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Early beginnings of Chabad

The early history

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) was the founder of the Chassidic movement, which began in Eastern Europe. The central themes of his teaching are the centrality of love of one's fellow in Jewish thought and the importance of sincerity and a sense of closeness to G‑d in one's prayer, Torah study and observance of the Mitzvot.

The Baal Shem Tov was succeeded by Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch (d.1772), who organised Chassidism as a powerful movement and attracted some of the leading minds of his generation. The youngest of his close disciples was Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), from White Russia, who became the main leader of Chassidism in the third generation, and also founded the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.


Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad

Rabbi Shneur Zalman wrote Likkutei-Amarim Tanya, a work which expresses how the individual can use his or her mind in study and contemplation in order to arouse inspiration and spiritual dedication in the heart. He also compiled an important halachic work known as 'the Rav's Shulchan Aruch'.

Chabad Lubavitch

The emphasis on the mind as the key to the emotion led to R. Shneur Zalman's movement being called Chabad, a Hebrew acronym combining the initial letters of Chochmah, Binah, Da'at - Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. Around 1814 the little town of Lubavitch became the centre of the movement, which it was to remain for a century: hence the name Lubavitch.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman founded a dynasty of Chassidic leaders who led the Chabad-Lubavitch movement for seven generations. The leader in the seventh generation was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known widely as the Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994). All the Chabad-Lubavitch leaders are characterised by encouraging study of the spiritual dimension of Judaism and a fearlessly activist approach to the preservation of Judaism and Jewish life. Their collective writings on Chassidic teachings, Torah commentary and halachah fill hundreds of volumes


An illustration of the city of Lubavitch in the years 1813-1915.

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