My Rebbe

  • Review
By – September 15, 2014

Rab­bi Adin Stein­saltz is per­haps best known for his mon­u­men­tal trans­la­tion and com­mentary to the entire Tal­mud. As such he is the rebbe, or teacher, of untold thou­sands all over the world. He is also a Lubav­itch Hasid and had a close rela­tion­ship with the Lubav­itch­er Rebbe for many years. It is twen­ty years since Rab­bi Men­achem Mendel Schneer­son died, and this biog­ra­phy is Rab­bi Steinsaltz’s trib­ute to his rebbe. It must be not­ed that in hasidic par­lance, a rebbe is much more than a teacher. He is also a father fig­ure, the supreme author­i­ty and arbiter of all mat­ters spir­i­tu­al and mun­dane, the focus of his fol­low­ers’ awe and rev­er­ence, and their reli­gious mentor.

Rab­bi Stein­saltz is an insid­er, a fol­low­er, and a believ­er. This is not a dis­pas­sion­ate com­pi­la­tion of details about the Rebbe’s life. It is an ana­lyt­i­cal rather than a descrip­tive biog­ra­phy. Instead of focus­ing on minu­tia, Rab­bi Stein­saltz gives us a great deal of expla­na­tion and com­mentary about Lubav­itch Hasidism, the his­to­ry and prac­tices as they relat­ed to the Rebbe. This is not to say that we do not learn things we didn’t know before — for exam­ple, the Rebbe ate most­ly hard choco­late and dilut­ed milk dur­ing the day. We also learn in pass­ing that he was ordained by Rab­bi Yehiel Yakov Wein­berg, a rec­og­nized non-Hasidic Ortho­dox rab­bi who head­ed the Hildesheimer Rab­bini­cal Sem­i­nary in Berlin.

The read­er will have to judge for him/​herself the chap­ters deal­ing with the Rebbe’s mir­a­cles, and his con­nec­tion to the super­nat­ur­al. The sev­en­teen chap­ters and appen­dices pro­vide a glimpse into a world rarely seen by out­siders. Not every aspect of the Rebbe’s life is laid bare, how­ev­er, what is revealed demon­strates deep devo­tion and strong beliefs. My Rebbe is as much about the move­ment as it is about the man who led it for forty years. This is its charm and impor­tance. Key Hasidic con­cepts are explained coher­ent­ly so that we can begin to under­stand how and why the Rebbe behaved the way he did. The issue of the Mes­si­ah, his polit­i­cal views, rela­tion­ship to Israel and Zion­ism, fam­i­ly dis­putes, and oth­er aspects of the Rebbe’s life and impact are dealt with sen­si­tive­ly and selec­tive­ly in the tight­ly writ­ten chapters.

The Rebbe loved chil­dren, and prayed suc­cess­ful­ly count­less times for oth­ers to give birth, but he and his wife remained childless.

Rab­bi Stein­saltz has giv­en us an inti­mate look at the life of a great leader. The Rebbe’s lega­cy is more in the form of march­ing orders. There is no suc­ces­sor to the Rebbe, yet the move­ment is flour­ish­ing. This book is a fine mon­u­ment to his achievements.

Relat­ed content:

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions