(1797) The battle against Chassidism is revived

In response to renewed persecutions against the chassidic community in Vilna, Rabbi Schneur Zalman rearticulated his non-confrontational stance, writing, “We are obliged to remain silent, to tolerate and accept the torment with love . . .” He promised his followers that if they kept the peace, the chassidic path would ultimately emerge triumphant.

Read Immanent Transcendence: Chassidim, Mitnagdim and the debate about tzimtzum

(1797) Passing of Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon

Following the passing of Rabbi Eliyahu, the famed Gaon of Vilna, the persecution of the chassidim intensified even further, and began to take a heavy economic toll on the chassidic community. Rabbi Schneur Zalman warned his followers “not to speak detrimentally of the honored Gaon and pious one of Vilna.” He also sent his followers in Vilna the large sum of 800 rubles in order to relieve the economic pressure. Thus he ensured the survival of the chassidic community without entering into a direct confrontation, and also preserved the honor of the Vilna Gaon.

Ultimately, the chassidic community in Vilna was forced to ask the local governmental authorities to intervene, bringing the persecution in Vilna to an end. Twelve days later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was denounced to the imperial authorities as a revolutionary agitator.

(1798) First arrest and liberation of R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi

In Tishrei of the year 5559 (1798), Rabbi Schneur Zalman was arrested and taken under guard to St. Petersburg. He was held for 53 days, while the czarist authorities investigated charges by R. Schneur Zalman’s opponents that the chassidic movement he led threatened the imperial authority of the czar. On the 19th of Kislev he was released by express order of the czar, and the chassidic movement was vindicated. Until today, the 19th of Kislev is celebrated as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism. In a letter addressed to his followers, Rabbi Schneur Zalman thanked G‑d for “the many kindnesses done with us,” and commanded them to retain a humble attitude towards their opponents, “acting with a mild spirit and soft reply” in the hope that “perhaps G‑d will place in their hearts a response in kind.”

(1799) Death of George Washington

(1801) Paul I assassinated; Alexander I crowned emperor of Russia

(1800–01) Second arrest and liberation of R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi

Just a few years after the first arrest, the old charges were revived, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman was recalled to St. Petersburg for further investigations. He was detained there for longer than on the first occasion, but under much better conditions. In the later stage of his detention, he was even allowed to deliver chassidic discourses to groups of his followers. The assassination of Czar Paul I occurred while R. Schneur Zalman was imprisoned in St. Petersburg. Two weeks after his installation as the new czar, Alexander I issued a command to release R. Schneur Zalman.

For more about the arrests and liberations of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, click here.

(1801) Peace is restored between R. Avraham of Kalisk and Rabbi Schneur Zalman

R. Schneur Zalman wrote to R. Avraham defending the Tanya and his interpretation of the legacy of the Baal Shem Tov. In a letter penned in the summer of 1801, R. Avraham responded with a clear vindication of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s approach: “Everything shall come to its place in peace, and we shall no longer remember the initial disagreement; what has passed has passed. I was always in faith with you in the past, and forevermore so will it be eternally . . .” In a public letter he exhorted the chassidim of Belarus to follow R. Schneur Zalman without question, and dismissed the rumors that there was any disagreement between them: “There is no disagreement between us whatsoever, especially not in the matter of meditative contemplation. How could one even think of disagreeing on this matter? The whole point of serving G‑d rests upon it . . .”