Rabbi Yoel Kahn, Oral Scribe for the Grand Rabbi, Dies at 91

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For decades helium memorized virtually verbatim the speeches and discourses of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson and meticulously compiled them into astir 150 volumes.

Rabbi Yoel Kahn successful  1979. He was a starring  disciple of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the revered person  of the Lubavitch Hasidim.
Credit...Levi Freidin, via JEM

July 26, 2021, 12:17 p.m. ET

Rabbi Yoel Kahn, who arsenic a starring disciple of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the revered person of the Lubavitch Hasidim, had the uncanny quality to memorize virtually verbatim the expansive rabbi’s hourslong speeches and discourses, which helium past compiled into astir 150 published volumes, died connected July 15 successful Manhattan. He was 91.

The origin was cardiac arrest, said Motti Seligson, a spokesperson for the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Rabbi Kahn died successful a infirmary and lived successful the Crown Heights vicinity of Brooklyn, the spot of the movement.

From Rabbi Schneerson’s ascension to the enactment of the question successful 1951 until his decease successful 1994, Rabbi Kahn dedicated himself to preserving a grounds of the leader’s speeches, off-the-cuff talks and different teachings, regarding them arsenic the corporate contented of a modern-day Talmudic sage oregon prophet.

Out of the gothic ceramic Lubavitch synagogue and office astatine 770 Eastern Parkway successful Crown Heights, Rabbi Schneerson, known universally arsenic the rebbe, would expound successful Yiddish connected passages of Torah, Talmud and kabbalah, oregon connected Hasidic philosophy, ethical behaviour and satellite events, ever without notes oregon written text.

A ample information of the rebbe’s teachings were conveyed astatine farbrengen, oregon gatherings, connected the Jewish Sabbath and ineffable festival days, erstwhile penning oregon physics signaling is forbidden. When a Sabbath bumped up against, say, the archetypal 2 days of Passover, 3 days mightiness walk earlier Rabbi Schneerson’s thoughts could beryllium transcribed.

Yet, according to Lubavitch scholars and spokesmen, Rabbi Kahn, with a representation described arsenic photographic and with assistance from a squad of assistants whom helium had trained successful memorization skills, was capable to callback oregon retrieve the expansive rabbi’s words successful their entirety and would walk hours mounting them down. He would taxable them to the expansive rabbi for editing, and they were yet compiled successful printed editions, 1 of which, Torat Menachem (the Torah teachings of Menachem), numbers 117 volumes successful Hebrew. For specified feats helium was anointed by Rabbi Schneerson with the rubric of chozer, oregon oral scribe.

“The rebbe spoke for 11,000 to 12,000 hours,” Mr. Seligson said. “Almost each of it has been retained due to the fact that of Rabbi Kahn. His dedication to the rebbe was extraordinary.”

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Credit...Levi Freidin, via JEM

Naftali Loewenthal, a lecturer connected Hasidism astatine University College London, said that Rabbi Kahn’s astonishing quality to memorize was helped by his ain assistance successful the subjects the rebbe had addressed.

“He had immense knowledge, truthful helium knew what the Rebbe was saying,” said Mr. Loewenthal, a subordinate of Lubavitch.

That missionary movement, 2nd successful size to Satmar among Hasidic groups, has astir 100,000 adherents. Tens of thousands much Jews sojourn its synagogues, collegiate centers and homes of emissaries scattered crossed the globe. Rabbi Schneerson was truthful venerated that galore of those followers judge him inactive to beryllium the Messiah.

Rabbi Kahn’s accomplishment was nary parlor trick. What chiefly distinguishes the Chabad-Lubavitch question from different Hasidic and Orthodox groups is its devotion to reaching retired to secularized oregon assimilated Jews. It offers assemblage students chickenhearted crockery connected Friday evenings, publishes ads reminding women to airy candles to invited the Sabbath, and buttonholes Jewish men connected Manhattan sidewalks, urging them to participate what the Lubavitch calls “mitzvah tanks,” wherever they accidental greeting prayers portion strapped with tefillin — sets of boxes concealing Torah passages. Rabbi Kahn’s collections of Rabbi Schneerson’s teachings buttressed the movement’s outreach with intelligence heft and an aura of mysticism.

Such retention of a rabbi’s words accords with a Jewish contented of passing connected legends, motivation parables and particulars of Jewish instrumentality orally. While the Torah was written connected parchment scrolls, overmuch of the Talmud is simply a compilation of rabbinic analyses and arguments that were passed on orally for generations earlier they were acceptable disown successful written form.

Yoel Kahn was calved connected Feb. 14, 1930, successful Moscow, the youngest of 4 children of Refoel Nachman and Rivkah (Davidson) Kahn. His parents belonged to an underground web of Hasidim and recovered ways of practicing their religion adjacent arsenic the atheistic Stalin authorities tried to stamp retired spiritual observance successful the Soviet Union. The elder Kahn had studied astatine a yeshiva successful the White Russian municipality of Lubavitch, which was the spot of the Hasidic dynasty until it was abandoned with the onset of World War I. He was held successful situation for the archetypal 3 years of Yoel’s life.

By 1935 the household had escaped the Soviet Union and began making their mode to British Mandate Palestine. During a sojourn successful Austria, they met the sixth Lubavitch rebbe, Yosef Schneersohn, and his son-in-law and distant relative Rabbi Schneerson, who lavished chocolates connected Yoel and his siblings successful farewells astatine a Vienna bid station. Once successful Palestine, Yoel was enrolled successful a Lubavitch yeshiva and proved to beryllium an exceptionally talented student.

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Credit...Naftali Marasow/COLlive

By the clip helium was a teenager, Rabbi Kahn decided to survey with Rabbi Yosef Schneersohn successful New York, but erstwhile helium arrived, successful 1950, helium learned that the expansive rabbi had died a fewer days earlier. A twelvemonth later, Rabbi Schneerson was named caput of the movement. Yoel, according to a connection by Chabad-Lubavitch, recognized that the caller rebbe was excessively engaged giving his proposal to followers to constitute retired his discourses. In a backstage audience, Rabbi Kahn agreed to go his chozer and embraced what became a lifelong assignment.

In 1954 Rabbi Kahn joined Leah Butman, a descendant of the Schneerson clan. She is his sole survivor.

Rabbi Kahn was an esteemed teacher and spiritual usher astatine the cardinal Lubavitch yeshiva, admired for his quality to clarify esoteric Hasidic concepts. As the Lubavitch question grew, Rabbi Schneerson asked Rabbi Kahn to pb the accumulation of an encyclopedia of Hasidic ideas and principles, titled Sefer Ha’Arachim. The archetypal measurement was published successful 1970; helium completed the ninth measurement by 2019 and was inactive moving connected the task successful the last weeks of his life.

Rabbi Kahn was specified a meticulous and thorough student that adjacent aft 9 volumes the encyclopedia had not moved beyond the archetypal letter, aleph.

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