In 1970, Rabbi Nachman Sudak, head of the Lubavitch Foundation in London, contacted me. The Rebbe had indicated to him that the Tanya (the seminal work of Chabad philosophy) should be printed in five countries in which it had hitherto never been printed. The Rebbe intimated that these efforts would hasten the redemption of the Jewish people through the coming of Moshiach. The Tanya had never before been printed in the UK, so Rabbi Sudak assumed that the Rebbe wished to rectify this omission as soon as possible.

I was not particularly enamored with the idea of printing an identical Tanya as has always been printed in the past. I did realize and appreciate that the Rebbe’s request represented a spiritual matter, but why go through all the trouble of printing, here in England, the exact same book which has already been produced many times in Brooklyn and Israel?

The Chumash (Five Books of Moses) has been published in England, including various versions where the Hebrew and English appear in one volume. My suggestion, therefore, was that a publication of – even this holy sefer – the Tanya, manufactured in Britain, should also have English content.

The Tanya had already been translated into various languages (including English, in 1962) and published in five separate sections. I could envision no great difficulties to overcome in combining both the original Hebrew Tanya pages with the English translation, resulting in one convenient and handy volume.

To have the English translation on the same facing page of the Hebrew text would be a tremendous step forward. This would be an enormous help and a great boon to English-speaking students of the Tanya, including seasoned chassidim who study a daily portion of the Tanya, thus completing the entire book each year. We decided to present this innovative idea to the Rebbe.

In due course we learned that our suggestion had received the Rebbe’s approval. The Rebbe later added that “Made in England” should be printed therein, as this would assure a first-class production. The Rebbe also advised us to have this Tanya published by the Soncino Press – a well known and by repute – one of the best publishers in Great Britain.

At a special meeting of Manchester Lubavitch, it was resolved to appoint a sub-committee which would take immediate steps to implement this idea. Rabbi Avrohom Jaffe (my son), Bernard Perrin and I were to be the three members of this sub-committee.

Our first task was a visit to our local bank, securing an overdraft of £10,000 for the Lubavitch Tanya Account. We were now in business! In addition to this money, Bernard offered to donate a very substantial sum towards the cost of this project.

This offer was extremely generous of Bernard. We considered it a nice gesture on our part if we could print a special dedication page in the back of the new Tanya in memory of Bernard’s father, the late Shlomo Perrin.

We understood that, in general, dedicating the printing of a Tanya to an individual had not been allowed. However, since Shlomo Perrin was a founder and a stalwart of Lubavitch in England, we decided to inquire if the Rebbe would permit us, in this instance, to dedicate the printing of the Tanya to his memory. (Plus, Mr. Perrin was almost a Lubavitch institution of his own!)

Rabbi Sudak recommended that we also co-opt Hershel Gorman onto our committee. He resided in London and he could deal, on the spot, with any queries or difficulties which might arise during our associations with the Soncino Press. It was an inspired suggestion (and a great one at that) and we were delighted when Hershel accepted our invitation. He was the ideal person to look after those interests.

We arranged to meet Mr. Bloch, the owner and managing director of the Soncino Press, for a “working luncheon” at a restaurant in London. We wished to ascertain whether they could do the job, approximately how much it would cost, how long it would take, and any other points relevant to the production of this edition.

The luncheon went down very well, though not the “working” part.

Mr. Bloch was a tough negotiator. He knew his business and his own mind! He would not – or could not – give us a quotation or estimation regarding costs. He informed us that we could print it much cheaper in Holland. We continued to insist, however, on a 100% British production.

“In that case,” said Mr. Bloch, “you will have to rely on me to get the best possible terms for you.” He quickly added, “The work would take about three years to complete.”

Three years! We were stunned. Three years for such a simple printing operation? But we had no alternative, so we accepted Mr. Bloch’s offer to do a first-class job, at the lowest possible price, and in the shortest possible time.

(Little did we realize it then, but it would actually take five years of heartache, aggravation and trouble, before we would have this bilingual Tanya ready to present to our beloved Rebbe.)

The text quality of the Tanyas printed in Brooklyn or in Kfar Chabad was inadequate to use as the base of the Hebrew pages of our Tanya. This is because they were printed from photographic copies of copies etc., and the text quality is severely degraded. Mr. Bloch’s first requirement, therefore, was that we procure an original “Vilna Tanya” [printed in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1900] which would be returned after he had finished photographing it.

On my next visit to Brooklyn, Rabbi Leibel Groner, one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, loaned me an original Vilna edition from the Rebbe’s library. “Please, Zalmon,” he begged me, “be careful and let me have it back in this same, impeccable condition.”

Unfortunately, we failed to realize that Mr. Bloch intended to take the whole volume to pieces (literally!) page by page, in order to photograph each leaf individually.

