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Portrait of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

November 27 1798 – 19 Kislev 5559

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Hasidism and author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch HaRav, was released from prison in St. Petersburg. His opponents in Vilna had capitalized on the rabbi’s efforts to aid fellow hassidim, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk and his followers, who’d emigrated to the Holy Land. The funds Schneur Zalman sent to support them were intentionally presented as a donation to the Ottoman Sultan, Russia’s long-term enemy, and interpreted as “traitorous activities”, landing him in jail. Lubavitch Hasidim still celebrate the date of his release, 19 Kislev, as the“Hasidic New Year.”

Claiming descent from mystic and philosopher Rabbi Judah Loew, Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, also known as the Alte Rebbe, (the “old master”), is known for his philosophical and legal works, yet was nevertheless very involved with matters of this world. He opposed Napoleon’s advance on Russia, encouraging his followers to gather military information for the czar, and as a result was forced to flee, despite his age and frailty, when Napoleon invaded Russia. He passed away en route, at age sixty-seven, and his contribution to the czar’s defeat of Napoleon as well as the damages he suffered, were later given official recognition by the Russian authorities. The town where his son and successor eventually settled, Lubavitch, gave Chabad its other name.