The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson

by Samuel Heilman, Menachem Friedman

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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 Rebbe tracks 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.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400834273
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 05/10/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 406,840
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Samuel Heilman is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College and holds the Harold Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Menachem Friedman is professor emeritus of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
The Rebbes of ChaBaD? xiii
Preface xv
Chapter 1: Farbrengen: The Gathering of the Emissaries 1
Chapter 2: Death and Resurrection 29
Chapter 3: Coming of Age in a Time of Transition 65
Chapter 4: E ntering the Court of Lubavitch 90
Chapter 5: From Survival to Uforatzto 130
Chapter 6: On a Mission from the Rebbe in Life 163
Chapter 7: From Resurrection to Death: We Want Moshiach Now 197
Chapter 8: On a Mission from the Rebbe in His Afterlife 248
Glossary of Hasidic and Lubavitcher Terms 279
Notes 283
Index 331

What People are Saying About This

Ada Rapoport-Albert

This is a timely and important book. Authored by two highly reputable scholars, The Rebbe is likely to appeal to an eager and broad readership, academic and lay. It has few rivals.
Ada Rapoport-Albert, editor of "Hasidism Reappraised"


Brilliant, well-researched, and sure to be controversial, The Rebbe is the most important biography of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ever to appear. Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, two of the world's foremost sociologists of religion, have produced a landmark study of Chabad, religious messianism, and one of the greatest spiritual figures of the twentieth century.
Jonathan D. Sarna, author of "American Judaism: A History"


This book offers a deeply engaging and well-researched account of the rise to power of one of the most intriguing religious figures of the twentieth century, Jewish or otherwise. There are few subjects in the study of contemporary Judaism of greater interest or relevance than the messianic legacy of the Rebbe. This book will become the definitive study on the subject.
David N. Myers, author of "Between Jew and Arab"

Arthur Green

The Rebbe is a must-read book for anyone concerned with contemporary Jewry as well as for historians of religion. Heilman and Friedman have done a masterful job of combining impeccable scholarship with a great sense of the drama unfolding before them. They dispel myths and restore the Rebbe to the real world of humanity, doing so with sensitivity and warmth.
Arthur Green, author of "Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav"

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The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Reuvain More than 1 year ago
This book is deeply flawed. The authors use selected information to create a false portrait of their subject. The book has many failings. First it does not recognize the scholarship of the Rebbe, acknowledged as one of the Torah giants of the 20th century. The section on his life in Paris and Berlin is intriguing. The authors have created their own revisionist history that claims he was a student dabbling in modern culture unsure of his destiny. Personal testimony from many of that period paint a picture of the Rebbe engaged in Jewish learning while attending university, of an intimate friendship with the great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in Berlin, teaching Talmud in Paris. The authors choose to ignore the Reshimos, scholarly writings from that period discovered posthumously, that upset their theories. An analysis of all the facts would have shown that this period was reflective of the Rebbe's world view; that did not reject engagement with the broader culture, as others in the Orthodox world. He advocated interaction with modernity while retaining a fidelity to Torah. A difficult balance he personified. Sadly the authors create a new reality. The authors fail to document the Rebbe's intimate relationship with his father in the law-the previous Rebbe in Europe. His constant visits to him in Latvia & Poland and ongoing correspondence. Nor do they acknowledge the numerous missions the Rebbe undertook on his father in laws behalf, for instance to Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grozinsky in Vilna, and when he joined him in Vienna and other cities for communal meetings. They fail to recognize the Rebbes role in editing manuscripts and service as a secretary to the previous Rebbe during the thirties. A fact well known to historians. The Rebbe was one of the towering figures of 20th century Jewry. He changed the focus of Judaism to be inclusive and open to all. While the authors recognize this they attempt to psychoanalyze the Rebbe in an almost childish fashion. The authors fail disclose their own long terms bias. Heilman is a well known critic of traditional Orthodoxy. His book "Sliding to the Right" was heavily criticized for distortions of traditional Orthodoxy. Menachem Friedman testified against Chabad in the infamous Book Case, siding with Barry Gurary who stole ancient manuscripts for personal profit. A quality biography of the Rebbe is needed. This volumes shoddy scholarship relies on secondary sources. A true work of research that takes into consideration the primary sources, exploring the Rebbe's life, his remarkable scholarship, and broad impact on modern Judaism would be enriching to the public. Heilman and Friedman have created a book that is strictly minor league.
Chatzkel More than 1 year ago
If one would like to get real, info on the life of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson while living in Paris and Berlin, instead of inventing it out of thin air - as the authors seem to do in parts of this book - listen to those who were there with him!
CantorEsq More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book. Anyone who tries to dismiss it as unimportant or accuse the authors of shoddy scholarship either has an agenda or does not appreciate this book. Indeed the book's main thrusts, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe assumed the mantle of leadership not so much because he was groomed for it his whole life, but rather because it was thrust upon him by the viscitudes of the tumtuluous period in which he lived, and that as his influence in the Jewish community and the world at large grew, he in fact became more and more isolated from the community to the point that he fell victim to the messianism he fostered and ultimately came to accept the mantle of the "Messiah," rendering himself a mockery of the concept of "Messiah," are controversial indeed. Lubavitchers would have good reason to both reject this piece of scholarship and try to supress it. But this book is a source of fear and concern not only to Lubavitchers. It has serious implications for the entirety of Chareidi Judaism, and demonstrates the danger of unbridled hero worship. Whither goes Chabad could go the entire enterprise of "Da'as Torah." And that should make every Orthodox Jew stop and think about the nature of Jewish belief. More than throw a stone into the glass house of the Rebbe's messiahship, this book commits another grave sin; it renders the Rebbe a human being, replete with strengths, talents, ambition, weaknesses and even the possible character flaw. The book's recounting the internal struggle with Shmaryahu Gourary over the leadership of Chabad, that in fact R. Menachem Mendel was NOT the family favorite is informative and enlightening. The Rebbe's reaction to his mother in law's refusal to turn over the previous rebbes shtreimel, the crown jewels, if one will, demonstrates the way the Rebbe dealt with obstacles in the way of his agenda; he circumvented them even at the expense of custom and the honor of important players on the scene. It's mention of the toll his becoming Rebbe, first to a small group of chassidim and later to the world at large, took on his marriage is a vivid reminder of the costs of success; failure somewhere else. The most important part of this book to me at least is the universal message that great people become great, not because they are Divinely elected to greatness. Rather they become great as a result of hard work, a measure of conniving and manipulation perhaps, and happenstance. They overcome their weaknesses and frailties and rise to the top as a result of their labors. Such a man was R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He was a truly great man, a leader to masses of Jews. Jewish tradition tells us that great men are judged for violations as small as a hairsbreadth. The book addresses that. Like a Greek tragic hero, the Rebbe's greatest strength, his self confidence and ambition to save the world, proved his ultimate historical downfall. He was so cocksure that he and he alone could bring the redemption, that his legacy just might be a mockery of the messianism in which he so fervently believed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For an account of the life of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson while in university in Berlin and Paris - by people who were actually there with him at the time, see this link:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While a little too much like reading a newspaper article it is an excellent overview. It is somewhat superficial s it reports events but doesn't give any real indights into the Rebbe's thinking. If you read it along with other books on the subject it will give you a good picture of a great and rightious men.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago