Eastern European Jewry in the eighteenth century had not yet recovered from the ravages of the pogroms of 1648-1649. The people were depressed spiritually and impoverished materially. Ignorance and despondency (the latter caused by the former) deadened the spirit of the people; they had no life in this world and could expect little better in the Hereafter.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov embarked on the ambitious program of elevating the spirit of the Jews, teaching them, encouraging them to server G‑d with sincerity and joy, emphasizing the homely virtues of the simple folk. His efforts met with conspicuous success. Countless thousands turned to him and Chasidus-as his new movement was called-for spiritual sustenance. It was no less than a major renaissance of the Jewish spirit.

As might be expected, opponents were not lacking. Opposition concentrated primarily in Lithuania, the center of Talmudic scholarship. Chasidus was accused of attempting to supplant Torah learning as the sine qua non of Judaism. Memory of radical movements threatening the very existence of Judaism rendered any departure from the norm highly suspect. Not until the time of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who synthesized Chasidic fervor and worship with Lithuanian rationality and learning, could the movement make any significant inroads in the camp of the misnagdim, the opponents of Chasidus. The Alter Rebbe's intellectual school of Chasidus was called Chabad. The Baal Shem Tov demonstrated that everyone can serve G‑d; the Alter Rebbe taught how everyone can serve G‑d, describes their relative contributions.

While the Chasidic movement suffered a terrible blow-as did all the Jewish people-during the Second World War, it has shown remarkable vitality and viability, striking firm and productive roots on every continent. Interest in it, then, is not historical alone or theoretical, but immediate to any serious student of Judaism.

Chasidus, including Chabad, has been the subject of a great many studies in several languages. However, few of the sources were ever translated into English, and for the formidable subject matter, coupled with the specific definitions and connotations of Chabad terminology deter many potential students from exploring this field of study.

The essay Kuntres Toras HaChasidus (Pamphlet on the Teachings of Chasidus) selected here for translation, was written by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of sainted memory. In discussing the general nature and contribution of Chabad, it is introductory in character.

In addition to the text of the essay proper, there is an excerpt from a letter composed by the author of the present work that addresses itself briefly to the same theme as our essay. The footnotes were prepared by the present Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, excepting brief references and sources. Explanatory footnotes by the translator have been so marked.

Translator's Explanatory Notes have been included to facilitate the study of the essay. It is suggested that the reader examine these Notes at the outset, and then refer to them as the need arises. The translator has also added a brief Glossary of Hebrew terms, though the use of Hebrew has been kept to a minimum. The order of succession, describing the leaders of Chasidus and Chabad in sequence should allay confusion arising from names recurring in different generations.

It is hoped that both scholar and layman will find material in the present work to enlighten and broaden their vision of Judaism and Torah.

Rabbi Zalman I. Posner

Nashville, Tennessee

Adar I, 5719

(February 1959)