Interview: Reb Mottel’s Seforim Involvement




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    Interview: Reb Mottel’s Seforim Involvement

    In connection with the recent tragedy last night of the passing of the famed Chossid, Rabbi Mordechai Leib (Mottel) Chein, OB”M, we are sharing an interview which the Beis Moshiach Magazine conducted with him, in honor of Hei Teves. We are publicizing this interview now in his memory • Full Interview

    Avrohom Reinitz, Beis Moshiach

    You may have noticed the large number of new books being published lately. Every two or three weeks, there is an announcement about another new Lubavitch book. One of the reasons for this enormous output in recent years, is the digital revolution in preparing books for print. What was once called arranging and typesetting is today, simply called “graphics.”

    Nowadays, most authors type their material on a computer and when they decide that it is ready for print, all they need to do is click on “send” and the graphic designer has the entire book. If it’s a standard book, without pictures, a speedy graphics person can send the book for proofing within a day or two. When he gets the corrections back, it will take a few hours to put them in and the book is ready to print.

    When the corrections are made, the fact that a word that he added or deleted changed the entire spatial layout makes no difference. The graphic design program will align the whole thing. In the worst case scenario, he may have to manually input the changes which will just extend the job for a brief time.

    When the graphic designer finishes his job, he exports the book to a PDF file which is sent to the printer via email. The pagination program will automatically set up the pages in their proper places for print, and the worker at the print shop just needs to click “print” so that the plate machine will print metal plates of all the pages. The plate is taken directly to the printing machine and within an hour or two, the printing can commence.

    In the 60s, it was altogether different.


    In an interview I did with R’ Shneur Zalman Chanin, director of Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos and director of the publishing house of Kehot, and R’ Mottel Chein, who runs Empire Press where all of Likutei Sichos from volumes 5-39 were prepared for print, as well as many other sifrei chassidus, I asked them to describe the technical stages of printing back then.

    R’ Chanin: As an example, I will describe how Likutei Sichos were printed as a weekly booklet with a sicha prepared for print by the members of Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos and edited by the Rebbe:

    After the members of the vaad finished going over the sicha including footnotes and sources, they would type it all up on a typewriter, double-spaced between the lines, to allow room for corrections. These pages were submitted to the Rebbe.

    When we got the corrections, the members of the vaad would retype the portions that were changed and quickly send it to Empire Press, the print house run by R’ Tzvi Hirsh Gansbourg a’h and R’ Mottel Chain.

    R’ Chein: Back then, most of the authors gave handwritten manuscripts to be printed but even when we got typed pages, we had to start the entire process from the beginning. The first stage was typing the text on a linotype machine which, at that time, was the height of modern technology. Inside the machine, there was a “magazine” containing letters engraved in lead that were called “matrices” (plural of matrix) in English. When the typesetter would type the letter alef on the keyboard a piece of metal that had the letter alef engraved on it would drop down onto the line of text. When the line filled up, meaning there was no more room for the next word, the typesetter would raise a lever that would start the automatic casting process which resulted in a strip of lead with the raised letters of one line of type. At the end of the casting process, the machine would return the matrices back to the magazine, ready for setting another line. That is how lines were cast into metal, and these lines were called “slugs.” Line after line would be placed in a special metal tray that was called a “set” or “galley tray.”

    After the metal tray was filled with enough lines, they would take the tray to the proofing machine, where they would smear the letters with black ink, place a paper over the tray, and run it through a wheel press that would press the paper against the letter on the tray. The final product was the “galleys,” a page with the lines of type printed as is, without any proper layout work. That was more than enough to be able to proof it for printing errors.

    R’ Chanin: When R’ Mottel would call to tell me that the galleys were ready, we would rush to submit them to the Rebbe. There were always corrections on the first galleys, first, because it was all retyped and so, there were new errors, and second, every time something was submitted for editing to the Rebbe, there were additional things that weren’t there in the earlier editing.

