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Who Was Barry Gourary?

Barry Gourary, the only grandson of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, laid claim to the vast collection of books in the library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad, leading to an American court’s affirmation in 1986 that “the Rebbe and the Sforim belong to the Chasidim,” and the subsequent annual Hey Teves celebrations.

Who was this man?

CrownHeights.info presents a portrait of the life of a man who many had expected to one day assume the role of Rebbe of Lubavitch, but who embarked on a radically different path as he grew to adulthood.

The following is from the first volume of Habad Portraits by noted Chabad author Rabbi Chaim Dalfin.

Note from the author: Habad Portraits was written for university academics and and historians, not Lubavitcher Chasidim. Hence, the use of the Rebbe’s name is without his appropriate title, and it may contain other seemingly disrespectful writing in regard to our holy Rebbeim, as this is standard in academic writing.

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Rabbi Shalom Baer Gourary (1923-2005), better known as “Barry Gourary,” was the only grandson of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, and considered a potential heir by some. But Barry Gourary’s future would turn out to be far different from what many Habad Hasidim had imagined; indeed, no one could have foreseen the controversy he would spark, nor the divisions it would create in his own family, the first family of Habad Hasidism. It was unprecedented. Never before had an internal conflict in a highly respected Hasidic family gone public, and never before had such a conflict reached a United States court.

The issue was whether the library of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, was to become the personal property of his family after his death, or whether it was a communal asset, belonging to the worldwide Habad-Lubavitch movement, kept in trust by Agudas Hasidei Habad. Gourary, as the grandson of the previous Rebbe, believed it was his inheritance to be disposed of as he saw fit. But his uncle, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, through the organizational body, Agudas Hasidei Habad, argued that the previous Rebbe had seen the library as the inheritance of the larger community and, as such, was to be transferred to the legitimate leadership of that community.

But it is not the case for inheritance, its merits or weaknesses, that I intend to discuss in this chapter—it is Barry Gourary himself and his unpublished testament, From Lubavitch to “770”, written when he was 63 years old, in the midst of the dispute.[1] For, looking at Gourary through the lens of his own testament, I believe his position with regard to the Rebbe and Agudas Hasidei Habad will be revealed. In order to truly understand a person’s behavior, we must first know something of their life, their way of thinking, and their innermost feelings. In exploring the details of Barry Gourary’s life and his personal testament, it is hoped that this remarkable episode in the history of Habad-Lubavitch will be further clarified.

Family History

Shalom Baer Gourary was born on the 25th of Shevat, 5683 (February 11th, 1923) in Rostov-on-the-Don. He was the only child born to Shemaryahu and Hanna Gourary. Shemaryahu, his father, was an esteemed student in the Lubavitcher yeshiva, Tomhei Temimim, from a prominent Lubavitcher family. The Gourarys’ connection with Lubavitch dated back to the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Baer of Lubavitch (1773-1827). His uncle, Shmuel Gourary, was a prominent follower of the fourth and fifth Lubavitcher Rebbes and helped bankroll many of their projects. Because of his loyalty, Shmuel was interred near the fifth Rebbe after his passing. Legend has it that the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer, had promised him that he, Shmuel, would be near him in the World-to-Come, which Hasidim understood as command to bury Shmuel near him.

Shemaryahu’s father, Menachem Mendel, was also a staunch supporter of the Rebbes and a committed Hasid.[2] When Shemaryahu became engaged to Hanna, the eldest of Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn’s three daughters, it was said that her grandfather, Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer, had handpicked Shemaryahu as her groom. It was said at the time that Shemaryahu had memorized hundreds of Hasidic discourses and had a great awe before the Almighty. In 1920, he was appointed by his future father-in-law, the Rebbe, to be the menahel poel, or acting principal of the Lubavitcher yeshiva.[3] This appointment actually preceded his marriage to the Rebbe’s daughter, which took place in Rostov-on-the-Don on the 21st of Sivan, 5781 (1921).

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Shemaryahu was his father-in-law’s right hand man in yeshiva related matters throughout Russia and Poland. He also was instrumental in arranging the matzah campaign for Russian Jews in 1929.[4] After coming to America with his father-in-law in 1940, he continued as his father-in-law’s spokesman. His dignified appearance and witty fundraising prowess made him the perfect candidate for the position. He also successfully managed fourteen Habad yeshivot throughout the greater northeast of the United States[5] and helped to secure the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Aron Rokeach’s release from Nazi Germany.[6]

His wife, Hanna, was the oldest of three girls: Hanna being born in Lubavitch on the 25th of Menachem Av, 5659 (August 1st, 1899);[7] her sister, Hayya Mushka (Moussia), being born in Smolensk in 1901;[8] and the youngest, Shaindel (Sonia), being born in Lubavitch in 1904. Hanna was raised in Lubavitch, where her parents lived from their marriage on September 10th, 1897 to October 24th, 1915, when they left for Rostov-on-the-Don.[9] Later, Hanna would recall how her grandfather, Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, would interact with the yeshiva students. She spoke of the closeness her grandfather had with his students and how they would take walks together. He loved them like children. Hanna also spoke of her grandfather as her Rebbe. Her descriptions of her own father were those of a daughter; but when speaking about her grandfather, it was through the lens of a Hasid![10]

In 1923, Shemaryahu and Hanna had their only child, Shalom Baer—Barry—named after his great-grandfather, Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Little Shalom Baer grew up in an environment filled with warmth, Torah and hasidut. From his father and the Gourarys, he acquired a sense of sophistication and regality. From his mother and the Schneersohns, he learned about leadership, self-sacrifice and prominence. After all, his illustrious ancestor, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the founder of the Habad-Lubavitch lineage, was crowned a Potomstveny, Patchotny Grazhdanin, ‘Hereditary, honorary citizen,’ by the Czar.[11]

