Shlichus, or shlichut—Hebrew for “mission,” “agency,” or “task”—refers to a Chabad rabbi-and-wife couple who are dispatched to a certain locale to foster Jewish life and serve the population in any way possible.

Central to this dynamic—in which the shliach (male emissary) and shlucha (woman emissary) devote themselves to their community for life—is the inspiration and empowerment of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, at whose behest the shluchim (emissaries) are dispatched.

History of Shlichus

Since the inception of the Chabad movement in the late 18th century, the Rebbes have historically sent devoted chassidim to serve as teachers, mentors, and rabbis in communities where they were needed.

During the tenure of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, emissaries were dispatched to far off communities in the Caucuses in desperate need of rabbinic leadership.

The Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn
The Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn

Under the leadership of his son and successor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, this enterprise grew into a vast network of underground Jewish leaders across the Soviet Union.

Upon arriving in the U.S. in 1940, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak set about recreating Jewish life in America. Within a few years he had dispatched dozens of yeshivah students and married couples to communities across the United States and Canada, primarily focused on founding and directing a string of day schools where Judaic classes were held in the morning before secular subjects—at the time, a novel concept in the U.S.

Shortly before his 1950 passing, he laid the groundwork for shlichus in Morocco.

The seventh Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, greatly expanded the operation, sending couples to Europe, Asia, Africa and even Australia, each group tasked with bolstering Jewish life in any way they could.

This gave rise to the Chabad House, a center for Jewish life, where every individual is welcome to grow, to learn, and to experience at their own level and pace.

Since the 1970s, a growing cadre of couples—now numbering more than 200—have embarked on campus shlichus, leading a Chabad presence on college campuses all over the world.

For many of these couples, their Chabad House is also their private home, as their shlichus is constant and inextricably intertwined with their private lives.

Shlichus Today

Even after the Rebbe’s passing in 1994, couples continued to stream from Brooklyn to all corners of the earth. As of 2019, there are shluchim stationed in multiple cities across all 50 states of the union and more than 100 other countries. The vast majority of them will remain with their communities for the remainder of their lives, devoted heart and soul to people of their adopted homelands.

Every shlichus is unique, tailored to the strengths of the shluchim and the needs of the specific location. From Peru to Bangkok, a string of shluchim concentrate their efforts on serving backpackers and other tourists, for example. In other places, young couples join existing shluchim with the mandate to serve young professionals, seniors, youth, people with disabilities, or other subsets within a wider community.

The efforts of this wide and dynamic group of men and women is recognized annually at the International Conferences of Chabad Lubavitch Emissaries, which holds separate events for men and women in late fall and mid-winter respectively.

While shlichus has spawned thousands of synagogues, Hebrew schools, restaurants, soup kitchens, and other communal institutions, that is superseded by the dedication to the individual—the men and women who are inspired, nourished, taught, and empowered by the shluchim and the Judaism they readily teach.

As so eloquently encapsulated by Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of Britain, “As the Nazis searched out every Jew in hate, the Rebbe—through his shluchim— searched out every Jew in love.”