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Rabbi Zalman I. Posner, Emissary, Author, Leader

By , Lubavitch Headquarters

Rabbi Zalman I. Posner, a pioneer in the field of Jewish outreach and a trail-blazing Chabad-Lubavitch Emissary to Nashville, TN, passed away Wednesday, April 23. He was 87. 

A noted author and lecturer, Posner dedicated his life to Jewish education on both the local and international scenes. In Nashville, Posner served as the rabbi of Congregation of Sherith Israel and the founder of Akiva Jewish day school. He was a regular speaker at the “Encounter with Chabad” retreats popular through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. He was a leading member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Central Committee of Chabad Lubavitch Rabbis in the United States and Canada.

A prolific author, Posner wrote articles for various journals and papers, and authored two books on Jewish thought, Think Jewish and Reflections on the Sedra, and translated some of the most fundamental works of Chabad chasidic thought, including portions of the Tanya, the foundational Chasidic work by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rebbe.

Posner was born in the British Mandate Palestine in 1927 to Rabbi Sholom and Chaya Posner. After the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn’s visit to the Holy land in 1929, the Posners moved to the United States at the previous Rebbe’s behest. 

When Zalman was 10 years old, he sent along with his younger brother Leibel to study in the yeshivahs in New York. After the Previous Rebbe’s arrival in New York in 1940, Posner was one of the first students of the newly founded US branch of Tomchei Temimim, the Chabad run network of yeshivot.

While learning in yeshivah, Posner had an early glimpse of the pioneering outreach work of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory. As he would later recount, shortly after the Rebbe’s arrival in 1941, he encouraged the Chasidim taking part in tashlich, the annual “casting away of sins” on Rosh Hashanah, to sing as they marched down Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway. A secular man approached young Posner and told him with excitement as he motioned to his chest, “Deep down here I have spark. When I heard people marching down the street singing ‘Hurray I’m a Jew! Hurray I’m a Jew!’ that spark burst into a flame.”

In 1949, shortly before his marriage to the late Risya Kazarnovsky, Posner was sent by the previous Rebbe to fill a rabbinic post at Congregation Sherith Israel in Nashville, TN.

When Posner first arrived in Nashville, then home to some 800 Jewish families, many of the congregants expressed their doubts about the Posners’ long term viability in Nashville. As Posner would later relate to author Sue Fishkoff in her research for her book, The Rebbe’s Army, “They thought, this is a nice place for a young rabbi to get training, and then after two or three years, you’d go to New York to a ‘real’ pulpit,”

Undeterred, the Posners began to reach out to the greater Nashville Jewish community, including students at nearby Vanderbilt University, pioneering Chabad’s outreach work on Jewish students on campus.  

In 1954, the Posners founded Akiva day school with only five children in two grades. At the time, Nashville was the smallest community in America to boast a Jewish day school. The local Federation refused to support the school.

As Posner’s acclaim as a speaker brought him to Jewish communities throughout the English speaking world, including England, South Africa and Australia, he remained dedicated to the community in Nashville, serving Sherith Israel for some 53 years.

His grandson, Chezzi Denebeim, recalls his grandfather, pious, but witty and down-to-earth:

“He was a truly Chasidic Jew, with no pretenses” he told “He never used hyperbole or rhetoric to make his point.” 

Rabbi Posner is survived by his children Mrs. Vivi Deren, Mendel Posner, Mrs. Sussie Denebeim, Mrs. Miriam Liberow and Rabbi Shimon H. Posner, his siblings Rabbi Leibel Posner, Rabbi Zushia Posner, Mrs. Bassie Garelik and Mrs. Sara Rivkah Sasonkin, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, many of them serving as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries around the world.


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