New Book Reveals Hundreds of Documents About Rebbe’s Early Life

‘Early Years’ comprises 550 pages of insight-producing documents and photographs.

Dovid Margolin,

Lubavitcher Rebbe
Lubavitcher Rebbe
Public relations

“Early Years” is a groundbreaking book that uses original documents to detail the youth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

It’s been more than 15 years since work commenced on Early Years. Written by Rabbi Boruch Oberlander and Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin—produced by Jewish Educational Media (JEM) and published by Kehot Publication Society—the result is 550 intricately footnoted pages much of it recently discovered, accompanied by striking high-resolution pictures and archival document scans, many published for the first time.

Years of painstaking research have gone into telling the story of the Rebbe’s early life—it ends just after the Rebbe’s 1928 wedding with Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson—and Early Years is representative of the dedication of a wide network of researchers to track down every available piece of paper to tell that story. It’s a search that led them to archives in Ukraine, Russia, Latvia and Germany; wild goose chases through Belarus; and a continuous game of phone tag in Israel.

Early Years is the systematic compilation and presentation of nearly every document and piece of archival data available to the authors, and while ordinarily an author leads the reader through a desired narrative, here, readers create their own.

The last few years have seen the release of a number of books on the Rebbe, most notably, Joseph Telushkin’s bestselling Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History (Harper, 2014), and My Rebbe (Maggid, 2014) by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz).

For biographical information, the authors of these and virtually every other recent study of the Rebbe’s life relied heavily upon the voluminous research conducted in preparation of Early Years, which was made accessible to them by JEM. Now, this same source information is available to all.

It is in this sense that the work is unlike a typical biography. To the extent that there is a narrative voice, it is only meant to help organize and provide context to the copious amounts of information being presented. And herein lies one of the main pleasures of reading Early Years: It offers the process of discovering the Rebbe for yourself.

“Biographies or history books, they draw a general picture and fill it in with details,” says Rabbi Shmotkin. “This book doesn’t do that. We included many, many details that another book wouldn’t have, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.”

One must carefully engage with the documents to learn how the Rebbe’s childhood and home impacted his worldview, and to see how these formative years influenced and shaped him, and, in turn, changed—and continue to change—the world. But which lessons and insights to take away and apply to day-to-day life? That’s up to the reader.

“Early Years” is available on Jemstore.com, Kehot.com, and at local bookstores throughout the United States and Israel. The original article can be viewed here.




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