On Saturday night, January 31, 1960, a New York
radio station (WIVD) began releasing into the atmosphere radio waves
bearing a new program--a weekly class in the Chassidic classic Tanya.
The producers of this show were a group of the
Rebbe’s disciples, and its chief editor was none other than
the Rebbe himself. He was also an avid listener and a sponsor. When
the group submitted to the Rebbe a transcript of the first program,
the Rebbe returned it with his notations and comments, and attached
to it $100 toward the cost of the broadcast.
When the Rebbe was met with criticism from those
who felt that radio and television were “evil” things,
and that the holy words of the Torah are “contaminated”
when channeled via these instruments, he responded by restating
a fundamental principle of Jewish faith: everything was created
by G-d to serve His purpose in creation. Man, who has free choice,
might make negative use of a creation, but its intrinsic function
remains the revelation of the divine wisdom and goodness.
* * *
The Rebbe’s Chassidim needed no further encouragement.
Over the next four decades, they were often at the forefront of
the communications technologies in the endeavor to “spread
the wellsprings of divine wisdom to the outside.”
On the 20th anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership
in 1970, Chassidim in London, Israel and Melbourne were connected
to the World Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters in New York for the first
farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) to be broadcast live by telephone
hook-up. In the following months, more and more locations joined
the “hook up.” Larger centers became hubs to which the
smaller ones connected, bringing the Rebbe’s words to dozens
of locations and thousands of listeners. The concept may sound simple
to today’s reader, and the technology employed was readily
available in 1970, but the very idea was nothing less than revolutionary
at the time.
A further milestone in the transmitability of the
farbrengen experience was attained in 1980, when the gatherings
began to be telecast live via satellite and cable TV to homes and
major Chabad Centers around the world.
In 1988, long before the internet was popularized,
a Lubavitcher Chassid, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen, was “spreading
the wellsprings” on Fidonet, an online discussion network
that was distributed on several thousand nodes around the world.
The Rebbe encouraged him in his activities, and when Rabbi Kazen
asked the Rebbe in 1990 if he should establish a Chabad presence
on the internet, the Rebbe said to go ahead with it, to absolutely