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The Rebbe Rashab and the Mountain Jews

The Rebbe Rashab and the Mountain Jews

The fifth rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the “Rebbe Rashab,” photographed in Rostov-on-the-Don
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 knowledge of the Torah.

Already, because of lack of learning, many of these sincere Jews were becoming 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 ancient, isolated elements of the nation.

Rabbi Sholom Dovber planned a determined campaign to help them. 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. 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 rabbis from outside of their culture. However, the sincerity of the Chabad representatives so impressed the locals that they soon overcame their initial prejudices. The Chabad rabbis worked hard to ensure that the local Jews maintain their ancient and unique customs.

Chabad’s aims in this region were twofold. First, immediate action to teach 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.

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Discussion (3)
April 28, 2015
As a Mountain Jew, this post makes me very uneasy. We as a people have lost a lot of our cultural Mizrahi Iranian heritage, and I don't know whether this Ashkenazi rabbi was the right answer for our people. We had our owns traditions and folklore and we lost a lot due to Russianization. Ashkenazi Jews have a history of looking down on Middle Eastern Jews as primitive and oriental, so I don't feel entirely happy about a European Jew telling Mizrahi Jews how to live their lives. We speak a Judeo-Iranian language, so we don't need "Yiddushkeit," we need to have a sense of our ethnic culture along with our Judaism.
April 11, 2014
Not Sephardic
The Mountain Jews, or Jews of the Caucasus, are believed to have inhabited Caucasia since the 5th century AD. They arrived from southwestern Iran. The Jews of the Caucasus (Kavkaz) have a tradition, passed down generation after generation, that they are descended from the Ten Tribes which were exiled by the king of Assyria (Ashur), who ruled over northern Iraq from Mosul (the ancient Nineveh). The reference, no doubt, is to Shalmanesser the king of Assyria who is mentioned in II Kings 18:9-12. According to Kavkazi Jewish tradition, some 19,000 Jews departed Jerusalem (used here as a generic term for the Land of Israel) and passed through Syria, Babylonia, Persia and then entered, northbound, into Medai. The language of the Mountain Jews, Juhuri, is an Ancient Southwest Iranian language, which integrates many elements of Ancient Hebrew.[2] It is believed that they had arrived in Persia, from Ancient Israel, as early as the 8th century BCE.[4] The Mountain Jews maintained a strong military tradition.
M. Harkin
November 1, 2011
Shluchim of the Rebbe Rashab
My father, Harav yacov Yistroel Zuber was sent as a young man to assist rabbi Levitin in his activities of strengthening yiddishkeit in the Caucasian mountains. As a newlywed he went with my mother Rebetzin Zlata to Satchere in that region and there he taught and inspired the members of the community for five years. It was a very primitive community with many wonderful people, alas poor and numerous illiterate. His reputation as a leader and teacher was known widely in the Chabad community. When my father was in Riga, on his way to America, the community of Sweden was searching for a rabbi, someone competent as a leader, shochet, mohel and teacher. the Rebbe Rayatz encouraged my father to accept this position and subsequently he served that community until 1947 when he came to the united States to accept the position of Rosh yeshiva of Tomchei Tmimim of America. There was some changes at the last moment and he settled in Boston. On New Year's Day of 1953, he lost his life.
chana sharfstein
brooklyn, NY