December 27, 1812 (24th of Tevet, 5573): Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Hasidism passed away (date based on adjusted secular calendar). Born in 1745, Shneur Zalman of Liadi was a descendant of the mystic and philosopher Rabbi Judah Loew (known as the “Maharal of Prague”). He was a prominent disciple of Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, the “Great Maggid” who was in turn a major disciple of the founder of Hasidism Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer known as the Baal Shem Tov (“Master [of the] Good Name”). After the death of Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, his students dispersed over Europe. Rabbi Shneur Zalman became the leader of Hasidism in Lithuania, and is accepted as one of the great Hasidic leaders. The movement he founded was moved to the town of Lubavitch in present-day Belarus by his son and successor Rabbi Dovber Schneersohn. In 1940 the Chabad Lubavitch movement moved its headquarters to Brooklyn, New York in the United States with branches all over the world staffed by its own Lubavitch-trained, and ordained, rabbis with their wives and children. He involved himself in opposing Napoleon’s advance on Russia and supporting the Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel, then under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Due to false charges from his Misnagdim opponents in Vilna, he was imprisoned by the Czar on charges of supporting the Ottoman Empire, since he advocated sending charity to the Ottoman territory of Palestine. The day of his acquittal and release, the 19th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, is celebrated as the “Hasidic New Year” by Lubavitch Hasidim, who have a festive meal and communal pledges to learn the whole of the Talmud known as “Chalukat Ha’Shas.” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi is well known for his systematic exposition of Hasidic Jewish philosophy, entitled Likkutei Amarim, and more popularly known as the Tanya, first published in 1797. (The fuller and more authoritative version of this work dates from 1814) Due to the popularity of this book, Hasidic Jews often refer to Shneur Zalman as the Baal HaTanya. He is also well known for his work Shulchan Aruch HaRav, his version of the classic Shulkhan Arukh, an authoritative code of Jewish law and custom. The work states the decided halakha, as well as the underlying reasoning. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav is used by Lubavitch Hasidism. However, citations to this work are sometimes found in non-Lubavitch sources such as the Mishnah Berurah and the Ben Ish Chai. Rabbi Zalman is one of three authorities on whom Shlomo Ganzfried based his Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh. Descendants of Rabbi Shneur Zalman adopted the names Schneersohn or Schneerson to accommodate Napoleonic edicts that required all subjects to take permanent surnames. (Prior to Napoleon’s conquests and the winds of Enlightenment he brought in his wake, Jews only had their traditional names such as Shneur ben (son of) Boruch.) The last two Rebbes of Chabad Lubavitch, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn (1880-1950) and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), adhered strictly to their family surnames.
The Chabad Hasidic Rebbes have been honored on two stamps issued by Israel. In 2012, Reb Shneur Zalman’s book Tanya was pictured on Scott No. 1914. Shown here is a Maximum Card with an illustration of Shneur Zalman, and a special First Day of Issue Cancel tying the stamp to the card. In 2006, a stamp picturing the Chabad world headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY was issued (Scott No. 1631). There was some controversy over this second stamp as it was issued to honor one of Shneur Zalman’s descendants, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Originally, Israel Post had planned an illustration or photo of Schneerson, however, the Rebbe’s followers protested against this as they felt that licking the back of a stamp with the image of their Rebbe would be disrespectful.