Notwithstanding this prestige, he was himself born into a different period of Russian history. Stalin’s evil decrees against the Jews, and the general chaos throughout the region, caused young Shalom Baer to experience two radically different worlds—that of his home in the Lubavitcher community, and that of Communist Russia. Eventually, his family moved to Otwock, Poland, where his grandfather had established a temporary seat. In 1936, he had his bar mitzvah there, and his grandfather, the Rebbe, recited Hasidic discourses and delivered talks.[12] In reading these discourses and talks, it is easy to discern the love and hope his grandfather had for him. After all, his other daughter, Hayya Mushka, had been married since 1928 and remained childless, as was Shaindel (Sonia), who had married in 1932. So it understandable that Shalom Baer would be the focus of many hopes for the future.

Personal History

In his testament, From Lubavitch to “770”, Gourary gives his own account of his youth and his family, discussing his role as a potential successor, his reading habits and use of his grandfather’s library, as well as his secular studies and later career:

I was born in Rostov-on-the-Don where my great-grandfather, the Maharshab [Rabbi Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn][13] had taken the family during the First World War. The Maharshab died in 1920. I was born in 1923, and I was named after him. At that time, and for many years thereafter, Grandfather [Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson] hoped that I would someday take over the leadership of the Lubavitch movement.

To many [Hasidim],[14] I was the heir apparent. Yet I was a youngster growing up in a turbulent, revolutionary world. In earlier generations, Lubavitch had placed a great emphasis on the isolation of its young from the outside world until their views and their habits would be firmly established. For many years, this strategy, which had been particularly well articulated by the Maharshab in his will, worked very well. Then the winds of change started blowing.

I was a very inquisitive kid, but I often found it easier to observe than to ask questions. My father was usually too busy. My mother and my teachers told me what I should believe. My grandfather taught me the importance of belief and the proper role of human reason. He was a man I loved and revered, but I did not wish to become a rebbe [. . .]

Towards the end of our stay in Latvia, Grandfather permitted me to start borrowing books from his library; some were collections of old poems in Hebrew. I enjoyed comparing those poems with the ones in the [mahzor] (prayerbook for the High Holy Days), but the structure of the rhymes were still too complex for me to understand at that time. I tried reading some other books. Gradually, I began to realize that the library was a great new source of information, and that it was now open to me. [. . .]

As we moved to Warsaw, the library started growing. Reading, which had been my hobby when I was a small child, became an obsession by the time I reached the teens. Often, I would borrow a book, and keep reading it past my bedtime. This was frowned upon by the grown-up-in-charge. After a few reprimands, I learned to dodge the problem by pulling the blanket over my head and then reading the book under the blanket with the aid of a flashlight. [. . .]

At first, I read whatever book came into my hands. Later, I developed a definite taste for certain types of literature. First, I liked books that gave me a sense of adventure; these included books on foreign travel and other escapades. Second, I enjoyed books that gave me a feeling of order; these included treatises by the Rambam (Maimonides) and Rabbi Ya’acov Ba’al ha-Turim. Then I started looking for books which would give me a clear, firm philosophical foundation. I read much in this last department, but none of the books quite met my need. Grandfather was giving me occasional lessons in [hasidut]. To supplement his teachings, I studied the Tanya by the Alter Rebbe, other [Hasidic] books, and numerous [ma’amarim]. On my own, I also explored various [kabbalistic] tracts; the [Moreh Nevukhim] and other books by the Rambam; and works by a broad range of other authors. I found the Rambam’s works most to my liking, but it was only much later that I finally developed a satisfactory philosophical position for myself.

In Otwock, I studied at the [yeshiva Tomhei Temimim], Grandfather’s [yeshiva]. When we came to the United States, it was concluded that I would learn more at an established [yeshiva] than at the newly organized Lubavitcher [yeshiva], where I might get too much special consideration. Accordingly, I entered the [Metivta Torah Vada’at], which also had the required high school program. I received supplementary instruction in [hasidut]. After completing high school in 1942, I spent one year in full-time study at the [yeshiva]. In 1943, I entered the evening program at Brooklyn College. I stayed at the [yeshiva] until I received my [smikhah] (rabbinical ordination) in 1945, and then went to college on a full-time basis.

At Brooklyn College, I was fortunate in having several very good teachers. At the [yeshiva], I had already learned the orderly nature of the Jewish legal code as well as its origins in the rough-and-tumble of talmudical discourse. At Brooklyn College, I began to learn the orderly nature of physical science and its origins in the seemingly disorderly physical world. Gradually, I became fascinated with the task of turning disorder into order. My specific interests lay in physics research. [. . .]

Then Grandfather passed away. [. . .]

I lost much of my respect and liking for the “770” crowd during that period. [. . .]

I moved in 1951 [. . .] I moved to the Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory (“APL” in the alphabet-soup lingo of Washington) in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I remained for more than nine years [. . .]

In 1953, I married Mina Haskind, a statistician for the Logistics Research Project, The George Washington University. [. . .] Our first daughter, Sonia Rose, arrived in 1959 [. . .]

In early 1960, we moved to Pittsburg PA, where I joined Westinghouse Electric Corporation Research Laboratories, to work on problems in luminescence and semiconductors. [. . .] Our second daughter, Nora Sterna, arrived in 1961 [. . .]

Discontent with instability at Westinghouse and worsening allergies finally caused us to move to West Hartford CT in 1962, where I joined the management team of the Research Laboratories of United Aircraft (now United Technologies). [. . .]

