Publishing Your Voice into a Movement: Kehot Publication Society, Publisher of Chabad-Lubavitch

Opening the Tanya

By Yonatan Gordon

This may sound funny, but I most learnt what it meant to be part of a publishing house, only years after I left. For the better part of six years, I was a marketer for Kehot Publication Society. While you may not recognize the name Kehot, the name Chabad-Lubavitch may be more familiar. With over 4,000 outposts in nearly every major city throughout the world, such a distribution base is something that even Random House would find hard to emulate.

The question we want to ask ourselves is what makes the story: the books themselves, or the discussion groups that form around them? Through my experience both in and out of Kehot, it appears that the human interest element almost always wins out. But how exactly does the ability to hold 4,000 book discussion groups, become more marketable than the subject matter of the book itself?

I’ve worked in several places since Kehot, but I still feel that there something special about Kehot. The ability to put voice behind the printed word, is something that you just can’t match in any other business or profession.

Building a Publishing House

Often-times we view the challenge of a publisher as one of cohesiveness. How to take the individualized works of many highly creative authors, and weave them together to express some common theme. While each author is unique in both their writing and personality, the job of a publisher is to at least show that the final results of each, can be justifiably presented on the same showcase or catalog.

In the best case scenario, even as the publisher grows in size, the themes among the content will still appear cohesive. So for instance, while Springer has published thousands of books, somehow they all seem more-or-less related to science or professional development.

But what if we extended this desire for commonality beyond the authors and books themselves. What if we wanted to create a publishing house where the readers also feel like an integral part of the creative process? Is it possible not only to make the authors residents of the publishing “house,” but also their readership as well?

Choice of Words

It says that no two prophets use the same style, סגנון. This word is usually interpreted to mean the style or choice of the words which each prophet uses to express the same idea. It says that in the world today, no two prophets use the same style, the same signon. In fact this is a way to see if someone is a false prophet. Because if he uses the same style as another, he is false.

It may be hard to see how the signon relates to our discussion, but this is really what sets a publishing house apart from every other company out there. The unique style of each prophet is not just in the words they choose to use, but in the way they “sing” the words; the cantillation that they choose to use. When we speak about “publishing your voice,” this is really what we mean to say. It’s one thing to publish a book, but its entirely something different to get people to talk about it. So when 4,000 Chabad centers around the world, hold classes to discuss the Tanya or something else, the book “sings” when each teacher uses his or her own words and voice to convey the content. The style is not just the words they choose to use, it is the way they “sing” the words; the cantillation or ta’amim they choose to use.

Singing the Words of Torah

What I came to realize, is that while the books that Kehot publishes are unique, the marketing material should generally focus on how these books are sung. For instance, the easiest way to get people interested in the Tanya, is to show that it started the movement that we today call Chabad-Lubavitch. To say it another way, the more we see people singing the praises of the written word, the more we take notice in what was actually written to begin with.

In the Torah, Kehot, relates to Moses’ grandfather, but Kehot the publishing house stands for Karnei Hod Torah (קה”ת, the rays of the splendor of Torah). Who in the Torah merited these shining rays of Torah? Moses. Apparently he did not know that he had these rays, so we can say that he received them from his grandfather, Kehot.

What did Moses receive from his father? The sages say the first time that God called out to Moses, He said, “Moses Moses” and Moses heard God using his father Amram’s voice. A voice, like we said, is the cantillation, the ta’amim. So while the rays we get from our grandfather, the voice we get from our father.

So again, not only does the Torah need to exude rays of splendor, the voice of Torah is also essential part of the equation as well.

kehot (1)

The Story Behind the Book

Why then are we so interested in whether people are talking about the book? On the one hand, it shows that there is interest. But in a deeper sense, it also connotes a powerful lesson about the nature of the book itself. If 4,000 people around the word are able to give discussions groups, using the Tanya as their source book, this also prompts us to ask what made this book so ubiquitous to begin with?

The Jewish concept of a publishing house is more than just finding a way to string individual books together into a catalog. It’s about showing how even if 4,000 books are published, they all originate from the same “source book,” the Torah.

In this sense, authors are essentially editors, vested with their own signon to word and publicize the material as they see fit. While each of these editors sings their own tune, they each lend a vital voice to the overall symphony. In our example then, each of the 4,000 teachers that discuss the Tanya, using their own words and style, are bringing an audible voice to a written work. And the more its talk about, the more audible the melody becomes.

Excerpted and Freely Adapted from the 12 Tammuz weekly shiur in Jerusalem from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

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