Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson: his life, arrest and exile

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson: his life, arrest and exile

Yosef Meystel took the time to research a little bit about Rabbi Levi Schneerson and found out that his life and teachings were so interesting that two articles would be needed to cover all the information.

First, we are going to take a look at his early life, exile and works. On the next post, we are going to talk about his teachings and his points of views on the Jewish world. A true hero who escaped many persecutions and managed to write much analysis on the Torah and the Jewish way life. It is such a shame that a lot of the manuscripts were burned and confiscated by the Communists and then destroyed and banned by Nazis. A lot of the manuscripts survived thanks to Rebbetzin Chana, Levi´s wife, who could escape Russia in 1947 and took with her the texts that Levi had written in exile and which were published under the title Likutei Levi Yitzchak.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was born in 1878, in the town of Podrovnah. His father was Baruch Schneur and his mother was Rebbetzin Zelda Rachel Schneerson. He had 3 more siblings and he was the oldest, the first born.  Rabbi Shmuel and Rabbi Shalom Shlomo were his brothers and Rebbetzin Rada Sima was his sister. The religious teachings and life were always around the family because his father, Rabbi Baruch Schneur, was the direct great-grandson of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the important and well-known Tzemach Tzedek.

Since he was very young people could already see that he was going to be an amazing Rabbi and that he would be a prodigy. He had already read and understood Kabbalah, Talmud, and Chassidic philosophy. He received his blessing from the main Torah authorities of his time, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk and Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Meizel of Lodz.

In 1909 Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was sent to apply his knowledge and to serve in the city of Yekatrinoslav which today is known as  Dnepropetrovsk. The 5th Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneerson did an amazing job by contacting leaders and sending letters to respected members of the Zionist movement.  Also, many people within the Jewish community of Yekatrinoslav and many people who did not follow religion but were professionals and had influence in the community were very close to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and greatly admired him. The Rabbi’s wife also played an important role on her husband´s social success because she spoke several languages and made it easier for the Rabbi to enter social circles. He was a much-loved leader in the community and he continued serving the community for 32 years, until the year 1939.

When he was at the head of his community things were not easy.  There was always a soviet pressure to not engage in religious activities and Rabbis and Jewish people were harshly persecuted. He contributed with the community building facilities for Jews in total clandestinely and officiated at weddings and circumcisions when they were illegal. There was an area where the Rabbi had a very strong position and convinced the soviet authorities to change their mind. The production of kosher-for-Passover matzahs had to be supervised by rabbinic supervisors. The Rabbi had to produce a certification for the factory and when the soviets refused to set up the factories with these conditions,  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak traveled to Moscow met with Mikhail Kalinin to convince him and to let him know the reasons behind the rabbi’s position. After that meeting, the Passover matzahs would be produced under rabbinic standards.

Image courtesy of Ken and Nyetta at Flickr.com

The soviet authorities had had enough and Rabbi Levi was arrested on March 28, 1939, in his home on 13 Barikadna Street. After all, his house was destroyed and the guards had confiscated his rabbinic ordination certificates, his family visas, and his manuscripts, he was accused of engaging in activities on behalf of Judaism in the Soviet Union.  He had to endure more than 14 months of hard torture and then was sent to Central Asia to serve a sentence of 5 years on exile. His wife, Rebbetzin Chana went with him to his exile and stayed with him to endure all the hard moments they had to live.

In 1944 the sentence was over and Levi and his wife moved to the city of Alma Ata where conditions for them were better and they worked towards helping others. Rabbi Levi had a serious illness which then made him very weak and affected his ability to speak. In august of 1944, after trying to say some Thora words, he went to sleep to never wake up again.

Remember to follow Rabbi´s Levi Yitzchak Schneerson teachings and legacy to the Jewish community in the next post the coming week.

Also, read this post about Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch and Some insights about life