed hear our prayers for the safety of our people everywhere and for the safety of good people all over the world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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