Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (b. 1925–d. 1994) was a spiritual guide, charismatic religious leader, and influential composer of popular modern Hasidic tunes. Through his musical storytelling, inspirational insights, and personal contacts, he inspired a new form of heartfelt soulful Judaism and became a progenitor of the 20th-century neo-Hasidic renaissance. Born in Berlin on 14 January 1925, he grew up in Baden near Vienna where his father, Rabbi Naphtali Carlebach, served as chief rabbi (1931–1938). Shlomo was named after his paternal grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo (Salomon) Carlebach (b. 1845–d. 1919), chief rabbi of Lübeck, Germany. Shlomo’s maternal grandfather was Rabbi Dr. Asher (Arthur) Cohn (b. 1885–d. 1926), Chief Rabbi of Basel, Switzerland. Young Shlomo was destined by his parents to continue in the family’s rabbinic calling. With the ominous Nazi rise to power, the Carlebach family fled, eventually arriving in New York on 23 March 1939. Shlomo studied in the Haredi yeshiva high school Mesivta Torah Vodaas until April 1943, and then joined a dozen students who helped Rabbi Aharon Kotler establish the first Haredi full-time Torah-learning yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey. Then, in 1949, Shlomo embarked upon a career as the outreach emissary for the Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe. From the home base of his father’s synagogue, Kehillath Jacob, in Manhattan, Shlomo set up the first Hasidic outreach program in America. But by 1955 he had begun charting a unique “outreach” career as a “singing Rabbi.” Highlights of his career include establishing the House of Love and Prayer (HLP) in Haight-Ashbury (1968–1978) and Moshav Meor Modi’in in Israel (1976). He was the featured singer at rallies of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ), and his most famous song, “Am Yisrael Chai,” was composed for their protest movement. In 1989, he led the first Jewish music tour in Russia, reaching fifty thousand people in three weeks and inspiring Soviet Jewry. He also visited Poland 1–10 January 1989 with eight concerts in ten days and thus was the first openly religious Jew to perform in Communist Poland after the 1967–1968 wave of anti-Semitism. But in his own eyes, his major achievement was as “Rebbe of the Street-Corner.” His potential constituency could be found in any forlorn corner that he encountered. And since he traveled around the world sharing his utopian vision of love and peace, he assumed a unique role as a charismatic iconoclast rebbe.
The first books with biographical sketches were published three years after Carlebach’s death and include Brandwein 1997 and Halberstam Mandelbaum 1997. More information became available as recollections were published by disciples, such as Zeller 2006, Ritchie 2010, and Husbands-Hankin 2016. Encyclopedia biographies were published: Ariel 2005 and Cohen 2007. The collection Schonwald and Goldfarb 2017 includes essays of Reb Shlomo’s prominent disciples, such as Polen and Yair-Nussbaum, who try to define the unique principles underlying Carlebach’s life and thought.
Ariel, Yaakov. “Shlomo Carlebach.” In American National Biography: Supplement 2. Edited by Marc C. Carnes, 77–78. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
In this short biographical entry, Ariel defines Carlebach as “Jewish spiritual leader and pioneer of the movement Return to Tradition” (p. 77).
Brandwein, Meshulam H. Reb Shlomele: The Life and World of Shlomo Carlebach. Translated by Gabriel A. Sivan. Jerusalem: Meshulam H. Brandwein, 1997.
This is a translation from Rabbi Meshulam Havatzelet Brandwein’s Hebrew book. It recounts adulatory stories about Reb Shlomo’s life, his outreach work and extraordinary acts of generosity and kindness. In his introduction Brandwein states: “Reb Shlomele won his place in the Jewish Hall of Fame as the creator of ‘Hasidic pop’. . . . This book seeks . . . to express the author’s deep affection for Shlomele Carlebach.”
Cohen, Judah M. “Carlebach, Shlomo.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 4. 2d ed. Edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 481–482. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
This seminal encyclopedia article in 2007 concisely defined Carlebach’s life and legacy.
Halberstam Mandelbaum, Yitta. Holy Brother: Inspiring Stories and Enchanted Tales about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, 1997.
Halberstam Mandelbaum depicted “wondrous deeds” and acts of kindness that portrayed a “Latter Day Saint,” a “Hidden Righteous Man” (p. xxiv).
Husbands-Hankin, Shonna. “Soul Brothers: A Memoir.” American Jewish History 100.4 (October 2016): 547–553.
Shonna Husbands-Hankin describes how Reb Shlomo and his “soul brother,” Reb Zalman, inspired, influenced, and created as spiritual “trailblazers.”
Polen, Nehemia. “In Search of the Broken Self: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Teachings in the Context of His Life and Work.” In What Do We Know? The Carlebach Anthology: Essays about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach with Selections from His Teachings and Stories. Edited by Joseph Schonwald and Reuven Goldfarb, 44–57. Jerusalem: Zimrani, 2017.
Polen describes Carlebach’s search for his own individual place in the world and his ensuing creation of neo-Hasidic communities: “He tried to make the whole world into a House of Love and Prayer so that he too could pray and find love” (p. 57).
Ritchie, Liliane Aura. “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: A Friend to Our Generation.” In Masters and Miracles: Divine Interventions. By Liliane Aura Ritchie, 26–53. Jerusalem: Refuah Institute, 2010.
A personal account by Liliane Ritchie of how she and her husband, Dr. Joshua Ritchie, connected to Carlebach in 1966 and became close disciples for twenty-eight years, hosting him often in their home in Los Angeles and helping found Moshav Meor Modi’im. Ritchie included personal stories about Carlebach.
Schonwald, Joseph, and Reuven Goldfarb, eds. What Do We Know? The Carlebach Anthology: Essays about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach with Selections from His Teachings and Stories. Jerusalem: Zimrani, 2017.
This five-hundred-page anthology contains thirteen annotated teachings of Reb Shlomo and twenty original essays describing his life and thought. Rabbi Joseph Schonwald was the founding president of the Carlebach Foundation and Reuven Goldfarb was an original member of the San Francisco House of Love and Prayer.
Yair-Nussbaum, Rute. “The Existential Challenge of Brokenness: Principles in the Thought of Reb Shlomo Carlebach.” In What Do We Know? The Carlebach Anthology: Essays about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach with Selections from His Teachings and Stories. Edited by Joseph Schonwald and Reuven Goldfarb, 21–43. Jerusalem: Zimrani, 2017.
Yair-Nussbaum posits that Shlomo’s teachings “constitute a viable theology” (p. 23) and she illustrates several tenets, for example, the “breaking of dichotomies” (p. 23) in accepting “opposing truths” (p. 27) such as utopian leftist humanistic values of peace and love while simultaneously preaching rightist beliefs in the “chosenness” of the Jewish people (p. 28). She defines Shlomo’s “mission” in “empowering people to love, honor, and believe in themselves,” and discover their individual “holiness within” (p. 31).
Zeller, David. The Soul of the Story: Meetings with Remarkable People. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2006.
Rabbi David Zeller (b. 1946–d. 2007) describes (pp. 11–28) how he met Carlebach in Berkeley in 1966 and became a close disciple, playing guitar as religious musical inspiration, and eventually receiving semicha (ordination) from Reb Shlomo.
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