Our final move took place in 1968 when I joined ITT Defense-Space Group as director of technology. We settled in Montclair NJ, and have been living there ever since [. . .]

In 1971, I left ITT to engage in management consulting, primarily in the defense industry. I participated in and led some major studies of defense electronics programs, some out of the Institute for Defense Analyses. [. . .] In Washington, one can be either successful or original, but rarely both.

Since 1973, I have been with Gourary Associates Inc., a small consulting firm I founded, which serves both government and industry.[15]

A Visit to the Shpalerka Prison

In one fascinating section dealing with his youth, Gourary describes his visit to the Shpalerka Prison in Russia, where his grandfather, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe was being held for crimes against the state:

Little Grandmother sat down on the plain wooden bench and sighed deeply. The room was dimly lit, and the walls were drab. They must have been painted many years ago, but now their color was dark and dreary. Once the boards in these walls may have fitted together well, but now there were wide cracks between them, which formed long horizontal lines. In the middle of the wall, behind Little Grandmother, was a rectangular hole. Only much later did I fathom its function: It was simply an observation window through which we could be watched.

As she sat there hunched over, Little Grandmother reached only up to the fourth board. She was the picture of dejection. We called my great-grandmother Sterna Sarah “Little Grandmother” because she was short and stout. In normal times, she was a delightful, jovial person, but now she was entirely crushed: Her son, the Rayyatz [Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn],[16] had been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks for his religious activism. He was in mortal danger.

The picture changed. It was a huge room with a very high ceiling, resembling an armory. In my childish eyes, it seemed easily two hundred feet tall. Along the wall, was a long, low-slung building, an enclosed corridor with many, many openings. Each of these openings had a grate, and behind the grate were people. In fact, I now could see my grandfather and my father standing inside this corridor. One of the grates opened, and a man climbed out. He walked around among the visitors, chatted with them for a while, and then climbed back. The grate closed behind him.

“Why doesn’t Grandfather come out?”, I asked my mother. “This man is not an [ugalovnik]” (person accused of a capital crime), Mother answered, “but Grandfather is.” I didn’t know what a capital offense was, but it must have been something very serious indeed. After all, it had put my grandfather, the Rebbe, in jail. Mother was trying to look brave while crying bitterly.

At home, the mood was somber. Within a few days, when Grandfather was released from jail, there was celebration and joy. Yet as I leaf back through my memory, I can hardly find another picture from that period. The few scenes I described above are about all I remember of Russia. Perhaps this is to be expected. We left Russia when I was four; I am sixty-three now. All but the deepest scars of communist tyranny have faded with the passage of time.[17]

Impressions of his Grandfather, the Rebbe

But perhaps more important than this witness to his grandfather’s imprisonment are Gourary’s childhood impressions of his grandfather in daily life, as the leader of Habad-Lubavitch, and as head of the family:

My childhood memories of my grandfather, the Rayyatz, go back a long, long way. He was the dominant personality in the house, in the community, and, seemingly, in the entire world. That this was so was very clear from the actions of Mother, Father, Grandmother, Chaim [Lieberman],[18] Aunt [Hayya Mushka] Moussia, various important visitors, and all the others. Most followed his wishes, some occasionally disobeyed him, but no one ever ignored him.

In some ways, Grandfather was a very unassuming person. I do not recall him taking too much about himself. Yet he had a profound sense of mission, he was exceptionally orderly—“well-organized” in modern lingo—and all his actions had a well-considered purpose. A characteristic pose of his would be to sit at the desk, pencil in hand, brow slightly furrowed—writing. Writing took up a large part of his day. He wrote notes, letters, aphorisms, speeches, and [ma’amarim]. He also kept a very detailed accounting system, all in his own hand. He made it a point to be very well informed on all current and pending matters. Small wonder then that he was usually in total control.

He was also very thoughtful. Birthdays, anniversaries, minor events of importance to a family member, a [Hasid], or a friendall these Grandfather would never forget. Grandfather rarely slighted anyone, and he never did so without a carefully considered purpose.

He expected similar treatment from others. He was the head of a great and glorious tradition; he was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He expected respect and obeisance or cooperation, depending on the circumstances. In the rare cases where his wishes were disobeyed or ignored, he would studiously avoid giving the other party an opportunity to disobey him or insult him again.[19]

Potential Heir to the Rebbe

Another interesting section of Gourary’s testament discusses his role as potential heir and his personal feelings about taking on the burden of becoming a Rebbe:

I had my first major experience with [yehidut] [a private audience with the Rebbe] in Otwock. As Grandfather’s health began to deteriorate, it became necessary for someone to be available to him at all times. During [yehidut], I would often stand behind a partly closed door in the back foyer adjacent to Grandfather’s book-lined study. Without seeing the visitor, I would hear his monologue about illness, poverty, and personal misery. Often, I would see Grandfather dispense cash along with his words of encouragement. Very few of the [yehidut] visitors ever talked about truly spiritual matters. As I listened to each successive supplicant unburden himself to Grandfather, I gradually became aware of one of the many crushing burdens that a rebbe had to bear. In my adolescent mind, a strong aversion developed to ever becoming a rebbe.[20]

From this, it seems clear that Gourary’s personal witness of the Rebbe’s heavy responsibilities discouraged him from any aspiration to becoming Rebbe himself. And as the previously quoted account of his career shows, even though he had attended yeshiva at Torah va’Da’at and was ordained a rabbi, Gourary’s own vocational interests were scientific rather than rabbinic. “For some years,” he goes on to say explicitly, “it had been clear that I was pursuing a scientific career and was not interested in ever becoming rebbe.”[21]

The Rebbe’s Diary

Being the Rayyatz’ only grandson, Gourary was later privileged to read his grandfather’s diary, and has this to say of what he read:

Grandfather was a prolific writer. Most of what he wrote was intended for consumption by others. He also wrote a diary, much of which contained personal observations; it was not intended for other eyes. During the year he spent away from his wife and his family, this diary became a confidant and friend. Years ago, I had the privilege of studying in detail the unedited version of this diary. It was full of detail: daily financial transactions, records of visitors and conversations, perceptive characterizations of various individuals, and descriptions of the speeches he gave, the [ma’amarim] he spoke, the actions he initiated, and the reactions of others to his initiatives. It chronicled the gradual growth and development of the Rebbe from a regional leader into a public figure of world class. The part covering this year of separation [1927] was particularly revealing. For me, it made possible the understanding of events I had witnessed as a child, but ones I had never fully understood until I read the diary.[22]

Relationship with His Uncle, the future Lubavitcher Rebbe

As a child, Gourary also spent quite a bit of time with his uncle, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the future Lubavitcher Rebbe. Without a doubt, he loved and respected his uncle in this period, as shown in the following selections from his testament:

During late 1929 and the first half of 1930, Grandfather visited the US. Father went with him. This left Mother and me free to travel. We settled in Berlin for the year in order to be close to [Hayya Mushka] Moussia and [Menachem] Mendel Schneerson who lived there. [. . .] Often when I was in at Mendel’s apartment, he and Liova [Laibel, Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s brother] would engage in some high-spirited antics: they would push the two beds and the rest of the furniture together, and would then try to jump over the entire pile. Mendel often took me to the Berlin zoo, where I admired the lions and the tigers [. . .] Once he even arranged to have a picture taken of me playing with some young lion cubs. All in all, Mendel was a very good uncle in those days. He and Moussia were childless, and they treated me almost like a son.[23]

Elsewhere, Gourary is even more explicit about his feeling for his uncle Mendel in his youth:

I was actually closer to my uncle than to my father. We both had a technical education and we developed a certain kind of closeness. When my uncle came here in 1941 he was still interested in working as an electrical engineer [. . .] He and I were quite friendly in those days [. . .][24]

I looked for a role model, and I found one in my uncle Mendel Schneerson [. . .] His interests paralleled mine; they were partly technical, partly philosophical. He was always interested in me, and was willing to spend the time to answer my questions.[25]

Their shared interests in science and engineering were obviously important to Gourary, and one wonders if he was disappointed when his uncle did not continue his secular career, as he himself would do in the coming years. It may be that it was this secular part of his uncle’s life to which he was referring when he says in this testament, “I had been close to Uncle; in many ways he was my role model.”[26]

But Gourary also saw his uncle Mendel as a stubborn man. He makes this point in various ways throughout this testament, but nowhere more interestingly than in this sly reference:

Mendel Schneerson had lived for years with his parents in Yekaterinoslav at the corner of Zheleznaya and Upornaya Streets (Iron and Stubborn Streets).[27]

Gourary’s inclusion of the English translation of the Russian street names is telling, and certainly not accidental.

Reminiscences of His Father

Gourary’s references to his own father are casual and fairly mundane:

During the 1930’s, summers were often spent in Marienbad. This was a charming little town in [Czechoslovakia], famous for its mineral waters, its mud baths, its beautiful scenery, and the public figures that it attracted. [. . .] Grandfather and Grandmother usually ate dinner at their hotel. We would often go to Raab’s restaurant, an eatery managed by a short, rotund man, with a ruddy complexion and horn-rimmed glasses. His restaurant served a delicacy uncommon in those days: kosher hot dogs, which we called by their Russian name [sosiski]. Father often admonished me to stick to more traditional foods, rather [than] these new-fangled items, but, like fathers in every generation, he found that his admonitions fell on deaf ears.[28]

Elsewhere, Gourary describes his father as a “man of action.” He comments on his family’s departure from Latvia to Stockholm, Sweden via airplane. It was the first time any of them had been on a commercial airliner, and his father took charge of preparing them for the flight:

Then the plane started taxiing on the runway. Commercial flying in 1940 was not the commonplace experience that it is today. There were some real concerns about flying then, and many imaginary ones. Father, always a man of action, tried to make sure that our trip would be a safe one. He first tried to get all the information on flying that he possibly could. Some of the advice came from friends who had never flown; some came from the flight crew. Then he tried to pass this information on to each of us, and make sure that we would implement it. The advice included chewing, swallowing, breathing properly, and keeping our heads between our knees with our hands on the backs of our heads during takeoffs and landings. All this recently acquired wisdom was dispensed in a gushing torrent of words with the appropriate illustrative gestures.[29]

However, despite the good qualities he attributes to both his father and his uncle, Gourary reports his belief that “Neither of his [Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn’s] two surviving sons-in-law had his complete confidence or approbation.”[30]

His Education and View of Traditional Studies

Gourary speaks of his years as a student in the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Otwock, Poland, and of the special privileges he was accorded as the Rebbe’s grandson:

As the Rebbe’s grandson, I led a life of privilege at the [yeshiva].[31] I had a private tutor for several hours daily. I had a decent lunch which I brought from home. For a while, I even had a bicycle which I used for riding to the [yeshiva] and back. For safety, I used to park the bicycle at a house about two doors away from the [yeshiva]; I paid a small parking fee. One day, the man at whose house my bike was parked came running to the [yeshiva] all upset. He told me that the agents of the treasury department were at his house to collect his overdue taxes. They saw the bike, and decided to take it. We both ran back to his house, but my pleadings were to no avail. The agents were sure that the bike was his, and that he was simply telling them a tall tale in order to save it. They took the bike, and I had to take the case to court in order to reclaim the bike. When it was all over, we found that the lawyer’s bill exceeded the value of the bike.[32]

