Menachem Mendel Schneerson

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Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson2.jpg
Menachem Mendel Schneerson at the Lag BaOmer parade in Brooklyn, 1987.
Synagogue770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY
Began10 Shevat 5711 / January 17, 1951
PredecessorYosef Yitzchok Schneersohn
Personal details
BornApril 5, 1902 OS (11 Nissan 5662)[1]
Nikolaev, Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire (present-day Mykolaiv, Ukraine)
DiedJune 12, 1994 NS (3 Tammuz 5754) (aged 92[2])
Manhattan, New York, USA
BuriedQueens, New York, USA
DynastyChabad Lubavitch
ParentsLevi Yitzchak Schneerson
ChanaYanovski Schneerson
SpouseChaya Mushka Schneerson
SemichaRogatchover Gaon
 
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For the third Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch dynasty, see Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson2.jpg
Menachem Mendel Schneerson at the Lag BaOmer parade in Brooklyn, 1987.
Synagogue770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY
Began10 Shevat 5711 / January 17, 1951
PredecessorYosef Yitzchok Schneersohn
Personal details
BornApril 5, 1902 OS (11 Nissan 5662)[1]
Nikolaev, Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire (present-day Mykolaiv, Ukraine)
DiedJune 12, 1994 NS (3 Tammuz 5754) (aged 92[2])
Manhattan, New York, USA
BuriedQueens, New York, USA
DynastyChabad Lubavitch
ParentsLevi Yitzchak Schneerson
ChanaYanovski Schneerson
SpouseChaya Mushka Schneerson
SemichaRogatchover Gaon

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (April 5, 1902 – June 12, 1994), known as the Rebbe[3][4] was an Orthodox rabbi, Talmudic scholar, and the last Lubavitcher Rebbe. He is considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century.[5][6][7]

As leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, he oversaw its expansion from a small group into the largest and most dynamic force in Judaism today,[8] with an international network of over 3000 educational and social centers.[9][10] The institutions he established include kindergartens, schools, drug-rehabilitation centers, care-homes for the disabled and synagogues.[11]

Schneerson is noted for his contributions to Jewish continuity and religious thought,[12] as well as his wide-ranging contributions to traditional Torah scholarship.[13] He is recognized as the pioneer of Jewish outreach.[14][15]

In 1978, the U.S. Congress designated Schneerson's birthday as the national Education Day U.S.A.,[16] honoring his role in establishing the Department of Education as an independent cabinet-level department.[17] In 1994, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his "outstanding and lasting contributions toward improvements in world education, morality, and acts of charity." [18]

Activities as Rebbe[edit]

A child announces one of the 12 verses.
Waving to children at a Lag BaOmer parade.

Jewish outreach[edit]

During his inaugural talk in 1951, Schneerson said “one must go to a place where nothing is known of godliness, nothing is known Judaism, nothing is even known of the Hebrew alphabet, and while there to put oneself aside and ensure that the other calls out to god.”[19] When he spoke to Forward journalist Asher Penn later that year, he said that “we must stop insisting that Judaism is in danger, an assertion that does little but place Jewry on the defensive. We need to go on the offensive.” Schneerson believed that Jews need not be on the defensive, but need to be on the ground building Jewish institutions such as day schools and synagogues,.[20] Schneerson was the first person to put priority on what today is called 'kiruv,' and drawing Jews closer to their religion, and he believed that world Jewry was seeking to learn more about their Jewish heritage.[14]

Throughout his years as Rebbe, he sought to bring Judaism to Jews wherever they were and was the first person in all of history to try reach every Jewish community and every Jew in the world. As chief rabbi lord Jonathan Sacks expressed it “If the Nazis searched out every Jew in hate, the Rebbe wished to search out every Jew in love.”[21] He oversaw the building of schools, community centers, and youth camps and created a global network of emissaries, known as shluchim.

Today there are Shluchim in 49 of the 50 states, in over 80 countries and 1000 cities around the world, totaling more than 3,600 institutions including some 300 in Israel.[22][23] Chabad is very often the only Jewish presence in a given town or city and it has become the face of Jewish Orthodoxy for the Jewish and general world.[24]

Schneerson also instituted a system of "mitzvah campaigns" to encourage Jews to follow ten basic Jewish practices.

