Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pini Dunner -- Unknown Picture of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, c.1930s

Pini Dunner B.A (Hons), formerly rabbi of London's Saatchi Synagogue, is an avid collector of polemical and controversial Hebraica, with a very large, diverse private collection of such material. Many items in his collection are unknown and unrecorded, and relate to long forgotten, obscure controversies.

This is Pini Dunner’s second post at the Seforim blog; his first post, “Mercaz Agudat Ha-Rabbanim Be-Lita, Kovno, 1931,” is available here.
Photographs of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson z"l, are numerous and ubiquitous. Jews from every area of Jewish life across the globe are familiar with his striking features, his charismatic gaze. Almost all such pictures, however, date from his arrival in the USA in the early 1940s, and particularly from after he became Rebbe in 1951, by which time he was almost 50 years old. Pictures from before he became rebbe, and particularly from his time in Europe, are so scarce that they can be counted on the fingers of one, perhaps two, hands.

I am an avid collector of photographs of rabbis and rebbes, and have built up a large collection of rare photographs of pre-war rabbinic greats. In the course of my internet searches and purchases I have made the acquaintance of several other collectors, and we derive pleasure from sharing photographic images from our respective collections by emailing each other scans. Last week, a non-Jewish web acquaintance of mine emailed me a number of scans, among which was this one that he titled 'unidentified rabbi'. It was apparently taken in Marienbad in the late 1930s. It is unmistakably a photograph – hitherto unknown, as far as I know – of the late Rebbe in the period when he was simply known as the second son-in-law of the then Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson z"l.

In relation to this period may I add that when, in 1997, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch published Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, Larger Than Life: The Life and Times of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (New York: Chasidic Historical Productions, 1997), his unauthorized biography of the late Rebbe, I managed to obtain a copy of both volumes (even then it was hard to obtain; now it is out-of-print and extremely rare). I noticed that a large part of Volume 2 described the Rebbe's early 1930s era in Berlin, including his regular visits to the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary (Orthodox). When I next visited my late grandfather, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dunner z"l (his first yahrzeit is this Erev Pesach), who, at his passing in 2007, was the final surviving musmakh of the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary – see here for an obituary post at the Seforim blog – I asked him if he remembered the Rebbe from his time in Berlin (1932-36). He smiled and said he remembered him well – he was the rather modern-dressed young man with the neatly trimmed beard who stood at the back of the shiur room and who would talk in learning after almost every shiur with Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z"l. My father was sitting with us when I discussed this with my grandfather and, quite surprised, he demanded to know why his father had never previously shared the fact that he had spent time with the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Berlin.

Without missing a beat my grandfather replied: 'because no one ever asked me before'!

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