What is Chitas
/khi-tas (Ashkenazic)/ khitat (Sefardic)/
(pronounced chee-tass; the “ch” sound is guttural, as in the Yiddish chutzpah)
1. a Hebrew acronym formed by the three letters ches (ח), tav (ת), tav (ת), the initials of Chumash (the Five Books of Moses), Tehillim (book of Psalms), and Tanya (the “bible” of Chabad Chassidic thought authored by the first Rebbe of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.)
To understand the Ashkenazic pronunciation of Chitas, despite the “T” of Tanya, see scriptural reference quoted below, entry 4.
2. the daily study cycles of the three books.
3. a single volume entitled Sefer Chitas but commonly called “a Chitas,” which contains the Five Books of Moses, Psalms, and Tanya in that precise order. A Chitas often includes a supplemental Siddur Tehillas/t Hashem prayer book and HaYom Yom, a calendar with daily insights and Chabad customs.
4. fear (Heb., literal translation), as in the verse, va-yehi chitas Elokim al he-arim, “And the fear of Hashem was upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue Yaakov’s sons” (Bereishis 32:5).
For more on Chumash Study Click Here
For more on the reciting of Tehillim Click Here
For more on Tanya Study Click Here
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The Chitas Initiative
3 Books in 3 Stages
It can be said that the development of Chitas is as long as the history of Chabad itself, stretching from its first Rebbe, the Ba’al HaTanya (1745-1812), all the way to its seventh leader – our Rebbe.
Not long after Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi published his book of Tanya, did his followers adopt the practice of studying one of its illuminative chapters each week, and many Chassidim studied a chapter a day, as a means of readying themselves for sincere service of the heart – the legendary contemplative morning prayers for which Chassidim are famed.
In his wonderfully descriptive style, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-1950), portrays the centuries-old commitment to studying a daily portion of Tanya and the spiritual rewards it conveys:
The book of Tanya is the Written Torah of Chassidic thought … The early Chassidim would read from it every week, every day of the week, one chapter, as if they were reading a portion of the Torah … The book of Tanya removes all spiritual calamities, removes all challenges and concealments; it transforms a curse into a blessing. With it the Jews will greet Moshiach. A chapter of Tanya brings an abundance of blessings and success.
Igros Kodesh Rayatz, vol. 4, p. 269
Nevertheless, this practice did not involve a specific division or study cycle of Tanya for the purpose of daily study. Most critically, this was an informal custom of Chassidim, not the formal enactment of a Rebbe.
Stage One: Chumash
By contrast, the concept of studying the daily portion of Chumash – in tandem with the Torah reading of each Shabbos – along with its corresponding commentary of Rashi, was indeed introduced to Chabad Chasidim by the Ba’al HaTanya (the “Alter Rebbe”) himself:
Chabad Chassidim have a tradition that was passed down the generations and was originally instituted by the Alter Rebbe, to study a daily portion of the weekly sedra (Torah portion) of Chumash with Rashi. This was also done by the [Chabad] Rebbes.
HaYom Yom, entry for Teves 19
In 1890, the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, explained that the intention of the Ba’al HaTanya in introducing a daily Chumash-and-Rashi study was far more than a dry intellectual exercise:
In the early years of his leadership, the Alter Rebbe declared publicly, “One must live with the times.” From his brother, Rabbi Yehudah Leib, the elder Chassidim learned that the Rebbe meant that one must live with the sedra (Torah portion) of the week and the particular portion of the day. One should not merely study the weekly portion each day, but live with it.
HaYom Yom, entry for Cheshvan
Thus the daily Chumash study – the first of the three study cycles contained in Chitas – was established by the founder of Chabad Chassidism soon after the birth of the movement.
