Rav Sholom Dovber Schneerson (1860-1920), better known as the Rashab, as the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, was one of the leaders of Russian Jewry at a time when it confronted many challenges of modernity. One of those challenges was the new Jewish nationalism as expressed in the nascent Zionist movement in the late 1890’s. The Rashab decided to confront what he understood to be a danger to traditional Judaism, by initiating a project which would present a united Orthodox front in opposition to Zionism.
To that end he partnered with Yaakov Lifshitz and the ‘Lishka Hashechora’ in Kovno. In January 1900, a pamphlet entitled Ohr Layesharim was published, which included a letter of the Rashab clarifying his opposition to Zionism. He expressed theological opposition - evoking for the first time the violation of the ‘three oaths’ by attempting to force the redemption prior to Moshiach’s arrival. He also expressed concern regarding the secular nature of the Zionist leadership, and even raised practical challenges the movement would confront which he believed would prevent its goals from being realized.
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