The 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe
Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn was an Orthodox rabbi and the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement. He is also known as the Frierdiker Rebbe, the Rebbe RaYYaTz, or the Rebbe Rayatz.
The 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Shalom Dovber, the fifth leader of the growing Chabad movement, was constantly kept busy by the growing number of public meetings, conferences and important Rabbinical convocations which he had to attend. The endless stream of Chassidic delegations, people seeking his advice and guidance, the need to supervise and instruct his followers in addition to his personal need for Biblical and Chassidic study, made increasing inroads into working days which already stretched from early morning until late at night.
He decided to appoint a personal secretary to relieve him of part of this enormous burden. His choice was his fifteen-year-old son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The young man had proved his ability in the field of study and was already acknowledged as a brilliant scholar. He was soon to prove himself to be no less a brilliant administrator with an outstanding talent for communal and civic activities.
In 1897, at the age of 17, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak married Nechamah Dinah, the daughter of Rabbi Avraham Schneerson, a prominent man of great scholarship and piety (and the grand-daughter of the Tzemach Tzedek).
During the week's celebrations that followed the wedding ceremony, Rabbi Shalom Dovber announced the founding of the famous Lubavitch Yeshivah,Tomchei Tmimim, and the following year appointed his son to be its executive director. Under the able direction of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak and guided by his ever-watchful father, the Lubavitch Yeshivah flourished and developed and many branch yeshivos were formed throughout Russia.
As part of the strenuous efforts being made to improve the economic status of the Jews in Russia, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was delegated by his father to conduct an intensive campaign for the establishment of a textile factory in Dubrovna. This campaign, in the year 1901, took Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn to Vilna, Lod and Koenigsberg. He obtained the co-operation of leading Rabbis and of the famous philanthropists, the brothers Yaakov and Eliezer Poliakoff, and the textile factory was duly established with some 2,000 Jewish employees.
We already know of the difficult position of the Jews under the Czarist regime and how the Lubavitcher Rebbes continually interceded on behalf of their brethren, both with the Government and with the Court. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak undertook many such missions and often traveled to the capital of St Petersburg and to Moscow.
When the Russo-Japanese war flared up in the Far East in 1904, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn became active in the campaign inaugurated by his father to provide the Jewish soldiers on the Far East front with matzos for Pesach. In the widespread unrest that followed in the wake of that war, a new wave of pogroms swept the Pale of Settlement. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was sent by his father to Germany and Holland, and was successful in obtaining the intercession of prominent statesmen on behalf of Russian Jewry.
His energetic and far-reaching public activities, his watchful defense of the rights of Russian Jewry and his constant fight against the local and central authorities aroused the displeasure of the Czarist regime at that time. Between 1902 and 1911, Rabbi Schneersohn was arrested in Moscow and St Petersburg on four occasions. Since Government enquiries elicited nothing incriminating in his activities, he was released each time with a stem warning.
These incidents did not deter Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn from continuing his work, but spurred him to even greater efforts. In the years 1917) and 1918 he again took a leading part in the convocations of Rabbis and laymen in Moscow and Kharkov.
Upon his father's death on Nissan 2, 1920, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn was requested by the entire Chabad world to accept the leadership of the movement and become the next Lubavitcher Rebbe.
By that time conditions had greatly changed. As a result of the war and the October Revolution, Russia was in a state of constant internal strife. As usual, the Jews suffered most. In those days Rabbi Schneersohn found himself practically alone, facing a task that required superhuman effort-the rehabilitation of Jewish communal and religious life in Russia.
He fought his struggle on two fronts, the material and the religious. Russian Jews had been reduced to the most abject poverty and suffering, and the future of traditional Judaism was gravely threatened by the policy of the G-dless Yevsektzia. (The Jewish branch of the Soviet Communist Party, responsible for anti-Jewish activities. It was subsequently dissolved by the Soviet Government.)
