(1801) Rabbi Schneur Zalman moves to Liadi

(1803) Rabbi Schneur Zalman publishes the first chassidic prayerbook

From the very inception of the chassidic movement, one of the identifying features of the chassidim was their adoption of a version of the traditional liturgy heavily influenced by the mystical teachings of the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi of Tzfat (1534–1572). This liturgy was adopted by all chassidim, even those who did not pray with the mystical meditative intentions that the liturgy was designed to reflect. For some seventy years, chassidim had noted the variations in the chassidic liturgy in the margins of their traditional Ashkenaz prayerbooks. Of course this situation was far from ideal, and led to all kinds of liturgical and grammatical inaccuracies. Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s prayerbook was the first authoritative chassidic prayerbook, and likely the first ever codification of the Arizal’s prayer liturgy into a complete and unified text. The prayerbook also included many laws and customs relevant to prayer, daily living and Shabbat.

For more about Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s prayerbook, click here.

(1803) Controversy between R. Avraham of Kalisk and Rabbi Schneur Zalman renewed

For more than two decades, R. Shneur Zalman had coordinated the campaign to collect money for the support of the chassidic community in the Holy Land. Special emissaries served as the link, transferring funds and correspondence between the chassidic communities in Eastern Europe and the Holy Land. In 1803, it was they who reported that R. Avraham no longer wanted anything to do with R. Shneur Zalman and his teachings. They claimed that he had even refused to accept funds collected by R. Schneur Zalman, and had instructed them to coordinate their own collection instead.

(1803) Rabbi Schneur Zalman and Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin meet in Minsk

In 1803, the Vilna Gaon’s preeminent student and successor as leader of Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, visited Belarus. R. Chaim made it known that—contrary to popular rumor—the Vilna Gaon had considered the chassidic method of animal slaughter absolutely kosher. While in Minsk, R. Chaim met with R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and the two discussed many scholarly and communal issues. This visit did much to defuse the tension between the chassidim and those who had previously opposed them.

(1804) Napoleon Bonaparte crowned emperor of France

(1804) Alexander I legislates regulations on the settlement of Jews

With the partition of Poland, the Russian empire was confronted with a large influx of Jews, and these regulations were designed to clarify their rights and obligations. One clause was particularly disastrous from an economic perspective, forbidding any Jew from keeping leases, taverns or inns, or to sell alcohol in many of the areas and villages where they had formerly conducted such business. In subsequent years, R. Schneur Zalman devoted much effort to fundraising on behalf of the vast numbers of Jews displaced and impoverished by the new decrees.

(1805) The battle of Austerlitz: Napoleon Bonaparte defeats the combined armies of Russia and Austria

(1805) A split emerges within the chassidic community

Since the passing of the Maggid of Mezeritch three decades earlier, his disciples and their followers had largely seen themselves as a homogeneous community. They were united by a shared vision of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings, and acted in concert to support each other economically and against the persecutions of their opponents. When the emissaries from the Holy Land first reported that R. Avraham of Kalisk was at odds with R. Schneur Zalman, the latter expressed disbelief. In 1805, however, R. Avraham responded to that disbelief by emphatically affirming his antagonism in writing. In a long letter R. Schneur Zalman subsequently described the history of their relationship, citing R. Avraham’s earlier support for the methodological system set forth in the Tanya, and expressed his confusion as to why R. Avraham had now turned against him. Ultimately the controversy drove a rift between those who followed the path taught by R. Schneur Zalman and those who considered his teachings a deviation from the original chassidic way. From this point on, Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s followers were distinguished as “Chabad chassidim.”

For more on the distinction between Chabad and the wider chassidic community, click here.

(1807) The Great Wedding in Zhlobin

In the summer of 1807 Sarah, the granddaughter of R. Schneur Zalman, married Eliezer, the grandson of R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. The wedding was attended by R. Schneur Zalman, R. Levi Yitzchak, and a great multitude of their respective followers. Zhlobin is a village in Belarus, midway between Babruysk (Babroisk) to the northwest and Gomel (Homil) to the southeast. It is also midway between Liadi to the north and Berditchev to the south.

(1807–08) Regulations on the settlement of Jews lead to widespread poverty

While Alexander I passed these regulations in 1804, they did not all take effect immediately, and it was only now that their brutal impact began to be felt. Some sixty thousand Jews were forced to abandon their homes and businesses, and move into the new “Pale of Settlement.” The huge influx of expelled Jews plunged the designated area into economic crisis. The existing Jewish communities were obligated by the czarist authorities to provide financial support for these immigrants, and they in turn sought to raise the necessary funds via the sale of etrogim. Rabbi Schneur Zalman encouraged his followers to buy etrogim in support of the exiled Jews. Unfortunately, this effort alone did not mitigate the crisis, and in 1810 he undertook a journey to Ukraine in order to raise the necessary funds.

(1809) Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev passes away

Read Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740–1809): A Brief Biography.

(1810) Rabbi Schneur Zalman journeys to Ukraine

This journey was undertaken primarily in order to raise funds for the Jews who had been displaced by the 1804 Regulations for the Settlement of Jews. In a letter addressed to his followers in Turkish Mohilev (Mohyliv-Podilskyi), Rabbi Shneur Zalman wrote that he had made the trip “because I could not bear the pain and tribulations of the villagers who were exiled from their homes to the cities, who are abandoned on the streets, swollen with hunger and dying of starvation.” Another object of the journey may have been to pay his condolences to the recently bereaved family of R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. While in Ukraine, R. Schneur Zalman met many of the great chassidic leaders of the time, including Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibuzh. In the letter cited above, his somewhat stormy meeting with Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuzh is also described.

(1811) R. Shneur Zalman takes part in a rabbinic meeting in Shklov

A letter addressed by Rabbi Schneur Zalman to the rabbinical authorities in Vilna testifies to the resolution of the conflict between the chassidic community and their former opponents. By this stage Rabbi Shneur Zalman was acting in mutual concert with rabbinic authorities throughout the region, and in the summer of 1811 he participated in the regional meeting in Shklov, previously a bastion of opposition to the chassidic movement.