Bringing Chassidus to the American Boy

One of the revolutions of the Rebbe was making even the deepest Chassidus available in English. Standing at the forefront of that effort were Rabbi Yonah Avtzon and Sichos in English. His son, Rabbi Shmuly Avtzon, who currently directs SIE, gives an inside look at its past, present and future.

From Anash Magazine – published by

One of the revolutions of the Rebbe was making even the deepest Chassidus available in English. Standing at the forefront of that effort were Rabbi Yonah Avtzon and Sichos in English. His son, Rabbi Shmuly Avtzon, who currently directs SIE, gives an inside look at its past, present and future.


Anash Magazine: Rabbi Avtzon, every English-speaking Lubavitcher chossid has heard of Sichos in English and has used its books. Can you share with us how it started and when you got involved?

Rabbi Avtzon: SIE – Sichos in English – was began in 1977/5738 by a group of bochurim including my father, Rabbi Yonah Avtzon a”h. At that time, they began transcribing the Rebbe’s farbrengens in English and giving it out for English readers.

The Rebbe was very involved; there were many mainos to SIE and a lot of kiruvim. And the Rebbe’s involvement is not just something of the past – we constantly see the Rebbe’s brachos and guidance in what we do.

As far as my involvement: Sometimes you choose the job, and sometimes the job is given to you. 

In 5779, my father passed away suddenly. Interestingly, during the last few months of my father’s life, he spoke to me about SIE and gave me more and more responsibility. He asked me to help him out in his final editing, which was very personal for him. In fact, his very last message to me was about reviewing edits he made on the new Likutei Sichos translation. 

After he passed away, the responsibility fell upon me. And here we are 5 years later.

Anash Magazine: SIE is involved in so many projects – Halacha, Chassidus, translation, and adaptation. What would you say is the overarching goal of SIE?

Rabbi Avtzon: SIE started as its name “Sichos in English” implies, to translating the Rebbe’s farbrengens into English. As things progressed, with the Rebbe’s bracha and approval, it expanded and went into translating other materials, including the words of previous Rebbeim and Chassidus in general. 

Today, we see our moisad as a shlichus to bring as much Chassidus as possible to the English language. A real challenge today is to bring real, authentic Chassidus to the average American boy and girl, in relatable language.

Like in any growing moisad, the challenge is to stay true to your core mission and values, while at the same time constantly growing and branching out into new pathways. 

Anash Magazine: What do you wish the average chossid knew about SIE?

Rabbi Avtzon: As far as what goes into each book, I think people should recognize the amount of effort, manpower, creative energy, time, and tremendous expense that goes into producing every book. Most books reach way over the $100,000 range. But there’s more than that.

We’re living in a world where everything is arbitrary and anything can mean anything. This has affected  Chassidus as well, with people pulling Chassidus in all kinds of directions… 

As translators of Chassidus, it is our job to ensure that the “pach shemen tahor,” that pure jug of oil is sealed with the ‘Kohen Gadol’s seal.’ We try to do everything with a sense of loyalty and connection to the source, staying true to the kavana and the message. Our mission is to bring the truth to people in a way that resonates with them, while at the same time holding on to its authenticity. 

We all face this tension and dynamic to some degree in our lives. But when you’re doing it on this kind of scale – publishing many books which nd people take as the Rebbe’s word, then the achrayus and the tension, and hopefully the resolution, are very strong.

Anash Magazine: How do you in fact translate the Rebbe’s words accurately while making it readable at the same time?

Rabbi Avtzon: That is the big question in translation!

We mentioned the Rebbe’s special relationship to SIE. Besides all the brachos and the encouragement to do more, we were zocheh that the Rebbe edited some of our work. I think it’s worth mentioning that some of the Rebbe editing wasn’t in the typical sense of editing, which is readying something for publishing, but rather it was an education for the writers. The Rebbe would sometimes edit part of a sicha or essay, and return it without editing the rest, meaning to say: now go figure out from here what I want. 

Something that we saw throughout was the Rebbe advocating for a balance of being true to the source and, at the same time, making it readable and not being too literal. Whenever we veered off in either of the two directions, we got it over the head. At times, we would receive a maaneh response one way, and then run in the other direction, only to have to be pulled back. 

So, is there a perfect balance? That’s a good question. There will be times when people complain that we’re going too much in one direction or another. But we have the sense of achrayus that we have to achieve the right balance. And we’re constantly going further and deeper, and iy”H getting better and better, with more writers and editors joining the team. 

Language is also something that constantly changes, so what was authentic and readable once may not be today and needs an update. But at the same time, we have to ensure that with all the changes made over time, we don’t lose sight of the core message. That’s the journey we have.

Anash Magazine: Who influences the decisions made at SIE? And who do you consult for bigger questions?

