Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady (Alter Rebe, Lubavicher Rebe)
Shneur Zalman was born in 1747 in a shtetl of Liozno, Mogilev province. When he was about twenty he became a disciple of rabbi Dov Ber of Mezhirechye who was spreading the teaching of Israel Baal Shem Tov, known as the Besht, founder of the Chasidic movement. On the request of his teacher, in 1770 Shneur Zalman started composing a short ritual codex. In 1773 he finished the greater part of this work.
During the Patriotic War of 1812 reb Shneur Zalman appealed to his followers to render any possible help to the Russian army. He passed away in December 1812 in Kursk province during the retreat of the Russian army. His body was buried in Gadiach (Poltava province).
Reb Shneur Zalman was the founder of a new trend in the Chasidic movement known as Chabad. "Chabad" is an acrostic of three Hebrew words: "chokhma" - wisdom, "Bina" - understanding, and "Daat" - knowledge. Thanks to his knowledge and wisdom reb Shneur Zalman soon became the universally recognized leader of Byelorussian and Lithuanian Chassidism. His disciples started calling him Alter Rebe which in Yiddish means "Old Teacher". He provided the Chasidic movement with systematic philosophical instruction, the principles of which are described in his book "Taniya". This became one of the most important works of Chasidic literature. His other literary works, such as "Torah Or" and "Likutei Torah" develop the principles defined in "Taniya". The books by Alter Rebe have been repeatedly published, translated and commented upon.
In the spring of 1777 reb Menachem Mendel, who became the head of the Chasidim of Byelorussia after the death of reb Dov Ber, left for Palestine which in those days was Turkish territory. Reb Shneur Zalman provided him and his disciples with money for their journey.
The leaders of the Mitnagdim - adversaries of the Chasidic movement - informed the government in a denunciation that Shneur Zalman and his disciples "are carrying out politically criminal activity". In 1798 reb Shneur Zalman was arrested, brought to Petersburg and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress. The investigation proved that the activity of Shneur Zalman did not present any danger to the state, and in December of 1798 he was liberated. But the enemies of the Chasidim did not give up...
The rabbi of Pinsk, Avigdor Chaimovich, who had been expelled from his position by the Chasidim, informed Paul I that every year Shneur Zalman transferred a large amount of money to hostile Turkey. At the same time the government received a very harsh report from Derzhavin concerning the activity of Shneur Zalman. In November 9, 1800 the Alter Rebe was arrested for the second time and brought to Petersburg once again. The case was of such importance that it came to the Tsar himself. After studying all the materials, Paul I understood the reason for the quarrels between the Chasidim and the Mitnagdim. He permitted the existence of Chasidism in Russia and released reb Shneur Zalman from the fortress. But the rabbi was not permitted to leave the capital until the end of the Senate's investigation of his case. Only after the death of Paul did he get permission to leave Petersburg.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman