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As far as I know, all chasiduses agree that the Maggid of Mezrich was the primary student of the Baal Shem Tov. But I was listening to an online shiur about Chabad (Lubavitch) history, which conveyed the unmistakable message that the primary student of the Maggid was R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known to Chabad chasidim as the Alter Rebbe. According to this shiur, not only was he the primary student, but the relationship between the Maggid and the Alter Rebbe was of a much higher level than any other student.

If I were a follower of another chasidus, wouldn't I feel uncomfortable with this view?

I was wondering if perhaps this is similar to (l'havdil) the situation where the Torah says Yitzchak is the favored son of Avraham, whereas the Koran says that it's Yishmael; do other chasiduses claim that another student was the Maggid's primary student? Or perhaps other chasiduses also trace their "chasidic mesorah" through the Alter Rebbe but it splits off at a later point?

So my question is, what is the point of view of other chasiduses regarding this "chain of mesorah"?

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If I recall correctly, the Magid had 7 students whose job was to spread the Hassidic movement across Europe; The Alter Rebbe (Shneur Zalman of Liadi) was one of those students, whose assigned turf of Lithuania was "a tough nut to crack"; Rabbi Elimelech Noam Lipman of Lizhensk was sent to Poland. I would assume that Polish Hassidic movements consider their tradition/transmission just as good (better?) as that tracing through R' Shneur Zalman, but Hassidism is really not my expertise. –  Shalom Feb 11 '11 at 15:03
    
@Shalom, so the Polish Chasidim would disagree that the Alter Rebbe was the primary student of the Maggid? –  Desert Star Feb 11 '11 at 15:24
    
There were 12 shevatim (tribes) but only 1 Moshe Rebbeinu. The Maggid's students were all Holy and entrusted with the spreading of Chassidus. Whether or not the Alter Rebbe was the Chief student of the Maggid, he was intrusted with a great deal including turning Chassidus from inspiring insights to a organized derech of Yiddishkeit. –  user1292 Mar 9 '12 at 18:36
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I would like to see something concrete outside a Chabad Chassidus source. –  Daniel Wasserman Jul 10 '13 at 17:32
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@DanielWasserman, welcome to Mi Yodeya. I think your comment is the point of the question. –  Seth J Jul 10 '13 at 19:42
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3 Answers

We do see that the Maggid entrusted R' Shneur Zalman with certain special tasks, such as the writing of an "updated" Shulchan Aruch, and the design of letterforms for STaM that would satisfy both the halachic (Beis Yosef) and kabbalistic (Arizal) opinions. The Maggid also gave him the title of "our Rav." As far as I know, these facts are not in dispute, not even by secular historians such as Dubnow (who may indeed be looking only at superficial facts such as ages in considering who's a "primary student").

On the other hand, that doesn't invalidate the other branches of Chassidus and their connection to the Maggid (or to the Baal Shem Tov); G-d forbid that we compare any of them to Yishmael! Rather we might compare this to the different sons of Yaakov, all of who were tzaddikim and each of who contributes something unique to the Jewish People - yet Yosef was the favored son (and indeed, according to Kabbalah, is something of a "bridge" between the Avos and the rest of us).

It's also worth pointing out that at the beginning, R' Shneur Zalman most certainly didn't view himself as the successor of the Maggid. At first he was a chassid of R' Avraham HaMalach (the Maggid's son), then, after the latter's passing, of R' Mendel Horodoker (Vitebsker), who I believe was the Maggid's oldest disciple; he also considered other elder students, such as R' Yissachar the Maggid of Lubavitch, as his mentors (indeed, R' Yissachar had been his own teacher for a few years, back before R' Shneur Zalman had even been introduced to Chassidus). It was only later on that he consented to accept any kind of leading position (primarily after R' Mendel's passing in 1788).

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from my answer it appears that the Alter Rebbe had a position of leadership (although apparently not as a Rebbe) from as early as 1773. –  Menachem Jun 14 '11 at 21:19
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From a letter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, published in HaTamim, a publication for the students in Yeshivat Tomchei Temimim, and translated into English in a book called "Branches of the Chassidic Menorah":

For this purpose, they decided to appoint an Executive Committee and a General Coordinator. He would be empowered to speak in the name of the holy Reb Avraham and the entire Holy Society, and to act on his own when issuing - to the various centers - any instructions he deemed advisable.

At its next general meeting, the Holy Society elected the Alter Rebbe as their General Coordinator and spokesman. He was empowered to set the general agenda for the work of the various centers, and for the campaign throughout the country. From time to time, he was also to visit the places where the Maggid's disciples lived.

For about three years - from 5533 to 5536 [1773-76] - the Alter Rebbe was busy traveling to various places to investigate the condition of the Maggid's disciples, and the work they were doing in the various centers, to insure that it followed the agenda set by the Executive Committee. Some of these trips were made openly, and some were in secret.

and

In the year 5536 [1776] all of the Maggid's disciples met at a general convention. It was then decided that:

  1. Reb Menachem Mendel of Horodok would move to the Holy Land;

  2. the Alter Rebbe would be the leader of all the chassidim in Lita;

  3. the Alter Rebbe would be the General Coordinator.

Do other branches of chassidim have a different version of the events?

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The Alter Rebbe was the primary student of the Maggid who was the primary student of the Baal Shem Tov.

The Baal Shem Tov directly imparted his teachings to his students, some of whom founded their own respective Hasidic dynasties. These students include:

Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polonne (1710–1784)

Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf Kitzes of Medzhybizh (~1685-1788)

Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov (1721–1786)

Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (1704–1772) traced to King David by way of Rabbi Yohanan, the sandle-maker and master in the Talmud

Rabbi Pinchas of Korets (1728–1790)

Rabbi Nachum Twerski of Chernobyl (1730–1797) founder of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty.

Rabbi Leib of Shpola (1725–1812)

Rabbi Avraham Gershon of Kitov, brother-in-law of The Baal Shem Tov (1701–1761); descendant (possibly the grandson) of Shabbatai ha-Kohen (“the ShACh”) (1625–1663).

Rabbi Meir Margolius of Ostroha

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov/Ephrayim of Sudylkov (his grandson)

Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh {his grandson}

Rabbi Meir Hagadol of Premishlan (1703-1773)

Rabbi Tzaddik Yingüla of Kadzichistan (1701-1717)

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@Gershon, I am not sure you read my question carefully –  Desert Star Feb 11 '11 at 14:09
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Thanks for mentioning R' Meir of Premishlan; I'm told he's an ancestor of mine! –  Shalom Feb 11 '11 at 15:11
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See Simon Dubnow's authoritative article in "Essential Papers on Hasidism: Origins to Present" NYU Press 1991 (Chapter 3) where he makes it clear that the Alter Rebbe was the youngest of the Maggid's group of many students, with no indication that he was the "primary student". And furthermore, the greatest disciple of the Besht was Yaakov Yosef HaCohen -- the Maggid only became close to him in his final years, but was ultimately a popular successor when the Besht died and his son was unable to take over for him. –  Curiouser Feb 11 '11 at 16:28
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