Non-Jewish Outreach[edit]

In 1983 he launched a global campaign to promote observance of the seven Noahide Laws among all people,[25] arguing that this was the basis for human rights for all civilization.[26][27]

Several times a year his addresses were broadcast on national television. On these occasions he would address the public on more general communal affairs such as a moment of silence in U.S. public schools, increased government funding for solar energy research, and nuclear disarmament.[28]

Education[edit]

From the beginning of his leadership, Schneerson placed a strong emphasis on education and often spoke of the need of a true moral educational system.[29] He said that education infused with godliness is the bedrock for a true moral society for all mankind regardless of religious faith,[30] and that one cannot rest until every child, boy and girl, receives a proper moral education.[31]

Seeking to promote awareness for educational matters, Schneerson proclaimed 1977 as a “Year of Education” and urged Congress to do the same. He stated: “Education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career, or, in common parlance, ‘to make a better living.’ We must think in terms of a 'better living’ not only for the individual, but also for the society as a whole. The educational system must, therefore, pay more attention, indeed the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values. Education must put greater emphasis on the promotion of fundamental human rights and obligations of justice and morality, which are the basis of any human society, if it is to be truly human and not turn into a jungle."[32]

Following Schneerson's urging, the Ninety-Fifth Congress of the United States issued a Joint Resolution proclaiming 1978 as a Year of Education and designating April 18, 1978, as "Education Day, U.S.A.".[33] Since then, in recognition of Schneersons contribution to “areas of ethical moral and cultural education” every President has issued a proclamation, proclaiming Schneerson's birthday as "Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A."[34] In 1982 Ronald Reagan also proclaimed Schneerson's birthday as a “National Day of Reflection,” and presented the “National Scroll of Honor" that was signed by the President, Vice-President and every member of Congress.[30][35]

Schneerson had great influence on numerous political leaders, many of whom would seek his advice. During his years as Rebbe, he was visited by Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, Senators, Congressmen and Mayors. Notable among them are prominent American politicians such as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Jacob Javits, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, David Dinkins and Joe Lieberman.[36][37]

Women[edit]

In 1953, Schneerson established the Lubavitch women's organisation. And in a marked departure from an entrenched tendency to limit high-level Torah education to men and boys, he addressed his teachings equally to both genders.[38] Schneerson would describe the increase in Torah study by women as one of the "positive innovations of the later generations"[39]

Israel[edit]

Schneerson always took an interest into the affairs of the state of Israel.[40] He did whatever was in his power to support the infrastructure of the state, and advance its success.[41] He was concerned with the agricultural,[42] industrial and overall economic welfare of Israel,[43] and sought to promote its scientific achievements, and enhance Israel's standing in the international community.[44] He consistently expressed enormous recognition for the role of the Israel Defense Forces and stated that those who serve in the Israeli army perform a great Mitzva.[45]

Although he never was in Israel, many of Israel's top leadership made it a point to visit him.[46] Israeli President, Zalman Shazar, would visit Schneerson and corresponded extensively with him as would Prime Minister Menachem Begin who came to visit him before going to Washington to meet President Carter.[47] Ariel Sharon who had a close relationship with Schneerson,[48] often quoted his view on military matters and sought his advice when he considered retiring from the military. Schneerson advised the general to remain at his post.[49] Yitzhak Rabin,[50] Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu[51] also paid visits and sought Schneersons advice, along with numerous other less famous politicians, diplomats, military officials, and media producers.

Schneerson publicly expressed his view, that the safety and stability of Israel were in the best interests of the United States, as Israel is the front line against those who want the anti-west nations to succeed.[52]

Just before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, Schneerson instructed his followers in Israel and throughout the world to initiate an active Teffilin campaign, to see that Jews observe the Mitzva of Tefillin as a means of ensuring divine protection against Israel's enemies.[53] Speaking to a crowd of thousands of people on May 28, 1967, only a few days before the outbreak of the war, he assured the world that Israel would be victorious.[54] He said Israel had no need to fear as God was with them, quoting the verse, "the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers."[55]

