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, 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.