Gourary’s description of the yeshiva of Otwock betrays no great personal interest. However, one aspect of Habad training did draw his attention, although negatively:

The [yeshiva] had a long daily study schedule, with little food, no entertainment, and few material belongings, its program made sense. Some of the [yeshiva] bochurim excelled in the study of the Talmud, others specialized in [hasidut]. Still others became [hoz’rim], that is, court repeaters; the repeater would listen to a [ma’amar] [discourse] by the Rebbe, memorize its contents and the Rebbe’s expressions, and regurgitate it at will. This ability to serve as a human tape recorder was highly prized, and it led to many important perquisites. Unfortunately, it encouraged the mediocre and alienated the original thinkers.[33]

This final remark is telling, and may be seen as a part of the Habad-Lubavitch educational system that Gourary clearly rejected, being a part which did not honor novelty and unique expression—perhaps, in his opinion, his own talents and unique personal expression.

When he came to America in 1940, according to his own testimony, it was decided that he should not learn in the newly established Tomhei Temimim (directed by his father), but at Torah Vada’at:

In Otwock, I studied at the [yeshiva Tomhei Temimim], Grandfather’s [yeshiva]. When we came to the United States, it was concluded that I would learn more at an established [yeshiva] than at the newly organized Lubavitcher [yeshiva], where I might get too much special consideration. Accordingly, I entered the [Metivta Torah Vada’at], which also had the required high school program. I received supplementary instruction in [hasidut]. After completing high school in 1942, I spent one year in full-time study at the [yeshiva]. In 1943, I entered the evening program at Brooklyn College. I stayed at the [yeshiva] until I received my [smikhah] (rabbinical ordination) in 1945, and then went to college on a full-time basis.[34]

The reasons for his being sent to Torah Vada’at, as Gourary describes them, make sense in many ways. Nevertheless, one wonders if they tell the whole story. After all, the mashpiyim of Tomhei Temimim were not known for their indulgence, and these years of his education, according to Habad-Lubavitcher values, would have been considered the most critical to the formation of his character, and for learning the deeper aspects of Habad Hasidism and its own unique legal traditions. If these aspects of his education were truly considered most critical at the time, then it would not seem of most benefit to send him to an outside yeshiva. Thus, it should be considered a possibility that his grandfather and parents may have already accurately gauged his interest in other subjects, such as science, and foreseen that he would not likely serve the community as Rebbe, or in any other significant capacity.

Grandson and Grandfather

As the only direct male descendent of his grandfather, the love between Gourary and the Rebbe was strong. Yet, as Gourary grew older, he seems to question some of his grandfather’s actions:

A short time before his passing, Grandfather undertook a major symbolic task, namely, the writing of a Torah scroll for welcoming the Messiah ([Kabbalat P’nei Mashiah Sefer Torah]). Many of his followers understood this to mean that the Rebbe knew the Messiah was on his way. Everlasting life was soon to arrive for all the faithful. With such an outlook, it was not possible for [Hasidim] to prepare rationally for a transition.

The only one who had prepared for a transition was the Rebbe himself.[35]

Gourary’s words suggest a rationalist interpretation of these events. Thus, the writing of a special Torah scroll to welcome the long awaited Messiah was only for “symbolic” purposes, not to greet the actual Messiah. But, as many of the Rebbe’s followers interpreted it literally, the act did not allow them to prepare for the significant spiritual and material transitions ahead, including his own passing. The implied criticism is that the Rebbe should have better prepared his Hasidim for this transition and made them more aware of the symbolic nature of his actions.

But not all of Gourary’s statements about this period are so generous from a Hasidic standpoint, as some even seem to question the validity of his grandfather’s vision as Rebbe:

During his last years, the Rayyatz emphasized messianic themes. As he felt the end of his life approaching, he seemed to be groping for a supernatural development which would ensure the survival and the growth of the movement he treasured and to which he had dedicated his life. Ultimately, the old Lubavitch died with him.[36]

The implication here is that his grandfather’s messianic call in the 1940s was a last ditch effort, calling for a supernatural intervention near the end of his life instead of being a G-d-given message issued through the Rebbe. In saying this, Gourary suggests that his grandfather was merely an ordinary human being doing his best to help Judaism, not an agent of the Divine Will.

Old and New Lubavitch

In the previously quoted passage, Gourary mentions the passing of “old Lubavitch” with his grandfather’s death. The following passages would seem to describe what he means by “old Lubavitch”:

Once in great while a new movement appears which inspires a people, and carries it to new heights [. . .] Then a bright new hope appeared in the person of the Ba’al Shem Tov (‘He of the Good Name’). He taught a new populist doctrine: [. . .] This populist doctrine was the beginning of [Hasidism]. [. . .] Like most other movements, it has developed its own learned class and its own aristocracy. [. . .]

This book is a personal history of one branch of [Hasidim][Habad]which was founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the “Alter Rebbe.” He created a unique blend of the new [Hasidism] with traditional Torah scholarship. [Habad] developed its own learned class and a new aristocracy of the spirit. For generations, its activities centered in the White Russia town of Lubavitch. Then the First World War and the Russian Revolution forced it into exile. In the years between the two world wars, its leader migrated from Russia to Latvia and then to Poland. In World War II, it lost most of its learned class and most of its aristocratic followers. It had to start building anew in a foreign land. It is now once again a populist movement.

