The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson


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.


This is a book about Lubavitcher Hasidim and their leader, or Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Both the Rebbe and the Lubavitcher Hasidim became caught up in the belief that they were living in messianic times and that they could hasten the coming of the Messiah and the day of redemption through their own actions. That concern with the Messiah began with the fifth of their seven rebbes, Shalom DovBer Schneersohn (1860–1920). It was intensified in the thinking and deeds of his only son, Yosef Yitzchak (1880–1950), the sixth rebbe, who made these concerns public during the dark days of the Holocaust, and reached a climax with the seventh and most recent rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), son-in-law and cousin of his predecessor. This active messianism became in many ways a response to the extraordinary events of the last hundred and fifty years of Jewish history, including the ferment of European Jewish life and the erosion of the traditional world of Judaism through secularization, migration, socialist revolution, war, and Holocaust. All these, as well as the advent of Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel, along with the postSecond World War relocation of Jewry to Western democracies, convinced the seventh rebbe and the Lubavitchers that the scene was now irrevocably set for the coming of the Messiah. Under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, they saw themselves as being on a mission to transform Jewry—and indeed the world.

In time, not only would they and their rebbe be persuaded that their efforts would have a mystical effect on the world and shift the balance of reality from one in which people remained unredeemed to one in which they had prepared the world for redemption. in the course of their campaign to hasten the coming of the Messiah, they also became convinced that their rebbe was the redeemer incarnate. This book tells . . .

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