The Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Pikesville began its Purim celebration by erecting several satircal displays with images, slogans and customs synonymous with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
News of the mocking displays prompted concern and outrage in the larger Chabad world, and they were reportedly taken down. According to COL Live, a Chabad community news site, students also went to the house of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, director of the Chabad Center and Lubavitch of Maryland, and delivered a letter of apology.
“As bochurim of Ner Yisroel, we want to express our desire for the achdus of klal yisroel [unity of the Jewish people],” read a copy of the letter, written in English and Hebrew, obtained by COL Live. “Like all matters of holiness, there’s always the danger of stumbling into the [opposite realm]. We were so sorry to see the [power of happiness] mischanneled … into disgusting [depravity]. We and others in yeshiva were not happy about the ‘Purim shtick’ that was done.”
Both Kaplan and Rabbi Motti Seligson of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, declined to comment on the matter. Several area Chabad rabbis referred questions to Kaplan.
While the Purim holiday is known for antics such as masquerades and parodic displays, some feel the spiel at Ner Israel crossed a line.
The displays included photographs of the late Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s spiritual leader, commonly referred to as “The Rebbe.” Along with his image were mock-ups of his burial ground and the “Chair of his Kingship,” a reference to the chair he used during services that has been preserved at the Chabad headquarters.
There was also a large prison cell with a banner that read “Thank You Prez Trump,” referring to the president’s recent pardon of promiment Chabad businessman Shalom Ruabashkin, former CEO of Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years in prison after being convicted of 86 counts of financial fraud and money laundering.
When asked to comment on the displays, Ner Israel Yeshiva president Rabbi Sheftel Neuberger would only say, before hanging up, that the displays were taken down after a couple hours.
Still, concern about the mockery lingers. Members of the Chabad community have expressed disappointment in Ner Israel, citing the elaborate detail in the displays, suggesting the spiels were organized, intentional and perhaps supervised by administrators.
The comments section of a March 1 report by COL Live features nearly 100 remarks from community members. While many express dissapproval, there are others who have accepted the apology of the students and are calling for unity and positivity.