Hasidism, a movement many believed had passed its golden age, has had an extraordinary revival since it was nearly decimated in the Holocaust and repressed in the Soviet Union. Hasidic communities, now settled primarily in North America and Israel, have reversed the losses they suffered and are growing exponentially. With powerful attachments to the past, mysticism, community, tradition, and charismatic leadership, Hasidism seems the opposite of contemporary Western culture, yet it has thrived in the democratic countries and culture of the West. How? Who Will Lead Us? finds the answers to this question in the fascinating story of five contemporary Hasidic dynasties and their handling of the delicate issue of leadership and succession.
Revolving around the central figure of the rebbe, the book explores two dynasties with too few successors, two with too many successors, and one that believes their last rebbe continues to lead them even after his death. Samuel C. Heilman, recognized as a foremost expert on modern Jewish Orthodoxy, here provides outsiders with the essential guide to continuity in the Hasidic world.
Samuel C. Heilman is Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College CUNY. He has written eleven books, including, most recently (with Menachem Friedman), The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
“Who Will Lead Us? brilliantly demonstrates that the remarkable resurrection of Hasidism has been due to its capacity for maintaining the charismatic authority of its dynastic leadership. This is by far the most insightful study of the social, economic, and political dynamics of Hasidim today.”—Ada Rapoport-Albert, Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies at University College London
“What happens to dynasties when they meet America? This is a fascinating tale of the struggles over succession that plague today’s Hasidic communities. Told with a richness of detail and insider knowledge that only Samuel Heilman could muster.”—Art Green, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University
“Once again, Samuel Heilman has opened the opaque world of contemporary Hasidism to his readers. With a rare blend of historical depth and sociological breadth, he offers up five case studies that explore the fraught process of leadership transition in Hasidic courts. This is a gripping story about Hasidic Jews, but it is also about religious leadership more generally in the modern age.”—David Myers, Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA