ADMOR Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Shneershon), [The Lubavitcher Rebbe]
Hebrew: האדמור מנחם מנדל שניאורסון, הרבי מלובביץ
|Also Known As:||"The Lubavitcher - הלובביצ'ר", "Lubavitcher Rebbe", "The Rebbe", "Our Rebbe"|
|Birthplace:||Nikolayev, נולד י"א ניסן ה'תרס"ב, Ukraine|
|Death:||Died in Brooklyn, נפטר ג' תמוז ה'תשנ"ד, New York, United States|
|Place of Burial:||Queens, NY, USA|
Son of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak II Schneerson and Chana Meerovna Schneerson
|Occupation:||7th ADMOR of CHABAD, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Seventh Chabad Rebbe|
|Managed by:||Private User|
Historical records matching Menachem Mendel Schneerson [7th ADMOR of CHABAD] The Lubavitcher Rebbe
About Menachem Mendel Schneerson [7th ADMOR of CHABAD] The Lubavitcher Rebbe
Menachem Mendel Schneerson (April 5, 1902 OS – June 12, 1994 NS, known as The Rebbe, was a prominent Hasidic rabbi who was the seventh and last Rebbe (spiritual leader) of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. He was fifth in a direct paternal line to the third Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
In 1950, upon the passing of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, he assumed the leadership of Chabad Lubavitch. He led the movement until his death in 1994, greatly expanding its worldwide activities and founding a network of institutions (as of 2006, in 70 countries) to spread Orthodox Judaism among the Jewish people, with the stated goal of "Jewish unity."
Born in Nikolaev, Ukraine, Schneerson was the eldest of three sons of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, an authority on Kabbalah and Jewish law who served as the Rabbi of Yekaterinoslav from 1907 to 1939. His younger brothers were Dovber and Yisrael Aryeh Leib.
During his youth, Schneerson received mostly private Jewish education. He studied for a short while with Rabbi Zalman Vilenkin. When Schneerson was 4 1/2 years old, Vilenkin informed the boy's father that he had nothing more to teach his son.
Schneerson later studied independently under his father, who was his primary teacher. He studied Talmud and rabbinic literature, as well as the Hasidic view of Kabbalah. He received his rabbinical ordination from the Rogatchover Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Rosen.
Throughout his upbringing, Schneerson was involved in communal affairs of his father's office, where his secular education and knowledge of the Russian language made him a useful aid in assisting his father's public administrative work. He was also said to be an interpreter between the Jewish community and the Russian authorities on a number of occasions.
In 1923, Schneerson visited his second cousin twice removed, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, for the first time. It was presumably at that time that he met Schneersohn's daughter, Chaya Mushka. He became engaged to her in Riga in 1923 and married her five years later in 1928, after being away in Berlin. He returned to Warsaw for his wedding, and in the announcement of his marriage in a Warsaw newspaper, "a number of academic degrees" were attributed to him. Following the marriage, the newlyweds went to live in Berlin.
Schneerson reputedly "was known to have received several advanced degrees in Berlin, and then later in Paris," but Professor Menachem Friedman was only able to uncover records for one and a half semesters in Berlin and Schneerson's attendance was in a "record of the students who audited courses at the university without receiving academic credit."
In 1931, Schneerson's younger brother, Israel Aryeh Leib, joined him in Berlin, traveling with false papers under the name Mark Gurary to escape the Soviets. He arrived and was cared for by the family as he was seriously ill with typhoid fever. He attended classes at the University of Berlin from 1931 to 1933. In 1933, after Adolf Hitler took over Germany and began instituting anti-Semitic policies, Schneerson helped Gurary escape from Berlin together with his wife. Gurari escaped to Mandate Palestine in 1939 with Milgram, where they married. Despite Gurary's secularism, the two brothers maintained a relationship. Gurary worked as a businessman in Israel and later moved to England, where he began doctoral studies at Liverpool University. He died in 1951 before completing his degree. Schneerson arranged for Gurari's burial in Israel. Gurari's children, Schneerson's closest living relatives, currently reside in Israel.
