The fifth rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the “Rebbe Rashab,” photographed in Rostov-on-the-Don
The fundamental approach of the leaders of Chabad was the path followed by Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, and son of Rabbi Shmuel. Like his predecessors, he devoted a great deal of his time to the furthering of Jewish education, and sent his representatives and delegates to all parts of the country for this purpose.
Rabbi Sholom Dovber took a personal interest in the “mountain Jews,” living in the Caucasian mountains and other remote parts of the country. He investigated their position and learned that they had very few teachers or spiritual leaders, and that many of their youth were growing up without any knowledge of the Torah.
Already, because of lack of learning, many of these sincere Jews had become largely estranged from the faith of their forefathers. The situation was deteriorating rapidly, and the prospect was that within a short time, a generation or two at most, the last vestige of Jewishness would be gone from these isolated elements of the nation.
Rabbi Sholom Dovber planned a determined campaign to save these groups of straying Jews before they became completely alienated from the Jewish faith. To head this campaign, he selected the distinguished scholar and Chassid, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Levitin, who had been rabbi of the Jewish community of Rakshik up until then, and appointed him his personal representative with full authority to organize religious schools and Talmudic seminaries throughout the provinces of the Caucasian Mountains. Rabbi Shmuel Levitin traveled to this far corner of the country and devoted all his time and efforts to this sacred mission entrusted into his care by his revered Rebbe.
The Jews in these areas numbered over 100,000. The majority were from Sephardic descent, and at first Rabbi Shmuel Levitin found that the immense amount of work to be done was impeded because some people found it difficult to accept the authority and teaching of Ashkenazi Rabbis. However, the sincerity of the Chabad representatives so impressed the Sephardim that they soon overcame their initial prejudices.
Chabad’s aims in this region were twofold. First, immediate action to save the children and bring them back to Torah and the fear of G-d.
Secondly, the establishment of institutions for the training of rabbis, teachers, slaughterers and cantors, so that the Mountain Jews would in due course produce their own spiritual leaders to carry on this work.
The locals sent their children to these schools, and the name of Chabad won fame and favor among these thousands of Jews living in the Caucasian provinces.
The basic principle of the leaders of the Chabad movement in their work for education was that the education for Torah and mitzvos should be conducted in the pure spirit of tradition, in the manner handed down to us through the centuries, originating in the Divine revelation on Mount Sinai.