From his opinion article in the Times (The Power of a Deed: Remembering Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson), I can tell that Shmully Hecht adores the Rebbe of Lubavitch. But that does not give him license to mislead the public about the nature of his movement. After all, the Times is the paper of record. Not the paper of misrepresentations.
Here are a few points that Hecht gets wrong.
"....the Rebbe — who for decades was the charismatic leader of millions of Jews." Oops, not true. According to Wikipedia, based on actual statistics, "The movement is thought to number between 40,000 to 200,000 adherents." Well you could argue that indeed, "...up to one million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year." And if a Jew who goes to a Chabad service is then a "follower" of "the charismatic leader..." well what more can we say? But wait! The number still stops at a million, not at "millions." Hey, you know with those cute beards and funny hats, who wants to pick nits over millions here or there?
So then we move on to the Hecht caveats: "But to many assimilated Jews, someone like Rabbi Schneerson, with his traditional black coat and white beard, can only be a symbol of an abandoned world. He appears as an archaic and mysterious figure that reminds them of their great-grandparents in the shtetls of Europe. His followers, the Lubavitchers, the largest Jewish outreach organization in the world, might make them angry or uncomfortable."
Let me assure Rabbi Hecht that I am not "angry or uncomfortable" about members of his movement because of their "archaic" dress or "mysterious" sartorial practices. Straw man, go away, that's all I can say. I know the uniform is their shtick. It reminds me of nothing else.
Let's get to the Hecht, "close reading of Rabbi Schneerson" because it is "important". "He stood for the acceptance of all individuals, a belief in the importance of the individual act, and in the value of bringing together people of different faiths." "Acceptance"? Don't know in what way Hecht means. Makes no sense. "Importance of the individual act"? Vague and meaningless! And "bringing together people of different faiths"? Baseball games do that! I never heard the Rebbe was an ecumenist. Ever.
"Today Chabad operates schools, synagogues, orphanages, summer camps, soup kitchens and drug rehabilitation centers in more than 80 countries." Overstatement alert.
"Those institutions serve the needs of people from every racial, religious and social background." Exaggeration alert.
"The rebbe never swapped a sermon for a sandwich, nor did he seek conformity among his constituents." Untruth alert - he most certainly did demand conformity.
"In a departure from leaders and organizations that often prey on the emotional and social vulnerabilities of the public, Rabbi Schneerson always pursued a genuine dialogue with others." Rebbe not known to me or anyone I know for his "genuine dialogue".
"He sought partners, not followers. In our new world of absolute transparency, religious movements will thrive only to the extent that their particular message seeks to unite humanity, not divide it." Nice sentiment. Sure -- he wanted to convert everyone to Chabad and unite them under his rule.
The main problem I have with this article and with the state of Chabad today is that they are not adhering to their own Hasidic principles! A Hasidic community needs a Rabbe. That is the definition of Hasidism. Not a dead Rebbe. A live Rebbe. But Chabad has refused to elect a new Rebbe for twenty years.
A dead person is not a leader and is no longer charismatic. Chabad needs a new live Rebbe. And it needs to reign in its spokesmen and have them adhere to fact and not spew forth misleading encomia of virtues.
Finally, I gotta admit that the beards and hats are really good shtick.