This Shabbos marks 25 years since “Hey Teves,” the victory in which a Brooklyn Federal Judge gave ruling that all books that were taken from the Previous Rebbe’s library Agudas Chassdei Chabad be returned.
The Avner Institute presents historic moments of this case, including the first, strategic meeting between the Rebbe and his legal team; cross-examination with Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory; and Nobel Prize winner Eli Wiesel’s testimony on behalf of the Rebbe.
“They belong to the Chassidim because my father belonged to the Chassidim.”
In the following excerpt regarding ownership of the library, the Rebbetzin gives tremendous insight into the nature of the relationship between the Rebbe and his Chassidim. There is only a perceived separation – they are strongly united at their essence.
Attorney: Why did your father have books?
Rebbetzin: This was his life. His main goal was to spread Judaism.
A: It’s important for me to know—how do you know that the reason he collected the books was to spread Judaism?
R: I understand very well. This was his personality, this is what he grew up with, and this is what he lived with.
A: When your father was alive, who did you think the library belonged to?
R: I never thought about it then.
A: Did your father ever tell you who the books belonged to?
R: No, I never heard about it from my father.
A: My second question is about the books that your father used in his study. Are
those books your father’s or do they belong to the Chassidim?
R: They belong to the Chassidim because my father belonged to the Chassidim.
Attorney Nat Lewin—part of the legal team representing the Rebbe—met with Rebbe several times to discuss the strategy. The following is a partial description of their first meeting.
The first thing the Rebbe stressed was that the lawyers make it clear that books are not a personal heritage of the previous Rebbe. This should be explained and should be understood according to “human logic.” The Rebbe stressed many times that their desire to dedicate themselves to the Rebbe’s will should be in line with nature, and society’s system.
The Rebbe told them, “I want you to do your work—not as a Chassid, but as a lawyer.”
The following is an entry from a diary of a yeshiva student describing the reaction to the news of the Rebbe’s victory.
When the news came that we won the court case, it was 11:40 in the morning and we were sitting in the upstairs zal (study hall).
For me, to picture what went on in these moments is impossible. We all went outside 770 and began dancing and singing ‘Didan Notzach.’ Before I knew it, bachurim [students] got hold of bottles of mashke [liquor] and guys were dancing and making flips!
Chassidim from Crown Heights began crowding at 770. A bunch of mitzvah tanks were driving around playing ‘Didan Notzach’ on the loudspeakers. When the Rebbe’s secretaries came out of the Rebbe’s room, there was tremendous joy on their faces. [Musicians] Avi Piamenta and Eli Lipsker were playing with their bands. In the middle of the dancing, someone got up and made the bracha [blessing] of Shehechiyanu [joyous occasion].”
In order to defend ownership of the books, a crucial argument involved defining the Rebbe-Chassid relationship. Three people were chosen to participate in court and get the message across that the Rebbe and Chassid are intimately connected.
One of the three was Eli Wiesel. The following is an excerpt from his testimony:
Strangely enough, the choice of (involvement) is made by the Chassid and not the Rebbe. It is not the Rebbe who chooses the Chassid. It is the Chassid who chooses the Rebbe. But once the choice is made, it is boundless.
It is total loyalty. And therefore, the Rebbe owes the Chassid total loyalty. So, for the community, the Rebbe must have total generosity and compassion. Also, he has even more responsibility. That’s why he is a Rebbe.
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