web analytics
November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



The Rebbe Looms Large

book-my-rebbe

My Rebbe (Maggid, 250 pages), the title of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s new book, is an accurate description of the book’s subject matter. Unlike Samuel Heilman’s The Rebbe and Joseph Telushkin’s upcoming book Rebbe, much of Steinsaltz’s work is based on his own personal experiences, perceptions and interactions with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Chabad movement.

Steinsaltz, himself a great Talmudic sage, has been hailed by Time magazine as a “once-in-a-millennium scholar.” His new book covers a wide variety of topics including some of the fundamental beliefs of the Chabad chassid. Steinsaltz provides a brief history of Chabad and a biography of the Rebbe’s life and goes on to address the major events and controversies surrounding the Rebbe’s persona.

I was a little disappointed with some of the historical aspects of the book, specifically where he talks about the Rebbe’s early life in Paris and Berlin. There are no details of that phase of the Rebbe’s life that haven’t already been written about elsewhere. But more importantly, some of the information is inaccurate. Although Steinsaltz clearly recognizes that it is problematic to rely solely on internal testimony and sources, when he discusses this chapter of the Rebbe’s life he seems to have done just that.

“Paris and Berlin,” he writes, “were the centers of sophistication and advanced culture in those years. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak wanted Menachem-Mendel to understand the wider world. The sixth Rebbe may have felt that a grasp of Western culture would help his son-in-law play a more public role within Chabad. As Jews were moving out of the Shtetl and acclimating themselves to city life, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak saw that secular culture could equip Menachem Mendel to deal with this new breed of Jew. If Chabad was going to speak to the broader world, it would need leaders who could speak its language….

“Yet, during the years in Berlin and Paris, Menachem Mendel had no plans to become a leader within the Chabad movement. As close as he and his father in law were, there was a push-pull between them. As the sixth Rebbe was encouraging engagement with the Jewish community, the younger man sought to preserve his privacy.”

The differences between Menachem Mendel and Yosef Yitzchak were much greater than the above excerpt suggests. It is the accepted wisdom among those who were present at the time that the previous Rebbe opposed Menachem Mendel’s pursuit of secular studies in Berlin and Paris. There is ample testimony to prove that. Steinsaltz seems to jump to the contrary conclusion, yet it is unclear how he gets there. Perhaps this error reflects Steinsaltz’s personal dilemma, his own push-pull between these two worlds – his commitment to rabbinic studies and observant Judaism yet his deep love for culture, academia and scholarship. Steinsaltz acknowledged, in Newsweek in 1980, that he is “caught between two worlds” – the secular world of the West and the traditional Jewish world. “My duty,” he said, “is to combine the two.”

Later on in My Rebbe Steinsaltz writes that “loners like the Rebbe may be surrounded by others and even maintain lifelong friendships. Still, they do not seem to need many close friends to share confidences or to depend upon. They have a clear purpose, a consuming aim, an intense focus on work to be accomplished…. He had few if any intellectual peers.”

While this does seem to be an accurate description of the Rebbe, it is interesting that others have described Steinsaltz in similar terms. Here, too, I wonder whom Steinsaltz is really describing.

It is puzzling that Steinsaltz wrote that the Rebbe told someone that his work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was “his way to thank the country that had saved him and to help with the war effort.” Besides the fact that the source of this quote is unreliable, this story is usually told by people who feel the need to defend the Rebbe’s choice of employment. There is no need to justify the Rebbe’s work at the Navy Yard. He did what needed to be done to make an honest living and support his wife.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaacov Behrman founded and currently serves as the executive director of The Jewish Future Alliance, an advocacy group. Behrman, a New York political activist and the former director of media relations for Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters, was ordained by the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, in 2006 and received a master’s degree in Educational Leadership in 2009. The views expressed above are his own.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The Rebbe Looms Large”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Border Police keep an eye out for Palestinian Authority terrorists.
IDF on Manhunt for Arab Terrorists Trying to Gun Down Jewish Drivers
Latest Sections Stories
Rabbi Maurice Lamm

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Schonfeld-logo1

This core idea of memory is very difficult to fully comprehend; however, it is essential.

Sometimes the most powerful countermove one can make when a person is screaming is to calmly say that her behavior is not helpful and then continue interacting with the rest of the family while ignoring the enraged person.

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall divide within you.”

Divorce from a vindictive, cruel spouse can be a lifelong nightmare when there are offspring.

There were many French Jews who jumped at the chance to shed their ancient identity and assimilate.

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”

Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]

The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.

Recently, Fort Lauderdale has been the focus of international news, and it has not been about the wonderful weather.

Rabbi Sacks held the position of chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years until September 2013.

The event included a dvar Torah by student Pesach Bixon, an overview of courses, information about student life and a student panel that answered frequently asked questions from a student perspective.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

More Articles from Yaacov Behrman
book-my-rebbe

Steinsaltz has an incredible ability to take lofty concepts and explain them in a way that an average layman can understand.

Rabbi Ezra Schochet

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s confrontation with a Lubavitch leader.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/book-reviews/the-rebbe-looms-large/2014/05/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: