Are you Jewish? Even if not, Chabad may still be interested in you these days.
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The Hasidic outreach movement, known for stopping unaffiliated Jews in the streets and trying to turn them onto Judaism, is casting its sights on an entirely new population this week of Hanukkah: Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Missionary activities are strongly discouraged by Judaism, so Chabad, the largest Jewish religious organization in the world, isn’t trying to convert these non-Jews; rather, it wants to encourage them to embrace what are known as the Seven Laws of Noah, which, according to the Talmud, apply to all of humankind.
“With all the stabbings going on in recent months, we thought this would be an opportunity to remind the Arab population about our shared universal values and especially the prohibition against murder,” said Boaz Kali, executive director of 7for70, a non-profit run by Chabad that encourages non-Jews around the world to embrace the following commandments: 1. Establish courts; 2. No blasphemy; 3. No idolatry; 4. No bloodshed; 5. No lechery; 6. No robbery; and 7. No eating limbs from living creatures.
As part of this new campaign, said Kali, Chabad activists have plastered dozens of billboard signs around Arab towns and villages, including Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. The Arabic-language signs feature a photo of the deceased leader of the movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher rebbe. In addition, said Kali, the organization has distributed roughly 2,000 flyers in Arab towns and villages.
Traditionally, at this time of year, convoys of Chabad “mitzvah tanks” travel to locations around the country to hold candle-lighting ceremonies and distribute “sufganiyot” – the jam-stuffed fried doughnuts typically eaten in Israel during this winter holiday. This year, as part of the new campaign, the mitzvah tanks havealso stopped in the Arab towns of Nazareth, Sakhnin, Kafr Qasem, Tira, I’Billin and in the mixed Arab-Jewish towns of Acre and Lod. The vehicles entering these locations have explanations of the Seven Laws of Moses written on them.
On Thursday evening, the mitzvah tanks were scheduled to stop in several Palestinian villages near the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements and in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem – areas that have been at the center of much of the recent violence.
Kali said a similar initiative was carried out about 10 years ago during the height of the suicide bombings in the second intifada. This is the first time, though, that Chabad has put mixed Jewish-Arab cities and Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods on its map, he noted.
“Hanukkah was a good time of year to do this because of its symbolism as the festival of light, and spreading the light is the recipe for global peace,” said Kali.
On the whole, he said, the Chabad initiative had drawn positive responses in the Arab towns and villages. “As far as I know, only in one case, in the town of Sakhnin, was there some hostility to our campaign,” said Kali.
Chabad has for many years been active in trying to persuade non-Jews around the world to embrace the Seven Laws of Noah.