    R’ Tzvi Hirsh Gansbourg, who worked for the Rebbe from 5710, once told me that he submitted a maamar to the Rebbe for correcting several times and each time, the Rebbe corrected and added new things. At a certain point, the Rebbe said, “After you enter the corrections, send it straight to the printer and don’t bring it to me edit again. Otherwise, the maamar will never be published…” The Rebbe smiled and explained, “Since the Torah is ‘longer than the earth is its measure,’ every time you submit it, I will have something to add.”

    Despite it all, there were times that after printing, the Rebbe asked to add and/or change something and then we had to print the corrected paragraph in the next pamphlet under the heading of hashmotos (omissions) or luach ha’tikun (corrections). Of course, when it was prepared for publication in an actual volume we would put in those corrections that the Rebbe added after the printing.


    R’ Chein: When we got corrections from the Rebbe, every line that had a correction in it had to go through the entire process again. If the correction was only where letters had been exchanged, it only involved that line alone, but if the correction was that a word was missing or the Rebbe added a sentence, the last word on the line had to be moved to the next line. This meant retyping and resetting the next line too and so on, until the end of the break. This would happen often and it turned out that every edit made it necessary to recast nearly all the lines again.

    When it was the Rebbe’s sichos, which had footnotes and numbered sources, if the Rebbe added a footnote, in principle we would have to change the numbers of all the following footnotes but since this was very hard work and also because often footnotes sometimes referenced earlier footnotes, we had to choose the easier way. So if the Rebbe added a footnote, for example, after footnote 10, it would get the number 10*.

    Speaking of editing, I am reminded that in 5725, the Rebbe assigned the members of the kollel to produce marei mekomos (primary sources) for Torah Ohr and Likutei Torah. The system was that every week, a different kollel member was responsible for finding all the sources for the Chassidishe parsha of that week. On motzoei Shabbos, they would go in to the Rebbe and give the Rebbe the sources for editing.

    It was very hard work because we did not have the search engines and Torah databases that we have today. When it was my turn and I went in for yechidus after Shabbos, the Rebbe asked me: How many times did you check this? I said I had gone over it only once. The Rebbe said: Nu, Hashem will check it …

    R’ Chanin: As everyone knows, in Likutei Sichos there are two columns and underneath are footnotes and sources. At Empire Press, they would set the main text separately and the footnotes separately. Every column was also done separately. After we got the final product, after all the editing, the pagination work began: aligning the two columns next to each other with the footnotes on the bottom. This was done by hand and R’ Sholom Jacobson was in charge of this.

    In the offices of the vaad we had over-sized paper, the size used for printing, on which we printed lined outlines of the Likutei Sichos. Every page was separate and within each page were signs for the title line and lines that bordered the rows of text, leaving space for footnotes. Sometimes, there wasn’t enough room for a footnote and then we had to cut a line or two from upper text and so on.

    After the paper version was ready, we had to photograph the paper onto film. Then they would take the film and project the image onto print panels made of aluminum. In the offices of Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos there was a printing press but we did not have the equipment needed for print preparation such as projecting images onto panels and the like, so we had to go to the printing press in Manhattan where they would produce the panels for us.

    The period when we printed by R’ Mottel was already the good days. Before that, we had to print everything with Ezra Press (also called Balshan Press). It was a print house founded in 5710 by R’ Mordechai Shusterman in accordance with instructions he got from the Rebbe Rayatz two years before (by the way, one of the times that the Rebbe returned from the Ohel and it was close to sunset, he stopped at the print house that was on the way and davened mincha there).

    Ezra Press was located in Brownsville which, in those days, turned into a bad neighborhood and it was scary to go there. We did not have our own cars and had to travel by taxi and wait there until the galleys were ready, then return to 770 to submit them to the Rebbe. Afterward, we had to go back to them with the corrections and after everything was corrected, we had to go from there to Manhattan in order to get the film and panels.

    In the mid-70s, we brought in a teletype-setter system. This system split the work into two and enabled it to be done quicker. One worker would type the words into the teletype machine which would come out as series of holes punched into a strip of paper. After the typist finished his work, he would give the paper tape filled with holes to the technician running the linotype machine, which had a machine that would “read” the tape and operate the keyboard. This system doubled the speed of the typesetting stage, but we still had to do all the rest.


