Book Review: The Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History

In his new book, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking facts, as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, popularly referred to as the “Rebbe” by his followers and admirers worldwide.

In a span of 92 years the Rebbe traveled from his birthplace, the city of Nikolayev, Ukraine, studied in the cosmopolitan cities of Berlin and Paris, where he earned degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, and finally settled in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. It was there he reluctantly donned the mantel as the Seventh Lubavitcher Rabbi and humbly assumed the title of the Rebbe.

Prior to his “coronation” he had already attained the stature of a spiritual magnet who attracted into his sphere of influence a warren of world leaders, as well as ordinary people who sought his wise counsel and blessings. More than a biography, this book relates historic events bonded with personal insights and coupled with private moments, which bring the reader to yichudusim, private moments of consultation, with the Rebbe.

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Provocations: What Was Bibi Thinking?

— by Steve Wenick

“Israel has the right to respond to provocative Palestinian Authority moves.”Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

That was Bibi’s response to the UN General Assembly’s vote to give the Palestinians a non-member observer state status. But having the ‘right’ does not obligate nor does it necessitate exercising that right.

More after the jump.
True enough; a response was warranted but like ‘change’ there are good responses and bad responses. Bibi’s was the latter.  To paraphrase the great bard, to respond or not to respond that is the question. Or perhaps it is only a part of the question. More to the point is the question of how to respond.

My initial reaction to his response to the ‘provocation’ was that he was acting like an immature brat playing the old schoolyard game of tit for tat. Of course if Bibi had not responded at all, at least publically, it still would have constituted a response, albeit a silent one. But sometimes they are the ones which speak the loudest and most effectively.

But respond he did and as a consequence he gave the Palestinian Authority exactly what it wanted, a reaction from Bibi that would only serve to further alienate Israel from even its closest allies. He made three mistakes, all of which were unnecessary.

  • First of all, there was the timing. It probably was planned but appeared precipitous. It had the look of a thoughtless and reckless reaction rather than a thoughtfully planned course of action.
  • Second, it was pointless; he could have chosen a number of other more diplomatic ways to communicate his disapproval of the vote to his diminishing cadre of friends in the international community.
  • Third, it smacked of spite work; never a very pretty piece of work. He purposely pulled an ‘in your face’ tantrum which was a totally over the top reaction not becoming of a head of state. To resort to bluster, bombast and bravado, which oft characterizes the theatrics of Israel’s enemies, has been and continues to be the last resort of those who have nothing to say. Bibi should not have adopted tactics which were tantamount to slaps in the faces of friends.

So the question that begs an answer is, “What was Bibi thinking?”  The answer may be as simple as — he wasn’t.

A Kippah Question

There’s something sad about seeing many of our American youth wearing a kippah while visiting Israel.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not against them wearing a kippah; I am gratified by it. The reason I think it is so sad is because the vast majority of those same kids will not wear one at home in America other than when sheltered from the outside world. For example, they have no problem wearing their Jewish identity openly when going to synagogue, attending religious school or participating in a Jewish event but wearing one in the general public, well that’s a different story.
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Jewish Political Party Values

Which political party mirrors your understanding of the priorities of Jewish values when it comes to responding to the needs of the poor?

At the outset let me make this perfectly clear I do not vote party; I vote for the individual. So it matters not which party reflects my values only the candidates. I recognize that the candidate running under his or her political party’s banner will most likely hoist and support the party line. But that is not always the case. There are exceptions when there are exceptional people whether they are running for national, state, county, or city office, all the way down to your local committeeman.

Getting back to the question, “How do we as Jews address the needs of poor Jewish families?” There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people reading this article. Searching through the Jewish responsa, which contain the wisdom of our great teachers, reveals that Maimonides says that lifting the burden off the shoulders of the poor is best done through job training. Other sages say it is by providing food and shelter.
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An Ethical Dilemma by Steve Wenick

A friend of mine recently told me about an event in his life which I thought was too good not to share with you. This is his story as I remember it.

Years ago, while working at the cash register in my father’s grocery store in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, I saved all the two dollar bills handed to me. Over time I managed to collect fourteen of the bills, all of which were printed prior to 1970, which I believed might make them valuable.

My plan was to hoard them until some later date in the hopes that they turn out to be worth much more than two dollars each. I later discovered that they could be worth from three dollars up to several thousand dollars each, depending on where and when they were printed, their serial numbers and if they were from the valuable ‘red seal’ series. However at the time I received the bills I had no idea of their actual worth but planned to check their value at the library (there was no Internet back then) at some later date.
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