Today, the 10th of Shevat, is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, who is also referred to as the Rayatz (an acronym of his name). Far more than just the spiritual leader of his own chasidim, the Rayatz dedicated himself to working tirelessly for the Jewish people as a whole.
Born in 1880, in the town of Lubavitch, the Rayatz became and active member in the court of his father, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. At 15, he became his father’s personal secretary and, shortly thereafter, began attending international rabbinic councils. A year after he married in 1897, he was placed in charge of the new Yeshiva, Tomchei Temimim, that his father had opened. Under his directorship, multiple branches were opened throughout Russia.
Life in Czarist Russia was very difficult for the Jews as there were many restrictions placed on them concerning their means of earning a livelihood. To help the challenging financial situation, the Rayatz found financial backers and established a textile factory. During the Russo-Japanese war, he sent kosher food and Passover supplies to Russian Jewish soldiers. Between 1902 and 1911, despite being arrested 4 times, the Rayatz remained determined in his efforts.
Upon the death of his father in 1920, the Rayatz became the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. However, Russia was now a greatly changed place. Under communist rule, the Jews were no longer financially suppressed, but were now religiously persecuted. The Rayatz worked diligently to strengthen Jewish life any way he could, while at the same time building Chabad infrastructure outside of Russia, in places such as America and Uzbekistan.
In 1927, he was arrested, held in solitary confinement and condemned to death until his sentence was commuted due to international pressure. He was released on 13 Tammuz, which is celebrated as a holiday in Lubavitch communities.
The Rayatz resettled first in Riga and then in Warsaw. When the Germans invaded in 1939, he tried to help evacuate as many people as possible before finally moving to New York, where he once more became politically active. His primary activity, however, was creating a Jewish infrastructure in North America.
When he passed away in 1950, his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn became the seventh and final Lubavitcher Rebbe.
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