Remembering Rabbi Aaron Chitrik, 73

Rabbi Aaron Chitrik with his fiancee, Slava Kahan, shortly after his engagement in 1961.

Rabbi Aaron Chitrik, a renowned expert on Hebrew manuscripts, tasked with preparing and annotating some 300 volumes of archival documents from Chabad’s Central Library, passed away on Thursday, October 27th. He was 73.

Born on October 4, 1938 to Rabbi Yehudah and Keilah Chitrik in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Aaron and his siblings were raised during the height of Soviet religious oppression. When Jewish schools were shutdown by the Stalinist regime, Rabbi Yehudah Chitrik attempted to hire a private tutor for his children. The tutor, however, worried that he had been spotted by Communist sympathisers visiting the openly Chasidic Chitrik home, quit. The elder Chitrik, ultimately began home-schooling his children.

A such, even mundane household activities were used as learning opportunities. Meal times, if lacking in basic provisions, were replete with stories of Chasidic lore and lessons from the weekly Torah portion.

“Our parents instilled in us a love for Torah,” recalls Aaron’s sister, Shaina Schneerson. “Aaron took those lessons to heart.”

When the Nazis invaded their Soviet allies in the summer of 1941, the Chitriks fled to Samarkand, deep inside the Russian interior. At the time, the family possessed a large collection of rare Jewish books and manuscripts. Unable to bring them when fleeing Kharkiv, Rabbi Yehudah Chitrik was forced to bury them. Aaron would later note the regret his father had in losing this priceless archive as one of the factors behind his life-long love of books and manuscripts.

During the three-week trek, Keilah Chitrik and her brood were separated from her husband. The elder children were stricken with measles, and young Aaron contracted pneumonia in both lungs. Only after a chance meeting with a Jewish doctor could Keilah procure the medicines the children needed.

In Samarkand, life improved somewhat for the Chitriks. Far from the watchful eye of the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police, Samarkand became a bastion of Chasidic life. For the first time, Aaron and his siblings were able to attend cheder, traditional Jewish school.

After the war ended, the Chitriks managed to flee the Soviet Union. After settling in a Parisian DP camp in 1946, Rabbi Yehudah Chitrik was directed by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to move to Antwerp and aid in identifying Jewish orphans still held by the Catholic Church after being entrusted by their parents during the war.

In 1949, the family relocated to Montreal, and Aaron enrolled in the local branch of Tomchei Temimim, the Chabad run network of yeshivot. In 1957, Aaron moved to New York to continue his studies at the Central Lubavitcher Yeshivah in Brooklyn. There he began his work publishing manuscripts. He sought to create a definitive edition of the Tosafot Rid, the Talmudic commentary by prominent thirteenth century Italian Talmudist, Rabbi Isaiah di Trani, from archival manuscripts. The first volume was published in 1961, shortly before his marriage to his wife and life-long partner Slava Kahan, from Kfar Chabad, Israel.

For the ensuing 50 years, Aaron dedicated himself to working on manuscripts. Uniquely talented with a deep understanding of Jewish bibliology and an encyclopedic mind, Aaron was able to identify and date manuscripts

In 1975, a cache of books and manuscripts left by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe when fleeing the Nazi invasion, was located in Poland. Some doubt remained as to the authenticity of the manuscripts. As such, Aaron was dispatched by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, to Poland to verify the status of these books.

Aaron’s work on the collection of manuscripts and others in the Chabad central library would ultimately span some 300 volumes of Chasidic discourses and Halachic treatises of the Chabad Rebbes. His annotated edition of the Tanya, the fundamental work of Chabad thought, published with explanations culled from the entire corpus of Chabad literature, proved to be a three-decade long undertaking.

Rabbi Gavriel Schapiro, who joined Aaron in his work in 1978, recalls working with his late friend and colleague.

“Our schedule was incredibly demanding,” Schapiro recalls. They were once tasked by the Rebbe with completing and printing an index on the complete works of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, in only two weeks. “Yet Aaron was always incredibly collected.” Always a humble person, Schapiro recalls that Aaron, despite his seniority as team leader, “was never embarrassed to ask others for advice, and take their opinions into account.”

Despite personal difficulties, including the 1987 loss of his son Shmulie in a car accident, Aaron remained diligent in his work. Even as his health began to fail him near the end of his life, he continued to work on various manuscripts.

Rabbi Aaron Chitrik is survived by his son Hershey, his daughter Rachel Gross, as well as his brother Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Chitrik, and sisters Mrs. Chaya Lieberman and Mrs. Shaina Schneerson.


  • A crown heightser

    A gevaldiga mind Chaval al deabdin velo mistachin, Like the saying goes, they dont make such people anymore, Hashem runs the world, we dont do the bookeeping, But why do such tsadikim get nifter so young? Hatsadik Reb Aron Moshiach is at the door steps, veyokitzu veyrananu shochna ofar, may the family have a nechama that moshiach is so close reb aron we will see you again shortly, Amen