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Hasidism and “Spiritual Neocolonialism”: Chabad’s Role in Building Noahide Communities in the Global South

Sun, December 18, 10:00 to 11:30am, Sheraton Boston Hampton 3rd Floor (AV)


Today Noahides exist on nearly every continent, with the largest and most rapidly growing communities located in the post-colonies of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, locations where conversion to Orthodox Judaism is difficult if not impossible due to both geographic and financial obstacles. These spatial and economic dynamics have helped to channel individuals exiting Christianity, often unable to access Orthodox communities in person, into a particular zone of rabbinic authority online. Largely due their early embrace of internet technologies, Chabad has become a global leader in the creation of digital resources for ex-Christians, helping them to develop a new faith identity based on the ancient Talmudic category of Bnei Noah (The Children of Noah). Chabad rabbis involved in this work believe that the mass “return” of gentiles to the Noahide faith will help to usher in messianic times. On the one hand, the growth of global Noahidism illustrates how digital technologies democratize Judaism by enabling non-Jews to explore Jewish teachings and access rabbinic mentorship. Yet, digital spiritual exploration cannot be divorced from localized conditions, forms of racial and economic discrimination, and post-colonial dynamics. In this article, I will consider Chabad’s role in building Noahide communities in the Global South as a particular form of spiritual neocolonialism, examining both the racialized elements of Chabad’s particular Noahide theology, as well as the structural inequalities between Noahide spiritual seekers and their newfound rabbinic mentors.