In an attempt to ensure that the Chasidic influence should not prevail, my husband’s opponents brought two Rabbis from other cities to Yekatrinoslav.
Contentious issues concerning Jewish education soon arose in the city. They concerned the curriculum for a yeshiva, whether studies should follow new-fangled educational approaches or the traditional one. This was during the era when chadarim metukanim (“amended Torah schools”), as they were known—and the method of Ivrit b’Ivrit (learning Hebrew by total immersion in the language)—were being widely introduced.
Those supporting this new movement were the majority, particularly the wealthier Jews. They established a yeshiva where all studies followed the new method.
I recall how my husband called a meeting for the purpose of establishing a large Torah day school, to include also higher grades that would study Talmud with Rashi’s commentary. The children would learn the Alef-Beit with the nekudot (vowel points)—a method considered in modern circles at the time to be pedagogically unsound.
One of the committee members attending that meeting was a tailor who just couldn’t comprehend the difference between the two methods. My husband hoped to attract his support, and wanted him to understand the issue.
“Tell me, R. Avraham Itche,” my husband asked, “when pressing a garment, which iron works better: an old-style iron press heated intensely to retain its heat for long, or a new-style steam iron that has to be opened and closed repeatedly to supply it with coal?”
This analogy perfectly clarified the issue for the tailor, who replied firmly, “Certainly the iron press, old-style.” He joined the group that voted for the traditional teaching method: Hebrew reading based on Alef-Beit, and study of Chumash and TaNaCh without skipping anything—not shortened selections of “Scriptural stories” or Scriptural excerpts considered positive, while omitting other parts considered unnecessary.
Writing about all this is not all difficult. But what a difficult struggle it was at the time!
Erstwhile opponents become closer
At the new yeshiva that had been established, studies followed the new method, and it was administered by those opposing my husband. Nevertheless, some of its supporters advocated that Schneerson pay occasional visits for Shabbat prayers so that he could speak to the children. One of the activists, however, wouldn’t allow this under any circumstances. He wanted neither Schneerson nor his ideology to exert any influence there. He was already past his youth, and was a member of the “bourgeoisie,” as it was called.
Some time later, as I recall, he fell ill and sent his son—who, as a younger person, was less religious—to my husband, with the following message: “I’ve come to you, Rabbi, in my father’s name. He appeals to you to forgive him. He’s ill, and requests that you wish him a recovery. When he didn’t allow you to visit the school, he didn’t intend to undermine your honor, but it was for other reasons…,”etc.
The shochet comes around
The shochet mentioned above was by no means an ignoramus, but had considered himself an opponent of Chabad Chasidism, as he expressed it. Later, however, after the uproar over his temporary suspension died down, he began to attend my husband’s Chasidic discourses every Shabbat afternoon. This inspired him to start studying Chasidus and, as a Torah scholar, he understood it well. He now said that the unpleasantness he had suffered was all worthwhile for the sake of becoming an adherent of Schneerson, as he was now!
It was evident that, despite Schneerson’s young age, his authority and the influence of the Chasidim were extensive. Accordingly, his opponents sought new means to limit his influence. continue reading...