Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lubavitcher Rebbe as a real person

I spent a large part of Shabbos reading a very interesting book. I know I'm several years behind the times with this one (because the controversy has already been and gone, and the book is now selling on Amazon for $650!), but if you can get hold of it, I highly recommend "Larger than Life: The Life and Times of the Lubavicher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Vol. 2." by Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch.

If nothing else, it is worth it for this priceless picture of the Rebbe from his days in Berlin:



Doesn't look quite so much like the Messiah in this one does he!

(since my scanner isn't working at the moment I actually took this scan from mentalblog. I also found an interesting site with pictures of Gedolim when they were younger)

The book is a biography of the Rebbe from his days in Riga through his years in Berlin. It describes his wedding in great detail - including the thefts that took place while the chuppa was taking place. I must also remember not to make any comments about long engagements in the future - the Rebbe and his wife were engaged for over four years before the previous Rebbe could afford to make the wedding!

Deutsch has investigated the courses that the Rebbe took while in Berlin, and describes the professors, and which ones he was close to. (He also puts paid to the claim that the Rebbe was very friendly with Einstein - who in fact was not actually in Berlin at the time the Rebbe was there)

He describes the relationship between the Rebbe and two other future leaders of klal yisrael who were with him in Berlin - Rav Soloveitchik and R' Yitzchak Hutner (and has pictures of both from their Berlin days, which I can't find on the web).

Rabbi Deutsch was clearly a committed Lubavitcher Chasid (though now the Rebbe of Anshei-Liozna), and his ability to judge favorably is much greater than mine. His goal is to present the truth, and cut through the historical revisionism of some biographies and stories. For example, the myth that the Rebbe would walk down the corridors of Berlin University wearing his hat, only replacing it with a kippa as he walked into the lecture room, is disproved by the above picture, which shows him without a kippa. (According to his brother in law the Rebbe would wear a beret in the streets of Berlin). Of course, anyone who knows anything about Berlin of the 1920s and 30s knows that nobody wore a hat inside, and there is a famous teshuva of R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffman (removed from one version of Melamed Le-ho'il) that R' Shimshon Raphael Hirsch told him to remove his kippa and hat when he wasn't davening or saying brachos.

Obviously this book has rattled the cages of some chabadskers who believe everything they are told. They are more interested in myth than in facts. But for someone who is interested in finding out some of the truth (without the cynicism or negativity of some other books on the subject), and if you can find it in your local library (or can afford the asking price) I highly recommend this book.


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