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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Remembering a Force in Jewish History

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died 20 years ago today by the Jewish calendar, was easily the most important rabbi of the second half of the 20th century in the U.S.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, left, in 1993.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, left, in 1993.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who by the Jewish calendar died 20 years ago a week from today, was easily the most important rabbi of the second half of the 20th century in the U.S. At his death, his legacy was uncertain: He left no successor, and his followers, the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidim, found themselves locked in a profound internal dispute about whether the man they expected to be revealed as the messiah had in fact died with the world unredeemed.

Today, it's possible to begin writing the second draft of the history of the man who came to be known simply as "the Rebbe": Despite his European origins, Schneerson was the quintessential American rabbi, one who transformed U.S. ultra-Orthodoxy from inward looking to outreach focused. His philosophy of openness to all Jews, regardless of religious orientation, has had a huge impact throughout Jewish orthodoxy and beyond. And his messianism, far from sinking his movement, has enabled its emissaries around the globe to continue his mission unabated.