The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson

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Overview

"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" "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" "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" "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" "From the 1950s until his death in 1994, Menachem Mendel Scheneerson---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 expection that the Messiah was coming, he cameto beleive that he could deny death and change history." "Samuel Heilman and Menachem Fried Man Paint an unforgettable portrait of Schnerrson, showing how he reinvented himself from an aspiring French-traned 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 the attempted to bring the ancient idea of a day of redemption onto the modern world's agenda: Heiman 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 groups gothic mansion in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This compelling book demonstrates how Schneersons embrace of traditionalism and American style modernity made him uniquely suited to his messianic mission.

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Editorial Reviews

Forward
Lively and provocative. . . . [An] eye-opening account of the Rebbe's 'life and afterlife.' . . . [T]he best analytical study of the two major themes that it addresses: A critical and often boldly psychological biography of Schneerson is prefaced and supplemented by two chapters devoted to a sociological analysis of the beliefs and behaviors of his Hasidim, especially after the death of the man they were—and most still are—convinced was the Messiah.
— Allan Nadler
Washington Times
[A] superb new biography. . . . Mr. Heilman and Mr. Friedman are the perfect guides to tell this story. Their book is a model of meticulous research and balanced, wise assessments. . . . The authors tell a riveting tale. No better account of this amazing saga of faith, hope, triumph and delusional madness can be imagined. To enjoy this book and learn its profound lessons, you don't have to be Jewish.
— Martin Sieff
New York Jewish Week
The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman fills a considerable void in the biography of one of the towering religious figures of the 20th century. . . . I am grateful to the authors for a profoundly human biography that will hopefully spur a whole new literature on the rebbe as man rather than angel and as person rather than saint.
— Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
New York Sun
[A]n important biography. . . . This is as full and reliable an account of the life of this towering spiritual leader as we are likely to get.
— Saul Rosenberg
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
When Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, the two most distinguished sociologists of contemporary Orthodox Judaism set out to write this book, I was green with envy. They would combine their considerable talents and learning to bear on arguably the most fascinating, perhaps even the most successful, late 20th century Jewish religious leader. . . . They have done an admirable job.
— Michael Berenbaum
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Sixteen years after the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a flurry of new publications indicates not only how enduring the interest is in his life and legacy, but how potent the minefield is surrounding his mythology. . . . The Heilman-Friedman book is generating the most controversy. Written for a lay audience, it frames Schneerson's mission, and that of the Chabad movement he led, as motivated by Messianism, here defined as the attempt to hasten the Messianic era through human actions.
— Sue Fishkoff
Jewish Herald-Voice
[T]his book will serve as the most outstanding work in print on the Rebbe's life, his influence and his afterlife.
— Aaron Howard
Indianapolis Post & Opinion
[T]he extraordinary biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe executed by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, two sociologists who have cooperated in an exacting study of one of the most important religious figures of the 20th century. . . . They deploy this approach in a narrative that is extraordinarily smooth in its literary style and transforms what could have been a dry and jargon-ridden sociological foray into a highly readable and occasionally even gripping exploration of the inner workings and theological complications that have animated the Lubavitcher 'empire' in the recent past.
— Arnold Ages
Library Journal
In this exemplary work, we are treated to a well-written, well-documented history of the rise, life, death, and "afterlife" of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–94), the seventh—and last larger-than-life—leader (or "rebbe") of ChaBaD Lubavitcher Hasidism. Heilman (sociology, Queens Coll., & Jewish studies, Graduate Ctr., CUNY; Sliding to the Right: The Contest for the Future of American Jewish Orthodoxy) and Friedman (sociology, emeritus, Bar-Ilan Univ., Israel; Society and Religion: Non-Zionist Orthodoxy in Palestine) follow the ascent of Schneerson in the context of ChaBaD history, starting with the first rebbe and founder of the group, Schneur Zalman of Lyady (1745–1812). Schneerson's tenure, from 1951 to his death, is examined in detail, taking into account the politics of transition and the Lubavitcher Court; the philosophies and missions of the rebbe in the context of our postwar understandings of the Holocaust and messianism; and Schneerson's magnetic personality, which drew a sizable following in the last half-century. The authors are sensitive to and discerning of Lubavitcher Hasidism and the claims that Schneerson is the Messiah; their book is more sociological and dispassionate, a welcome counterbalance to Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch's controversial two-volume biography from the 1990s. VERDICT An outstanding book, strongly recommended for all interested in studying Schneerson and his beliefs. It is hoped that repetitive text will have been cleaned up in the finished edition; with a Yiddish glossary.—Anthony J. Elia, JKM Lib., Chicago
Forward
Lively and provocative. . . . [An] eye-opening account of the Rebbe's 'life and afterlife.' . . . [T]he best analytical study of the two major themes that it addresses: A critical and often boldly psychological biography of Schneerson is prefaced and supplemented by two chapters devoted to a sociological analysis of the beliefs and behaviors of his Hasidim, especially after the death of the man they were—and most still are—convinced was the Messiah.
— Allan Nadler
Jewish Herald-Voice
[T]his book will serve as the most outstanding work in print on the Rebbe's life, his influence and his afterlife.
— Aaron Howard
New York Sun
[A]n important biography. . . . This is as full and reliable an account of the life of this towering spiritual leader as we are likely to get.
— Saul Rosenberg
Indianapolis Post & Opinion
[T]he extraordinary biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe executed by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, two sociologists who have cooperated in an exacting study of one of the most important religious figures of the 20th century. . . . They deploy this approach in a narrative that is extraordinarily smooth in its literary style and transforms what could have been a dry and jargon-ridden sociological foray into a highly readable and occasionally even gripping exploration of the inner workings and theological complications that have animated the Lubavitcher 'empire' in the recent past.
— Arnold Ages
New York Jewish Week
The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman fills a considerable void in the biography of one of the towering religious figures of the 20th century. . . . I am grateful to the authors for a profoundly human biography that will hopefully spur a whole new literature on the rebbe as man rather than angel and as person rather than saint.
— Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Sixteen years after the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a flurry of new publications indicates not only how enduring the interest is in his life and legacy, but how potent the minefield is surrounding his mythology. . . . The Heilman-Friedman book is generating the most controversy. Written for a lay audience, it frames Schneerson's mission, and that of the Chabad movement he led, as motivated by Messianism, here defined as the attempt to hasten the Messianic era through human actions.
— Sue Fishkoff
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
When Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, the two most distinguished sociologists of contemporary Orthodox Judaism set out to write this book, I was green with envy. They would combine their considerable talents and learning to bear on arguably the most fascinating, perhaps even the most successful, late 20th century Jewish religious leader. . . . They have done an admirable job.
— Michael Berenbaum
Washington Times
[A] superb new biography. . . . Mr. Heilman and Mr. Friedman are the perfect guides to tell this story. Their book is a model of meticulous research and balanced, wise assessments. . . . The authors tell a riveting tale. No better account of this amazing saga of faith, hope, triumph and delusional madness can be imagined. To enjoy this book and learn its profound lessons, you don't have to be Jewish.
— Martin Sieff
Times Literary Supplement
How do you write a biography of the Messiah? That is the question that Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, two leading Jewish social scientists, have had to tackle in their groundbreaking study of Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Jewish Book World
This fascinating book by two outstanding scholars of contemporary Jewry is a must-read for those interested in the Lubavitch movement, whether insiders or outsiders. . . . Overall, it examines a mystery that compels the reader's interest.
Jerusalem Post
Where Heilman and Friedman excel is in separating fact from fiction in the rebbe's life. . . . I am grateful to the authors for a profoundly human biography that will hopefully spur a whole new literature on the rebbe as man rather than angel and as person rather than saint.
— Shmuley Boteach
Haaretz
Illuminating. . . . [A] clearly written and engaging biography. . . . For anyone interested in a sophisticated sociological analysis of how Schneerson was able to become 'The Rebbe' this is a must read.
— Nathaniel Deutsch
Choice
Prominent sociologists Heilman and Friedman have written an important book on the Lubavitcher movement, perhaps the most notable sect within Orthodox Judaism. The Rebbe, however, is also a provocative biography of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the 20th century's most influential religious leaders. . . . For those unfamiliar with Schneerson's powerful religious message and messianic mission, this is essential reading.
AJL Newsletter
This is a very good, accessible, non-hagiographic biography of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe. . . . Highly recommended for collections of twentieth century Jewish history.
— Shmuel Ben-Gad
New York Sun - Saul Rosenberg
[A]n important biography. . . . This is as full and reliable an account of the life of this towering spiritual leader as we are likely to get.
Forward - Allan Nadler
Lively and provocative. . . . [An] eye-opening account of the Rebbe's 'life and afterlife.' . . . [T]he best analytical study of the two major themes that it addresses: A critical and often boldly psychological biography of Schneerson is prefaced and supplemented by two chapters devoted to a sociological analysis of the beliefs and behaviors of his Hasidim, especially after the death of the man they were—and most still are—convinced was the Messiah.
New York Jewish Week - Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman fills a considerable void in the biography of one of the towering religious figures of the 20th century. . . . I am grateful to the authors for a profoundly human biography that will hopefully spur a whole new literature on the rebbe as man rather than angel and as person rather than saint.
Jewish Herald-Voice - Aaron Howard
[T]his book will serve as the most outstanding work in print on the Rebbe's life, his influence and his afterlife.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - Sue Fishkoff
Sixteen years after the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a flurry of new publications indicates not only how enduring the interest is in his life and legacy, but how potent the minefield is surrounding his mythology. . . . The Heilman-Friedman book is generating the most controversy. Written for a lay audience, it frames Schneerson's mission, and that of the Chabad movement he led, as motivated by Messianism, here defined as the attempt to hasten the Messianic era through human actions.
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles - Michael Berenbaum
When Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, the two most distinguished sociologists of contemporary Orthodox Judaism set out to write this book, I was green with envy. They would combine their considerable talents and learning to bear on arguably the most fascinating, perhaps even the most successful, late 20th century Jewish religious leader. . . . They have done an admirable job.
Indianapolis Post & Opinion - Arnold Ages
[T]he extraordinary biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe executed by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, two sociologists who have cooperated in an exacting study of one of the most important religious figures of the 20th century. . . . They deploy this approach in a narrative that is extraordinarily smooth in its literary style and transforms what could have been a dry and jargon-ridden sociological foray into a highly readable and occasionally even gripping exploration of the inner workings and theological complications that have animated the Lubavitcher 'empire' in the recent past.
Washington Times - Martin Sieff
[A] superb new biography. . . . Mr. Heilman and Mr. Friedman are the perfect guides to tell this story. Their book is a model of meticulous research and balanced, wise assessments. . . . The authors tell a riveting tale. No better account of this amazing saga of faith, hope, triumph and delusional madness can be imagined. To enjoy this book and learn its profound lessons, you don't have to be Jewish.
Jerusalem Post - Shmuley Boteach
Where Heilman and Friedman excel is in separating fact from fiction in the rebbe's life. . . . I am grateful to the authors for a profoundly human biography that will hopefully spur a whole new literature on the rebbe as man rather than angel and as person rather than saint.
Haaretz - Nathaniel Deutsch
Illuminating. . . . [A] clearly written and engaging biography. . . . For anyone interested in a sophisticated sociological analysis of how Schneerson was able to become 'The Rebbe' this is a must read.
AJL Newsletter - Shmuel Ben-Gad
This is a very good, accessible, non-hagiographic biography of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe. . . . Highly recommended for collections of twentieth century Jewish history.
Religious Studies Review - Shaul Stampfer
There is a great deal that is new in this very readable study and much that should interest students not only of Hasidism but also of charismatic religious groups in general.
Time Magazines Literary Supplement
How do you write a biography of the Messiah? That is the question that Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, two leading Jewish social scientists, have had to tackle in their groundbreaking study of Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
From the Publisher

