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Posted May 17, 2010
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!
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Posted May 12, 2010
A Distortion of Reality
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.
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Posted March 4, 2010
The Rebbe in Berlin & Paris
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:
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Posted July 13, 2010
A most significant work
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.
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Posted June 29, 2010
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