    How long did the entire process of printing the weekly likut take?

    R’ Chanin: Usually, the Rebbe would send out the edited version on Thursday and then began the great rush because it made no difference when the Rebbe produced the edits – the likut had to be ready in 770 before Shabbos! In cases where we got the edits on Thursday afternoon, we knew we would not sleep that night and there was one time, on a long summer Friday, that the Rebbe sent us the edits on Friday and we miraculously manged to print the weekly likut.

    It was work around the clock. We previously described the many technical stages we had to go through until the final product. But aside from this, take into account that the machines back then often got stuck, each time for another reason. When the linotype machine was new, it all worked without a hitch but R’ Mottel’s machine was not new and often, letters got stuck. Sometimes the supply of lead ran out and it once happened that the lead squirted on R’ Mottel … till today, he has a scar from that burn.
    So you weren’t home on Fridays …

    They both smiled and R’ Chanin said: If I came home an hour before Shabbos, that was unusual … I usually arrived at candle-lighting time.

    When the Rebbe wanted a book printed, we had to print it as soon as possible. Nothing could be postponed. Sometimes, the Rebbe asked for a detailed report about what each one did, how much was the output of the typist, how much was the output of the typesetting process, how much progress was there in the pagination and the printing…

    One time, R’ Chadakov came to me on Sunday morning and asked for the report of the day before. I said: It was Motzoei Shabbos … but the Rebbe did not accept that and his reaction was: There were a few hours when it was possible to work on Motzoei Shabbos and why didn’t they work?

    R’ Chein: In general, we had no vacation year-round. My children remember how during bein ha’zemanim, when all their friends would go on trips, the most I could do was take them to the park with my wife in the morning and go back and pick them up in the evening. I worked all day to prepare the Likutei Sichos or other sefarim that the Rebbe wanted printed.


    Mrs. Chanin emphasized an important point:

    Every time one of the staff working on the sichos had a family event on Friday, like a bris, the Rebbe would make sure to send out his edits on the sicha earlier, so the sicha could be prepared for printing on Thursday night and the family simcha could be celebrated.


    Empire Press was a private business that worked with many publishers. I asked R’ Chein: What did you do when you had an urgent project from the Rebbe? How did you handle your regular customers?

    R’ Chein: What’s the question? All my customers knew that the moment something came from the Rebbe, everything else was set aside. If they had an urgent job, they went to someone else. If they were patient, they waited. But they all knew that when a sicha came from the Rebbe, everything stopped!

    When the Rebbe said to print Hemshech 5672, we closed the print-house to other customers for a few months. We got photographs of the manuscript and had to type it from the manuscript. It wasn’t easy and took a lot of time. We arranged three eight-hour shifts so that we printed for 24 hours straight, only this project. I personally had the third shift and would go to work in the middle of the night.


    Aside from Likutei Sichos, which was done under pressure every week, were there other sefarim that were printed especially quickly?

    R’ Chanin: One of the sefarim that was done extra quickly was Kesser Shem Tov. It came in the middle of a vacation of a few weeks that the Rebbe arranged for us. This is what happened:

    In Cheshvan 5733, a short time after I got married, I had yechidus in connection with my birthday. During the yechidus the Rebbe asked me whether I planned on going to the wedding of R’ Sholom Jacobson who was getting married in Eretz Yisrael on Rosh Chodesh Kislev. I realized that the Rebbe wanted me to go and I said yes.

    The Rebbe said: You need permission from the hanhala of the kollel. I will speak with them about giving you permission. He asked: Do you have money for a ticket? When I said yes, the Rebbe asked: How do you have money? I said: I recently got married and I still have money. The Rebbe said: Don’t use that money. Go to Merkos and they will give you participation in the cost of the ticket.

    In those days, it wasn’t an accepted thing for a Chassid to take money from the Rebbe. In later years, when the Rebbe began giving money to shluchim it became normal but then, it was unheard of. I had no intentions of taking money from Merkos and also, when my father heard about it, he said that he would pay for the ticket.