"Where Heilman and Friedman excel is in separating fact from fiction in the rebbe's life. . . . I am grateful to the authors for a profoundly human biography that will hopefully spur a whole new literature on the rebbe as man rather than angel and as person rather than saint."--Shmuley Boteach, Jerusalem Post

"Illuminating. . . . [A] clearly written and engaging biography. . . . For anyone interested in a sophisticated sociological analysis of how Schneerson was able to become 'The Rebbe' this is a must read."--Nathaniel Deutsch, Haaretz

"Prominent sociologists Heilman and Friedman have written an important book on the Lubavitcher movement, perhaps the most notable sect within Orthodox Judaism. The Rebbe, however, is also a provocative biography of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the 20th century's most influential religious leaders. . . . For those unfamiliar with Schneerson's powerful religious message and messianic mission, this is essential reading."--Choice

"This is a very good, accessible, non-hagiographic biography of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe. . . . Highly recommended for collections of twentieth century Jewish history."--Shmuel Ben-Gad, AJL Newsletter

"There is a great deal that is new in this very readable study and much that should interest students not only of Hasidism but also of charismatic religious groups in general."--Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

"This book is helpful as an account of the transformation of Chabad from inner-directed to outer-facing, from a lineage that prized lengthy contemplative prayer to one that celebrates bold feats of outreach."--Nehemia Polen, Modern Judaism

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691138886
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 5/27/2010
  • Pages: 382
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet 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.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

The Rebbes of ChaBaD

Preface

1 Farbrengen: The Gathering of the Emissaries 1

2 Death and Resurrection 29

3 Coming of Age in a Time of Transition 65

4 Entering the Court of Lubavitch 90

5 From Survival to Uforatzto 130

6 On a Mission from the Rebbe in Life 163

7 From Resurrection to Death: We Want Moshiach Now 197

8 On a Mission from the Rebbe in His Afterlife 248

Glossary of Hasidic and Lubavitcher Terms 279

Notes 283

Index 331

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 17, 2010

    Re-writing history?

    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!

    http://inforebbe.blogspot.com/p/berlin-paris.html

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    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:

    http://inforebbe.blogspot.com/search/label/early%20years

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • 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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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