This story is a chapter in the history of the ruling circles of [Habad]—the First Family of Lubavitch. It is written by the heir to the spiritual throne, who chose not to assume the mantle of religious leadership, but became a scientist instead. It provides vignettes of the leading personalities and a picture of their struggles. Above all, it describes the change from the old Lubavitch which had grown and matured in Russia and Eastern Europe to the drastically different new Lubavitch, which developed in response to the pressures of Madison Avenue. It provides revealing portraits of its leaders: The warm, compassionate Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, who always looked for the strength within, and the cold, methodical technocrat, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who forged a new operating philosophy from sources once alien to this movement.[37]

It is clear from this last passage that “old Lubavitch” is what he calls simply “Lubavitch” in the title of his testament, the same Lubavitch founded by his ancestor the first Habad Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, and continued by his own grandfather, Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn. And what followed it is then, by implication, “new Lubavitch,” which he rejects and calls “770” in the title of his testament.

Another passage of interest with regard to “old” and “new Lubavitch” concerns a Lubavitcher of the old school, as Gourary describes it, who was respected during the time of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, but was left without friendship and support under the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe:

Faivel [Zalmanov] perished in the Holocaust, but his oldest son, Shmuel, succeeded in making his way to the United States. Shmuel had a beautiful voice and some of his father’s good looks. He filled the role of [ba’al tefillah] (prayer leader) for many years in Grandfather’s court in Brooklyn. He became one of the elder [Hasidim]. After Grandfather’s passing, Shmuel Zalmanov suffered some business reverses. He needed the moral support of the community. But the old Lubavitch he knew was gone; the new Lubavitch did not care. He had to flee to Israel. Where he died, forsaken by most of his former friends.[38]

Could this be how Gourary saw himself, as a once respected Hasid of “old Lubavitch,” now left on the outside of the movement under new leadership? Or is it simply an example of a lack of the “warmth” that had once characterized his grandfather’s court?

The following selections give us a sense of what Gourary characterizes as the “new Lubavitch machine”:

While the new Lubavitch continued many of the old themes, these themes have become de-personalized and much more bureaucratic: A way of life has been replaced by a political and bureaucratic machine. [. . .]

Old Lubavitch sought to improve the spiritual quality of life of a Jew in the hostile environment of Russia or Eastern Europe. There was much emphasis on mutual help among the faithful. Many families belonged to the movement for several generations. The total number of [Hasidim] was small, and there were few new converts. Thus close personal ties developed. The movement had a defensive orientation.

New Lubavitch has grown and developed in the US where the outside environment is reasonably friendly. There is much less need for customized personal assistance; rather the requirement is for standardized products, such as, kosher food, religious objects, or [Hasidic] literature. The new Lubavitch has worked hard to attract new converts. Thus the total number of new [Hasidim] is larger, but there are few long-term personal and family ties. This is a situation which favors the growth of bureaucracy. [. . .]

The old Lubavitch court was dynastic. Thus other members of the rebbe’s family played an important part. The present court has no heir apparent. Thus the organizational hierarchy is increasingly important although the Rebbe continues to exercise strong personal control.

The Rebbe has embraced the messianic theme. Moreover, many of his [Hasidim] see him personally as the Messiah.[39] As a result, he has been able to retain absolute power in spite of his advanced age and failing health. This has also permitted him to avoid the discussion of the succession dilemma.[40]

Gourary also takes issue with the extensive outreach activities of his uncle, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who has taken over the leadership of Habad-Lubavitch. The latter, according to Gourary, sees outreach as an integral part of Hasidism, on par with learning hasidut and prayer with great focus, known in Habad as davenen b’arikhut. But Gourary disagrees with such an emphasis, seeing it as a disservice to the individual Hasid:

Soon after Rabbi Menachem Mendel came to the US in 1941, he was placed in charge of the outreach program. When he became Rebbe, this program was broadened and strengthened far beyond the limits favored by the Rayyatz [the previous Rebbe]. Today, the outreach program is being conducted by a variety of means. First, [Hasidim] are now committed to a personal effort at spreading the faith. Young men are expected to spend one to several years in one of the Lubavitch propaganda activities. This propaganda effort is often undertaken in lieu of the period of thoughtful study which used to take place in the old order [. . .]

The Old Lubavitcher [Hasidim] have given way to the New Lubavitcher Herd.[41]

The intensity of Gourary’s feelings on the subject show in his characterization of the Rebbe’s outreach activities as “propaganda” distributed by the “New Lubavitcher Herd.” He also suggests that his uncle, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, has left the path set by his predecessor with regard to outreach, broadening and strengthening it “far beyond the limits favored by the Rayyatz.”

The Succession and Lubavithcer “Shrine”

Gourary also describes in his testament what he considers his uncle’s radical view of succession, which he compares to the model of Bratzlav Hasidism:

In earlier generations of Lubavitch, succession was dynastic; a son, a son-in-law or a grandson became rebbe. The present Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is childless. He has no outstanding disciples, and he has not groomed any spiritual successors. The struggle over the library described later in this book suggests that the Rebbe has the Bratzlav model in mind, and therefore he needs a shrine. The building at 770 Eastern Parkway, the library, the Ksovim [the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s manuscripts] and the [siddur] of the Ba’al Shem Tov are apparently intended to become that shrine. The messianic statements of the Rebbe make it difficult for him or his disciples to consider the succession problem explicitly, but the implications are there. In fact, when discussing the need for preserving the property of the former Rebbe, the present Rebbe has always talked in messianic terms. He said that “. . . the building at 770 will be transplanted into our Holy Land. . . . Then we shall all go dancing with . . . [Mashiah] to the Holy Land and to [Yerushalayim]. . . .’ Thus the notion of succession is foreign to his language, and it has no place in his discourse.[42]

In Gourary’s view, the “new Lubavitch” will have no living Rebbe, but will have at its center, a symbolic “shrine” of Habad-Lubavitch Hasidism. This “shrine,” interestingly enough, is 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch headquarters, and the library whose ownership Gourary was then disputing.

