Up until 1950, the Chabad movement was led by six Rebbes. After one Rebbe passed away, he was succeeded by a new Rebbe, either a son or a son-in-law. The Rebbes are as follows:
1. The founder of Chabad was Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi who was a scholar, pillar of the community, a magnificent composer of music, a Talmudic master, and a spiritual leader whose teachings taught the simplest to the most learned Jew how to establish a relationship with God. He is the author of the Tanya, a fundamental and widely studied work that encapsulates Chabad philosophy and teachings of Chasidut.
2. Rabbi Dov Ber, born in 1773, was the second Rebbe of Chabad and is known as the Mitteler Rebbe. He was the son of the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman and he is known for turning the small Russian town of Lubavitch into the center of Chabad headquarters. He showed brilliance as a young child, and became a teacher of advanced students by age 16. He was also a prolific writer who added many volumes to Chabad teachings, philosophy and mysticism. He loved music, opened a yeshiva in Lubavitch, and with much personal sacrifice, dedicated himself to helping the Jews in Russia with all matters both physical and spiritual. He passed away on his birthday at age 54.
3. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, the third Chabad Rebbe, is widely referred to as the “Tzemach Tzedek” after the title of one his publications. He was born in 1789 and exhibited dazzling intelligence as a youngster. Rabbi Menachem Mendel rose to the position of Rebbe after the passing of the Mitteler Rebbe. He was a prolific writer, and also selflessly assisted the Russian Jews—going so far as to purchasing a large area of land near Minsk so Jews could live there in relative safety and earn a livelihood. He also worked diligently to rescue Jewish children who were kidnapped and forced to serve in the Russian army. He served for 38 years as Rebbe of Chabad until he passed away in 1866.
3. Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, known as the “Maharash,” was born in the small Russian town of Lubavitch in 1834. He was the youngest of the third Rebbe’s seven sons. He is known for offering guidance and inspiration to his students and followers and for writing many discourses on Chassidic teachings and philosophy. He also went to great lengths to pressure the Russian government to stop its incitement of pogroms against the Jews.
5. The fifth Chabad Rebbe was Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn, known by the acronym “Rashab,” who was born in the town of Lubavitch in 1860. He is famous for his brilliance and for his more than 2,000 discourses. He also initiated a campaign in which he sent out emissaries to isolated communities to educate the Jewish children. He passed away in 1920.
6. The sixth Rebbe was Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Born in 1880, he was an incredible leader despite the brutal challenges he faced in his life. He initiated a complex secret network to educate Jewish youth and perpetuate Jewish life in communist Russia. He suffered through pogroms as well as imprisonment, torture and exile for his selfless efforts on behalf of Russian Jewry. Due to international pressure, he was released by the communists and permitted to leave Russia. He eventually reached America where he relocated Chabad headquarters from Lubavitch to Brooklyn, New York. Nevertheless, the network of Jewish services he set up in Russia continued to operate while he was in America. In America, too, he worked tirelessly to infuse energy and Chassidic thought into Jewish life in post-World War II America. His daughter, Chaya Mushka, married Menachem Mednel Schneerson who after Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson’s passing in 1950, became the seventh and final Chabad Rebbe.