Education was as essential to the lifework of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, as it has been to the Jewish tradition. Throughout his decades of leadership, the Rebbe’s exhortations, directives, and words of support and encouragement about education appeared in books, letters, talks, and in the words of advice, counsel and blessing given in countless personal audiences. In Spiritual Education: The Educational Theory and Practice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—a book representing decades of study and thought—Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Solomon makes the case that the Rebbe’s voluminous contributions on the topic of education form a coherent whole: a cogent philosophy of education that is original and comprehensive, and which addresses issues that are universal, beyond parochial boundaries.

The problem confronting the author was that, unlike most who write systematically about education, what the Rebbe has to say about education was not simply organized into a book dedicated to clearly and methodically setting out his philosophy. Instead, his educational teachings are widely scattered throughout his immense oeuvre.

In the Rebbe’s thought, the data of Judaism, in all the debates of the Talmud, in the differing emphases and geniuses of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions, in its halachists and aggadists, in its rationalists and its mystics, all point to a unity so cosmic that it overcomes and integrates every duality and grounds all fragmentation in an ever-renewing and ever more strongly actualized integral wholeness.

Solomon’s work is methodical and patient, with a slowly developing sense of the magisterial arising from his close and organized consideration of the vast corpus of the Rebbe’s work. This book is clearly the work of a mature scholar who has spent much of a lifetime in disciplined study of the material he is writing on, and who sees the subject matter as having existential significance. As he wishes to establish the relevance of the Rebbe’s philosophy beyond the realm of the parochial, he subjects the Rebbe’s thought to analysis by the accepted canons of modern educational philosophy. This is a field with which Solomon is also thoroughly acquainted, and this is evident to the reader.

This disciplined approach allows confidence to grow in the critical reader that this appreciation of the Rebbe’s educational philosophy does not depend on any sort of special pleading. Rather, awareness of the robustness and relevance of the Rebbe’s thinking on this topic grows inexorably as one proceeds through the book.

True education should have as its aim the transformation of students into living exemplars of the force for unity that is the ever-present center of their studies. The core unity must bridge the many gaps between soul and mind, mind and emotion, emotion and action. To achieve that, the student must freely accept discipline. This is the deepest level of personal existential commitment, programmatically lacking in the Rebbe’s estimation, from so much of contemporary education. A discipline imposed from without may have worked in ages past, but today requires that it be found from within. Although this involves deep soul-work, the Rebbe proposed a core method by which it could become a general program – the setting of a moment of silence in all schools so that students could meditate on the deepest questions of life and to realize within themselves why it makes sense and is good and pleasant to accept the empowering discipline that education must bring.

The embrace of education is universal; as Solomon puts it, “everything is educational.” There are as many moments of possibility as there are of life itself, in the Rebbe’s view. Thus, education is meant to reveal unity and interconnection in every aspect of life and accordingly, such an education becomes a matter of cosmic urgency.

Solomon carefully sets out this coherent line of thought, tracing it back to first principles. He shares the Rebbe’s confidence that this philosophy invites scrutiny and rewards it, so he fairly and clearly traces the Rebbe’s thought from its mystical summit in the divine Unity in which the world is entirely included, and allows thereby comparison to other systems of education starting from different, even opposing premises. It is clear that this is a self-chosen discipline in which Solomon delights, exemplifying in it the principles the Rebbe set down even as he transcends the limits imposed by less disciplined evaluation of the Rebbe’s thought, even among admirers of the Rebbe.

Solomon establishes a powerful case that the Rebbe had a whole and coherent educational philosophy. This book is inspiring and will reward anyone who values education.

“Spiritual Education: The Educational Theory and Practice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson” is available in bookstores, from Amazon, and from Herder and Herder.