Chabad Chassidim worldwide have scored a huge victory Wednesday in a New York federal court. In the landmark decision, Judge Block ruled that the Rebbe’s Torah belongs to all Chassidim, and cannot be restricted by the copyright claims of various groups and institutions.
In the past, certain groups would claim sole proprietorship to the Rebbe’s vast Torah, only allowing those aligned with their views politically to print and market the many volumes. Yesterday’s ruling serves them a major blow, and instead allows all Chassidim to publish the Rebbe’s Torah without the threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads.
This episode began five years ago, when Kehos Publication Society published the Rebbe’s voluminous set ‘Lekutei Sichos’ while omitting any mention of the ‘Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos’ – the original producers and editors – and swapping the Rebbe’s post-nominals for those designated for the deceased.
Kehos’s audacity only grew when, shortly thereafter, they demanded that Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos cease from further printing any additional sets of their own publication – Lekutei Sichos. When they refused, Kehos sued its director, R’ Zalman Chanin, in court for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for personal injury. In response, R’ Zalman Chanin countersued for nearly a million dollars in damages for the same exact claims.
Kehos’s claims were breathtaking: being that the Rebbe was a worker for Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Kehos’s parent institution, all the Rebbe’s writing, public discourses, letters and communications, and all other public works and statements are the property of the institution, and subject to its copyright laws.
After years of litigation and legal positioning, the Judge issued a ruling categorizing the dispute as one not of copyright law, but of an ideological power-struggle, and that none of the sides proved inherent ownership of the Rebbe’s Sichos. The ruling doesn’t seem to be restricted to Sichos, but instead implies the same would apply to all the Rebbe’s Torah. Henceforth, it would seem, anyone may print and market any of the Rebbe’s Torah without needing special permission from any group, institution, or entity.
The effect of this momentous ruling is to give the Rebbe’s Torah the same status as the Mishna, Gemara, etc. in that no specific entity owns their rights, because they are the possession of society.
Admittedly, while the decision is a huge legal victory in the secular courts, for religious Jews the ruling bares little significance, being that Chabad Rabbonim in the Crown Heights Beis Din have already ruled Vaad L’hafotzas Sichos, the original producers and editors of the Rebbe’s public works, as having the sole authority to print and market the Rebbe’s Torah.
Download Full Court Ruling