Schneerson’s other brother, DovBer, died in 1944 at the hands of Nazi collaborators.
In 1933, Schneerson moved to Paris, France. He studied mechanics and electrical engineering at the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l'industrie (ESTP), a Technical College in the Montparnasse district. He graduated in July 1937 and received a license to practice as an electrical engineer. In November 1937, he enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he studied mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939.
Schneerson lived most of the time in Paris at 9 Rue Boulard in the 14th arrondissement, in the same building as his wife's sister, Shaina, and her husband, Mendel Hornstein, who was also studying at ESTP. Mendel Hornstein failed the final exams and he and his wife returned to Poland; they were killed at Treblinka together with their infant son on 23 September 1941. In June 1940, after Paris fell, the Schneersons fled to Vichy, and later to Nice, where they stayed until their final escape from Europe.
Schneerson learned to speak French, which he put to use in establishing his movement there after the war. The Chabad movement in France was later to attract many Jewish immigrants from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
America and leadership
In 1941, Schneerson escaped from France on the Serpa Pinto, one of the last boats to cross the Atlantic before the U-boat blockade began, and joined his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Seeking to contribute to the war effort, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, inspecting the electrical wiring of ships being built or repaired.
In 1942, his father-in-law appointed him director of the Chabad movement's central organizations, placing him at the helm of building a Jewish educational network across the United States. However, Schneerson kept a low public profile within the movement, emerging only once a month to deliver public talks to his father-in-law's followers.
Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn died in 1950. The two candidates for leadership were Schneerson and Rabbi Shemaryahu Gurary, Schneersohn's elder son-in-law. Schneerson actively refused to accept leadership of the movement for the entire year after Schneerson's passing. Schneerson had a larger following and seemed more sincere than Gurary. Schneerson was eventually cajoled into accepting the post by his wife and followers.
On the anniversary of his father-in-law's passing, 10 Shevat 1951, he delivered a Chassidic discourse, (Ma'amar), and formally became the Rebbe.
for his role as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, see e.g.: Menachem Mendel Scneersohn
Schneerson died and was buried on June 12, 1994 (3 Tammuz 5754) next to his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York. An Ohel was built over both their graves.
The U.S. Congress and President issue annual proclamations declaring that Schneerson's birthday — usually a day in March or April that coincides with his Hebrew calendar birthdate of 11 Nisan — be observed as Education and Sharing Day in the United States.
He had two younger brothers, Dovber and Yisroel Aryeh Leib. Schneerson’s brother, DovBer, died in 1944 at the hands of Nazi collaborators. His youngest brother Israel Aryeh Leib was close to Schneerson, often traveling with him. He changed his name to Mark Gourary and moved to Israel, where he became a businessman. He later moved to England and began doctoral studies at Liverpool University but died in 1951 before completing them. His children, Schneerson's closest living relatives, currently reside in Israel.
Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky, a close colleague of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a former vice president of Agudas Harabonim of America, and an active member of the Rabbinical Council of America; Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Rabbi Julius Berman, the current Chairman of the RIETS Board of Trustees; Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbinic Administrator of the Kashrus Division of the Orthodox Union; and Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld, former head of the Rabbinical Council of America (all students of Rabbi Soloveitchik) have all asserted that Schneerson and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik met for the first time while they both studied in Berlin. They met many times at the home of Rabbi Chaim Heller. It was in the course of these meetings that a strong friendship developed and in the words of Soloveitchik to Rabbi Sholem Kowalsky he "was a great admirer of the Rebbe." Rabbi Soloveitchik related that:
“Schneerson always carried the key to the mikvah with him when he attended lectures at the university. "At about two or three o'clock every afternoon when he left the university he would go straight to the mikvah. No one was aware of this custom and I only learnt about it by chance. On another occasion, I offered him a drink. He refused, but when I pressured him I understood that he was fasting that day. It was Monday and the Rebbe was fasting. Imagine a Berlin University student immersed in secular studies maintains this custom of mikvah and fasting. ”
Rabbi Zvi Kaplan states that Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner recalled sitting with Schneerson and Soloveitchik at a lecture on Maimonides at the University and when the speaker asked Schneerson for his opinion on something, Schneerson deferred to Soloveitchik.
