The Mazkirus

The Mazkirus: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Executive Staff

By: Dovi Seldowitz

In understanding the current forms of leadership in Chabad it is essential to be familiar with the role of the Lubvitcher Rebbe’s secretariat, known in Chabad circles as the mazkirus. The seventh Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), “the Rebbe,” had led the Chabad movement assisted by his secretariat who served as his executive staff. The mazkirus were assigned to help oversee the movement’s numerous activities passing on all reports directly to the Rebbe. They communicated the Rebbe’s directives to the movement’s various branch leaders, received all incoming communications (from community members and others), scheduled his meetings with those who wished to speak with the Rebbe privately (knowns as yechidus) and penned many of the Rebbe’s correspondences.

Getting a better idea of who the members of the mazkirus were, what they did and were responsible for, especially in the context of the historical role of the Rebbe’s assistant (the shamash) of previous generations, will help us understand the development of the contemporary form of Chabad leadership. While the Chabad movement today is accustomed to the abundance of rabbis and emissaries acting in central and local leadership positions, this trend is not common to other Chasidic groups. While Chabad’s emphasis on outreach (shlichus) has been the main proponent of this trend, one cannot discount other social forces acting beneath the surface, one of these factors is the Rebbe’s choice of the mazkirus as his executive staff.

Naturally, the immediate precursor to the mazkirus was the secretariat of the previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s staff was in fact quite unique for Chabad as the earlier rebbes had only the need for an attendant, a shamash, whom the Rebbes would normally chose one from the simple folk in their hometown of Lubavitch. Some of these attendants also acted as the servant to the Rebbe’s household. Several anecdotes in Chabad folklore illustrate their simplicity.[1] But Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, in his struggle to preserve the Jewish faith under communist rule, required more than just the help of a simple shamash. Under Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, Chabad had to fund and operate a network of religious institutions, coordinate activities with American Jewish charities and organize Chabad supporters in the U.S. and Canada. Out of this administrative need did the shift from shamash to mazkirus occur. By the time Rabbi Menachem Mendel assumed a formal administrative role (towards the end of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak’s lifetime), the Chabad community had long become accustomed to the presence of an administrative staff. Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s staff was first formed prior to his assuming the leadership of the movement. The initial team of assistants included the following men who unless indicated served on the mazkirus until the Rebbe’s passing in 1994:

o Chaim Mordechai Aizek Chodakov (joined 1941), Chodakov assisted the previous Rebbe and was instructed by him to assist Rabbi Menachem Mendel in the movement’s new outreach and publication activities; Chodakov served as the head of the mazkirus until his passing in 1993
o Nissan Mindel (joined 1941), Mindel, like Chodakov, assisted the previous Rebbe and was instructed by him to assist Rabbi Menachem Mendel

After the previous Rebbe’s passing in 1950, the staff expanded by another six members, two of them were “inherited” from the staff of the previous Rebbe.

o Avraham Eliyahu Quint (joined 1950 until his death in 1974), prior to 1950, Quint served in the previous Rebbe’s secretariat
o Moshe Leib Rothstein (joined 1950 until his death in 1967), prior to 1950, Rothstein served in the previous Rebbe’s secretariat
o Yehuda Leib (“Leibel”) Groner (joined 1949), among the younger staff Groner was the only one to be hired before the previous Rebbe’s passing
o Shalom Mendel Simpson (joined 1952), Shalom Mendel’s father, Eliyahu Simpson, served in the previous Rebbe’s secretariat
o Yehudah (“Yudel”) Krinsky (joined late 1950s)
o Binyamin Klein (joined late 1950s)

This eight man team (later, six man) made up the Rebbe’s mazkirus.[2] And unlike the simple shamash of the past, these men were all ordained rabbis. Chodakov had previously founded the Torah ve-Derech Eretz School in Latvia and also served in the Latvian parliament; Mindel authored over a dozen works for Chabad including its first translation of Tanya, the foremost Chabad text; Quint authored a scholarly Jewish work of his own; Rothstein was responsible for drafting many of the Rebbe’s scholarly correspondences; the others (the “junior staff”) were all graduates of Chabad yeshivas (of these four Groner was the only one to publish a scholarly work, a book on Chabad customs).

The staff certainly achieved a degree of the Rebbe’s confidence and this meant they were expected to respect the confidentiality of many of the subjects discussed in their presence. According to Rabbi Binyomin Klein “When the Rebbe accepted me to the mazkirus, he told me in the ‘job interview’ that he can’t not make me see things because I have eyes, and cannot stop me from listening because I have ears, but I have control over my mouth and what I see or hear I should not repeat.”[3]

But the mazkirus did more than simply assist the Rebbe write letters; it is fairly certain that these men impacted the course of the movement in their position as the Rebbe’s executive staff. Zalman Schachter, founder of Jewish Renewal, termed the Chabad movement’s emphasis on Jewish outreach as the “Chodakov-ization of Chabad” (referencing Chaim Mordechai Chodakov, who acted as the Rebbe’s right hand in managing Chabad outreach efforts). Mindel’s contribution to Chabad’s English literature should not be underestimated. His works set the standards for the translation of Chasidic texts, the quality of children’s magazines, and guides to Judaism; Chabad has consistently republished his many works over the years. The younger staff became iconic figures in the movement after the Rebbe’s passing (though only Krinsky holds an official title). These men who worked so close to such a great leader share but a few anecdotes at public events and can capture the attention of an entire Chabad community. The status of the Rebbe’s mazkir is one treated with unique respect; their presence creates a tangible connection to the years that have past. Overall, the mazkirus can be said to have played an important part in shaping the Chabad movement, both behind the scenes as well as in the public eye.

The present form of Chabad leadership appears radically different to the stereotypical Chasidic group where followers pay attention to little else but the charisma and personality of their rebbe. What may have helped bridge and transition the movement operating with the constant oversight of the Rebbe to the present wealth in local leadership? While the Chabad emphasis on outreach is an obvious factor, we should not discount the role the mazkirus had in representing a new form of Chasidic leadership. The mazkirus may have been the kind of group that appears once in a lifetime, but the place it occupies in the Chabad community, bridging the Rebbe to the people, must have assisted in the acceptance of the various leadership roles held by Chasidim today.

Footnotes:
[1] See for example, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Likkutei Dibburim (“Collection of Talks”), pp. 421, 757; Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Sefer Hasichot (“Book of Talks”) 5708, p. 235.
[2] See Chaim Miller, Turning Judaism Outward: A Biography of the Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson the Seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Brooklyn: New York, Kol Menachem Press, 2014, pp. 194-198.
[3] See “Rabbi Klein Keeps a Secret,” COLlive.com, March 13, 2011.

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