    Before we left for Eretz Yisrael, the Rebbe sent out six edited sichos! Obviously, R’ Mottel had a hard time getting it all done within a few days but in the end, so we thought, it would be worth it for the break we would have in the weeks that followed.

    Then, a short time after I returned from Eretz Yisrael, erev Chanuka 5733, R’ Chadakov called us and said that the Rebbe was really pleased by our speed in preparing the Likutei Sichos for print and therefore wanted us to re-edit the Kesser Shem Tov and prepare it for print.

    Considering the printing technology of that time, we thought we could rush it and manage to get it done in a few months. You can imagine our surprise when we were told that the Rebbe wanted it to be ready within four weeks so that it would be available for sale by 24 Teves.

    The Rebbe even asked that we be made aware that since the goyim have their holiday celebration in this month, we needed to take into account that many of the print-houses and binderies would be closed and the print house that would be willing to work at that time would be operating under technical limitations. Therefore, said the Rebbe, we had to take into account that we had less than three weeks to prepare the safer.

    The Rebbe also said that on all the letters, notes and questions that we wrote to him about printing this sefer, we should mark it “regarding Kesser Shem Tov,” so the Rebbe would easily find these notes among the piles of notes and letters and could respond immediately, before other letters.

    In tandem with the work being done on the content, I was mainly involved in the technical side of the printing and I will never forget the the difficulties we had during those weeks:

    For this sefer, the Rebbe said the printing should be done on a “lead press” machine – this machine would print with the actual rows of lead, meaning that every published page had to pass through the actual printing plates, which were called “cliches.”

    To speed things up, we decided to split the work: the hard work of preparing the lead plates would be given to Empire Press. The printing itself we arranged to do with Shulsinger. The editing staff worked at full speed and the material that was ready was immediately given to Empire Press which began working on it 24 hours a day.

    After a week of work, a new obstacle arose: the supply of lead from which the letters were made was used up. We had to get new lead which was a job in itself. Hashem helped and we managed to borrow lead from several print houses for a few weeks. It seemed that the work was starting to move. We worked days and nights and when the cliches were ready for print, we had to find a way to get them to the Shulsinger Brothers in Manhattan.

    It was a tough job, nearly impossible. We took the cliches on special trays and went. Those familiar with the cliches know that the lines and letters are not attached to each other and so, every bump the car made took out a few lines and letters and it was a disaster. Everything moved out of place. The rows turned over and the pages changed, it was chaos. When we arrived at the print-house and saw all the trays with the letters, we realized how big a problem we had.

    R’ Nachman Shapiro was with me and we both started fixing the pages and putting each row where it belonged. Then another problem cropped up. One of the managers came over and said we had to leave immediately. Their print house belonged to a union and whoever wasn’t a member of the union was not allowed to work on anything having to do with the printing.

    We laughed because we naively thought that he was kidding but a few minutes later we saw he meant business. The owner, Mr. Samuel Shulsinger himself came and asked us to leave.

    We had to leave against our will and wait and hope that some employee and member of the union would be able to take charge. Hashem sent R’ Yehoshua Dubrawsky. He was one of the veteran employees of Shulsinger and he took it on himself to make order out of the chaos. Boruch Hashem, after a few days, everything was straightened out and the printing finally began.

    The printing was completed on time and we were able to bring the printed pages to the binder before their holiday. All ended well. In honor of 24 Teves, the hilula of the Alter Rebbe, we gave nachas to the Rebbe MH”M and gave him the new edition of Kesser Shem Tov.

    In a letter that I wrote to the Rebbe after the printing, I mentioned the role played by the printers of Empire Press and the Rebbe wrote: Fortunate is their lot and the merit of the many assists them.


    R’ Chanin: The sefer that was the most complicated from a technical perspective and which was also done under a time pressure was the Tanya mahadura kama (first edition published by the Alter Rebbe). In 5738, when manuscripts that had been in captivity came from Warsaw, there were manuscripts of the first edition of Tanya. The Rebbe told us to prepare a “scientific” study edition citing all the differences among the editions until the edition which is printed today.

    Since the members of the vaad were not experienced in producing scholarly research materials, it took time until they understood precisely what the Rebbe wanted it to look like and they began the research and preparations for printing.