After the Operation Entebbe rescue, in a public talk on 16 August 1976, Schneerson applauded the courage and selflessness of the IDF, "who flew thousands of miles, putting their lives in danger for the sole purpose of possibly saving the lives of tens of Jews”. He said “their portion in the Hereafter is guaranteed”.[56][57] He was later vilified by ultra haredi rabbis for publicly praising the courage of irreligious, Zionist soldiers and suggesting that God chose these people as a medium through which he would send deliverance to the Jewish people.[58] Schneerson protested vehemently against those elements within the ultra haredi society who sought to undermine the motivations and actions of the soldiers.[59][60][61]

He corresponded with David Ben-Gurion on the issue of Judaism in the State of Israel, asking the Prime Minister to ensure that Israel remains Jewish. He lobbied Israeli politicians to pass legislation in accordance with Jewish law on the question "Who is a Jew?" and asked that they add the words "according to Halakha" to the declaration so that it state that "only one who is born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halakha is Jewish." This caused a furore in the United States. Some American Jewish philanthropies stopped financially supporting Chabad-Lubavitch since most of their members were connected to Reform and Conservative Judaism. Controversial issues such as territorial compromise in Israel that might have estranged benefactors from giving much-needed funds to Chabad.[62]

United Nations[edit]

Benjamin Netanyahu said that while serving as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in 1984, Schneerson told him: "you will be serving in a house of darkness, but remember, that even in the darkest place; the light of a single candle can be seen far and wide…" Netanyahu later retold this episode in a speech at the General Assembly, on Sept 23, 2011.[63]

Soviet Jewry[edit]

Schneerson greatly encouraged the Jews who were trapped behind the iron curtain. He sent many emissaries on covert missions to sustain Judaism under Communist regimes and to provide them with their religious and material needs.[64] Many Jews from behind the iron curtain would correspond with Schneerson, sending their letters to him via secret messenger and addressing Schneerson in code name.[65]

Schneerson spoke passionately about the Jews in Russia. He said: "Behind the Iron Curtain, there are Jews who are in an extremely precarious position, to the extent that they must have self-sacrifice for every aspect of fulfillment of Judaism. Nevertheless, they do not worry about their physical wants...There are Jews who do not have tefillin! They cannot go to the synagogue, for if they get caught they will lose their employment... Despite all this, they make no calculations regarding what the next day may bring; their whole desire is to be able to put on tefillin..."[66]

Schneerson, who had an intimate knowledge of the Soviet government and their tactics, opposed demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jews, stating that he had evidence that they were harming Russia’s Jews. Instead he advocated quiet diplomacy, which he said would be more effective.[67][68] Schneerson did whatever was in his power to push for the release of Jews from the former Soviet Union and established schools, communities and other humanitarian resources to assist with their absorption into Israel. On one known occasion he instructed Sen. Chic Hecht to provide President Ronald Reagan with contact information of people who wished to leave so that he could lobby their release.[69]

Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Schneerson called for efforts to rescue children from Chernobyl and founded a special organization for this purpose.[70] The first rescue flight occurred on August 3, 1990, when 196 children were flown to Israel and brought to a shelter campus. Since then, thousands of children have been rescued and brought to Israel where they receive housing, education and medical care in a supportive environment.[71]

Natan Sharansky, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency said that Chabad Lubavitch was an essential connector to Soviet Jewry during the Cold War,[72] while Shimon Peres has stated that it’s to Schneersons credit that "Judaism in the Soviet Union has been preserved."[73]

Iran[edit]

In the winter of 1979, during the tumultuous days of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Schneerson directed a group of emissaries to make arrangements to rescue Jewish youth and teenagers from Iran and bring them to safety in the United States.[74] Schneerson foresaw that the 1979 Iran hostage crisis would lead to a general weakening of American influence around the world that would encourage future challenges against the U.S. and its allies.[4] The new Islamic government in Iran was also vocally opposed to the existence of Israel and created a genuine concern in world Jewish circles. The execution of at least twelve Jews and the leader of the Iranian Jewish community, Habib Elghanian, had made this tangible threat even stronger.[75] Their hostilities toward the United States was seen by Schneerson as an act that could have severe consequences for Jews.[76] This mission was conducted as a secretive quest in order not to jeopardize the safety of the Iranian Jewish community at large. Schneerson asked many of his followers in Brooklyn to open their homes to these Jewish children and help save their lives from the antisemitism and oppression they were facing in Iran. As a result of Schneersons efforts, several thousand children from Tehran and other major cities in Iran were flown from Tehran to New York and provided for until they were reunited with their parents or other relatives after they emigrated to the United States.