Schneerson placed a tremendous emphasis on outreach. Schneerson made great efforts to intensify this program of the movement, bringing Jews from all walks of life to adopt Orthodox Judaism, and aggressively sought the expansion of the baal teshuva movement.
Schneerson's work included organising the training of thousands of young Chabad rabbis and their wives, who were sent all over the world by him as shluchim - emissaries -to spread the Lubavitch message.
Schneerson oversaw the building of schools, community centers, youth camps, Chabad houses, and built contacts with wealthy Jews and government officials around the world.
Schneerson instituted a system of "mitzvah campaigns" called mivtzoim to encourage Jews to follow Orthodox practices. They commonly centered on practices such as keeping kosher, lighting Shabbat candles, studying Torah, the laying of tefillin, helping write Torah scrolls and teaching women to observe the niddah laws of Jewish family purity. He also launched a global Noahide campaign to promote observance of the Noahide Laws among gentiles, and argued that involvement in this campaign is an obligation for every Jew.
Schneerson's activities spread to many far-flung areas of the world, and had contacts with Sefardi Jews, in North Africa, and Iran.
While Schneerson rarely chose to involve himself with questions of halakha (Jewish law), some notable exceptions were with regard to the use of electrical appliances on the Sabbath, sailing on Israeli boats staffed by Jews, and halakhic dilemmas created when crossing the International Date Line.
Schneerson rarely left Crown Heights in Brooklyn, except for frequent lengthy visits to his father-in-law's grave-site in Queens, New York. A year after the passing of his wife in 1988, when the traditional year of Jewish mourning had passed, he moved into his study above the central Lubavitch synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway.
It was from this synagogue that Schneerson directed his emissaries' work and involved himself in details of his movement's developments. His public roles included celebrations called farbrengens ("gatherings") on Sabbaths, Jewish holy days, and special days on the Chabad calendar, when he would give lengthy sermons to crowds. In later years, these would often be broadcast via satellite and cable television to Lubavitch branches around the world.
In 1977 Schneerson suffered a massive heart attack while celebrating the hakafot ("circling" [in the synagogue]) ceremony on Shmini Atzeret. Despite the best efforts of his doctors to convince him to change his mind, he refused to be hospitalized. This necessitated building a mini-hospital in "770." Although he did not appear in public for many weeks, he continued to deliver talks and discourses from his study via intercom. On Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, he left his study for the first time in over a month to go home. His followers celebrate this day as a holiday each year.
In 1983, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, the U.S. Congress proclaimed Rabbi Schneerson's birthday Education Day, USA, and awarded him the National Scroll of honor.
As the movement grew and more demands were placed on Schneerson's time he limited the practice of meeting followers individually in his office. In 1986 Rabbi Schneerson replaced these personal meetings, known as Yechidut, with a weekly receiving line in "770". Almost every Sunday thousands of people would line up to meet briefly with Schneerson and receive a dollar, which was to be donated to charity. People filing past Schneerson would often take this opportunity to ask him for advice or to request a blessing. This event is usually referred to as "Sunday Dollars."
Following the death of Schneerson's wife in 1988 he withdrew from some public functions; for example, he stopped delivering addresses during weekdays, instead holding gatherings every Shabbat. He later edited these addresses and they have since been released in the Sefer HaSichos set.