Stage Two: Tehillim
It was not until approximately a century and a half later that the second stage of Chitas was born. That occurred in the midst of a perilous period for Chabad and indeed, for much of Jewry. The Soviet establishment launched an oppressive campaign in all the territories under its vast dominion with the design of suffocating every last vestige of the Jewish soul – Torah education, belief in G-d, and the practical observance of the mitzvos. Despite the far reach of their secret police and the sheer terror of their ruthless methods, the Communists discovered that a lone citizen was successful in consistently and methodically unwinding their evil designs on a massive scale.
That man was Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, who formed and personally directed a breathtaking labyrinth of underground Torah schools, synagogues, mikvehs, and the like. He sent overt and covert emissaries, teachers and instructors who were willing to risk their lives to keep the flame of Torah and mitzvos alight in every region of the USSR. He also founded branches of his Torah schools outside the USSR, in Poland, Uzbekistan and in America.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was hounded mercilessly by the Soviets, but he ignored their intimidation. In 5687 (1926), however, he sensed that the enemy was poised to strike a deadly blow. In response, he requested that the book of Tehillim as it is divided into daily portions to be completed in the course of a month, be recited in all synagogues.
Listen, Chassidim, and all Jews who await the coming of Moshiach! Repeat in my name to all Chassidim in the world that I have instructed them to recite a portion of Tehillim as divided by the days of the month in all Chassidic synagogues after morning prayers each day, including Shabbos.
Excerpt of 1927 handwritten directive discovered on his desk on the day of his arrest.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok was arrested and suffered a brutal incarceration. The Soviets swiftly sentenced the Rebbe to death – a decree that was miraculously reversed, with the help of enormous international outcry. So complete was the reversal that the Soviets were subsequently compelled to escort Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok with his family and his possessions out of the USSR’s iron borders to freedom.
An account by the Rebbe’s close confidant and devoted follower, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Althaus, immortalizes Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok’s reflection on the effectiveness of reciting the daily Tehillim:
These were his exact words: “Before 5687 (1927) I was greatly afraid. I did not speculate what my own fate would be, for I never imagined what I would have to endure. Rather, my fear was for the Chassidim. Before I instructed them to begin saying Tehillim, it was really difficult for me.”
Excerpt of a letter from Rabbi Althaus to his fellow Chassidim
After the Rebbe’s release from prison, this instruction to recite Tehillim was not reversed. In fact, the Rebbe directed that it be spread to all Jewry to their lasting benefit and protection.
Stage Three: Tanya
Sixteen years and another continent later, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok – then living in New York – completed the arduous task of apportioning the Tanya so that it could be studied in an annual cycle. This occurred in 1943, just seven years prior to his passing and the transfer of leadership to his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson – the seventh Chabad Rebbe.
This division of Tanya was undertaken in concert with a unique project with which Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok charged his son-in-law: the creation of a booklet entitled HaYom Yom – a spiritual calendar for Chabad Chassidim that would record various Chabad customs, teachings, and anecdotes – one per day.
Most critically, the calendar created by the seventh Chabad Rebbe would introduce the Chassidim to a newly-minted enactment – the institution of the daily Chitas:
You should specifically include a set schedule of daily study that is appropriate for every person – in addition to the Torah study that each person pursues according to their individual ability – that includes: 1. Chumash with Rashi’s explanation. 2. Tehillim, after morning prayers, as it is divided according to the days of the month. 3. A lesson in Tanya, as I have divided it according to the days of the year.
Igros Kodesh Rayatz, vol. 7 p. 30
Accordingly, the HaYom Yom calendar begins each day’s entry by listing the precise portions of Chumash, Tehillim, and Tanya to be recited and studied that day.
Chitas was not simply a suggestion. It was a takanah – an enactment of a Rebbe. Indeed, the Rebbe referred to Chitas as such repeatedly throughout his many decades of voluminous correspondence with individuals and communities around the globe and across the colorful spectrum of Jewish affiliation and observance. He called upon Jews everywhere to take up the study from which they would benefit tremendously in spirit and in the concrete needs of their material lives.