Mr. Bloch himself was well satisfied with this Vilna Tanya and we were now able to commence the more serious discussions. We immediately became involved in disagreements regarding many of the technical matters: the color of the paper, the format, the place for the English notes and explanations, the numbering of the pages (English or Hebrew) and so on.

We simply sent all proposals and suggestions to the Rebbe for a decision. Thank G‑d for the Rebbe!

The Rebbe informed us – in numerous letters and yechidus, etc. – of his preferences. He preferred it to be off-white paper instead of white. The Hebrew pages should be on the left- and the English on the right-hand side. This would ensure that the Hebrew text is encountered first. The first word on the English page should correspond (in meaning) to the first word on the Hebrew side. No changes whatsoever were allowed in the Hebrew section and the frontispiece had to be exactly as in the original. Two silk bookmarks were to be affixed to every volume and a plastic jacket (cover) supplied. The Rebbe also gave us instructions regarding the thickness of the paper, the type of binding, and – for the two-volume edition – at what point the division should be made.

The Rebbe would not agree to Mr. Bloch’s urgent request that it be called the “Soncino Tanya.” The Rebbe did give permission to have the special dedication page in memory of the late Shlomo Perrin.

We continuously kept closely in touch with the Rebbe, who personally decided on all matters connected with this work.

It was fortunate indeed that we had Hershel Gorman in London to represent us. His responsibility was to keep in contact with Mr. Bloch to ensure that our instructions were carried out, and to make certain that reasonable progress was being made.

Four weeks went by, three months, six months now, twelve months. There seemed to be no progress. Yet during the course of that year, Hershel had been speaking to or trying to contact Mr. Bloch almost every other day. Hershel nearly had a nervous breakdown over these years. He used to have nightmares and murmur in his sleep, “Oi ah Bloch!”

One day, lo and behold, to our utter amazement and very pleasant surprise, we actually received a few pages of our new Tanya. These were sent to us so that they could be checked for errors. We found plenty! We promptly returned these pages with these corrections.

In due course these pages were again sent to us. Yes, all the mistakes had been corrected, but now many new ones had been made! This is how it went, on and on and on!

After almost two years all we had to show for our efforts were two sample pages of the new Tanya. Furthermore, up until now, Mr. Bloch had not even asked for any payment; and, because of this, we were really getting worried.

On one occasion, during Chol Hamoed Pesach, we received an urgent message: Mr. Bloch wished to see us immediately. It could not wait, not even until after Pesach! Bernard and I rushed to London. We met Bloch at Hershel’s home, where we enjoyed a scrumptious meal – and that was all! Still no progress!

One glorious morning, after two years, Bloch informed us that he needed a first payment of £5,000! What this represented was that he was concentrating on our work now; we could therefore expect the complete Tanya at “any time now.”

One suggestion was that this £5,000 be paid through a lawyer, in a proper businesslike manner, with all our conditions clearly stated and defined.

It was felt, however, that Mr. Bloch, being a little temperamental, might get annoyed and give up the whole project altogether. Having already done a great deal of the groundwork during these years, he was entitled to some cash and we had to show that we trusted him. So the £5,000 was sent directly to Mr. Bloch. We did enclose a letter of confirmation regarding the printing of 7,500 copies of this Tanya as a first edition.

We were now receiving a stream of pages for proofreading. Bernard had a group of assistants in Manchester. Hershel had helpers in London.

Every page had dozens of mistakes. For every error we corrected, there were dozens of new ones made. We were having continuous quarrels with Bloch. He said that we were holding up progress. He blamed us entirely (maybe for finding too many mistakes). He now seemed to be losing interest again, and during some months we did not hear a word from him.

During the following twelve months, I wrote two very strong letters to Mr. Bloch, demanding the return of the £5,000. These letters were never sent. We were advised each time that quiet and tactful diplomacy would be more effective in dealing with him.

Meanwhile, on Nissan 11, 5732 (March 26, 1972), the Rebbe celebrated his 70th birthday. Two weeks before that date, the Rebbe requested of Rabbi Sudak, who was visiting the United States, that he would like a Tanya printed in England in honor of his upcoming birthday. The bilingual Tanya would certainly not be ready for that happy occasion, so Rabbi Sudak had the original Tanya reprinted in London, England. It was indeed miraculously ready for the Rebbe’s 70th birthday!

It seemed like the Rebbe was becoming a little impatient. On one occasion he admonished me, “You are not a good businessman. Many people are unable to study Tanya properly because of this delay!”

One time, I proposed to the Rebbe that if he would permit me to instruct Bloch to print the Tanya – as it was now with all or any errors therein – we would get the results. The Rebbe refused this permission and said I should discuss it with the committee.

Bernard said no. Hershel added that it had to be 100% perfect even if it took “ten years.”

Another year went by.