Who Will Lead Us? The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America

Samuel C. Heilman. Univ. of California, $29.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-520277-23-6
This detailed study of changes in leadership in the major communities of the Hasidic movement—Munkacs, Boyan and Kopyczynitz, Bobov, Satmar, and Chabad—is not aimed at the same general audience as sociology professor Heilman’s acclaimed other works (The Rebbe; Sliding to the Right); instead, he focuses on “the patterns and processes of contemporary Hasidic succession.” Heilman presupposes some familiarity with Hasidism, which centers on charismatic leaders who inspire intense devotion among their followers; indeed, the disputes about whom should lead some Hasidic groups often devolved into violence. The descriptions of those physical altercations are just some of the warts-and-all aspects of the tradition that Heilman is able to provide as a result of his remarkable access to insiders, including influential Bobover rebbe Shlomo Halberstam, who brought the Bobov Hasidic dynasty to the U.S. after WWII, and Nachum Dov Brayer, current rebbe of the Boyan Hasidic dynasty. The centrality of the rebbe to his adherents makes the stakes high when he dies, and Heilman traces what happens when there is no successor, when there are competing successors, and when, as with Chabad/Lubavitch, there is denial that a successor is needed (in this case, because they believe the late Rabbi Schneerson did not really die and will return as the messiah). This is an invaluable addition to the ranks of objective studies of a Jewish movement that continues to flourish in the U.S. even as more modern denominations decline. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/26/2017
Release date: 06/01/2017
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-520-96648-2
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