During his single-handed fight for the preservation of traditional Judaism in Russia against overwhelming odds, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn realized that a new country would have to supersede Russia as a great Torah centre. He therefore founded a Lubavitch yeshivah in Warsaw, in the year 1921, and helped many students and staff of his Russian yeshivah to make their way to Poland and continue their work there. The Lubavitch Yeshivah in Poland, like its counterpart in Russia, rapidly developed into a whole system of yeshivos, and hundreds of students were enrolled in its many branches.
In the meantime, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn fearlessly conducted his work in Russia, establishing and maintaining yeshivot, Torah schools and other religious institutions. At that time Rabbi Schneersohn had his headquarters in Rostov (on the River Don), but because of libelous accusations it was necessary to move from there. He took up residence in Leningrad (St Petersburg) from where he relentlessly continued to direct his activities. He organized a special committee to help Jewish artisans and workers who wished to observe the Shabbat, and he sent teachers, preachers and other representatives to the most remote Jewish communities in Russia to strengthen their religious life.
Realizing the necessity of organizing Chabad communities outside Russia, the Lubavitcher Rebbe formed the Agudat Chassidei Chabad of the United States of America and Canada, and maintained regular contact with his followers in the New World. In 1927 the Rebbe founded the Lubavitch Yeshivah in Bokhara, a remote province of Russia.
His stand against those who wanted to undermine the Jewish religion became even more perilous. The Yevsektzia was determined to stop him, and even resorted to intimidation and mental torture. One morning, when the Lubavitcher Rebbe was observing yartzeit for his father, three members of the Yevsektzia rushed into his synagogue, guns in hand, to arrest him. Calmly, the Lubavitcher Rebbe finished his prayers and followed them.
Facing a council of armed and determined men, the Lubavitcher Rebbe again reaffirmed that he would not give up his religious activities, what-ever threats might be made. When one of the agents pointed a gun at him, saying: "This little toy has made many a man change his mind", the Lubavitcher Rebbe calmly replied: "That little toy can intimidate only the kind of man who has many gods-passions, and but one world-this world. Because I have only one G-d and two worlds, I am not impressed by your little toy."
His struggle came to a head in the summer of 1927, when the Rebbe was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in the notorious Spalerno prison in Leningrad. He was sentenced to death, but the timely intervention of leading foreign statesmen saved his life. Instead of being executed, he was banished to Kostroma, in the Urals, for three years.
Giving way to further pressure by these statesmen, the authorities decided to release the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He was informed of this decision on his birthday, Tammuz 12. The next day he was permitted to leave and settle in the village of Malachovka, in the vicinity of Moscow. Further intervention resulted in permission for the Rebbe to leave Russia for Riga, in Latvia. The day after Succot, together with his family and the bulk of his valuable and historic library, the Rebbe left for Riga. Without pausing to rest, he renewed his activities, beginning by establishing a yeshivah in Riga. In the years 1928 and 1929 he ensured the provision of matzos for the Jews of Russia.
In the year 1929 the Lubavitcher Rebbe visited Eretz Yisrael, afterwards proceeding to the United States. In New York he received a civic welcome and was granted the freedom of the city. Hundreds of Rabbis and lay leaders welcomed the Rebbe and sought personal inter-views with him. During this visit, he was received by President Hoover at the White House.
Returning to Europe, he continued his various activities, but in order to have better facilities for his work he took up residence in Warsaw in 1934. The activities of the Lubavitch yeshivot in Poland had by now gained considerable momentum. The central yeshivot in Warsaw and near-by Otvock attracted many hundreds of scholars from all parts of Poland and other countries, including the United States. Two years later the Rebbe took up residence in Otvock and directed all his activities from there.
