ON THE 19TH of Kislev in 1798, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a Hasidic leader, was released from prison in St Petersburg. He had been arrested on charges of treason, laid by Jews who opposed the nascent movement of Hasidism (a mystical variety of Orthodox Judaism) as a heresy. In Phnom Penh on the 19th of Kislev last year, a dozen Jews celebrated the 214th “Festival of Redemption” at the home of Bentzion and Mashie Butman, the shluchim (emissaries) of Chabad in Cambodia.
Chabad is a Hebrew acronym for wisdom, understanding and knowledge, attributes of the Divine upon which Rabbi Shneur Zalman constructed his Hasidic system of contemplation. His son and successor moved his “court” to the village of Lubavitch. The seventh and last Lubavitcher rebbe (spiritual leader), Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died childless in New York in 1994. Many of his followers thought he was the Messiah. The Butmans still do.