Rabbi Avtzon: So, first and foremost, I grew up around my father, who worked for the Rebbe for so many years. His motto was always making sure that the Rebbe’s kavanah was being carried out. Although sadly we don’t have him here in person, his guidance, ideas, and general approach continue to guide us. 

We also have the big zechus of having a team of those who worked for the Rebbe as writers and editors for many years. Among them are: 

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, a man who, for so many years, has brought a vast amount of Torah, both nigleh and Chassidus, to the English-speaking world – the years spent working with the original Sichos in English, with some of his work edited by the Rebbe. More recently, he produced the set on Rambam, the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, Selections from Likkutei Sichos, Lessons in Maamarim, and more. 

R’ Uri Kaploun is a master translator who has worked on Likkutei Dibburim, sichos of 5711, and many more projects. Meir Prager, a good friend of my father, has been involved in the moisad for many years. I also consult often with my older brother, Rabbi Levi Avtzon and all of my family. Also, Rabbi Hertzel Pewzner has joined the team in the past few years and has brought great value to many projects besides his own series “The Basics of Chassidus.” Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg is another one of our long-time advisors.

In addition, we reach out to many people outside our moisad, such as the team at Kehos and others in the field of publishing. Most importantly, there’s the feedback from the readers – from Anash and Nshei Chabad, Shluchim, mekuravim, non-Lubavitch crowds, and bochurim. We constantly get feedback and try to integrate it.

A big shout-out goes to the team at Spotlight Design, especially Moshe Muchnik and Zalman Stock, who have completely transformed how Sifrei Chassidus, especially SIE books, have been produced over the past few years.

What direction do you see SIE taking going forward?

Rabbi Avtzon: I would say our vision is bringing authentic Chassidus – “yafutzu mayanosecha chutzah,” which Moshiach told the Baal Shem Tov was a prerequisite for his arrival. 

The Rebbe would explain the significance of each word: “mayanosecha,” the actual wellspring, not just the water that comes out of it, “yafutzu,” should be spread out everywhere, “chutzah,” even in the furthest of places. This describes our vision: to bring as much Chassidus as possible to the widest possible audience. 

Baruch Hashem, over the last few years, the moisad has been growing exponentially – with new staff and new projects. We would love to expand to create content for multiple different readers – the more frum crowd, the less frum crowd, and obviously the Lubavitch community. To sum up: the idea is to constantly grow and put more and more content out there, on multiple platforms.

Anash Magazine: Can you share with us some exciting projects that are coming up?

Rabbi Avtzon: Baruch Hashem, this Hei Teves, we’re debuting the complete set of Selections from Likkutei Sichos on the five chumashim. This has probably been our top project over the last few years, spearheaded by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger. Bez”H this will be followed by a 2-volume set on moadim

We recently started the Basics of Chassidus series, which has been a major success and is up to its third printing of Vol. 1. A spinoff of this series is Life of a Jewish Child on the 12 Pesukim, which will be coming out in the next few months.

Over the next year, we will also be finishing the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. We also have a multi-volume series of contemporary halachah for women in the works, called Chachmas Nashim

Lessons in Maamarim series is also being substantially expanded. It will include volumes featuring maamarim from Torah Or and Likkutei Torah, as well as Siddur Im Dach, which had a very successful debut this past Rosh HaShanah. The first few volumes will iy”H be going to print in the next few months. Lessons in Basi Legani will also soon be making its appearance, following the release of several excerpts over the past few years. 

The new The Rebbe’s Perspective series has also been steadily expanding, giving some of the classics a full revamp and receiving glowing feedback on the way. Over the next year, another few volumes will be coming out. And there are many other projects in the works as well.

Anash Magazine: As director of SIE, what does Hei Teves mean to you?

Rabbi Avtzon: In connection with Hei Teves, the Rebbe emphasized the idea that a Rebbe is nitzchi, eternal, and the Rebbe’s words and seforim are also nitzchi, and that the Rebbe’s seforim are part of his life. It follows that we must realize that publishing a sefer of the Rebbeim is not just another book on the market, but rather it is part of the Rebbe’s life!

On the practical side, Hei Teves is naturally our biggest sale of the year. It’s the Rebbe’s yom tov, and the Rebbe transformed it into a day of seforim. What’s been happening on Hei Teves in the past few years is unbelievable; the day has literally turned into an international ‘book festival.’ We hope to have something for everybody and we hope to be there for you every time Hei Teves comes around.

This article first appeared in Anash Magazine – published by


Sichos In English is currently holding a Hei Teves sale with 35%-60% off regular prices.

During the Kinus, the Touger Family Foundation generously subsidized Selections from Likkutei Sichos set for shluchim, for only $99, down from $220. Since then, many reached out, requesting that this special deal be opened to the general public. SIE thanks the Foundation for hearing the masses and generously offering another 800 sets at this unbelievable price. Make sure to chap arein this Hey Teves!

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