In 1991 he declared to his followers: "I have done everything I can (to bring Moshiach (the Jewish Messiah)), now I am handing over to you (the mission); do everything you can to bring Moshiach!" A campaign was then started to bring the messianic age through "acts of goodness and kindness," and some of his followers placed advertising in the mass media, including many full-page ads in the New York Times, urging everyone to prepare for and hasten the messiah's imminent arrival by increasing their good deeds.
In 1991 Schneerson faced a riot in his neighborhood of Crown Heights which became known as the Crown Heights Riot of 1991. The riot began when a car accompanying his motorcade returning from one of his regular cemetery visits to his father-in-law's grave accidentally struck two African American seven-year-old children, killing one boy. In the rioting, Australian Jewish graduate student Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered, many Lubavitchers were badly beaten, and much property was destroyed; also, rioters hurled rocks and bottles at the Jews over police lines.
In 1992 Schneerson suffered a serious stroke while praying at the Ohel, the grave of his father-in-law. The stroke left him unable to speak and paralyzed on the right side of his body. Nonetheless, he continued to respond daily to thousands of queries and requests for blessings from around the world. His secretaries would read the letters to him and he would indicate his response with head and hand motions.
Despite his deteriorating health, Schneerson once again refused to leave 770. Several months into his illness, a small room with tinted glass windows with an attached balcony was built overlooking the main synagogue. This allowed him to pray with his followers, beginning with the Rosh Hashana services and after services, to appear before them by either having the window opened or by being carried onto the balcony.
His final illness led to a split between two groups of aides who differed in their recommendations as to how Schneerson should be treated, with the two camps led by Leib Groner and Yehuda Krinsky. Aides argued over whether Schneerson had the same physical makeup as other humans, and if the illness should be allowed to run its course without interference. Krinsky argued that the latest and most suitable medical treatment available should be used in treating Schneerson, while Groner thought that "outside interference in the Rebbe’s medical situation might be just as dangerous as inaction. They saw his illness as an element in the messianic revelation; interference with Schneerson’s physical state might therefore affect the redemptive process, which should instead be permitted to run its natural course."
Schneerson was buried on Tammuz 3, 5754 (June 12, 1994) next to his father-in-law, the sixth Rebbe, at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, NY. The Ohel is built over their graves. When entering the Ohel, the sixth Rebbe is buried to the right, and the seventh Rebbe is buried to the left. Established by philanthropist Rabbi Joseph Gutnick of Melbourne (Australia), the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch Center on Francis Lewis Boulevard, Queens, NY is located adjacent to the Rebbe's Ohel.
The United States Congress and President issue annual proclamations declaring that Schneerson's birthday, usually a day in March or April that coincides with his Hebrew calendar birth-date of 11 Nissan (a Hebrew month), be observed as Education and Sharing Day in the United States.
Congressional Gold Medal
After his death a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives sponsored by Congressmen Chuck Schumer, and co-sponsored by John Lewis, Newt Gingrich, and Jerry Lewis, as well as 220 other Congressmen, to bestow on Rabbi Schneerson the Congressional Gold Medal. On November 2, 1994 the bill passed both Houses by unanimous consent, honoring Rabbi Schneerson for his "outstanding and enduring contributions toward world education, morality, and acts of charity". Bill Clinton spoke these words at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony
“The late Rebbe's eminence as a moral leader for our country was recognized by every president since Richard Nixon. For over two decades the Rabbi's movement now has some 2000 institutions; educational, social, medical, all across the globe. We, (The United States Government) recognize the profound role that Rabbi Schneerson had in the expansion of those institutions. ”
Chabad Hasidim believe that there is no successor to Schneerson and all the suggested successors declined the mantle of leadership in the days after his death. Chabad Hasidim believe that he is still their leader, guiding them from beyond the grave through prayer and signs.
Generally, he was in favour of school prayer, he was pro-life, pro-Israel, and was generally supportive of Bible values, about which he was publicly vocal.
