Sunday, July 20, 2014

Engineering Chabad's Publishing House: The Rebbe

Hasidic Life

The Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1954: Seeman writes: "The energy of modern Chabad stems in large part from the way in which Rabbi Schneerson managed to combine the distribution and publicity-minded ethos of American publishing with ritual models embedded deep in Chabad theology."
Photo Credit:
Source: JRB
In an article in the Jewish Review of Books, Don Seeman writes on how Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, started and guided a publishing empire that brought Hasidic discourse to a wider audience of not only followers of Chabad but to other Jews interested in delving into the history and knowledge of Hasidim's most successful and well-known Jewish sect.

Seeman, associate professor of religion and Jewish studies at Emory University, writes in "Publishing Godliness: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Other Revolution; July 16, 2014:
When Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson arrived in the United States in 1941, his father-in-law, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, asked him to head the new Chabad publishing house, Kehot. It was an inspired decision. A prodigious scholar and bibliophile, the future Rebbe devoted himself passionately to the task of spreading the “wellsprings” of Hasidic teaching “outward” (hafatzat ma’ayanot chutzah). Although Rabbi Schneerson’s charismatic personal leadership and the global network of shluchim, or emissaries, he established as the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe have received a great deal of attention in the recent discussions occasioned by his 20th yahrzeit and the recent biographies by Joseph Telushkin, Chaim Miller, and Adin Steinsaltz, his work as an editor and publisher has been relatively neglected. Yet, it is in the light of this work that some of his most ambitious lifelong goals must be understood.

Chabad is often described as the most intellectual of the Hasidic schools that first arose in 18th-century Eastern Europe. While other Hasidic groups are designated today almost exclusively by the names of their towns of origin— Kotzk, Breslov, Chernobyl—only Chabad has come to be known for the distinctive form of contemplative divine service it promoted, as well as the town (Lubavitch) in which it once flourished. The term Chabad is an acronym for the three cognitive faculties (Chochmah, Binah, and Da’at) that link the human to the divine in Jewish mystical psychology. While other Hasidic schools have tended to concentrate on emotional experience, especially in ecstatic prayer, Chabad leaders have always insisted that feeling follows thought. They have remained focused, moreover, on the radical demand to make “godliness,” as Rabbi Schneerson would later write, “visible to eyes of flesh.”

The contemplative study of Chabad texts was meant, among other things, to make the absolute contingency of the world upon divine vitality perceptible to the reader. This, in turn, would help to make this “lower” world a fitting “habitation” (dirah ba-tachtonim). Yet while the Tanya, written by the movement’s founder Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and a few other key Chabad texts became well-known even outside of Hasidic circles, most of the tracts written by successive generations of Chabad leaders remained in manuscript form, passed from hand to hand as precious heirlooms. On his deathbed the fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, reportedly told his son and successor, “my soul I return to my Maker, the ksavim [manuscripts] I leave to you.”
The Rebbe worked tireless and intelligently, and might I add with heart and passion, to build a publishing empire, to bring Hasidic thought and discourse into as many Jewish hands as there were Jews. Part of his success might be attributed to his innate talent for making leaders of men and women, and for them to internalize the importance of his vision; and part of his success might be attributed to his engineering skills, where he was able to efficiently utilize his seemingly unlimited energy for a higher purpose.

For more, go to [JRB].

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