Let me state right here, at the outset, that I am in no way anti-religious, anti-semitic, or anti-tradition. I also have no quarrel with the Chabad organization, it’s practices or motivations. It’s just that it has, through its ingenious marketing, claimed my attention.
I think that, to some extent, religion has always involved an element of marketing. I happen to be looking at religion and marketing from a Jewish perspective for the simple reason that I am Jewish. Had I been born Christian I may well have been discussing the growth of charismatic mega-churches. Or, if I were born a Hindu or Buddhist, I may have been discussing the popularization and re-packaging of all manner of eastern religions.
My first exposure to Chabad was when I went to visit a service provider in order to discuss additions to our bespoke software. It was, if a remember correctly, on a Friday morning. After the discussions I was asked if I would like to put on Teffilin. I think it was mentioned that it would be a Mitzvah – both for me and for the person facilitating the ritual. I may have been swayed by the offer of a post mitzvah whiskey.
Well, being somewhat fond of whiskey and in no way averse to Mitzvahs (good deeds) I said, after a moment’s confusions caused by the incongruity of the event, OK sure, why not. It was some months after this that I began noticing billboards around Johannesburg advertising ‘Tefillin Power’.
I just have one question. Who would choose to engage in a somewhat lengthy religious practice on the basis of an advert? Actually I have another question – what, in G-d’s name – would the Goyim (non-jews) make of it all.
Anyway – moving swiftly on from Whisky to Marijuana – a few weeks ago a Chabad ‘marketer’ arrived at our office to facilitate the above mentioned mitzvah en masse as it were. We were enthusiastically encouraged by our quite persuasive boss to participate. The Chabadnik looked quite hippyish – probably due to the beard and the glow of spiritual high – and my eyes were drawn, as they are want to do, to the large roll of Rizlas placed with strategic nonchalance on the table next to the Tefillin bag. (See picture above)
Would I be offered a joint after putting on the Teffilin and saying the Shema?
Unfortunately I had, in my eagerness, let my eyes deceive me. They were a special type of Rilzla – Rabbi Rizlas – and were issued, not by the local 7 Eleven but by the Chabad anti addiction division.
I felt suitably embarrassed and wished I hadn’t said ‘cool’ quite so enthusiastically (and aloud).
Anyway – it gets my Most Effective Religious Marketing Award.
So, Billy Graham, put that in your pipe and smoke it 🙂