The Rebbe

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The Rebbe
    Book Description:

    From the 1950s until his death in 1994, Menachem Mendel Schneerson--revered by his followers worldwide simply as the Rebbe--built the Lubavitcher movement from a relatively small sect within Hasidic Judaism into the powerful force in Jewish life that it is today. Swept away by his expectation that the Messiah was coming, he came to believe that he could deny death and change history.

    Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman paint an unforgettable portrait of Schneerson, showing how he reinvented himself from an aspiring French-trained electrical engineer into a charismatic leader who believed that he and his Lubavitcher Hasidic emissaries could transform the world. They reveal how his messianic convictions ripened and how he attempted to bring the ancient idea of a day of redemption onto the modern world's agenda. Heilman and Friedman also trace what happened after the Rebbe's death, by which time many of his followers had come to think of him as the Messiah himself.

    The Rebbetracks Schneerson's remarkable life from his birth in Russia, to his student days in Berlin and Paris, to his rise to global renown in New York, where he developed and preached his powerful spiritual message from the group's gothic mansion in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This compelling book demonstrates how Schneerson's embrace of traditionalism and American-style modernity made him uniquely suited to his messianic mission.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3427-3
    Subjects: History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    (pp. 1-28)

    They came as always in November from all the outposts of Lubavitcher Hasidic outreach throughout the globe for this annual reunion of the Rebbe’s emissaries, orshluchim, as they had come to be called.¹ Thekinus shluchimwas the gathering that brought them “home” to Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Signs in the neighborhood, and even on some of the municipal bus shelters that normally carry commercial advertising, welcomed them in Hebrew and English. More than usual, the streets were filled with men in black snap brim fedoras and untamed beards, the trademark look of the group. Local residents, many of...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Death and Resurrection
    (pp. 29-64)

    Sabbath morning, January 28, 1950, yud (the 10th) of Shvat, 5710, by the Hebrew calendar. At a time when most of his Hasidim would have been going to the synagogue to pray on this holiest day of the Jewish week, Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn lay in his bed in his Brooklyn home at 770 eastern Parkway. yosef yitzchak, the sixty-nine-year-old rebbe of the Lubavitcher community, had made 770 his home for most of the previous ten years, since his arrival in the united States.* His oldest daughter, Chana Gourary, who lived on the third floor, had gone downstairs to the synagogue...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Coming of Age in a Time of Transition
    (pp. 65-89)

    The life story of a Hasidic rebbe is often shrouded in hagiography. To believers it cannot be that the man who stands between them and God could have had a life like any other. Even that which seems prosaic is understood as appearing so only to the uninitiated, and therefore things can never be what they seem. For believers, beneath the surface reality there is to be found a deeper truth. Only one who has the key can thus unlock the whole truth, and that key is possessed only by those who are truly Hasidim. This view seems to be...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Entering the Court of Lubavitch
    (pp. 90-129)

    The marriage of the daughter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe was far more than a personal family event. This was particularly the case for a rebbe who had increasingly been raising his profile as a world Jewish leader. When his oldest daughter, in a match made at the request of the fifth rebbe, had been married to Shmaryahu Gourary, whom his new father-in-law described as “a dear young man, learned and knowing much of Hasidism,” on June 17, 1920, Yosef Yitzchak was still in mourning for his father, who had passed away on March 21.¹ His economic situation and that of...

  10. CHAPTER 5 From Survival to Uforatzto
    (pp. 130-162)

    The Nazi conquest of Europe, and in particular the Nazis’ arrival in the locales where the family of Yosef Yitzchak and the court of Lubavitch had settled, threw the world in which they lived into extraordinary turmoil. Because they had found themselves in Poland as the Germans approached, the Rebbe, the Gourarys, and the Horensztajns, as well as the Hasidim who made up the court, had been put in especially perilous circumstances, worse than any they had ever experienced. Indeed, when at last, in March 1940, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was saved from the murderous brutality of the Nazis and brought...

  11. [Plates]
    (pp. None)
  12. CHAPTER 6 On a Mission from the Rebbe in Life
    (pp. 163-196)

    At first, Menachem Mendel Schneerson appeared to the general public mostly as a dynamic but largely parochial leader. When news of his activities occasionally reached the general press (commonly buried in the local New York section) and hence the population at large, it mainly focused on celebrations of the Lubavitcher festivals—the commemoration of a former rebbe’s release from imprisonment or the celebration of ayarzheit.¹ In America in the 1950s, the activities of Hasidim and their leaders were not of concern to very many people outside the boundaries of Jewish Orthodoxy. Here, as indeed in the new state of...

  13. CHAPTER 7 From Resurrection to Death: WE WANT MOSHIACH NOW
    (pp. 197-247)

    As the Rebbe’s campaign succeeded far beyond anything his father-in-law ever managed, his reputation throughout the world grew. Every success hisshluchimregistered was a reminder of him and his message as well as a measure of his own success. This ability to bring Lubavitch, its message, and its various campaigns to the world stage not only gave him confidence, it convinced him that the currents of history were leading toward the fulfillment of the promise that the Messiah would come in his generation. Increasingly, he was so caught up by this idea that his wife on more than one...

  14. CHAPTER 8 On a Mission from the Rebbe in His Afterlife
    (pp. 248-278)

    In the immediate days and months following the Rebbe’s passing on Gimmel Tammuz, as had happened after the stroke, his Hasidim continued to be divided mostly into those who tried to adapt to the new conditions and those who with perhaps a forced enthusiasm sought to reaffirm his mission and prophecies. In general, the latter came to be known as the “meshikhistn” (messianists), hard-core believers in the messianic message and that their Rebbe remained the Messiah despite his physical demise, while the former were inaccurately termed the “non-meshikhistn.” We say “inaccurately” because they still accepted the prime directive of their...

  15. GLOSSARY Hasidic, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Lubavitcher Terms
    (pp. 279-282)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 283-330)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 331-343)