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Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950)

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950)

Sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch

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Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, 1880-1950, the sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, 1880-1950, the sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, was one of the most remarkable Jewish personalities of the twentieth century. In his seventy years, he encountered every conceivable challenge to Jewish life: the persecutions and pogroms of Czarist Russia, Communism's war on Judaism, and melting-pot America's apathy and scorn toward the Torah and its precepts. The Rebbe was unique in that he not only experienced these chapters in Jewish history -- as did many of his generation -- but that, as a leader of his people, he actually faced them down, often single-handedly, and prevailed.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was the only son of Rabbi Sholom DovBer, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad, whose devotion to the child's education is lovingly chronicled in Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's voluminous writings.1 While still in his teens, the young Yosef Yitzchak he served as the right hand of his father. As the personal secretary of the Rebbe, Yosef Yitzchak's responsibilities included administrating the many civic and communal activities in which the Rebbe was involved. The young Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, in full-length chassidic garb, was a familiar figure in the receiving rooms of the government officials, ministers, and nobles of Moscow and Petersburg. In 5655 (1895) the young rabbi participated in the great conference of religious and lay leaders in Kovno, and again in the following year in Vilna. At times soft-spoken and with words coming from the heart, at times audacious and threatening, but always fearless and determined, he demanded the repeal of anti-Jewish decrees, the stopping of pogroms and the cessation of the government's program of forced "enlightenment" of traditional Jewish life.

On Elul 13, 5657 (1897), at the age of seventeen, Yosef Yitzchak married Nechamah Dina, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Schneersohn and granddaughter of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad rebbe. During the week's celebrations that followed the wedding ceremony, Rabbi Sholom Dovber announced the founding of Tomchei Tmimim, the Lubavitch yeshivah, and the following year appointed his son to be its executive director. It was there, in the hamlet of Lubavitch in pre-soviet White Russia, that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok trained the army of the faithful torchbearers who, under the impossible conditions of the decades to come, would literally give their lives to keep the flame of Jewish life ablaze throughout the Soviet Union.

Upon his father's passing in 1920 Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak assumed the leadership of Russian Jewry just as Communism's all-out war on Jewish life was moving into high gear. His fight to preserve Judaism was characterized by his all-consuming mesirat nefesh - an unequivocally selfless devotion to the physical and spiritual needs of a fellow Jew and unshakable faith in what he stood for. He dispatched teachers and rabbis to the farthest reaches of the Soviet Empire, establishing a vast underground network of schools, mikvaos, and lifelines of material and spiritual support. Stalin's henchmen did everything in their power to stop him. In 1927 he was arrested, beaten, sentenced to death and exiled; but he stood his ground, and by force of international pressure he was finally allowed to leave the country. But in leaving the boundaries of the Soviet Union he left his emissaries and their infrastructure of Jewish life behind; these continued to function and thrive, preserving and even spreading the teachings of Torah and chassidism to this very day. When the all-powerful communist regime began to crumble in the closing years of the '80s, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's network of children's schools, outreach centers, and supply lines of kosher food and religious services simply moved out of cellars and attics into emptied Communist Party buildings.

Upon arriving in New York after his rescue from Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1940, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak took on a no less formidable challenge: the frigid spiritual atmosphere of the western world. There was no telling Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak that his was a losing battle; from his wheelchair, he rallied the Jewish young of America under the cry that "America is no different," that also in this bastion of materialism the timeless truths of Torah can take root and flourish. He established yeshivas and day schools, a publishing house for Jewish books, a social service organization and community support networks throughout the country. By the time of his passing in 1950 he had laid the foundation for the global renaissance of Torah-true and chassidic-flavored Jewish life, heralded by his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

Footnotes
1.
From early childhood, an almost painful yen to write nestled in Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak's breast. From the age of eleven he kept a diary, often writing in it for several hours a day. He also wrote an estimated 100,000 letters during his lifetime, some 4,000 of which have his been amassed in a 12 volume collection; many of these letters contain dozens of pages of chassidic teachings and lore. This in addition to thousands of pages of discourses, essays and impressions which he penned in the course of his life.
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William Barrocas India May 3, 2016

I must confess that in "meeting" Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak I have met today the miracle of a human being and that too a Rabbi who bright forth mountainous volumes of divine teachings.I salute him with all the love ❤ and respect I can and pray God richly reward him wherever he now be and bless his disciples and beneficiaries to pass on the blessings they received to generations to come. Shalom Aleichem. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn January 23, 2016

shneerson in reply to Anonymous Jackson, MS/USA, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak descended from Rabbi Menachem Mendel the grandson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, The Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel (the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe) was also a descendant of the first rabbi Menachem Mendel, and thus both have the same last name. Reply

Fro July 1, 2015

What a great soul he is. Thank you for the article Reply

David Brooklyn January 23, 2014

Family Name of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi Rabbi Schneur Zalman's family name was originally Posner, but he changed it to Baruchovitch. He had a brother, Rabbi Mordechai Posner, who kept the original family name. See Days in Chabad, page 138, entry for 11 Adar. Reply

Levi Rox worcester, ma February 3, 2011

Great Information I think this was great information for an essay. Reply

Anonymous Indianapolis, IN September 18, 2010

Resque from Nazi -occupied Warsaw Regarding the Rebbe's resque from Nazi-occupied Warsaw...Is this the Rebbe referred to in the book "Lives of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers." Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org January 25, 2010

RE: Schneerson? Good question. The answer is that the 6th and 7th Rebbes were distant cousins. Interestingly, the 6th Rebbe spelled his name Schneersohn with an 'h', and the 7th Rebbe spelled his name Schneerson without the 'h'. Reply

Yaakov January 25, 2010

To Anon, Jackson All of the Chabad Rebbes are descendants of Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Lyady, hence the name Shneerson.
The leadership was generally passed down to directly from father to son, with two exceptions, where it was transmitted to sons-in-law: (1) Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, 3rd Rebbe; and his namesake, (2) Rabbi MM Schneerson [without the h], 7th Rebbe.
The Russian authorities once interviewed the 6th Rebbe (Rabbi YY Schneersohn), asking him whether the Chabad leadership is transmitted from father to son, or to the person most appropriate for the position? He replied: both...!
[Rabbi Shneur Zalman's last name was Boruchovitch, after his father, Rabbi Boruch; the 2nd Rebbe's last name was Shneuri, after his father, Shneur Zalman; from the 3rd Rebbe on, it remained Schneerson.] Reply

Anonymous Jackson, MS/USA January 25, 2010

Schneerson? How come both Rebbes have the last name Schneerson? Reply

MEYER WIDREVITZ chicago, usa September 29, 2009

why my father came to America In 1913, my father in Staradub, Ukraine, went to ask Rabbi Shneerson whether he shouod come to Palestine or the USA. My father's parents wanted my father too remain in Russia but agreed to the rabbi's decision. By letter from the rabbi my father was told to leave Russia and go to the USA. This letter of the rabbi was taken by father back to my grandparents who finally agreed with the rabbi's recommendation.
Later in life when I went into the US army during World War Two, my father went to New York and asked the rabbi to pray for my safe return. Thank G-d I did come back from almost four years from service in the us army air force in one piece. Reply