Scholarship[edit]

Rabbi Schneerson is known for his scholarship both in the Talmud and hidden parts of the Torah (both Kabbalah and Chasidus).[13] Rabbis and Rosh Yeshivas, as well as scientists and professors who would meet him or correspond with him would marvel at his wisdom and knowledge, of both Torah and secular subjects.[77] Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveithcik, who knew Schneerson from their days in Berlin, and remained in contact once the two men came to America, told his students after visiting Schneerson "the Rebbe has a 'gewaldiger' (awesome) comprehension of the Torah,"[78] and "He is a gaon, he is a great one, he is a leader of Israel."[79]

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former chief Rabbi of Israel, has said regarding one of his meetings with Rabbi Schneerson: "The conversation covered all sections of the Torah: the Talmud, Jewish law, Kabbalah, etc. The Rebbe jumped effortlessly from one Talmudic tractate to another, and from there to Kabbalah and then to Jewish law... He was clear in all the subjects discussed and organized in his delivery. It was as if he had just finished studying these very topics from the holy books. The whole Torah was an open book in front of him".[80]

Schneerson was known for delivering regular lengthy addresses without a text or notes open in front of him the entire time.[81][82][83] These talks usually centered on the weekly Torah portion and on various tractates of the Talmud, during which he demonstrated a unique approach in explaining seemingly different concepts by analysis of the fundamental principle common to the entire tractate.[84] These talks were then transcribed and distributed widely. Many of them were later edited by Schneerson and published under the title Likkutei Sichot.

Listening to these talks, which sometimes went for eight or nine hours straight, was "an unparalleled spiritual experience."[85] Following his attendance at one such talk with his son-in-law Rabbi Yisrael Lau, the then Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, Yitzchak Yedidya Frankel said "I have witnessed the magnificence of Polish Jewry...and I have known most of the great scholars of recent generations. But I have never seen such command of the material. That is genius."[86]

Schneerson is especially renowned for his original insights and unprecedented analysis of Rashi's Torah commentary, which were delivered at the regular public Farbrengens. Many of these talks were later published in the Likkutei Sichos.

His collected writings and speeches have been published in more than two hundred volumes. They include Torah expositions, halakhic analysis, Talmudic discourses, explorations of Jewish mysticism and letters of guidance to Jews throughout the world.[87] He also penned tens of thousands of replies to requests and questions. The majority of his correspondence is printed in Igrot Kodesh. His correspondence fills more than thirty published volumes. These detailed and personal letters offer advice and explanation on a wide variety of subjects, including spiritual matters as well as all aspects of life.[85]

Yechidus and "Sunday Dollars"[edit]

Beginning in 1951 when he accepted the leadership, Schneerson would receive visitors twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays. These meetings, called yechidus, would start at 8pm and often continue until five in the morning. Anyone would have the chance to meet Schneerson privately for a discussion and to receive his advice and blessings.[88][89] These meetings had to be booked in advance with Mordechai Hodakov, Schneerson's chief secretary.[89] At such private audiences he would meet over three thousand people.[90] The sessions were so popular that reservations were required—often months in advance. It was at these sessions, that Schneerson met with mayors, senators, presidents and every prime minister of Israel.[36]

Aside from a brief period of two months, after Schneerson suffered a heart attack in 1978, these meetings lasted weekly until 1982 when it became impossible to facilitate the large number of people. These meetings were then held only for those who had a special occasion, such as bride and groom for their wedding or a boy and his family on the occasion of a bar mitzvah.[90]

In 1986, Rabbi Schneerson again began to regularly greet people individually. This time, the personal meetings took the form of a weekly receiving line in "770". Almost every Sunday, thousands of people would line up to meet briefly with Schneerson and receive a one-dollar bill, which was to be donated to charity. People filing past Schneerson would often take this opportunity to ask him for advice or to request a blessing. This event is usually referred to as "Sunday Dollars."[91] Asked once how he doesn't tire of standing so long, he replied: every soul is a diamond. Can one grow tired of counting diamonds?"[92] Beginning in 1989, these events were recorded on videotape. Posthumously, hundreds of thousands of these encounters have been posted online for public access.[93]

"770"[edit]

Main article: 770 Eastern Parkway
770 Eastern Parkway.

Rabbi Schneerson rarely left Crown Heights in Brooklyn except for frequent lengthy visits to his father-in-law's gravesite in Queens, New York. A year after the death of his wife, Chaya Mushka, in 1988, when the traditional year of Jewish mourning had passed, he moved into his study above the central Lubavitch synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway.

It was from this location that Rabbi Schneerson directed his emissaries' work and managed the movement's development. His public roles included celebrations called farbrengens (gatherings) on Shabbats, Jewish holy days, and special days on the Chabad calendar, when he would give lengthy sermons to crowds. In later years, these would often be broadcast on cable television and via satellite to Lubavitch branches around the world.

Works[edit]

Books in Hebrew and Yiddish[edit]

Books in English (original and translated)[edit]

Personal writings and correspondence[edit]

Collections and esoterica[edit]

Biography[edit]

1902-1923[edit]

Menachem Mendel Schneerson was born on Friday, April 18, 1902, equivalent to 11 Nissan, 5662, in the town of Nikolaev.[98] His father was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, a renowned Talmudic scholar and authority on Kabbalah and Jewish law.[99] His mother was Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson (nee Yanovski). He was named after the third Chabad rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, from whom he was descendent in direct paternal lineage.

In 1907, when Menachem Mendel was six years old, the Schneersons moved to Yekatrinislav (today, Dnepropetrovsk), where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was appointed Chief Rabbi of the city. He served until 1939, when he was exiled by the Soviets to Uzbekistan.[100] Schneerson had two younger brothers, Dov Ber who was murdered in 1944 by Nazi collaborators and Yisrael Aryeh Leib, who died in 1952 while completing doctoral studies at Liverpool University.[101]

Schneerson who was described as a slim boy with blond hair,[102] was gifted with extraordinary intelligence and empathy.[103] During his youth, he received a private education and was tutored by Zalman Vilenkin from 1909 through 1913. When Schneerson was eleven years old, Vilenkin informed the boy's father that he had nothing more to teach his son.[104] At that point, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak began teaching his son Talmud and rabbinic literature, as well as Kabbalah. Schneerson proved gifted in both Talmudic and Kabalistic study and also took exams as an external student of the local Soviet school.[105] He was considered an Illui and genius, and by the time he was seventeen, he had mastered the entire Talmud, some 5,894 pages with all its early commentaries.[106]

Throughout his childhood Schneerson was involved in the affairs of his father's office. He was also said to have acted as an interpreter between the Jewish community and the Russian authorities on a number of occasions.[107] Levi Yitzchak's courage and principles were a guide to his son for the rest of his life. Many years later, when he once reminisced about his youth, Schneerson said "I have the education of the first-born son of the rabbi of Yekatrinoselav. When it comes to saving lives, I speak up whatever other may say."[108]

Schneerson went on to receive separate rabbinical ordinations from the Rogatchover Gaon, Yosef Rosen,[109] and Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (also known as the Sridei Aish).[110]

1923-1941[edit]

In 1923 Schneerson visited the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn where he met his middle daughter, Chaya Mushka.[111] The couple became engaged in Riga in 1923 and married in 1928 in Warsaw, Poland. Taking great pride in his son-in-law's outstanding knowledge, Yosef Yitzchok asked him to engage the great Torah scholars that were present at the wedding, such as Rabbi Meir Shapiro and Rabbi Menachem Zemba, in learned conversation.[112] The marriage was long and happy (60 years), but childless.[103]

Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn are both descendants of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch.[113] Schneerson later commented that the day of his marriage bound the community to him and him to the community.[114]

After his marriage to Chaya Mushka, Schneerson and his wife moved to Berlin where he was assigned specific communal tasks by his father-in-law, who also requested that he write scholarly annotations to the responsa and various hasidic discourses of the earlier Rebbe’s of Chabad-Lubavitch. Schneerson studied mathematics, physics and philosophy at the University of Berlin.[115] He would late recall that he enjoyed Erwin Schrödinger’s lectures.[116] His father-in-law, took great pride in his erudite son-in-law scholarly attainments and paid for all the tuition expenses and helped facilitate his studies throughout.[117]

During his stay in Berlin, his father-in-law encouraged him to become more of a public figure, yet Schneerson described himself as an introvert, [118] and was known to plead with acquaintance not to make a fuss out of the fact that he was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson.[119]

While in Berlin, Schneerson met Joseph B. Soloveitchik and the two formed a friendship that remain between them years later when they both emigrated to America.[120][121][122] He wrote hundreds of pages of his own original Torah discourses,[123] and conducted a serious interchange of halachic corresponded with many of Eastern Europe's leading rabbinic figures, including the talmudic genius known as the Rogachover Gaon.[124] In 1933 he also met with Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro, as well as with talmudist Rabbi Shimon Shkop.[125] During this time he would keep a diary in which he would carefully document his private conversations with his father-in-law Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, as well his kabalistic correspondence with his father, Levi Yitzchak Schneerson.[126]

In 1933, after the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Schneerson left Berlin and moved to Paris, France were he continued his religious and communal activists on behalf of his father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchak. He continued studying mechanics and electrical engineering at the ESTP, a Grandes écoles in the Montparnasse district and graduated in July 1937 with a degree. In November 1937, he enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he studied mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939.[127]

Yosef Yitzchok, also recommended that Professor Alexander Vasilyevitch Barchenko consult with Schneerson regarding various religious and mystical matters,[128] and prominent Rabbis, such as Yerachmiel Binyaminson and Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler turned to Schneerson with their queries regarding the reconciliation of different rabbinic and kabalistic opinions.[129][130]

On June 11, 1940, three days before Paris fell to the Nazis, the Schneersons fled to Vichy, and later to Nice, where they stayed until their final escape from Europe in 1941.[131]

1941-1950[edit]

In 1941, Schneerson escaped from Europe on the Serpa Pinto, which sailed from Lisbon, Portugal. It was one of the last neutral passenger ships to cross the Atlantic before the danger from U-boats became too great.[132] On the eve of his departure, Schneerson penned a treatise where he revealed his vision for the future of world Jewry and humanity.[133] He and his wife Chaya Mushka arrived in New York on June 23, 1941, where he joined his father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, in Brooklyn. Upon his arrival, Yosef Yitzchak dispatched a delegation of respected members of the Chabad community to greet him at the harbor telling them, "you will be greeting my son-in-law; he is fluent in all of Talmud, Tosafot, The Rosh and Ran, as well as all the published Chassidic books".[134]

Shortly after his arrival, his father-in-law appointed him director and chairman of the Chabad movement's newly founded central organizations, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, Machneh Israel and Kehot Publication Society, placing him at the helm of the movement's Jewish educational, social services, and publishing networks across the United States, Israel, Africa, Europe and Australia. Over the next decade, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok referred many of the scholarly questions that had been inquired of him to his son-in-law Menachem Mendel.[135] At his father-in-law’s request, Schneerson would speak publicly once a month, delivering talks to his father-in-law's followers,[111] and he became increasingly known as a personal representative of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok.[135]

In his capacity as chairman of the three major Chabad institutions for education, publication and social and humanitarian aid. In this capacity he launched the merkos shlichus program where he would send pairs of yeshiva students to remote locations across the country during their summer vacations to teach Jews in isolated communities about their heritage and offer education to their children. When he became “Rebbe” he expanded these activates.

During the 1940s, Schneerson became a naturalized US citizen and, seeking to contribute to the war effort, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, drawing wiring for the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63),[136][137] and other classified military work.[36] For many years to come, he would speak about America's special place in the world, and would argue that the bedrock of the United States' power and uniqueness came from its foundational values, which were, according to Schneerson, '"E pluribus unum'—from many one", and "In God we trust."[138] In 1949, his father-in-law would become a U.S. citizen, with Schneerson coordinating the event.[139]

Schneerson often explained that his goal was to "make the world a better place,"[140] and to do what he could to eliminate all suffering. In 1954, in a letter to Yitzchak Ben Tzvi, Israel's second President, Schneerson wrote: "From the time that I was a child attending cheder, and even before, the vision of the future Redemption began to take form in my imagination – the Redemption of the Jewish People from their final Exile, a redemption of such magnitude and grandeur through which the purpose of the suffering, the harsh decrees and annihilation of Exile will be understood...[141] "

1950-1994[edit]

