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.
Reviewed by: Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America by Samuel C. Heilman Debra Kaufman (bio) Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America. By Samuel C. Heilman. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017 xiii + 318 pp. Even if one has no particular interest in Orthodox Judaism, whatever Samuel C. Heilman writes is of interest to Jewish studies scholars. At first, both the title and description of the stories of five Hasidic dynasties and their handling of succession problems seem somewhat esoteric, geared for an audience interested in the internecine dynamics of a few aberrant dynasties: Munkacs and Boyan/Kopyczynitz (with a leadership vacuum), [End Page 446] Bobov and Satmar (with competing successors) and Chabad (with no successor). This seems especially true since the transition from one leader to the next in most Hasidic communities goes relatively smoothly. However, in the hands of a master storyteller and a keen observer of both time and context, Heilman creates a book that is anything but esoteric and one that is frankly quite absorbing. By focusing on the anomalies rather than the rule, we learn much about the fraught processes and the politics of ambition and competition that attend leadership transitions, religious or otherwise. 2b1af7f3a8