Manis Friedman has been called a modern-day Will Rogers. His phenomenal popularity and appeal can be explained by a Hebrew word that I expect will soon become part of the everyday vocabulary of America. The word is maggid.

Traditionally, a maggid was a roving preacher of eastern Europe. He spoke to sicontrast to the more formal rabbinic scholars of the day. The maggid wove together legends, songs, parables, and jokes. He gathered a crowd wherever he stopped, inspiring them in a way that no stern-faced scholar could.

Today Friedman carries on the tradition, giving it new life and meaning. He travels from city to city, sometimes speaking in as many as three a week, all over the world. Wherever he speaks there is always a crowd mesmerized by his stories, his humor, his mixture of American slang and poetry, and his deeply inspiring message.

I first saw and heard Friedman in his role as maggid in December of 1987, while attending a private conference at the Crown Palace Hotel in New York City. I had heard Friedman teach at his school, Bais Chana Institute in Minnesota, and I was curious to see and hear him in a different setting. I was completely unprepared for what I experienced.

Friedman was scheduled to speak the second night of the conference. Since the conference sessions weren't open to the public, there had been no general publicity. No news releases, no letters, no announcements, none of the usual notices had gone out stating that Friedman was in town or was scheduled to speak. According to the conference rules, only those registered ought to have attended, and there were about seventy of us. So when I arrived at the last minute I was startled to find the lecture hall filled with hundreds of people. Fortunately, a friend of mine had saved me a seat.

"Who are all these people?" I asked.

My friend laughed. "Oh, they come from all over New York." "What are they doing here?" I could see that the halls and doorways were filled with people still arriving.

"This always happens when he comes to New York. Everyone wants to hear him."

"How do they find out?"

'Word of mouth, I guess. News travels quickly."

By now there was no room left in the lecture hall. People were packed shoulder to shoulder in every available inch of space—a fire marshall's nightmare. No one seemed to mind standing, and the crowd was polite, quiet, and patient, in spite of the fact that there was barely room to breathe.

At last Friedman arrived. A small, trim man in his early forties, he was dressed in an elegant knee-length Prince Albert coat, the traditional Sabbath attire of a Lubavitcher Chasidic Jew.

When he spoke his voice was soft. Although he used no microphone, he could be heard in the farthest corners of the room. As he spoke he rocked from one foot to the other, keeping time with the rhythm of his speech.

His listeners were spellbound. He spoke for about an hour, then the audience kept him for another hour with a constant stream of questions. The message was simple and often funny—humor is his trademark—and this modern-day maggid touched the hearts of all those present.

Later, I learned that when the halls of the hotel could contain no more people, the management locked the front doors. Nevertheless, people continued to wait outside, in New York in the middle of December, hoping for a chance to hear Manis Friedman of Minnesota speak in person.

Since that December evening, as Friedman's reputation has continued to grow, so has the global demand for his appearances, especially during the spring and fall months when Bais Chana Institute is not in session. In a typical year he speaks to packed houses in Chicago, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Toronto, London, and Vancouver. Recently he was invited to England to speak at Oxford University, and was interviewed live over the BBC Radio Network.

California journalist Jay Gordon has written, "Manis Friedman is acclaimed as a most gifted and perceptive lecturer who often leads his audiences through captivating expeditions exploring the very core and soul of Judaism. His broad command of philosophical and mystical Jewish concepts, his ability to elucidate these concepts in practical terms, and to relate them to challenging contemporary issues, are appreciated by scholar and layman alike. He is considered one of the foremost exponents of traditional Jewish philosophy today."

Friedman was born in 1946 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1950. He began working for the Lubavitch Youth Organization as a public speaker in 1964. In 1969 he was ordained at the Lubavitch Rabbinical College of Canada, and soon after joined the Upper Midwest Merkos Lubavitch as director of its Student Outreach Program.

In 1971 Friedman confounded, with Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Feller, Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies in Minnesota. Located in a stone mansion on a tree-lined street in residential St. Paul, this unique learning center has been called the "pet project" of US Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R) of Minnesota.

In the summer of 1988, I attended one of Friedman's classes at Bais Chana, held on the second floor in a library-turned-classroom. Demand for his teachings was so great that over eighty students were packed inside a room designed to hold forty. Outside it was 97 degrees. Inside, it was nearly as hot. In this sweltering, crowded room students from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, England, France, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Russia, and the United States were sitting together, intently listening. Friedman spoke to this rapt audience for nearly four hours. It was a typical daily class.

What drew those people to Bais Chana that summer? Partly, it was the desire to return to the traditions of their forebears. But a more compelling reason was the wish to study personally with Manis Friedman. Over the past eighteen years the Institute has attracted nearly six thousand students from a wide variety of backgrounds and from every corner of the globe. In his classes at Bais Chana and in his lectures given around the world, Friedman teaches the relevance of immortal Jewish wisdom to our everyday lives.

Cassette recordings of Friedman's most popular lectures were first reproduced by a staff of volunteers in the basement of the Institute in 1985; they immediately began selling at the rate of several hundred copies a month. To date over 75,000 tapes have been sold, mostly through word of mouth.

In the fall of 1989 a series of lectures by Friedman entitled "Torah Forum," videotaped before live audiences, was televised on Twin Cities Regional Cable Network. The series, now carried on cable stations throughout the United States and Canada, met with intense critical acclaim. It was named "Critic's Choice" by the Minneapolis Star Tribune; called "erudite and provocative" by Mpls. St. Paul magazine; and termed "a consuming experience" by the St. Paul Pioneer Press/Dispatch.

The ever-increasing demand for Friedman's lectures, both in person and on tape, led to the inception of this book. The essays in this book are based on several lectures selected for their fresh and provocative content, as well as the strong response to each by enthusiastic audiences. The lectures have been edited and expanded for the printed page—Friedman's unique speaking style, his wit, his wisdom, and his solid, down-to-earth, make-sense answers carefully preserved.

Manis Friedman is a dynamic and charismatic teacher. He has a special quality that enables him to touch the hearts of people across the broad spectrum of modern life. And his message is both startlingly new and powerfully ancient.

The central theme of this book is modesty, a notion so simple and common that most of us would dismiss it as irrelevant to our daily lives. But Friedman asks us to look again. And as we do he explains, clearly and succinctly, how modesty can become a powerful tool for change.

Gently and with humor, he helps us redirect our thinking about sexuality and refocus our ideas about intimacy. In so doing, he moves us toward a truer understanding of ourselves and how we can cope with the changing world around us. His words give us a new understanding of the moral foundations upon which intimacy, modesty, and sexuality depend.

JS Morris, Editor
Bais Chana Tapes
December 17, 1989