This following was written by Rabbi Shea Hecht, a veteran community activist whose expertise centers on family crisis intervention, at-risk youth, drugs and cults counselor. It was written around 3 months ago in response to a question by a yeshiva bochur. At Rabbi Hecht’s request, we are posting it following the conversation with the founder of the Call of the Shofar. The organization has since deleted some of the references on their website which is reflected in the letter.
28th of Tishrei, 5774
Let me begin by commenting that I admire your persistence. Many have come to me with the same question you have, but you followed through and pushed me to take a stand.
I would like to remind you of my background. For ten years of my life, I was a full-time cult deprogrammer. I spent my time getting young Jewish people out of cults. I researched cults, chased down young people involved in cults and did both voluntary and involuntary deprogrammings.
Throughout the years I was involved in the field, I met with hundreds of cult members from tens of different cults. I wish I could say that I was always successful, but of course I can’t say that. At the very least, I hope that I provided inspiration and hope to those I met. I personally would attend casual meetings of cult members and I was also involved with individuals who infiltrated the cults. I often worked together with other cult deprogrammers and have actually met with some cult leaders as well.
To my knowledge I am the foremost expert on cults in Chabad today, and I have extensive experience in dealing with mind-controlling cults. In fact, my 1985 book, Confessions of a Jewish Cultbuster, was recently revised and reprinted.
One of the lessons of my book is that ANYONE CAN BE BRAINWASHED INTO A CULT.
You ask my opinion on “The Call of the Shofar.” I personally attended one of their meetings and I met with a number of young men and women who were involved and attended seminars led by The Call of the Shofar. I also spent time researching them on their website.
I will begin by saying that I believe that the Call of the Shofar is a cult. Having said that, I stress that it is possible to have a pareve cult which has intrinsic value.
Why then do I use the word cult? The reason I use that word is to address the fact that they use mind-controlling techniques. One technique typically used by such cults, which is employed by the Call of the Shofar as well, is keeping a person completely isolated from the outside world. For example, taking away a person’s watch, making a person close his phone and limiting his conversation with others.
If it was simply knowledge that they were sharing with you, they would not need to put you into a mind-altered state in order to accomplish this. One frame of reference I use is a documentary film produced in Toronto over thirty years ago called Captive Minds. This 56 minute film studies the mind-controlling such groups use.
It is important to note that when the Rebbe spoke about meditation (at a Farbrengen on 13 Tammuz 1979), he used words such as “avoda zara,” “avazrayu d’avoda zara” (accessories to idol worship), “cults” and “gurus.”
From my understanding, although the Rebbe clearly stated that there is a potential benefit to some from meditation, the Rebbe was clear that it should be looked upon as medicine for someone suffering from an illness, and just like medicine can harm one who is not sick, so too can such methods harm those who are healthy.
The Rebbe pointed out that if someone wanted to reap the benefits of meditation that are used in these cults, it should only be medical professionals who seek to do that. In fact, prior to the above-mentioned farbrengen, the Rebbe wrote a letter to four different doctors, including Dr. Yehuda Landes of San Francisco, CA and Dr. Jeffrey Applebaum of Queens, NY, and asked these doctors to look into how the benefits of meditation can be separated from the aspects of avoda zara.
Again, I cannot stress strongly enough, that even if it is “klipas noga,” as in the case the Rebbe was addressing, it is only to be used for the sick and will harm the healthy.
Some are claiming that going to the Call of the Shofar has changed their lives forever. It is a known fact that these self-help cults only provide people with short-lived relief from their issues.
When you visit the website of the Call of the Shofar, the sources listed by R’ Simcha Frischling himself are tied in with avoda zara and “avazrayu d’avoda zara.”
I want to stress that while I have been told that R’ Simcha and his staff are wonderful humanbeings, let’s remember that all of his sources for the material he teaches are from sources that are classified as cults or at least “avazrayu d’avoda zara.” Therefore we must be fully aware that not everyone is qualified to extract the kosher benefits.
On a personal note, the Call of the Shofar has bothered me from the start. In addition to the above-mentioned issues, the fact that they run their seminars over Shabbos bothers me. Shabbos should be spent on learning and davening and is not the time for therapy and seminars, even for healing purposes.
In summary, my opinion is based on the words of the Rebbe in the above-mentioned sicha and in a letter written to Rabbi Yaacov Landau of Bnei Brak on the 25th of Tamuz, 1977. (The Rebbe’s sicha in audio or text).
The fact that the Rebbe uses such strong language of avoda zara and “avazrayu d’avoda zara” illustrates the severity of the issue at hand. At best, unless a person is ill, it is certainly problematic to go to the Call of the Shofar. As chassidim, all we have are the words of our Rebbe and the words of our Rebbe are emphatic and clear. At best it can be used as medicine and medicine is only for the sick.
Wishing you much success in all your endeavors, and I hope that my answers have clarified the matter for you. If you or anyone else has any further questions on this matter, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or to call my office at 718-735-0213.