Written by Dr Israel M. Sandman, The British Library, Asian and African Studies.
Origins and Accuracy of the Written Versions of Discourses: Listener-Produced Transcripts and Their Copying
ḤaBaD Hasidism embraces a process of ‘running and returning’ (Ezekiel 1:14), in which spiritual exuberance (‘running’) infuses pragmatic structure (‘returning’), and pragmatic structure (‘returning’) nurtures spiritual exuberance (‘running’). While part 1 of this blog post focused on spiritually exuberant ‘running’ aspects of the ḤaBaD Hasidic manuscripts, part 2 turns to some of their pragmatic, structured aspects, ‘return’.”
Many discourses were delivered orally; and many were delivered on Sabbaths or Festivals, when religious law prohibits the act of writing. Thus, listeners could not transcribe as the Rebbe spoke, but only after the Sabbath or Festival, on the basis of reconstructing the discourse from memory. Furthermore, in most cases, discourses were not published in official editions, but were disseminated via hand-copies made from transcripts and their copies. This combination of circumstances was conducive to textual destabilization and corruption.
Maintaining Textual Accuracy of Hand Copies
To address this problem, Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s ‘Enactments of Lyozna’ include the requirement to have one’s hand-copied Hasidic texts proofread for accuracy. Certified individuals would compare a copy against an authoritative version, making any required emendations, with the proofread discourse being labelled, in Hebrew, as muga / מוגה, i.e. ‘collated’ or ‘proofread’. Although this did not seem to concern the compiler of the very personal Gaster Hebrew MS 1355, the other, more professional Hasidic manuscripts display an effort to uphold this ‘Enactment of Lyozna’. A clear example can be found in Gaster Hebrew MS 1354, containing discourses by Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s elder disciple Rabbi Aaron ha-Levi Horowitz of Starosielce (Mohilev Oblast, Belarus) (1766-1828), who, upon Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s passing, established the other centre of ḤaBaD.
Transcripts by Listeners with Total Recall
In some cases, the post-Sabbath or post-Festival transcription-from-memory of a discourse delivered on the Sabbath or Festival was produced by individuals such as Rabbi DovBer (Beyrl) Ashkenazi of Kalisk, who had total recall and was reputed to repeat the Rebbe’s discourses by heart verbatim, reproducing even the vocal intonations that the Rebbe had employed in the delivery. Such transcripts were considered to be more authoritative than transcriptions made by others.
Discourses Written Down by the Rebbes
The written versions of some discourses were produced by the Rebbes themselves; and the texts thus produced were considered most authoritative. If the Rebbe delivered such a discourse orally, too, resulting in textual differences between the versions, the written version was seen as primary. Thus, the data accompanying the transcript of a discourse may state that the discourse was delivered (viz. orally) on a particular Sabbath, and that the transcript was made from or checked against the Rebbe’s own autograph, which would have been written before the Sabbath, as in the following example.
Textual Modifications in the Official Version
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866), grandson and disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, and nephew, son-in-law, dynastic successor of Rabbi Dov Ber in Lubavitch, known as the Tzemah Tzedeq after the title of one of his works, was known to officially modify texts of his discourses by adding synopses or glosses, or to add synopses and glosses to the discourses of his grandfather. As a result, when relevant transcripts were being ‘collated’, such synopses and glosses needed to be written into the margins of the copy. For this and other reasons, it is probable that the marginal gloss and synopsis in the image below, and possibly the main text as well, were composed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel.
Degrees of Authoritativeness
In sum, the authoritativeness of a copy was determined by the strength of the exemplar from which it was copied, the strength of the text against which it was ‘collated’ viz. proofread, and the thoroughness of the collation process. Thus, in addition to the basic statement ‘collated’ / muga / מוגה, we find the following range of further details: ‘well collated’ / מוגה היטיב; ‘very well collated’ / מוגה היטיב הדק; ‘from the manuscript that is in the writing of the holy hand of the Admur, may his lamp shine’ / מגוכיה”ק מאדמו”ר שי”נ; ‘transcribed from the manuscript that is in his holy hand’ / הועתק מכ”י קדשו; ‘transcribed from and collated against the manuscript that is in his holy hand’ / הועתק ומוגה מכי”הק; ‘transcribed from the manuscript that is in the holy hand of the Admur, may he live for good, long years’ / הועתק מגוכיה”ק מאדמו”ר שליטא; ‘collated against the manuscript that is in the holy hand of the Admur, may he live for good, long years’ / מוגה מגוכיה”ק מאדמו”ר שליט”א; ‘well collated, with the help of blessed and exalted God, from the manuscript that is in the holy hand of the Admur, may he live for good, long years’ / מוגה היטיב בעזהי”ת ויתעלה מכי”ק אדמו”ר שליט”א; ‘collated well from the manuscript that is in his holy hand, from chapter 6; and to chapter 6, from another manuscript’ / מוגה היטיב מגוכי”ק מאות ו’ ועד אות ו’ מכתב אחר, etc. The fact that the Rebbes (most cases above refer to Rabbi Menachem Mendel) made their personal copies of discourses available for collation demonstrates their concern with accurate transmission of the discourses.
You can find all eighteen ḤaBaD Hasidic manuscripts online on Manchester Digital Collection together with detailed catalogue descriptions created by Dr Israel Sandman:
Watch the author of this post, Dr Israel Sandman’s presentation on the manuscripts here.