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On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Eight

On Studying Chassidus: Chapter Eight

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During the third generation of Chabad leaders, namely under the leadership of the Tzemach Tzedek, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the first fifteen years (1828-1843) offered no opportunity for conflict between chasidim and misnagdim. The Tzemach Tzedek devoted himself during this period to teaching his disciples, and did not engage in any public activities. In 1842, when he was appointed to the Rabbinical Commission in St. Petersburg,1 he met for the first time with mitnagdim to plan together for the impending Commission.

He had made frequent visits (1832-3, 1836-41) to chasidic communities in White Russia, visiting Minsk and Vilna. Wherever he came, mitnagdim joined in according him great honor and attended his chasidic lectures. He granted them audiences to discuss Torah law as they requested. Nonetheless, there was no affinity. Any exchange of views was fleeting and incidental to the Torah discussions. Not until the meetings for the Commission did they unite to work in common cause for the general welfare.

This new-found accord and cooperation between the respective leaders of the chasidic and mitnagdic factions delighted both camps equally, since the reputation of the Tzemach Tzedek had long since (from about 1829) penetrated and grown among the mitnagdim. To arrange the logistics of the Commission, a special committee was formed in Vitebsk, composed of philanthropists from both groups. The first meeting of the Tzemach Tzedek and Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin, the leader of the mitnagdim, left a strong impression on Rabbi Yitzchak, and a favorable impression on the Tzemach Tzedek. The venerable Yitzchak Rubashov, who was then in St. Petersburg and had attended the Tzemach Tzedek, told me that observers remarked that the meeting proved to the mitnagdim that chasidim were scholars, and convinced the chasidim that mitnagdim were pious.

This rapprochement and communal cooperation had salutary effects on the general relationships between the chasidim and mitnagdim. In some places the union became personal and families joined in marriage—the antagonists were reunited.

FOOTNOTES
1. Cf. Admur HaTzemach Tzedek Utnuas HaHaskala, Brooklyn, 1944. [English rendition, Kehot, Brooklyn.]
Translated by Zalman I. Posner. Rabbi Posner (1927-2014) was a noted author and lecturer. He was rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel of Nashville, Tennessee, for 53 years and co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nashville.
A Chassidic discourse by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch.
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