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September, 1939 (5699), the Rebbe refused every opportunity to leave the inferno of Warsaw until he had taken care of his yeshivot and done everything possible for his suffering brethren in the Polish capital. He remained there throughout the terrible siege and bombardment of Warsaw and its final capitulation to the Nazi invaders. Even during this time he managed to evacuate a great many of his students to safer zones, and all the American boys who had been studying at the Lubavitch Yeshivah at Otvock were safely transported back to their homes in the United States. His courage and fearlessness (he had a succah built and observed the mitzvah of "dwelling in the succah" at the height of the bombardment) were a source of inspiration to the suffering Jewish community of Warsaw.
Only when he realized that nothing more could be done for them did the Lubavitcher Rebbe finally agree to heed the urgent requests of his many followers in Warsaw and abroad, to attempt to leave the shattered and charred ruins of the Polish capital and make his way to the United States. With the co-operation of the Department of State in Washington, the Rebbe's friends and followers worked incessantly to arrange his journey from Warsaw to New York. Finally, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his family were offered safe conduct to Berlin and thence to Riga-Latvia was still neutral at that time. Once there, the Lubavitcher Rebbe continued to help the numerous refugees who had succeeded in escaping from Poland to Lithuania and Latvia.
On Adar II 9, 5700 (March 19, 1940) the Lubavitcher Rebbe arrived in New York on the S.S. Drottningholm. He was enthusiastically welcomed by thousands of followers and many representatives of various organizations, as well as civic authorities. Immediately upon his arrival, the Rebbe made it known that it was not for his own safety that he had made the trip to the United States, but because he had an important mission to fulfill during his sojourn there. This was to make America a Torah center, which would take the place of the ruined Jewish communities of Europe.
The decade that had elapsed between the Rebbe's first and second visits to the U.S.A. had left its scars on his constitution. But, although his health had become greatly undermined by suffering and martyrdom, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson devoted himself at once to his new mission. The Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch Central Yeshivah was soon established, and it became the forerunner of many yeshivot and day schools throughout the United States. The Rebbe continued his efforts on behalf of his war-afflicted brethren overseas, and at the same time concentrated on his avowed intention to bring about a religious revival in the United States.
After a short stay in New York City, the Rebbe moved his headquarters to Brooklyn. The first issue of the monthly, Hakriah Vehakdusha, made its appearance as the official organ of the World Agudat Chassidei Chabad and continued throughout the war.
During the ten years of his life in America, the influence and accomplishments of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in strengthening Judaism, furthering Jewish education, and establishing institutions of Jewish learning were so great, that Judaism and Torah learning in America, and subsequently in other countries, took on an entirely different complexion.
In addition to the establishment of the Lubavitch Yeshivot Tomchei Tmimim in the U.S.A. and Canada, the Rebbe founded Machne Israel, Merkas L'Inyonei Chinuch, Beth Rivkah and Beth Sarah schools for Jewish girls, and the Kehot Publication Society, dedicated to the issue of books in the true spirit of Torah and tradition.
At the end of the war in 1945, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn established his Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation Organization, Ezrat Pleitim Vesidurom with a regional office in Paris. Many refugees were helped by this office to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. In 1948 the Lubavitcher Rebbe established the Chabad village (Kfar Chabad) near Tel Aviv.
A short while before his death, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn turned his attention to the needs of North African Jewry. The foundation was laid for a network of educational institutions, including yeshivot, Talmud Torahs, and schools for girls, all of which have continued to flourish under the name "Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch". A similar network of educational institutions was established in Israel, and day schools in Melbourne, Australia.
Many Jewish communal workers and leaders have taken heart from the successful work of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn and have redoubled their own efforts. New organizations and institutions have sprung up in the field of Jewish education and Shabbat observance, and their influence is making itself increasingly felt. It can be truly said that this great man was one of the pillars of world Jewry in our generation.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn passed away on Shabbats, Shevat 10, 1950, after thirty years of indefatigable endeavour as head of Chabad and a leader of world Jewry.
May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Yosef Yitchak Schneerson of Lubavitch protect us all, Amen.