Schneerson never visited the State of Israel, where he had many admirers. He held a view that according to Jewish law, it was uncertain if a Jewish person who was in the land of Israel was allowed to leave. One of Israel's presidents, Zalman Shazar, who was of Chabad ancestry, would visit Rabbi Schneerson and corresponded extensively with him. Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Katzav, and later Benjamin Netanyahu also paid visits and sought advice, along with numerous other less famous politicians, diplomats, military officials, and media producers. In the elections that brought Yitzhak Shamir to power, Schneerson publicly lobbied his followers and the Orthodox members in the Knesset to vote against the Labor alignment. It attracted the media's attention and led to articles in Time, Newsweek, and many newspapers and TV programs, and led to considerable controversy within Israeli politics.
During the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Schneerson publicly called for Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to capture Damascus, Syria and Cairo, Egypt. He was vehemently opposed to any IDF withdrawals from captured territories and opposed any concessions to Arabs. He lobbied Israeli politicians to pass legislation in accordance with Jewish religious law on the question "Who is a Jew" and declare that "only one who is born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halakha is Jewish." This caused a furor in the United States. Some American Jewish philanthropies stopped financially supporting Chabad-Lubavitch since most of their members were connected to Reform and Conservative Judaism. These unpopular ideas were toned down by his aides according to Avrum Erlich. "The issue was eventually quietened so as to protect Habad fundraising interests. Controversial issues such as territorial compromise in Israel that might have estranged benefactors from giving much-needed funds to Habad, were often moderated, particularly by... Krinsky." Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits argued that Habad moderated its presentation of anti-Zionist ideology and right-wing politics in England and downplayed its messianic fervor so as not to antagonize large parts of the English Jewish community.
In biblical scholarship Schneerson is known mainly for his scholarly analysis and hasidic thoughts on Rashi Torah commentary, which were annotated by his aides. In halachic matters he normally deferred to members of the Crown Heights Beit Din headed by Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dvorkin, and advised the movement to do likewise in the event of his death.
Schneerson was known for delivering regular lengthy addresses to his followers at public gatherings, without using any notes. These talks usually centered around the weekly Torah portion, and were then transcribed by followers known as choizerim, and distributed widely. Many of them were later edited by him and distributed worldwide in small booklets later to be compiled in the Likkutei Sichot set. He also penned tens of thousands of replies to requests and questions. The majority of his correspondence is printed in Igrot Kodesh partly translated as "Letters from the Rebbe". His correspondence fills more than two hundred published volumes.
Rabbi Schneerson himself wrote and published only three books:
- Hayom Yom - An anthology of Chabad aphorisms and customs arranged according to the days of the year.
- Haggadah Im Likkutei Taamim Uminhagim - The Haggadah with a commentary written by Schneerson.
- Sefer HaToldot - Admur Moharash - Biography of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn.
His personal notes and writings: Reshimot - 10 volume set of Schneerson's personal journal discovered after his passing. Includes notes for his public talks before 1950, letters to Jewish scholars, notes on the Tanya, and thoughts on a wide range of Jewish subjects.(2,190pp)
His talks and letters, transcribed by others and then edited by him:
- Likkutei Sichos - 39 volume set of Schneerson's discourses on the weekly Torah portions, Jewish Holidays, and other issues. (16,867pp)
- Igrot Kodesh - 28 volume set of Schneerson's Hebrew and Yiddish letters. (11,948pp)
- Hadran al HaRambam - Commentary on Mishneh Torah.
- Sefer HaSichot - 10 volume set of the Schneerson's talks from 1987-1992. (4,136pp)
- Sefer HaMa'amarim Melukot - 6 volumes of edited chassidic discourses.
- Letters from the Rebbe - 5 volume set of Schneerson's English letters.
- Chidushim UBiurim B'Shas - 3 volumes of novellae on the Talmud.
Unedited compilations of his talks and writings:
- Sefer HaShlichut - 2 volume set of Schneerson's advice and guidelines to the shluchim he sent.
