Skip To Content

Beijing’s Chabad Rabbi Helps China See the Light

On my flight from Newark to Beijing a few weeks ago, I noticed a young Hasidic man davening in tefillin. The plane was almost completely packed with Chinese, who must have had no clue what he was doing bowing while wrapped in leather. As one of the few other Jews on the flight, I approached him at baggage claim to ask him the halacha on davening when flying through different time zones, especially when it was daylight the entire trip (which happens when flying over the North Pole). He told me that, in fact, one doesn’t have to wrap tefillin, but he wanted to anyway, just to be sure he fulfilled the mitzvah.

He also told me he was the brother-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, the Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in Beijing and official Olympic rabbi, and that he had a number of Jewish prayer books and Bibles bound for the Lubavitch outpost. Freundlich, he said, had procured the necessary permits for him to bring them into China — which generally forbids the import of sacred texts from abroad — and was waiting for him past the customs area with some local officials.

Ha’aretz has a fascinating piece today about the Olympic obstacle course Freundlich has faced in the lead-up to and during the games. Some of the highlights include:

“The Chinese knew that according to Olympics bylaws they are required to provide a synagogue and kosher food, and they knew there would be a rabbi, but since Judaism is not one of the religions recognized by the Chinese, they didn’t really know how to operate,” Freundlich said.

“Only after I made it clear to them that I understood my appointment was not an official government appointment did the Chinese agree to meet with me,” he added.

When Freundlich wanted to bake challah for Shabbat, the organizing committee deviated from its stringent rules and allowed him to bring in food. The Chinese sent supervisors to accompany him while he baked. They photographed every step of the process. They took samples to be tested in a lab, and had the rabbi sign an affidavit attesting to the hygiene of the baking process.

In my conversations with Freundlich, he has stressed repeatedly how accommodating the Chinese authorities have been toward the Jewish community in recent years and during the Olympics. Evangelicals, meanwhile, are not having as much success here in Beijing.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover.

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we still need 300 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Only 300 more gifts needed by April 30

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.