Each week, about 200,000 people around the world sit down to watch the “Living Torah,” a 15 to 20 minute video magazine program built around the teachings and impact of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. Organized to showcase encounters with the Rebbe and his teachings, the unique program draws on archives and the recollections of individuals scattered across the globe to give viewers – many of whom never personally met the Rebbe – a glimpse into the Jewish leader’s scholarship, his deep personal care of human beings from all walks of life, and the revolution in Jewish life he spearheaded.

Produced by Jewish Educational Media, the project – which is celebrating 10 years of production – presents specially-curated videos subtitled in Yiddish, English, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and Hungarian. Its episodes can be seen at Jewish festivals, Chabad Houses, Torah classes, day schools, and in homes. It’s the kind of exposure, says JEM executive director Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, which provides another way for people to glean insights into the Rebbe’s teachings and apply them to their own lives.

The “Living Torah,” JEM’s flagship offering, has its roots in an effort that began in 1996, two years after the Rebbe’s passing, and focused on releasing original video of the Rebbe’s teachings. Today, each episode features an explanatory introduction timed to the Jewish calendar, original video of the Rebbe’s public talks, and an interview with someone who was personally touched by the Rebbe.

Making a single DVD takes 20 to 25 pairs of hands, and takes about three months, says Shmotkin. As for where the project is headed, the rabbi is thinking big.

“There are billions of people in the world who need to be inspired and educated through this material, so I think when it’s playing on the JumboTron in Times Square, then we might be able to rest and say, ‘Well, we’ve achieved something serious,’ ” he remarks. Turning to the more immediate future, he says “the next frontier’s going to be smartphones and more advanced virtual subscription.”

Sholom Laine’s printing company has been sponsoring “Living Torah” programming for the better part of a decade. He says the company undertook it as one of its charities after being approached by Shmotkin several years ago, impressed by the efforts to bring the Rebbe’s message to the masses.

“The viewership over the years has gone up tremendously,” says Laine, pointing to the number of languages it is currently available in as well as the importance of its work. “I don’t think this is about a memory. Learning is the best thing we can do for the Rebbe. It’s what the Rebbe wants from us, and I think this is a very good avenue.”

JEM founder Rabbi Dovid Krinsky couldn’t agree more. He remembers committing the first video recordings of the Rebbe’s Chasidic gatherings to VHS tape back in the 1980s and recalls thinking more than a decade later that there had to be a better way to use an archive of material that became, essentially, a video library.

“Programs like the ‘Living Torah’ are an optimal use of the material,” says Krinsky. “I saw the Rebbe in person. I lived with the Rebbe for many years of my life, but at the same time, I cannot imagine how I’d feel today if I never saw the Rebbe.

“I can only imagine what these videos mean to people who were never privileged to have experienced learning firsthand from the Rebbe,” he continues. “These videos are incredibly important, and integral to today’s generation.”

Yossi Margolin digitally edits footage for the “Living Torah.”
Yossi Margolin digitally edits footage for the “Living Torah.”

Rabbi Shalom Hazan, who now serves as the director of Chabad-Lubavitch di Monteverde in Rome, Italy, got involved in JEM when he was living in Brooklyn in the late 1990s. He would sit and go through the Rebbe’s recorded works, noting bits that could be used in the weekly video magazine.

“I was privileged to be one of the first people to work on it,” he says, explaining how he first started helping out with the Yiddish before it evolved into a fulltime job.

He has fond memories of sitting in front of the screen in the producer’s studio in the middle of the night, earphones on, taking down the time codes of frames to make sure subtitles were inserted just right, all after a full day of studying.

“We had deadlines, and there were many nights when the office’s lights were on and people remained working,” he recalls, adding that he’s glad to see how far it has come.

Akiva Nussbaum, director of research, remembers watching videos of the Rebbe as a yeshiva student, sparking an interest that eventually brought him to the “Living Torah.”

“People are continually amazed,” says Nussbaum. “We still have a way to see the Rebbe.”

Yaakov Shapiro, film director and translation editor for the “Living Torah,” originally got involved in the program in summer 2004 and was supposed to be on hand for six months putting the archive in order. He came on board as JEM was transitioning from VHS to DVD, and helped put the segments and subtitles together so they spoke to people in a modern way while maintaining their warmth.

And since JEM’s audience includes children, the project has added a kids’ narration. Its DVDs now also feature a video collage that allows for audio tracks from the 1950s and 1960s to be matched with photos to share even more of the Rebbe’s talks with the larger population.

Shapiro, who helped spearhead the project’s relatively new interview feature, counts 280 individual interviews released so far, and says the staff hasn’t even scratched the surface of what’s out there.

“Besides for keeping the Rebbe very close in the hearts and minds of his Chasidim and their children, the ‘Living Torah,’ ” he says, “serves a fundamental role in bringing his teachings to the world.”