Above: Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn
Today's This Day in Jewish History column in Ha'aretz is about the purchase of its now-iconic headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York, by Chabad-Lubavitch in 1940.
But the Ha'aretz article has several anachronisms and errors.
Here is the first paragraph of the column, where most of the problems lie:
On August 16, 1940, Agudas Chasidei Chabad – the umbrella organization uniting all the components of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement – purchased 770 Eastern Parkway, the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, structure that now serves as its world headquarters, and a universally recognized symbol of Chabad. So profoundly did 770, as it is known among followers, become identified in the decades that followed with the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late, revered Menachem Mendel Schneerson, that at least 15 replicas of the structure have been built in Chabad communities around the world.…
1. "On August 16, 1940, Agudas Chasidei Chabad – the umbrella organization uniting all the components of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement…." In 1940 and before, Agudas Chasidei Chabad was meant to unite all branches of the Chabad Movement – meaning the hasidim of all Chabad rebbes, not just the Lubavitch line. The third Chabad rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, had several sons who became rebbes at his direction. They and their sons were Chabad rebbes in places like Kopust, Orsha and Bobroisk with the Tzemach Tzedek serving as a kind of pope or rebbe's rebbe for several years before his death.
The Tzemach Tzedek's youngest son, known in Lubavitch as the Maharash, only became a rebbe after his father's death – and only after a prolonged beit din (religious court) battle that saw almost every sibling argue against him. There were allegedly bribes and other considerations offered by the Maharash's backers, along with threats and even some actual violence.
Eventually, the Maharash won and took over the town of Lubavitch where the Tzemach Tzedek had been based and where the second and third Chabad-Lubavitch rebbes were buried. That meant that hasidim who came to visit the graves – a ritual which was essentially required – had to as a "courtesy" give a pidyon nefesh (prayer note) and some cash to the new rebbe of the town, the Maharash.
The Tzemach Tzedek had, supposedly, 100,000 hasidim. Many (most according to some calculations) left to follow the other non-Lubavitch Chabad rebbes after the death of the Tzemach Tzedek or were their followers before the death and remained so afterward.
The Maharash was widely viewed as a man interested in money and riches and was truly hated by many hasidim as a result. But they paid the courtesy "donations" anyway.
The Maharash drove around Lubavitch in a gold plated carriage in garments embroidered with copious amounts of real gold. He ate copious amounts of only the finest, most expensive foods, and was known as a glutton. He became morbidly obese, which bothered him a lot, and he supposedly issued a ban on anyone sketching, drawing or photographing him.
Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Chabad-Lubavitch rebbe, was his grandson.
2. "…purchased 770 Eastern Parkway, the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, structure that now serves as its world headquarters, and a universally recognized symbol of Chabad.…" Lubavitch hired an assimilated Jewish attorney in Washington, DC, to lobby for the rescue of Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn from the Nazis. The attorney, Max Rhoade, did what almost no one else could have done – got US Military Intelligence to deal with the Nazi's Military Intelligence and make a deal to save Schneersohn. Schneersohn was pulled out Warsaw by the the Nazis and handed over to the US at the Latvian border.
Among the claims Chabad-Lubavitch told Rhoade and which Rhoade used to free Schneersohn was the claim the Scheersohn was the "Pope" of the "Protestant Jews" just like his great-grandfather had been. But the truth was that Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn had very few followers compared to his great-grandfather and even when compared to his grandfather or father.
Rhoade worked full time on the rescue. Chabad-Lubavitch promised him $5,000. But despite Rhoade's success and Schnersohn's new safety in America, Lubavitch didn't pay Rhoade, who had a pregnant wife and who literally begged Lubavitch to pay him so he could keep the heat on during the winter.
Instead, Lubavitch took the $5,000 earmarked for Rhoade and, now that Schneersohn was safe in America, used it to purchase 770 Eastern Parkway.
Because Chabad-Lubavitch failed to pay Rhoade, Schneersohn was unable to go to Rhoade for help in rescuing any other Jews. Rhoade's role in Schneersohn's rescue was not widely known, however, and the rescue gave Lubavitch some undeserved street cred in the rescue business which helped Schneersohn start his own rescue operation – which saved almost no one. But it did raise a lot of money – much of which Schneersohn used to open a yeshiva in the basement of 770 Eastern Parkway as Jews were being slaughtered in Europe.
For more on the rescue and Rhoade's role in it, including many Chabad-Lubavitch screw ups and cheating Rhoade, read Bryan Mark Rigg's Rescued From The Reich (Yale University Press, 2004).