On Saturday night, January 31, 1960, a New York radio station (WEVD) began releasing into the atmosphere radio waves bearing a new program—a weekly class in the Chassidic classic Tanya.

The producers of this show were a group of the Rebbe’s disciples, and its chief editor was none other than the Rebbe himself. He was also an avid listener and a sponsor. When the group submitted to the Rebbe a transcript of the first program, the Rebbe returned it with his notations and comments, and attached to it $100 toward the cost of the broadcast.

When the Rebbe was met with criticism from those who felt that radio and television were “evil” things, and that the holy words of the Torah are “contaminated” when channeled via these instruments, he responded by restating a fundamental principle of Jewish faith: everything was created by G‑d to serve His purpose in creation. Man, who has free choice, might make negative use of a creation, but its intrinsic function remains the revelation of the divine wisdom and goodness.

Rabbi J.J. Hecht in the recording room during his weekly radio show, which commenced in the early 1950s
Rabbi J.J. Hecht in the recording room during his weekly radio show, which commenced in the early 1950s

The Rebbe’s Chassidim needed no further encouragement. Over the next four decades, they were often at the forefront of the communications technologies in the endeavor to “spread the wellsprings of divine wisdom to the outside.”

On the 20th anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership in 1970, Chassidim in London, Israel and Melbourne were connected to the World Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters in New York for the first farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) to be broadcast live by telephone hook-up. In the following months, more and more locations joined the “hook up.”

Larger centers became hubs to which the smaller ones connected, bringing the Rebbe’s words to dozens of locations and thousands of listeners. The concept may sound simple to today’s reader, and the technology employed was readily available in 1970, but the very idea was nothing less than revolutionary at the time.

A Chabad Rabbi records his weekly television show
A Chabad Rabbi records his weekly television show

A further milestone in the transmitability of the farbrengen experience was attained in 1980, when the gatherings began to be telecast live via satellite and cable TV to homes and major Chabad Centers around the world.

In 1988, long before the internet was popularized, a Lubavitcher Chassid, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen, was “spreading the wellsprings” on Fidonet, an online discussion network that was distributed on several thousand nodes around the world. The Rebbe encouraged him in his activities, and when Rabbi Kazen asked the Rebbe in 1990 if he should establish a Chabad presence on the internet, the Rebbe said to go ahead with it, to absolutely pursue it.

The Rebbe on Technology

"Our sages have said: 'All that G‑d created was created for His honor.' This applies also to all the scientific discoveries of recent years—their purpose is to add honor to G‑d by using them for holiness, Torah and mitzvot…"

"There is a special advantage in using radio to teach Torah. Even if a person is not sufficiently motivated to go and attend a class, or even if he only turned on the radio to hear something else—the words of Torah reach him."

"Furthermore: also in a place where there is no human being to hear these words, or not even a radio receiver to make them audible, the words themselves permeate the place, achieving the end of 'spreading the wellsprings of divine wisdom to the outside.'”

From the Rebbe’s talks, Winter 1966 (free translation)