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Moshe Hellinger and Tsuriel Rashi

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Tsuriel Rashi and Maxwell McCombs

Theoretically grounded in agenda setting, a theory focused on the transfer of influence from communication media to a public, this paper examines the media activity of Chabad, an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement that is committed both to making Judaism generally accessible and to influencing public discourse. Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, the movement’s late wise and charismatic leader, undertook this dual mission in light of his conception of the theological grounds for the exploitation of mass media. Our examination of Chabad’s agenda-setting communication strategy was guided by two research questions:

  1. What is the range of communication media used by Chabad in an effort to achieve its goal?

  2. What evidence is there regarding the agenda-setting success of these communication efforts?

Although it is obviously difficult to judge the precise degree of success, it is clear that Chabad is involved in a wide range of media and public activity and has already influenced public discourse well beyond the range of the movement itself and of the Jewish religion. The answer to the two questions above will help us understand the various movements that try to influence the agenda on religious grounds, so that we can determine the interface between religion and setting the agenda. It may also assist the efforts of other religious groups that want to influence the media and the political agenda.