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Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History Paperback – June 14, 2016
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*Starred Review* The subtitle’s claim that Schneerson, of the Chabad-Lubavitcher sect of Orthodox Jewry (and thought by some of his followers to be the Messiah), was the modern world’s most influential Jewish religious leader is proven throughout this highly readable book. He was visited by everyone from Robert Kennedy to Cory Booker, had a warm correspondence with Ronald Reagan, and received a Congressional Gold Medal. With outreach programs that extended far beyond his tiny sect, he made the love of one’s fellow Jew a visible symbol throughout the world. Telushkin introduces the Rebbe through the stories and memories of those who knew or were touched by him. A wide range of topics is discussed: Schneerson’s connection with his family, his congregation, and other Jewish denominations; his position on Israel; his outside-the-box thinking on a number of religious issues. Although this account doesn’t contain any real critical assessment, it is not hagiography. Rather, readers are left to draw their own assessment from the wide-ranging portrait. For instance, what to make of the fact that though Schneerson was highly trained in the sciences, he insisted that the sun revolves around an earth that is less than 7,000 years old? For those who wish a more ordered look at the Rebbe’s life, the author provides a detailed time line. Extensive notes bolster the text. Fascinating. --Ilene Cooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“[An] excellent new biography of Chabad’s great 20th-century leader… For all his immense achievements, the Rebbe’s power ultimately came from a simple message that anyone can appreciate. As Mr. Telushkin puts it: ‘Love your fellow, and not just those who agree with you….’ Mesmerizing.” (Wall Street Journal)
“Through his clear and unambiguous prose cultivated from many sources, Telushkin recounts how the Rebbe fundamentally transformed notions of human potential, as he believed individuals were capable of much more than we imagine for ourselves... Rebbe will be a staple of rabbinic biography for years to come.” (Huffington Post)
“The subtitle’s claim that Schneerson was the modern world’s most influential Jewish religious leader is proven throughout this highly readable book… Readers are left to draw their own assessment from the wide-ranging portrait… Fascinating.” (Booklist (starred review))
“A vivid, panoramic view of Rabbi Schneerson-in each of his many roles as dynamic spiritual leader, inspiring teacher, and even motivating life coach and management guru… Telushkin’s Rebbe is a man in constant motion, a non-stop whirlwind of faith-driven energy and action possessed of a spiritual calm.” (The Jewish Week)
“An admiring but honest look at Schneerson and his legacy… What stands out is Schneerson’s engagement with the principles by which he managed to wield a considerable influence upon the American cultural scene and the Jewish world… An engaging account.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Well-qualified to write about his subject, [Telushkin] draws on Schneerson’s public statements as well as his voluminous correspondence and his thousands of private audiences, with his followers and others, both Jewish and non-Jewish. An approachable and admiring introduction appropriate for readers interested in modern Jewish thought.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“One of the greatest religious biographies ever written. Generations from now, Rebbe will be read by people of every faith.” (Dennis Prager, national talk show host and New York Times bestselling author of Still the Best Hope)
“An iconic figure comes alive in these pages, a man of wisdom and learning, yes, but also of deep personal caring and kindness… An astounding personal biography.” (Ruth Messinger, President, American Jewish World Service)
“Whether you are a believer, an admirer or a respectful skeptic, you will learn much from this deep and accessible account of a truly great man by a great writer.” (Alan M. Dershowitz, professor emeritus, Harvard Law School, and author of Taking the Stand)
“Joseph Telushkin’s earthbound study introduces ‘the most influential rabbi in modern history’ by documenting the incremental process through which his influence was acquired… Illuminating.” (Commentary Magazine)
“Telushkin offers a rounded portrait of life in the shadow, or the sunlight, of the Rebbe. We meet dozens of followers and hear their stories, get a feel for the texture of their devotion, for why they loved him… It is worth studying how and why his method worked.” (The Jewish Daily Forward)
“[Rebbe] should be in the personal library of Americans of every faith.” (Front Page Magazine)
“[Rebbe] is an enjoyable book to read, with insights and perspectives as well as details that inform and engage, shedding light on a towering, influential figure.” (Chicago Jewish Star)
“With this book, the Rebbe no longer is incomprehensible. Spend some time getting to know the Rebbe. You’ll be glad you did.” (Jewish Herald Voice)
“Provides a comprehensive history of the Rebbe’s hallmark focus on the individual-from heads of state to the everyman” (JNS)
“To understand why he inspired so many, do yourself a favor and pick up this moving, new biography. You don’t need to be a Jew or even be a religious person to learn from this monumental man.” (New York 1)
“Rebbe is that extremely rare thing: a perfect book about a perfect man. [It] brings the great man alive and gives the reader powerful motivation to examine his own life... The Rebbe touched the lives of millions; through Telushkin’s book, he will touch the lives of many more.” (NY Journal of Books)
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This book states its purpose is to reveal how The Rebbe expanded the small Chasidic Sect of Chabad into a gigantic worldwide presence.
I saw a newspaper article in 2017 that said Chabad is now the largest Jewish group. I am not sure I believe that.
Most people don't know how recently it was negligibly tiny among Jewish movements, but take its ubiquitous presence for granted, as if it has always been everywhere.
This book does not solve the mystery of how that was done, but it does lay out the chronology, so those who are startled by the success of tiny Chabad startup communities may theorize for themselves about why those people are so successful at what they do.
Each chapter of the book highlights specific leadership traits of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and illustrates them with intimate details of personal stories. There’s no better way to learn ideas of leadership than to watch a master in action. The Rebbe’s hundreds of thousands of followers and millions of admirers will benefit from stories such as when the Rebbe stopped being able to see visitors for one-on-one meetings, he refused to see anyone on the grounds that he did not want to insult anyone's feelings. The governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean, asked to meet the Rebbe, but was told, “I am bound by [a] basic tenet of our Torah which requires us to be extra careful in showing respect to all, including those who are less privileged in terms of stature and the like, and they would be embarrassed if they had the feeling that they have been discriminated against.” His thoughtfulness for each individual is highlighted in many stories in the book. But the Rebbe could also see the big picture and consult with, for example, military leaders about war strategies, community leaders about bringing morality back to schools, and with all that, his attention to detail was unparalleled.
The Rebbe exuded optimism as well, even in his language. He explained, “I have stopped using the word “deadline,” substituting instead “due date,” the first term—which is so widely used—connoting the end of life and the second, life’s beginning.”
The Rebbe’s respect for his own teachers also shows an amazing sense of humility. He often quoted his father-in-law, the previous leader of Chabad, as saying, “When two people meet, it should bring benefit to a third.” Imagine if more people had that outlook on life!
I am happy that over twenty-five years ago my college Chabad rabbi insisted that I drive to Brooklyn to meet the Rebbe and get a dollar, which was a gift the Rebbe gave to people to encourage them to give charity.
Telushkin’s book will be a wise addition to anyone’s reading list.