He is a member of the board of Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the movement's umbrella organization, and was entrusted by the Rebbe with various missions, among them as the movement's envoy to the White House and Capitol Hill.
He is the founding national director of American Friends of Lubavitch, chairman of the executive board of Associated Bais Rivka Schools for girls in New York and the director of Lubavitch activities in Greater Philadelphia, PA, and director of the first Camp Gan Israel in Parksville, NY.
Abraham Isaac Shemtov was born February 16, 1937, in Moscow, Russia, to a Chassidic family. His father, Rabbi Benzion Shemtov was a staunch adherent of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Jewish activist. Abraham Shemtov grew up in the city of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and studied there in an underground Jewish school in the Soviet years.
He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva, Brooklyn, NY, and was ordained in 1960.
Often called the "Rebbe's ambassador to DC", Shemtov developed extensive connections and friendships in Washington. He regularly leads Chabad-Lubavitch delegations to the White House and played a pivotal role in the relationships formed between Schneerson and U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
On February 28, 1984, Shemtov was appointed by President Reagan as one of the five members of the National Advisory Council on Adult Education.
Under Shemtov's influence, the U.S. senate declared the Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A., on Schneerson's Hebrew birthday. The proclamation is signed yearly by the President of the United States of America.
In addition, Shemtov had successfully lobbied for a Congressional Gold Medal given to Rabbi Schneerson in September 1995 after his death on June 12, 1994, at 92. At a White House ceremony, Shemtov received the award on behalf of the Rebbe. Schneerson was the first religious leader ever awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks confiscated the fifth Rebbe's sizable book collection and to this day, it is still in the hands of the Russian government, housed in the main library in Moscow. When the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe fled Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1939 for the United States, the library was confiscated.
Upon revealing the location of manuscripts at the government-controlled Yiddisher Historic Institute in Warsaw, Shemtov was asked to help assist Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky in pursuing its release. Through the help of the U.S. State Department, Shemtov spent three years en route Europe - U.S. in negotiation with the communist Polish government.
At the end of 1977, the books were placed in the Library of Agudas Chassidei Chabad.
Shemtov is credited for erecting the first public Chanukah menorah in the United States. This practice, which started out as a folksy phenomenon generating legal controversy, has since become a part of the public holiday scene in thousands of cities across the globe. Shemtov kindled a small menorah at the foot of the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia In 1974.
A similar menorah is set up by Shemtov on the White House lawn, famously being called by President Reagan "the National Menorah."
In 1984, on the eve of Hanukkah, Shemtov hosted a visit to the White House by a delegation of rabbis from "The American Friends of Lubavitch." The group recounted that they were surprised that, when the time had come for them to leave, the President invited them to remain a little longer, so that he could tell them a story about a rabbi serving as a Navy chaplain. He shared with them the story of Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, whose kippa, skullcap, had to be discarded after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, because it was covered in blood after being used to wipe the faces of wounded Marines, and so a Catholic chaplain tore a piece of his camouflage uniform off, to be used as a temporary replacement for the kippa. The President asked the group about the tradition for Jewish men to cover their heads, and Shemtov replied, "Mr. President, the kippa to us is a sign of reverence." A colleague in the group, Rabbi Feller, continued, "We place the kippa on the very highest point of our being -- on our head, the vessel of our intellect -- to tell ourselves and the world that there is something which is above man's intellect -- the infinite Wisdom of G-d." Reagan later officially thanked the group in an official February 12, 1985, White House letter to Shemtov, Shemtov, ending with the prayer: "May the light of the menorah always be a source of strength and inspiration to the Jewish people and to all mankind."
In regard to the state of Chabad-Lubavitch after the passing of Rabbi Schneerson and the activities of Messianism, Shemtov has said: "Lubavitch went through a very difficult period, and turmoil, and what you are seeing now is the settling of the dust, and people begin to realize what are we really there for.” However, his position on Messianism largely differs from the one that the majority of Chabad took, the one that holds that the Rebbe is in fact the Messiah.
Shemtov is married to Batsheva Shemtov (née Lazaroff), an educator and community activist. They have six children.
- Eliezer Shemtov, rabbi and director of Beit Jabad del Uruguay in Montevideo, Uruguay. Author of book on Intermarriage, titled: Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?
- Menachem Mendel Shemtov, M.D., Cornell Urology Physician in New York City
- Goldie Avtzon, co-director of Chabad of Hong Kong, China
- Yudy Shemtov, rabbi and executive director of Lubavitch of Bucks County in Newtown, PA
- Levi Shemtov, rabbi and director of American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington, DC
- Shimon Shemtov, filmmaker and frequent collaborator of Jan Švankmajer
Industrialist Ronald O. Perelman, chairman and chief executive officer of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, is a friend and disciple of Rabbi Shemtov. They have met in Shemtov's Lubavitcher Center in Philadelphia and have deeply connected. Ever since, Perelman has attended prayers in synagogues, kept Kosher and the Sabbath. Shemtov regularly commutes from Philadelphia to the financier's East 63rd Street residence in New York City. "We discuss lessons from the Bible. It's a central dimension of his life", Shemtov has told the Washington Post.
Shemtov has accompanied Perelman in his meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe at the Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn. Showing the merchant rare praise, the Rebbe has called him "my partner" in charitable activities.
Perelman generously donates to Shemtov and Lubavitch causes. He is National Chairman of American Friends of Lubavitch and chief benefactor of Campus Chomesh - home of Associated Beth Rivkah Girls Schools, named after Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
On June 21, 2006, Shemtov and Perelman established a fund under the auspices of Agudas Chassidei Chabad to financially assist new Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. “You are terribly important to us as Jews, to us as parents, and to us that know the importance of keeping Judaism alive,” Perelman has told the grantees - 20 enthusiastic Lubavitch couples.
- The Rebbe and President Ronald Reagan, Dovid Zaklikowski, chabad.org
- Historical Correspondence: Rebbe and Presidents, chabad.org
- Appointment of Four Members of the National Advisory Council on Adult Education, White House, February 28 1984
- Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A., 2007, George W. Bush, March 27 2007
- Posthumous U.S. Medal for Hasidic Rabbi, New York Times, September 13 1995
- "Medal of Honor: Menachem Schneerson, MedalofHonor.com". Archived from the original on 2008-07-20. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- The Story of Hey Teves, shmais.com, 05/01/06
- Spreading like wildfire, but public menorah lightings still controversial, JTA, December 5, 2006 Archived October 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- "President Reagan receives a menorah in the Oval Office," White House Archives.
- "Rabbis Explain 'Top to Top'," Wellsprings, No. 12 (Vol 2, No. 7), August–September 1986," Lubavitch Youth Organization.
- "The Rebbe and President Reagan, 1984.
- Rabbi Shemtov On the 770 Court Decision, Steven I. Weiss, March 22 2006
- Perelman Power, Washington Post, February 6 1998
- Fostering Tomorrow's Women Scholars, chabad.org, 2002
- 'Perelman Supports “Very Important” Shluchim, crownheights.info, 03/06/07 Archived July 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- Row In Rostov. New York's Jewish Week, 14 November 2007.
- Chabad's Model of Outreach Gains Favor Among Fervently Orthodox. Uriel Heilman, JTA.
- Aguch's Chairman meets President Bush. Jewish Press, January 4, 2002.