The Libraries of the Lubavitcher Rebbes

In the testament, Gourary outlines his own rationale and justification for why he viewed his grandfather’s library as personal property, which he and his family were entitled to inherit:

Starting with the Alter Rebbe, every Lubavitcher Rebbe has written much both in book form and in the form of various [ma’amarim], brochures, and letters. It comes as no surprise then to learn that each Lubavitcher Rebbe has also owned a library. At first the library consisted of the books used frequently for reference. As the years went on, however, the character of the library broadened, and it began to serve the rebbe also as a window onto the wide world.

Grandfather used to tell a story about the Maharash (acronym for Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe). As a youngster he asked his father, the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe) for some money for the purchase of a certain book. The Tzemach Tzedek asked him whether he knew the contents of the books which he already owned. The Maharash said that he did not, and he asked his father whether he, the Tzemach Tzedek, was familiar with the contents of every book in his large library. The Tzemach Tzedek suggested that the Maharash might simply test him. The Maharash walked over to the nearest shelf, and pulled a book out at random. The volume happened to be a treatise on the grammar of the Hebrew language. He opened the book and asked his father various questions about its contents. The Tzemach Tzedek was able to answer these with ease.

This story provides an important insight into the thinking of the rebbes. It suggests that the Lubavitcher Rebbes regarded their libraries as working libraries, not merely as collection of curios. It also suggests that by examining the contents of each library, one can develop an informed view of the range of interests of the rebbe who owned that library. Interestingly enough, my grandfather’s library consisted of some 40,000-50,000 volumes. It contained books on biblical, talmudical, [halakhic], and cabbalistic topics. The biblical literature contained a substantial number of books by Karaites and by modern bible critics, including ones who represented heretical or Christian interpretations of various biblical episodes and passages. It also contained a large collection of books by [maskilim] and by irreligious Zionists. In addition, it covered many other fields, albeit in less depth.

I recall that every Friday, Grandfather’s private secretary and librarian, Rabbi [Chaim Lieberman], would bring to him a box or two of the most recent acquisitions [. . .] reading was always one of his greatest pleasures. By reading he was able to open a window on those parts of the world which he could not explore in person.[43]

Gourary seems to view his grandfather’s library as the latter’s personal means of exploring the world. Since his grandfather could not go everywhere and meet every type of person, he must acquaint himself with these people and places through books. Thus, he emphasizes the breadth and diversity of his interests. (Although, in describing a library of 40,000-50,000 books in the library of a Hasidic master, Gourary may have unintentionally overemphasized the importance of heretical books, and books of purely secular interest.)

What is debatable here, from a Habad-Lubavitch standpoint, is for what purpose the Rebbe possessed and read books whose content was antithetical to Jewish teaching. While speaking of this case, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe mentioned in one of his public talks that his father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, had all kinds of books in his library, including heretical ones, but explained that, being a Rebbe on a world-scale, he needed to know how to reach every Jew, including those who had fallen into heresy and become trapped in the secular world.[44] But Gourary’s description of his grandfather’s enjoyment in reading might be read by some as the determining factor in the Rebbe’s desire to read books on heretical subjects. That is to say, he read these books out of personal interest, suggesting some affinity with these subjects. Whereas, from a Habad-Lubavitcher perspective, the “non-kosher” books would not have been in the library if he was not a Rebbe! The difference in perspective is essential, and though Gourary is not explicit on this point, this difference may be at the heart of the contention over the library.

Conclusion

It is interesting to note that while Gourary more than once, both in words and in actions, disclaims any desire to be the Rebbe of Habad-Lubavitch,[45] he does not recognize the qualifications of the other two major candidates—his father, Shemaryahu Gourary, or his uncle, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. In the absence of a leader, there would neither be “old Lubavitch” nor “new Lubavitch,” because there would be no Lubavitch to speak of anymore. Moreover, although Gourary maintains the superiority of the “warmth” and accessibility of his grandfather’s “old Lubavitch” over the “cold” mission-orientation of his uncle’s “new Lubavitch,” he is not uncritical of his grandfather’s decisions and holds a non-traditional view of him as Rebbe.[46] Of course, no human being can be entirely consistent, but these ambiguities and apparent contradictions do suggest some conflicted feelings, and perhaps even regrets about his gradual dissociation from Habad-Lubavitch.

The story of Barry Gourary’s later relationship with what he called the “new Lubavitch” and his acrimonious battle over his grandfather’s library forms a sad chapter in the noble 200-year history of Habad-Lubavitch. Nevertheless, it is an important part of that history, being a kind of landmark moment in which the future course of Habad-Lubavitch was determined. As such, it is important to understand it in all its dimensions. In the end, as everyone knows, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision triumphed. But over what? That is what we can learn from Barry Gourary’s testament.

What becomes most clear in reading the testament is that Gourary’s position with regard to the ownership of his grandfather’s library is bound up with his negative view of the “new Lubavitch machine.” The argument implicit in the testament is that, as Gourary does not view his uncle as an appropriate successor to his grandfather, his uncle should not be able to control the previous Rebbe’s library, the control of which would then default to his biological heir. Thus, the real issue, for Gourary at least, does not seem to be one of biological vs. organizational rights, but one of legitimacy and competing visions. Thus, the court case may be seen more as a legal victory for the “vision” of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as Rebbe, than for organizational rights.


[1] A copy of the unpublished manuscript by B. S. Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, dated “6/3/86”, was given to me by a friend. I thank him for sharing this manuscript with me for the sake of clarifying a much-convoluted issue.

[2] Dovber Rivkin, Ashkavta d’Rebi, 81 notes 46 and 47 for Gourary family history.