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, died in 1950, leaving the Chabad community in shock.[142] On the basis of his scholarship, piety and dynasty, Chabad followers began persuading Schneerson to succeed his father-in-law as Rebbe.[88] Schneerson was reluctant, and actively refused to accept leadership of the movement. He was determined, however, to continue all the communal activities he had previously headed. It would take a full year of persuasion until he was eventually cajoled into accepting the post by the elders of the movement.[143]

On the first anniversary of his father-in-law's passing, 10 Shevat 1951, in a ceremony attended by several hundred rabbis and Jewish leaders from all parts of the United States and Canada, Schneerosn delivered a Hasidic discourse, (Ma'amar), the equivalent to a President-elect taking the oath of office, and formally became the Rebbe.[144] On the night of his acceptance, members of Israels Cabinet and and Israel’s chief rabbis sent him congratulatory messages.[145]

During his decades of leadership, Schneerson worked over 18 hours a day and never took a day of vacation.[146] He was opposed to retirement, seeing it as a waste of precious years.[147] In 1972, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, instead of announcing a retirement plan, Schneerson proposed the establishment of 71 new institutions to mark the beginning of the 71st year of his life.[148]

In 1977, during the hakafot ceremony on Shemini Atzeret, Schneerson suffered a heart attack. At his request, rather than transporting him to a hospital, the doctors set up a mini-hospital at his office where he was treated for the next four weeks by Dr. Bernard Lown, Dr. Ira Weiss and Dr. Larry Resnick.[149]

On February 10, 1988, Schneersons wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson died.[150] During the week of shiva Schneerson wrote a will in which he bequeathed his entire estate to Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the Chabad umbrella organisation.[151] A year after the death of his wife, when the traditional year of Jewish mourning had passed, Schneerson moved into his study above the central Lubavitch synagogue on Eastern Parkway.[152]

During a talk in In 1991, Schneerson spoke passionately about the Messiah and told his followers: "What else can I do that all Jewish people should truthfully cry out, and effectively bring Moshiach in actuality… The only thing I can do is give it over to you: Do all you can… to actually bring our righteous Moshiach… I have done my part, from now on you do all that you can.” A few months later, when a reporter from CNN came to meet him at dollars, he said “Messiah is ready to come now. Its up to us to add more in acts of goodness and kindness."[153]

On Sunday, the 26th of Adar II 1992, Gabriel Erem, of Lifestyles Magazine, approached Schneerson as he distributed dollars and told him that on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday they would be publishing a special issue and wanted to know what Shcneersons message to the world was. “Ninety,” Schneerson replied, “in Hebrew, is ‘tzaddik,’ which means ‘righteous.’ And that is a direct indication for every person to become a real tzaddik - a righteous person, and to do so for many years, until 120.” This message, Schneerson added, applies equally to non-Jews.[154]

The following day Schneerson suffered a serious stroke while praying at the grave of his father-in-law. The stroke left him unable to speak and paralyzed on the right side of his body. During this time, the hope that Schneerson could be revealed as the Messiah (Moshiach) became more widespread.[155][156]

The Rebbe's Tomb: Schneerson's burial place next to his father-in-law and predecessor in Queens, NY.
RabbiMenachemMendelMedal.jpg

On June 12, 1994 (3 Tammuz 5754), Schneerson died at the Beth Israel Medical Center and was buried at the Ohel next to his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York.[157][158] Shortly after Schneersons death, the executors of his will discovered several notebooks in a draw in his office, in which Schneerson had written his scholarly thoughts and religious musings from his earliest years.[159] The majority of entries in these journals date between the years 1928 and 1950 and were subsequently published.[160]

Following age-old Jewish tradition that the resting place of a tzadik is holy, Schneersons grave-site is viewed by many as a holy site, and has been described by the Yedioth Ahronoth as "the American Western Wall", where thousands of people, including both Jews and non-Jews,[11] come to pray each week.[161][162] Many more send faxes and e-mails with requests for prayers to be read at the grave site.[163]

Recognition[edit]

Numerous public officials attended Schneersons funeral, including New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; Benjamin Netanyahu, Gad Yaacobi, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations and Colette Avital, Israeli consul general in New York.[164]

