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May 27, 2015 / 9 Sivan, 5775
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Title: The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism – Past and Present

Title: The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding Lubavitch Hasidism – Past and Present

Author: M. Avrum Ehrlich
Publisher: Ktav Publishing, Jersey City, N.J.

 

 

It is a truism that one should never judge a book by its cover, or even title. Although there are many books within and without the Chabad community about the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, this masterful and exhaustive book is truly comprehensive.

Ehrlich properly presumes the reader to have no prior knowledge of the history and background of Chabad and the Rebbe. As a historian – he provides the reader with an understanding of the Lubavitch movement. It is no secret that today’s Chabad includes “messianists” who believe that the Rebbe was (and is) the Mashiach.

Professor Ehrlich, who holds the Chair of Jewish Civilization, Language and Thought at the Univ. of Shandong, China, is a philosopher of religion, Jewish social and political thought and theology. He received his semicha ordination at a Chassidic yeshiva in Israel, and was a scholar at Cambridge University, England.

This book discusses the personality of Rabbi Schneerson, how he rose to his eminence, and in what manner messianic expectations developed around his magnetic personality. The book explores the crisis of faith and leadership within the Chabad movement resulting from the death of their leader, changes in the movement, and the socio-religious undercurrents that compose the movement’s identity.

Through his readings of the literature (the book includes a quite extensive bibliography) and interviews, Ehrlich takes us right into “770” almost as an insider with a detailed accounting of events.

The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe was the last of the dynasty of Chassidic leaders who came to New York after the Holocaust. From a small band of refugees, he built a large, powerful international community of rabbis, emissaries and fervent disciples who committed their lives to his teachings and laid the foundations of Chabad’s international outreach.

Chabad emissaries, called shluchim, focus on outreach to unaffiliated Jews with little or no Jewish education in every corner of the world. Chabad has succeeded in becoming the most influential religious group within Judaism during the previous half century. There is hardly a Jewish community in the world that has not experienced the influence of Chabad – and this has directly been the result of the influence of Rabbi Schneerson zt”l.

The modern day split within Chabad has caused controversy, but this reviewer found no traces of negativity in Ehrlich’s inspired narrative.

Now, upon the tenth anniversary of the Rebbe’s yahrzeit, this work will begin to help us understand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s life work and ambition for his people – the entire Jewish people, and his place in the pantheon of Jewish leadership. Although no one person has emerged as a successor, the movement enjoys such a degree of influence that it continues to grow stronger and more vital with each passing day.

By the time of this writing, The Messiah of Brooklyn should be available in bookstores and Judaica book shops. See Ktav’s website at www.ktav.com. The author may be reached at ame27@cam.ac.uk.

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