I came across a free sample edition of the new, beautifully produced and bilingual (Hebrew/English) “Treasures of the Chabad Library” (the full edition is available here for the discounted price of $42.46), although I had a brief look at the book itself when it first came out on Hei Teves, I had not yet had a chance to check out the contents properly.
Of course, we must thank Rabbi Berel Levin, an archivist and historian par-excellence, both for his outstanding authorship of this monumental work and for making this sample available to the public. As an aside, I would like to point out that Rabbi Levin deserves recognition far beyond any that he has received. Apart from his highly acclaimed footnotes to the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aurach and various other bibliographical, Halachic and historical works, he constantly endeavors to provide top quality information and materials to the public free of charge (see here), and I believe that we owe much of what is available on hebrewbooks.org to his collaboration with the hebrewbooks.org team.
The volume is a large coffee-table size, printed on good-quality glossy paper and illustrated throughout with beautiful photographs and facsimiles. The introduction constitutes a general description of the Library, detailing the history of its various collections over the past 200 years. A large part of the original Library was repossessed when the Communists came to power in Russia, and languishes to this day in the Moscow archives. Although the iron-curtain has long since been torn down the Seforim of “The Lubavitch Collection” have yet to cross the divide. The various other collections have suffered similar tribulations, cumulating in the famous “Hey-Teves” victory which confirmed the Library as the collective property of Chabad Chassidim. In recent years the Library’s collections have been expanded, a reading room has been opened for researchers and an exhibition has been opened to the public.
The Library Exhibition
The rest of the book is split into various sections with such titles as “Rabbis and the Rabbinate” (which details among other things, aspects of the History of Rabbi Yaakov Ibn Tzur [Yaabetz] Rabbi of Fez and Mekenes, and the correspondence of Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, Rabbi of Kovno, Lithuania), “Books and Publishing” (including three letters of Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim), “Rare Manuscripts” (including some containing the original handwriting of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero [the RaMaK], the Alter Rebbe, and others containing the Torah insights of Rabbi Yehonason Eibeschutz and Rabbi Akiva Aiger), “Portraits and Photographs” (including portraits of Rabbi Yosef Hatzadik, Son-in-Law of the Nodeh BiYehudah and the Rabbi of Pozen, and Rabbi Akiva Aiger), “Sacred and Historic Objects”, “Engagements and Marriage”, the list goes on…
A manuscript volume containing a commentary on the Zohar by the RaMaK. Attached to the cover is a cutting from the catalog of the dealer who sold the volume to the Rebbe Rashab, on the right side of the cutting the Rebbe Rashab has written in his own hand, “The commentary is from the RaMak of blessed memory, and it seems to be a shorter version of his great work [entitled] Ohr Yakor, and regarding this [the authorship of the manuscript] the author of the catalog erred in his estimations.”
Rabbi Levin and the team at Kehot Publishing have managed to strike a perfect balance, producing a work both popular and scholarly. They have achieved this by limiting the English section to a briefer and more general description of each manuscript, artifact or document, leaving the scholarly minutiae to the Hebrew section. Similarly, the many photographs and facsimiles are featured more prominently and more numerously in the Hebrew section, while the English section acts as a kind of general guide both to the items exhibited and to the scholarly insights provided in the Hebrew section.
Obviously, I can hardly expect to do justice to the comprehensive and well documented history, which Rabbi Levin has succinctly compiles in his seven page introduction and certainly not to the entirety of this wonderfully informative and wide-ranging work. Rabbi Levin’s expert scholarship and discerning judgment, not only in matters of Chabad History but also in matters of general Jewish scholarship, is clearly evident throughout and there are so many items of special interest that I am obliged to advise my readership that they must peruse this highly recommended volume at their own leisure.