- Torat Menachem - 34 volume Hebrew set of unedited Maamarim and Sichos currently spanning 1950-1962 (Approximately 4 new volumes a year). Planned to encompass 1950-1981.
- Sichot Kodesh - 60 some volume Yiddish set of unedited Sichos from 1950-1981.
- Torat Menachem Hitva'aduyot - 43 volume set of Sichos and Maamarim from 1982-1992. (Based on participants' recollections and notes, not proofread by Rabbi Schneerson.)
- Sefer HaMa'amarim (unedited) chassidic discourses - Approx. 24 vols. including 1951-1962, 1969-1977 with plans to fill the rest.
- Biurim LePirush Rashi - 5 volume set summarizing his talks on the commentary of Rashi to Torah.
- Heichal Menachem - Shaarei - 34 volumes of a continuing series of his talks arranged by topic and holiday.
- Toras Menachem - Tiferes Levi Yitzchok - 3 volumes of elucidations drawn from his talks on cryptic notes of his father.
- Biurim LePirkei Avot - 2 volumes summarizing his talks on the Tractate of the Mishna "Ethics of our Fathers".
- Yein Malchut - 2 volumes of talks on the Mishneh Torah.
- Kol Ba'ei Olam - Discources and letters concerning the Noahide Campaign.
- Hilchot Beit Habechira L
haRambam Im Chiddushim UBeurim - Talks on the Laws of the Chosen House (The Holy Temple) of the Mishneh Torah.
- HaMelech B'Msibo - 2 volumes of his discussions at the semi-public Holiday meals.
- Toras Menachem - Menachem Tzion - 2 volumes of talks on mourning.
Collections and esoterica:
- Heichal Menachem - 3 volumes.
- Mikdash Melech - 4 volumes.
- Nelcha B'Orchosov
- Mekadesh Yisrael - Talks and pictures from his officiating at weddings.
- Yemei B'Reshit - Diary of the first year of his leadership, 1950-1951.
- Bine'os Deshe - Diary of his visit and talks to Camp Gan Israel in upstate New York.
- Tzaddik LaMelech - 7 volumes of letters, handwritten notes, anecdotes and other.
- Esoterica continues to be released by individual families for family occasions such as weddings.
Admorim of Chabad Lubavitch Chassidic Dynasty"
- 1st Admor Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Boruchovitch, Chabad Dynasty Founder
- 2nd Admor Dov Ber Shneuri, The Mittler Rebbe
- 3rd Admor Hatzemach Tzedek
- 4th Admor Shmuel Schneerson
- 5th Admor Shalom Dovber Schneerson, RaShab
- 6th Admor Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, Rayatz
- 7th Admor Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe
See also: Jewish Dynasties -------------------- Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn married Chaya Musya in 1928. He succeeded his father in law as the New York Lubavitcher Rebbe of international fame.
He is the son of Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn. The Rebbe and Chaya Schneersohn did not have any children.
- The Unbroken Chain by Neil Rosenstein (1990) Volume 11, Schneersohn Chassidic Dynasty, Chapter XV111, p. 1214 G. 17.2.
