Chassidishe Davening Explained to the Czarist Government

When the Alter Rebbe was arrested, he was required to respond to questions related to Chassidus and Chassidim. Those written responses were only uncovered in recent years, and even more recently, translated into English.

In 5659 (1798), the Imperial Czarist government detained the Alter Rebbe on charges of a treason libel intended to stop the rapid spread of the Chassidic movement. A royal commission investigated the matter and found the accusation to be baseless, leading to the release of the Rebbe — an event celebrated worldwide to this very day.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the archives of the Czarist Attorney General containing all the inter-governmental correspondence involving the case became available. Within it was found what is arguably the most important document of the entire file: the original deposition of the Alter Rebbe in which he answered in writing most of the twenty-two points of contention on which he was interrogated.

Principles Press brings a first-time free translation into English of this fascinating historical document which is sure to draw you into the Jewish world Chassidus set out to correct and enliven.

Bellow is an excerpt of this landmark text


Jewish Divine Service: Study and Prayer

That which is called in our [Russian] language Boga malizia [=worship of G-d], is divided among all of us Jews into two parts: the first being the reading and study of the scriptures, Talmud, Midrashim, and their commentaries; as well as study of the Poskim [=legal codes] which summarize the laws of the Talmud, and at times provide additional elucidation for those laws. We have several hundred titles published in every generation on these topics. To reach a complete understanding of this study, one needs abundant wisdom.

The second aspect [of Divine service] is the concept of prayer: anyone who has but a little knowledge and is even somewhat literate can pray adequately and correctly with kavanah — the intent of his heart. This is because the structure and theme of nearly the entire [text of the] prayers is an anthology of psalms and verses from King David’s book of Psalms and the other prophets. [They all contain] singing praise to the living Creator [and describing] His great majesty and power over innumerable myriads of angels and the heavenly spheres and that He gives them all life. [The prayers express also] how all the heavenly hosts prostrate themselves before Him; upon the earth and below it as there too there is nothing but Him; He [alone] appoints kings, and the [true] authority is His. 

We also make mention of the Creator’s kindness to us by redeeming us from Egypt, and that therefore, it is most befitting for us to love G-d with all our heart and soul from the depth of our heart. We must also, therefore, fear him and observe all the commandments He has given us, whether commanding us to refrain from evil or to do good:

[That is,] to do that which is just in the eyes of G-d and man, and to be good to all in general. Particularly to harbor good feelings and not to be ungrateful, Heaven forbid, to the one who provides us with all forms of goodness and shields us under the shadow of his wings – the benevolent king, may his honor be exalted and his governance grow higher and higher.

[Respect of the monarchy] also [increases] the majesty of the Creator who is called “the supreme King of kings”:

Just as the glory of a king is greater when he reigns over ministers rather than when he reigns over common folk, so too, it is of great honor for the Creator to be titled “King over kings.” This is [why] we were commanded by our sages “to pray for the welfare of the government,” etc.


The Challenges to Proper Prayer

Praying with the aforementioned proper kavanah serves as a great support for a person to be able to overcome his evil inclination throughout the entire day, even after his prayers. [It assists him to] observe all the commandments of G-d, whether in refraining from evil, or in doing good as mentioned above, because the memory of the prayer remains in his heart and mind during the entire day.

However, someone who doesn’t pray with such kavanah, even if he studies the laws of the Talmud and other books the entire day, he may or may not observe what he studies and may come to transgress the commandments of G-d occasionally. But even if one were never to transgress anything, it is still improper that while he is speaking directly to G-d in the first person, saying “Blessed are You G-d” his thoughts wander to his business dealings and worldly matters. People tend to think extraneous thoughts also throughout the rest of the prayers [which aren’t a direct form of speech to G-d]; this is since the prayers are very long and are written in a language that people are not accustomed to speaking in during the rest of the day.

3. The Need to “Study” Prayer

Achieving proper kavanah during prayer must be taught by a wise and intelligent person. He needs to explain to every individual [seeking his guidance] the meaning and intent of the prayers, the concepts of G-d’s greatness and kindness, and [how to generate] love towards Him, all according to the individual’s intellectual capacity. This is because the words of the prayers contain all the explanations in an extremely concise form, as they are written in the style of the prophets who spoke briefly. Each sentence includes and contains many interpretations as those proficient in scripture know.

Therefore those knowledgeable, known as rabbis, must teach and interpret to those who are ignorant. They also must offer them words of rebuke to awaken and subdue their hearts to G-d and in a heartfelt manner, ask for forgiveness for their sins. [This is connected to prayer] because the final part of the [daily] prayer — offered by all Jews — is requesting G-d’s mercy regarding [forgiveness and atonement of] sins and also bequests for other needs of people such as health and livelihood.

All these concepts [aren’t original teachings of these rabbis, rather they] appear in the Talmud and the Midrashim and their respective commentaries; only because not everyone is versed in these works and they must study from someone who is versed and understands [these texts].


The originals are available here (5592), and here (5561).

An excerpt from “In Defense of Chassidus: The Written Depositions of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.” Reprinted with permission from Principles Press.

The book includes an English translation of both depositions of the Alter Rebbe submitted to the Czarist Secret Commission during his two arrests in Petersburg on slanderous accounts in 5659 (1798) and 5661 (1800)

The book  is available on Amazon and in better bookstores. For discounted bulk orders please contact (347) 833-9057

In keeping in line with the Rabbonim's policies for websites, we do not allow comments. However, our Rabbonim have approved of including input on articles of substance (Torah, history, memories etc.)

We appreciate your feedback. If you have any additional information to contribute to this article, it will be added below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

advertise package