Rabbi Shmuel Azimov, known throughout the world for his educational influence, and for heading a Jewish revival in France and beyond, passed away today at the age of 69.

Known simply and belovedly as ‘Moulé’ (MOO-leh), Rabbi Azimov had a profound impact on tens of thousands of French Jews as director of Beth Loubavitch in Paris. Today, there are more than 450 emissaries in 115 Chabad-Lubavitch centers in 95 cities in France—the direct result of his work—many of whom he brought to Judaism, and who looked to him as a personal guide and spiritual mentor.

Beyond France, he was a member of the executive committee of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the umbrella organization of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement, and he influenced and served as a mentor to countless emissaries around the world.

Rabbi Azimov was born to Rabbi Chaim Hillel and Risha Azimov in the former Soviet Union in 1945. After managing to flee the Iron Curtain, his father became the principal of the network of Chabad Hebrew schools in Paris. A student in the Chabad yeshivah in Brunoy, outside of Paris, Shmuel also went on to study in the Central Chabad Yeshivah in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., where he became deeply connected to the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

In 1968, he married Bassie, daughter of the famed Chassid Rabbi Benzion Shemtov. In honor of the wedding of his young student, the Rebbe edited a Chassidic discourse as his participation, a rare distinction.

That same year, the Rebbe dispatched the Azimovs to Paris to serve as his emissaries there. Before they departed, the Rebbe blessed them with “success beyond imagination.”

Rabbi Azimov receiving a dollar and a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)
Rabbi Azimov receiving a dollar and a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Photo: JEM/The Living Archive)

Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Rabbi Azimov built an educational empire, bringing dozens of other emissaries to serve neighborhoods all over the French capital and its environs. Many of the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary couples were themselves protégés of the rabbi; they had adopted Chassidic lifestyles and were inspired to share such tradition with others.

Built Up Dozens of Communities

From his flagship institution, Beth Loubavitch in Paris, Azimov built up dozens of Jewish communities and influenced an uncountable number of lives. Today, Beth Haya Mouchka draws some 1,500 girls, making it the largest Jewish school in France, and there are 120 emissary couples serving the French capital and its suburbs.

From the beginning, the rabbi served as a Torah teacher for young children. As time passed, and his activities broadened, he asked the Rebbe if he should stop teaching to be able to devote his time to his other endeavors. The Rebbe instructed him to continue teaching.

“Everyone in Paris knew that his teaching hours were sacrosanct,” says Rabbi Chmouel Lubecki, whose parents found their way to Jewish observance under the rabbi’s influence. “They were untouchable. Even as he directed an empire of Chabad Houses in Paris, he would go every day and teach children, just like the Rebbe told him.”

In addition to his daily teaching schedule, his informal farbrengens were the stuff from which the Franco-Chassidic culture was cultivated, forming a community of learned, inspired and active Jewish leaders.

As their empire of institutions grew, the Azimovs remained eminently accessible to their students—and the children and students of their students, whom they treated as members of their own family. When young French yeshivah students needed dating advice or a couple needed support in any area of their lives, they knew that they could turn to the rabbi and his wife for counsel.

“He was unique in that he was devoted to his people,” recalls Lubecki. “He had no private life. Even in the hospital, he was constantly speaking to members of the community, caring about them and their children.”

Even as his community grew to encompass hundreds of families, Azimov made sure to attend family celebrations big and small.

His devotion to Jewish observance was legendary, says Lubecki, citing as an example how the rabbi would personally take the train to deliver fresh kosher milk to the city of Orly so that five families living there would be able to maintain kashruth to the highest standard.

Even after he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1998, he continued to teach Torah and oversee a multimillion dollar budget that continued to swell every year.

With dignitaries at last year's annual grand Chanukah menorah-lighting celebration near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
With dignitaries at last year's annual grand Chanukah menorah-lighting celebration near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

As for his literary endeavors, the rabbi published a weekly La Sidra de la Semaine, which serves as a lifeline of Jewish information and inspiration to thousands in the French-speaking world, in addition to numerous books on Judaism and Chabad philosophy.

Rabbi Azimov was predeceased by his wife, Bassie, in 2011. He is survived by his children: Rabbi Mendel Azimov, a Chabad emissary in Paris; Mrs. Esther Marasov, also a Chabad emissary in Paris; and Rabbi Levi Azimov, a Chabad emissary in Neuilly, France, a suburb outside Paris; and his grandchildren.

The funeral will be held in Israel.