Title: Early Years: The Formative Years of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, As Told by Documents and Archival Data, 1902-1929
Authors: Boruch Oberlander and Elkanah Shmotkin
Our Sages inform us that seeing is much more significant than hearing. Or, as we would say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
In recent years we have seen half-a-dozen English-language biographies of the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), attesting to his continued influence on world Jewry. The Rebbe’s multi-dimensional life certainly makes for fascinating reading. He was a scion of the Schneerson rabbinic dynasty, son of an important Russian rabbi, and as a young man married his distant cousin, Moussia Schneersohn, daughter of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn (1880-1950). After his marriage, however, his life story shifts from the expected path of a chassidic scion. Instead of remaining in the Lubavitch court, he left for West Europe and attended various universities, imbibing Western culture and education.
What makes this newest biography of the Rebbe – Early Years: The Formative Years of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, As Told by Documents and Archival Data, 1902-1929 – so exceptional is the tremendous amount of documentation it features. Included are a wealth of pictures, maps, charts, and documents related to the Rebbe’s parents, birth, childhood, and early meetings with his future father-in-law, culminating in the historic Warsaw wedding in 1929 where the two branches of the Schneersohn dynasty united. The book, the product of years of research, is truly sui generis.
Early Years uncovers many new facts about the Rebbe. We learn, for example, that his paternal uncle rabbi Shmuel Schneerson awarded his nephew rabbinic ordination; that the Rebbe had a Litvishe Talmudic tutor, Rabbi Isser Dribin, in his teenage years; and that he served as a synagogue rabbi in his hometown of Dnepropetrovsk prior to his marriage. Especially interesting are the accounts of the young scholar’s relationships with various gedolei Yisroel like Rabbi Yakov Yechiel Weinberg of Berlin, Rabbi Yosef Rosen of Dvinsk, and Rabbi Meshulom Kaminer a brother-in-law of the Gerer Rebbe.
The bulk of the documents in the book originated from the library of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and its chief librarian, Rabbi Berel Levine, deserves much credit for his work in unearthing them and presenting them for public review. Also deserving of much credit is the lead author, Rabbi Oberlander, a serious Talmudic scholar and historian who has published much in the fields of Jewish History, Chasidic Thought, and Jewish Law. He presently serves as an Orthodox rabbi in Budapest, where he is the chief Chabad representative.
The volume is printed on fine paper, well-laid out and easy to use, with full indexes.
It also includes a glossary and family tree. It is designed to interest both the scholar and the lay person.
Early Years is a major contribution to the study of the Rebbe’s early life. Reading this volume and reviewing the accompanying documentation is a serious educational experience. As someone who has had an interest in the Rebbe’s life and Lubavitch for many years, I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to understand and appreciate present-day Chabad chassidim.