From Washington, President Clinton pens a condolence letter "to the Chabad-Lubavitch community and to world Jewry” referring to Schneerosn as "a monumental man who as much as any other individual, was responsible over the last half a century for advancing the instruction of ethics and morality to our young people." Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, citing Schneersons great scholarship and contribution to the entire Jewish people, proclaims "The Rebbe's loss is a loss for all the Jewish people." Foreign Minister Shimon Peres cites words from the prophet Malachi as applying with particular force to Schneerso: "He brought back many from iniquity. For a priest's lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth. For he is a messenger of the Lord."[165]

Shortly after Schneerson's death, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives cosponsored by John Lewis, Newt Gingrich, Charles Schumer and Jerry Lewis, as well as 220 other Congressmen—to posthumously bestow upon Schneerson the Congressional Gold Medal.

On November 2, 1994 the bill passed both Houses by unanimous consent, honoring Schneerson for his "outstanding and enduring contributions toward world education, morality, and acts of charity".[166] President Bill Clinton spoke these words at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony:

In 2009, the National Museum of American Jewish History[167] selected Schneerson as one of eighteen American Jews to be included in their "Only in America" Hall of Fame.

Controversies[edit]

Wills[edit]

There is considerable controversy within Chabad about Schneerson's will, as he named no successor. He did however write one legal will, which was signed before witnesses, whereby he transferred stewardship of all the major Chabad institutions, as well as all his possessions to Agudas Chassidei Chabad.[168]

Another will, no executed copies of which are known to be in existence, named three senior Chabad rabbis, as directors of Agudas Chassidei Chabad.[168]

"Moshiach" (Messiah) fervor[edit]

Rabbi Schneerson's followers believed he was the Jewish Messiah, the "Moshiach," and some have persisted in that belief since his death. The reverence with which he was treated by followers led many Jewish critics from both the Conservative and Reform communities to allege that a cult of personality had grown up around him. His obituary in The New York Times said he "was attacked for allowing a cult of personality to grow around him"[169] from Conservative and Reform critics. Though he worked to dissuade his followers from making it that, telling New York Times reporter Israel Shenker in 1972 "I have never given any reason for a cult of personality, and I do all in my power to dissuade them from making it that".[88] Moshe D. Sherman, an associate professor at Touro College wrote that "as Schneerson's empire grew, a personality cult developed around him... portraits of Rabbi Schneerson were placed in all Lubavitch homes, shops, and synagogues, and devoted followers routinely requested a blessing from him prior to their marriage, following an illness, or at other times of need."[170]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The accepted date is April 5, 1902 OS. However, government documents, including his Russian passport, his application for French citizenship, his application for a U.S. visa, and his U.S. World War Two draft registration all indicate he was born in March 1895.
  2. ^ 92 based on accepted date of birth in 1902; 99 based on the 1895 date that appears on government documents
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Works available online[edit]

Works available on iTunes[edit]

Biography[edit]

Historical sites[edit]

Preceded by
Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn
Rebbe of Lubavitch
1951–1994
Succeeded by
N/A


Schneersohn Family Tree (partial)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi
1745–1812
1st Chabad Rebbe
Rebbetzin Sterna
17??–18??
Rabbi Shalom Shachne
17??–18??
Rebbetzin Devora Leah
17??–17??
Rabbi Dovber Schneuri
1773–1827
2nd Chabad Rebbe
Rebbetzin Sheina
17??–18??
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn
1789–1866
3rd Chabad Rebbe
Rebbetzin Chaya M. Schneersohn
17??–1860
Rabbi Baruch Shalom Schneersohn
18??–18??
Rabbi Yehuda L. Schneersohn
1808–1866
1st Kapust Rebbe
Rabbi Chaim S. Z. Schneersohn
18??–18??
1st Liadi Rebbe
Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn
1834–1882
4th Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn
18??–18??
Rabbi Shlomo Z. Schneersohn
1830–1900
2nd Kapust Rebbe
Rabbi Shmaryahu N. Schneersohn
18??–19??
3rd Kapust Rebbe
Rabbi Yitzchak D. Schneersohn
1842–1824
2nd Liadi Rebbe
Rabbi Shalom D. Schneersohn
1860–1920
5th Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Baruch Schneur Schneersohn
18??–18??
Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn
1880–1950
6th Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson
1878–1944
Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson
1880–1964
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
1902–1994
7th Chabad Rebbe
Rebbetzin Chaya M. Schneerson
1901–1988