Fast-Growing Chabad Asks: Who Will Be Leader for Next Generation?

With Rebbe Gone, Transition Is Tricky at Influential Movement

Transition Time? Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky (left) and Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky (center) join Rabbi Abraham Berkowich in Mumbai, India, at a November 2009 memorial service for a Chabad family slain in a terrorist attack.
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Transition Time? Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky (left) and Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky (center) join Rabbi Abraham Berkowich in Mumbai, India, at a November 2009 memorial service for a Chabad family slain in a terrorist attack.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published May 28, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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Meanwhile, regional Chabad leaders have gained power, in some instances even distancing themselves publicly from the Crown Heights headquarters. In March, for example, Chabad in Russia publicly dissented from the international organization’s determination to pursue the recovery of the Rebbe’s library, currently held in Moscow, via a lawsuit in the United States.

Challenges have even come from within the central organization itself. In 2010, Kotlarsky and other members of the Merkos board took Krinsky to rabbinical court in a dispute over management of the organization. Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad.org, a subsidiary of the Merkos that handles media relations, would not comment on the rabbinical court proceedings.

“The purpose of having multiple people on the board is so that they represent various perspectives and, built into the system, is to seek periodic rabbinic input,” Seligson wrote in an email. “Needless to say, I cannot comment on or even confirm any specific deliberation of the board.”

Despite all this, Krinsky and Shemtov have largely kept the movement unified.

According to one source familiar with dynamics inside of Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, it’s hard to imagine someone like Kotlarsky, who was not picked by Schneerson, ever attaining the kind of broad leadership now held by Krinsky and Shemtov.

Yet some outside observers are sanguine. “I think they’ve done quite well with succession up until now,” said Jeffrey Gurock, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. “In general terms, these types of successions are difficult, but they’ve done well, and my expectation is they’ll work on this internally and it will work out.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathan-kazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis


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