The mystery of New York’s synagogue tunnels

I’ve no idea how kosher UnHerd is, so to speak, but I posted this out of interest because it’s pretty weird. And anything about Chabad that hits the mainstream is curious. Normally they stay in the shadows

“The week’s strangest story, in a 2024 already off to a weird start, must surely be the Brooklyn Hasidic Tunnel. This secret, illegal tunnel was discovered under the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish community at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY. It’s not confirmed when it was dug, or why, though some reports suggest it leads to a currently unused men’s mikveh.

Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesperson for Chabad, called the tunnel a rogue act by “extremists”. Defenders, on the other hand, argued that the synagogue had long been overcrowded, and the tunnel simply represented the community’s young men taking the initiative on expansion. In any case, on Tuesday, footage was published online of a riot at the Chabad synagogue, as police officers closed off the building and a cement truck arrived to seal the tunnel. 12 have since been arrested. The scenes spread rapidly online, producing an efflorescence of memes: some surreal, many virulently antisemitic, and others linking to existing conspiracy theories.

The mysterious and self-contained nature of orthodox Jewish communities has long made them a target for such fabrications — a tendency stretching all the way back to medieval blood libels, such as the 1475 case of Simon of Trent. The Brooklyn tunnel slotted neatly into such lore: footage of objects including what appeared to be a bloodstained mattress being removed from the tunnels encouraged a frenzy of speculation. Some even linked it back to existing rumours such as the debunked tale of malnourished children rescued from tunnels under Central Park by the US Military in 2020.

I have no way of knowing what actually happened at the synagogue, and no desire to add to the speculation. But while there’s no reason to believe the rumours, slurs, and smears now circulating, the little we do know is strange enough without embellishment.

The building at 770 Eastern Parkway is the centre of a global network of “Chabad Houses”, founded by and linked to the charismatic rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who — until his death in 1994 — viewed himself as the leader of world Jewry. During his life many followers believed him to be the Messiah, and AP reports that some still think so, or even believe Schneerson is still living.

And both this apocalyptic turn among Chabad followers, and the speculation prompted by its discovery, together underline what I’ve described as the real and already well-established re-enchantment of the world. That is, the bleeding back into everyday life of the uncanny, occult, and mysterious, through the cracks in our supposedly rationalistic and mechanistic modern life.

The strangeness of the Brooklyn Chabad story, that is, rests not in the fuel it provides to an existing memeplex of often antisemitic conspiracies. Rather, it’s in how the report abruptly lifted the lid on a community — in one of the most modern, high-tech cities on the planet —for whom the rationalistic, pluralistic values that officially sustain that civilisation seem to have been largely irrelevant, in comparison to their self-contained, profoundly religious outlook.

After all, the Chabad community, (possibly undead) Messiah and all, flourished at the heart of Brooklyn. This fact only came to seem remarkable when some of its young men got a bit too headstrong about expanding. And the conspiratorial internet response to these revelations has been in its own way just as self-contained and religious. This all invites the question: how much of the rest of supposedly rational modernity now exists only as a veneer overlaying a competing upswelling of religious zealotries, both ancient or modern? Even leaving aside the internet rumour-mill, that on its own is a perspective-altering prospect.”




One Response to “The mystery of New York’s synagogue tunnels”

  1. Belyi says:

    The article doesn’t mention the strollers, high chairs and small mattresses stained with body fluids that have been found.

    That is more pertinent to me than anything else in this sinister story.