Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bobby Fischer, Reshevsky, and Chabad

Reshevsky playing chess. Source: Chabad's web site. 

In an article titled "Bobby Fischer vs. the Rebbe" in Tablet magazine, by writer Jonathan Zalman, clearly a chess fan, there is an interesting story.

Among other relatively well known (to chess historians) material, is a claim I had not encountered before -- for what that is worth. Zalman claim Reshevsky tried to get Fischer to rediscover his Jewish roots: despite the fact that he never considered himself a Jew, he was technically Jewish according to Jewish religious law since his mother was.

According to the article, not only did Reshevsky meet Fischer for three hours and 1984 and tried to induce him -- unsuccesfully, due to Fischer's by then paranoid antisemitism -- to return to Judaism, he did so on the behest of the Lubavicher "Rebbe", the leader of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

In (one of) Chabad's web sites, there is indeed a long article -- which Zalman cites -- about Reshevsky which tells us of his long involvement with Chabad and Judaism in general. It has, inter alia, Shneerson's explanation of what the real meaning of chess is in the "worlds above" (!), and the claim that he told Reshevsky, in a P.S. to a letter dealing with other matters concerning Judaism and chess, that:
The following lines may appear strange, but I consider it my duty not to miss the opportunity to bring it to your attention. You surely are familiar with the life story of Bobby Fischer, of whom nothing has been heard in quite some time.
Unfortunately, he did not have the proper Jewish education, which is probably the reason for his being so alienated from the Jewish way of life or the Jewish people. However, being a Jew, he should be helped by whomever possible. I am writing to you about this, since you are probably better informed about him than many other persons, and perhaps you may find some way in which he could be brought back to the Jewish fold, either through your personal efforts, or in some other way...
What else is known of the Reshevsky / Chabad connection?


  1. There is a video of Rabbi Posner on a meeting of Reshevsky and Rabbi Schneerson at a chasidic gathering.

    Also, Tartajubow reports that Reshevsky once asked for a blessing from the Rebbe, who agreed on the condition that Reshevsky study Torah daily which Reshevsky dutifully did for the rest of his life. In 1982, at age 70, when Reshevsky was considering retiring from professional chess he approached Rabbi Schneersohn and asked for advice. According to Rabbi Dovid Zaklikowski, Rabbi Schneersohn told Reshevsky that playing chess was his “way of fulfilling the commandment of sanctifying God’s name” and suggested that he should not yet retire. In 1984, at 72 years old, Reshevsky tied for first place at the Reykjavik Open.

  2. Thank you for the information! This is indeed interesting especially since Reshevsky was not a Chabad "Hassid".