Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: Rebbe

Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History by Rabbi Joseph Teluskin
Hardcover: 640 pages
Publisher: HarperWave (June 10, 2014)

Rabbi Teluskin has written a brilliant biography of one of the greatest influential Jewish leaders of probably the last few centuries.  It's been 20 years since the death of the Rebbe and this biography is highly insightful and really tells how Chabad went from being a small war-torn group into the most dynamic and geographically diverse religious movement in Jewish history.  The Rebbe's legacy is felt on college campus and at Chabad Houses throughout the globe.

Telushkin was afforded extraordinary access to the Rebbe's intimate circle and guarded documents.  This biography, five years in the making, examines the Rebbe's personal side while exploring his achievements, philosophy, and pioneering initiatives.  Telushkin also analyzes the Rebbe's stories and speeches.

While I don't consider myself to be a Chasidic Jew (I am Modern Orthdox), I found it fascinating to learn about the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.  No matter what denomination of Judaism they were, many people sought out his guidance be it via a private meeting or by letter.

From his perch in Brooklyn, the Rebbe taught transcendant words that were able to resonate with many people, no matter what faith they were.  Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, then-Newark mayor Cory Booker went to the Rebbe's Ohel to pray.  The Rebbe's Ohel is the first major Jewish holy site in the United States without a doubt.  Thousands of Jews visit his Ohel on his yahrtzeit of 3 Tammuz.

The Rebbe had some radical ideas--refusing to judge others based on their level of observance and a belief in the brotherhood of all mankind.  It's because of ideas such as these that Chabad was able to grow into a worldwide movement.  His emissaries across the globe continue to spread his teachings of love, unity, and righteousness.  Despite his being the leading figure of Chabad, he was a very humble person at heart.  He was accessible to just about anyone that wanted to meet him!

The most intriguing things that Telushkin addresses about the Rebbe, his ideology, and his actions include:
--The hope of a small sect of his followers who believed that he was the Moshiach.  Had his wife not preceded him in death, she would have put a stop to this really quick.  The Rebbe even rejected such claims!
--The innovation and advocacy of taking Judaism out into the world, be it through the wearing of Tefillin, offering Shabbas candles to women of all ages, public Chanukah lightings, etc.
--Israeli and American elected officials, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Moshe Sharrett, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Bejamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon, to name a few.
--His willingness to oppose non-denominational prayer in public schools.

I highly recommend this book.

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