    At the end of 5741, a very sharp note written by the Rebbe was received, in which he demanded that the editing process be sped up even more. The Rebbe asked for a report to be submitted weekly about the pace of the work along with the pages that had been prepared for printing that week. From that point and on, we were in a mad race against the clock. During the coming months, all members of the vaad were cloistered in the vaad’s offices and hardly saw the light of day.

    In order to speed up the printing, it was decided to print the sefer on the printing machines of the Vaad L’Hafotzas Sichos which was in the office building over 770. The Rebbe agreed to this and in the spirit of the speedy pace that he demanded he included this instruction with his consent: Being that this is the case, there is no need to wait to finish the entire sefer and then give it to print; but each packet of pages should be printed immediately.

    As mentioned, the printing was the final stage in a process most of which took place in R’ Chein’s print house. He also remembers the publishing of the scholarly edition.

    R’ Chein: When dealing with a scholarly edition, it is necessary to differentiate between the text of the first edition and the text that was added or missing in other editions. To do so, you have to constantly change fonts and font sizes. This is a job that even in the computer era of our times is not easily executed; all the more so, back then.

    Every night, after we finished preparing the pages for print, which we received in the evening, the pages were submitted to the Rebbe. The Rebbe would take the galleys to his home and in the morning he returned with the corrections.


    But all the effort was worth it as R’ Chanin concludes:

    The printing of the final “packet” of pages was finished on erev Shabbos Vayishlach and the members of the vaad made every effort so that they could give the first sefer to the Rebbe before Shabbos. It was already after midday and it was a miracle that they managed to bind the sefer and bring it 770 a minute before Shabbos. After the first sefer finally made it to the Rebbe, the members of the vaad and the team of workers went home. This was after months of barely seeing their families. The next day, during the farbrengen, when they saw the Rebbe’s tremendous nachas, they realized “there is a reward for your labors.”

    The Rebbe walked in with the new sefer and the farbrengen was replete with otherworldly pronouncements about the greatness of the matter. The Rebbe said that “this corrected what the Alter Rebbe wanted in his time, that the Tanya be printed before Yud-Tes Kislev, which did not happen.”

    The Rebbe also praised the editors for the work they put in to complete the printing so quickly and said, “To me, it wasn’t even within the parameters of belief that it was possible; just belief in the power of Chassidim!”


    The interview went on and on as the two of them recalled other urgent projects like the Tanya that the Rebbe wanted printed erev Yom Kippur 5739. R’ Chein had to open the print shop and type in the updated list of every Tanya ever published so that the edition would be complete. R’ Chanin fought with the printing presses until nearly the start of Yom Kippur when he managed to print the entire sefer and carry out the Rebbe’s wishes.

    Of course, they remember the Tanyas that the Rebbe gave out on 11 Nissan 5742 when the instruction to prepare the sefer came shortly before that. They had to add pictures of the frontispieces of all the editions that were printed until then (from the first edition and on), manage to print and bind over 10,000 copies within a few days, and it all had to be a secret.

    They also recalled the Yahel Ohr Tehillim that the Rebbe wanted printed within a few weeks, when the Rebbe received manuscripts from the Tzemach Tzedek and it turned out that the printed edition was missing some things. In connection with this, R’ Chanin emphasized that when he suggested to the Rebbe that the entire sefer be reprinted, the Rebbe said no, and he said just to prepare the missing lines and to incorporate them within the existing safer.


    R’ Chanin concluded the interview with a message which the Rebbe derived from their speed in printing the Tanya First Edition: the Rebbe connected it with the Geula and said that in this merit, it is possible to demand from Hashem that the Geula also come that quickly. R’ Chanin recalls that one time, when he gave the Rebbe many editions of the Tanya that were printed around the world, the Rebbe said, “When Moshiach comes, we will first start printing Tanyas.”

    Both agree that the enforced “vacation” in recent years is way too long and they are waiting for the moment when they will be called upon, once again, to report for active duty and print the “Torah chadasha” from the Rebbe, Moshiach Tzidkeinu, teikef u’miyad mamosh!


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