About Menachem Mendel Schneerson [7th ADMOR of CHABAD] The Lubavitcher Rebbe (עברית)
רבי מנחם מנדל שניאורסון - נולד: י"א בניסן ה'תרס"ב - ג' בתמוז ה'תשנ"ד; נפטר: 18 באפריל 1902 - 12 ביוני 1994,
מכונה "הרבי מליובאוויטש" ובקיצור מכונה "הרבי". האדמו"ר השביעי בשושלת אדמו"רי חסידות חב"ד, שעמד בראשה משנת 1951 ועד לפטירתו בשנת 1994
רבי מנחם מנדל שניאורסון נולד בי"א בניסן ה'תרס"ב בעיר מיקולאייב (ניקולאייב), אוקראינה. אביו, רבי לוי יצחק שניאורסון, היה הרב הראשי של העיר יקטרינוסלב בשנים 1907 - 1939. אמו חנה היא בתו של רבה של מיקולאייב רבי מאיר שלמה ינובסקי. דור חמישי לרבי מנחם מנדל שניאורסון בעל ה"צמח צדק" האדמו"ר השלישי בשושלת אדמו"רי חסידות חב"ד, ודור רביעי לבנו הבכור רבי ברוך שלום שניאורסון שסירב לקבל עליו את כס האדמו"רות לאחר פטירת אביו
אביו היה מורהו העיקרי. הוא למד תלמוד וספרות הלכתית, ועסק גם בקבלה מנקודת המבט החסידית. כמו כן התעניין באסטרונומיה. בגיל 16 החל בלימודי מתמטיקה חלקיים באוניברסיטת יקטרינוסלב. בשנת 1928 נשא לאישה את הרבנית חיה מושקא שניאורסון, בתו של רבי יוסף יצחק שניאורסון, ובכך הפך להיות חתנו של האדמו"ר השישי בשושלת אדמו"רי חסידות חב"ד. אחרי נישואיו עבר לברלין. שם למד מתמטיקה ופילוסופיה באחת האוניברסיטאות זמן מה. באותה תקופה יתכן והכיר את רבי יוסף דוב סולובייצי'ק, שלמד אף הוא בברלין
בשנת 1933 עבר הרבי לפריז, ושם למד זמן מה הנדסת חשמל בבית ספר לעבודות ציבוריות ובאוניברסיטת הסורבון. בשנת 1941 נמלט מצרפת ובתאריך כ"ח בסיון ה'תש"א הצטרף לחמיו, רבי יוסף יצחק שניאורסון, בשכונת קראון הייטס שבברוקלין והחל לנהל את הוצאת הספרים של חב"ד קה"ת ואת הארגון החב"די מחנה ישראל. באותם ימים עבד כמהנדס אוניות במספנות הצי האמריקני
בשנת 1950, לאחר מות חמיו שעמד בראש חסידות חב"ד, לא היה ברור מי יעמוד בראש החסידות - רבי מנחם מנדל או גיסו המבוגר יותר שמריהו גור-ארי. בשנת 1951, לאחר שנה של אי בהירות הוכתר הרבי לאדמו"ר, בי' בשבט ה'תשי"א, יום השנה לפטירת חמיו. בעת הכתרתו אמר הרבי מאמר חסידי (סוג של דרשה) שנקרא "באתי לגני" (המאמר החל בפסוק "באתי לגני אחותי כלה" משיר השירים ה', א'). מדי שנה, באותו יום, נהג הרבי להשמיע מאמר חסידי נוסף על פסוק זה
הרבי התייחס לחמיו כנשיא הדור ולא ראה את עצמו כמנהיג אלא כמייצג של חמיו. מסיבה זו נהג הרבי עצמו ללכת באופן קבוע כמה פעמים בשבוע לציון קבר חמיו - הרבי הקודם. כאשר היה נוסע לאהל, היה לוקח עמו שק גדול של מכתבים שהצטברו אצלו, שיהודים מכל העולם כתבו לו, וקורא את כל הבקשות על הציון. הרבי היה משיב במכתבי התשובות לפונים שכתבו אליו ולפעמים נהג לסיים "אזכיר על הציון", שהכוונה שיתפלל עליהם בציון קבר חמיו