[3] Yitzhak Goldin, Toldot Habad b’Rusyah Ha’Sovyetis, 244.

[4] Yehoshua Mundshain, “Mivtzah Kimha d’Pitha 5689”, Kfar Chabad Magazine, Issue 900

(http://www.shturem.net/index.php?section=blog_new&article_id=72&lang=hebrew)

[5] See the Wall Street Synagogue newsletter, The Light, February 1948, 14.

[6] Tzvi Zev Friedman, Zekhor Yemot Olam, ch. 34, 110-11. When Rabbi Gourary was in Israel in 1949, he visited the Belzer Rebbe and had an unusually long visit of 1½ hours. Friedman, a former aide for Rabbi Rokeach, who was also there, related that the Rebbe made this unusual exception because Rabbi Gourary helped save the Rebbe in various ways, including raising funds and speaking with high officials.

[7] Shalom Dov Baer Schneersohn, Igrot Kodesh, Vol. 3, 55.

[8] It’s interesting to note that only Hayya Mushka (Moussia) was born in a larger city, Smolensk, near Lubavitch, while her elder and younger sisters were born in Lubavitch. A possible reason for this is the need for better medical care (e-mail correspondence from Rabbi Berel Levin to the author on May 8, 2012). The details of her early life are discussed in B. S. Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770” [Unpublished Manuscript], III-11-13.

[9] They arrived in Rostov on the 26th of MarHeshvan, 5676 (November 3rd, 1915.

[10] Audio taped interview with Hanna (Schneersohn) Gourary in the author’s private collection, and Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, III-10.

[11] Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, II-2.

[12] Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 2, 448-602 (25 Shevat, 1936).

[13] An acronym for Moreinu HaRav Shalom Baer, usually called the RaShaB in Habad circles. However, Gourary, named after the former, refers to himself as “Rashab” (an acronym for Rabbi Shalom Baer) in the Preface to Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, P-3.

[14] The spellings of the Hebrew and Hebrew-derived words in the selections from Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770” have been made consistent with the overall style sheet of this book.

[15] Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, III-14-24

[16] An acronym for Rabbi Yosef YiTzhak.

[17] Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, II-4-5.

[18] Chaim Lieberman’s name and others are spelled inconsistently throughout the manuscript. I have corrected them here according to the most well-known spellings in English publications, and as they are generally known in America.

[19] Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, II-6-7.

[20] Gourary, II-18.

[21] Gourary, II-35-36.

[22] Gourary, II-7A.

[23] Gourary, II-8-9.

[24] Jerome Mintz, Hasidic People, 284.

[25] Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, III-14.

[26] Gourary, II-36.

[27] Gourary, III-11.

[28] Gourary, II-10

[29] Gourary, II-32-33.

[30] Gourary, III-2

[31] According to Rabbi Yehuda Gertner of Miami (oral communication to the author in the summer of 2011) who, as a child of seven was asked to be Gourary’s study partner (havruta) in the Riga heder in 1930, Gourary was not much interested in learning, but more intent on playing and having fun. To be fair, this is a highly subjective viewpoint on a seven-year-old child, and may not be taken as indicative of Gourary’s overall attitude to study. But in this period of his life at least, it may be accurate, as Rabbi Shmuel Fuchs, the late gabbai of the Crown Heights Hevra Kadisha, also related (oral communication to the author on May 14, 2007) that he was likewise asked to study with Gourary by his principals at Tomhei Temimim in Otwock, Poland, in the mid 1930s, and had a difficult time getting him to sit and learn.

[32] Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, II-20.

[33] Gourary, II-21.

[34] Gourary, III-17.

[35] Gourary, II-35.

[36] Gourary, III-2.

[37] Gourary, P-1-2.

[38] Gourary, II-24.

[39] Some of the previous Rebbe’s Hasidim also made the same claim for him.

[40] Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, II-38-39.

[41] Gourary, II-40-41.

[42] Gourary, II-42-43.

[43] Gourary, IV-5-6.

[44] During the Shabbat Parshat Pinhas, (July 13, 1985) farbrengen, while speaking of the library issue, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, said that his father-in-law, the Rayyatz, had all kinds of books in his library because he as a Nasi, a leader of all Jewish people, and needed such books to help all kinds of Jews, including those coming from a Haskalah perspective. This is supported by the Rayyatz’ great-great-grandfather, the first Habad Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who in his magnum opus, the Tanya (ch. 8), states that anyone who, like the Rambam, uses their secular knowledge for G-d’s sake, is permitted to study hakhmah hitzoinut, ‘external wisdom,’ or secular studies, if it is needed for the advancement of G-d from a Torah perspective.

[45] In reading carefully the previous synopsis of Gourary’s biography, one understands that he had the opportunity to grow as a true Hasid and possibly even be groomed as a future Rebbe. However, his own early and later choices led him away from such a possibility; and though he implies that he declined the role, there is no evidence to suggest that he was ever offered it.

[46] Gourary seems to question his grandparents decision to marry his mother, Hanna, to his father, Shemaryahu: “Hanna had many friends among the young folk at the court. Since most of the young people in Lubavitch happened to be [yeshiva] boys, she knew and befriended many of them. Eventually, her father arranged her engagement to [Shemaryahu] (Samarius) Gourary, a son of a well-known Lubavitcher family of merchants, who also had an excellent reputation as an outstanding student of [hasidut] and a most able and energetic young man. Like many other arranged marriages, this marriage served well the interests of those who were involved in making the arrangements. The interests of the principals were never considered.” Gourary, From Lubavitch to “770”, III-10.

Source: http://crownheights.info/something-jewish/416292/who-was-barry-gourary/

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