מאות אלפי אנשים מכל רחבי הגלובוס נפגשו עם הרבי, כתבו לו וביקשו את ברכתו ועצתו. מהכתרתו באופן רשמי עד שנת ה'תשמ"א קיבל שלוש פעמים בשבוע אנשים לשיחה אישית, שנקראה "יחידות", בשנת ה'תשמ"א הופסקה היחידות כמעט לגמרי בגלל העומס הרב וכמות האנשים שהלכה וגדלה. משנת ה'תשמ"ו עד ה'תשנ"ב החל להיות מעמד "חלוקת הדולרים לצדקה" המפורסמת, בה חילק מדי יום ראשון דולרים בודדים לצדקה, זה היה מעין תחליף זריז ומקוצר ליחידות, שהתנהל בתור ארוך ומסודר
באחרית ימיו, לאחר שחלה, החלו חלק מחסידי חב"ד (הפלג המכונה "משיחיסטים", המרבים לעסוק בנושא זה כולל שימוש בשלטי חוצות), להתייחס אליו כאל "מלך המשיח" ושרו על הרבי את שירת "יחי אדוננו מורנו ורבנו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד"
הרבי לקה באירוע מוחי בכ"ז באדר א' ה'תשנ"ב - 2 במרץ 1992, ולאחר כשנתיים שקע בתרדמת למשך שלושה חודשים ושהה בבית הרפואה בית ישראל. וב-12 ביוני 1994 - ג' בתמוז ה'תשנ"ד הרבי נפטר. הוא נטמן ליד חמיו בבית הקברות היהודי "מונטיפיורי" בקווינס שבניו יורק
דור שלם של חסידים חונך על ברכי האמונה שהרבי יוביל את העם לקראת הגאולה השלמה. מותו גרם לזעזוע אדיר בקרב חסידי חב"ד ובעולם כולו, בתקופה האמורה לפני פטירתו חסידיו סירבו להתייחס בפומבי לאפשרות שמאורע כזה יתרחש
מקום קבורתו הפך למוקד עלייה לרגל ופוקדים אותו יהודים רבים מכל החוגים, במטרה לבקש רחמי שמים ולקבלת ברכה ולהצלחה, במשך השנה כולה, ומדי יום ראשון העלייה גוברת יותר מיום רגיל מכיוון שיום זה הוא יום חופש בארצות הברית. מערכת פקסים ואימיילים מקבלת בקשות לברכות מכל רחבי העולם, המונחות ונקרעות על קברו. מדי שנה בתאריך פטירתו העברי, נוהגים לעלות לקברו כל חסידי חב"ד שיש להם אפשרות להגיע לניו יורק (מלבד המשיחסטים). יש בין חסידיו הפלג ה"משיחיסטים" שלא עולים ל"אהל", ומאמינים שהוא המלך המשיח ושהוא "חי וקיים", והם מדברים אודותיו בלשון הווה ומתייחסים אליו ככזה
כיום כל חסידי חב"ד (לא מינו יורש תחתיו) ומחשיבים אותו לאדמו"ר הנוכחי של היום.
גורמים חילונים מייחסים לו חלק משמעותי בגל ההתחרדות הפוקד בעשורים האחרונים את מדינת ישראל, משום שמשנות השישים הוא קידם את נושא ה-חזרה בתשובה
הרבי יזם את מפעל ה"שלוחים", הם שלוחי חב"ד היוצאים לרחבי העולם על מנת להפיץ יהדות לכל יהודי בכל פינה בעולם. הרבי חולל התעוררות רוחנית אדירה בעולם היהודי כולו, באמצעות השלוחים אלו, ששיגר
החינוך בקונגרס האמריקאי
בהכרת השפעתו של הרבי על החינוך הכללי בארצות הברית הכריז הקונגרס של ארצות הברית על יום י"א בניסן - יום הולדתו של הרבי - כ"יום החינוך" שבו יוגברו המאמצים והמשאבים לשיפור פני החינוך בכל מוסדות החינוך לכל הגילאים בכל רחבי ארצות הברית. יום זה מצוין מדי שנה מאז 1978. בנוסף העניק לו הקונגרס לאחר מותו את מדליית הזהב של הקונגרס, אחד משני העיטורים הגבוהים ביותר לאזרחים בארצות הברית