An Invitation to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Wedding

This watershed event would pave the way for the groom to become one of the most important figures in 20th century Judaism. An invitation to the wedding was recently discovered in the National Library archives.


The invitation to the wedding of Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Chaya Mushka Schneerson, written by the father of the bride, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Fom the Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn archive at the National Library of Israel.

On the fourteenth of Kislev 5689 (November 27, 1928), following an uncommonly long engagement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Chaya Mushka Schneerson were married at the Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva in Warsaw. The groom was then a student at the University of Berlin. The bride lived with her parents in Riga. Her father, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, had been persecuted by the Soviet authorities for his religious activities and, following his recent release from prison, fled the Soviet Union, never to return.

The wedding would become a watershed event in 20th century Jewish history, paving the way for the groom to eventually succeed Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak as Chabad’s leader. Over the course of nearly half a century, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, or simply “The Rebbe”, would turn the Chabad Movement into a household name, with educational and outreach activities across the globe.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson officiating at a kiddushin ceremony, New York, 1951.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson officiating at a kiddushin ceremony, New York, 1951.

Nonetheless, “At this early date, it wasn’t at all clear that Rabbi Menachem Mendel would eventually succeed his father-in-law as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In hindsight, we see that not only did he become the rabbi of Lubavitch Hasidism, but without a doubt one of the most famous Hasidic and even Jewish figures, known throughout the entire world,” says Rabbi Dr. Zvi Leshem, head of the National Library of Israel’s Gershom Scholem Collection for Research in Kabbalah and Hasidism.

The site of the wedding reflected the times. Despite the fact that neither the bride nor the groom had any particular attachment to Warsaw, it provided a relatively central and prominent location not under Soviet rule to celebrate the marriage of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s daughter to a celebrated Torah scholar.

Menachem Mendel Schneerson - the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Brooklyn, New York, May 1987, by Mordecai Baron.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson – the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Brooklyn, New York, May 1987, by Mordecai Baron.

According to Leshem, “In the 1920s, under the growing anti-Semitism and anti-religious persecution of the Soviet regime, Hasidim, of which Lubavitch was a major group, found themselves under increased persecution. As it became increasingly difficult to have a Jewish lifestyle under these conditions, some Hasidim emigrated to the West or to Palestine and those who stayed were forced underground. Obviously in such a situation, the eventuality that families would be separated became quite common.”

While the crowd at the wedding included many notable rabbis and communal figures, two guests of honor were conspicuously absent – Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s own parents, who were prohibited by the Soviet authorities from attending. The hope that they might ultimately be able to come has been suggested as a potential cause for the couple’s extended engagement. Stuck in Yekatrinoslav, Ukraine, the groom’s parents famously insisted on holding a celebration for hundreds of guests at their home.

The invitation to the wedding of Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Chaya Mushka Schneerson, written by the father of the bride, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Fom the Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn archive at the National Library of Israel.
The invitation to the wedding of Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Chaya Mushka Schneerson, written by the father of the bride, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Fom the Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn archive at the National Library of Israel.

Many others could not attend, and so a few slightly different versions of the invitation were prepared, including one for invitees who could not physically attend the wedding, but who were nonetheless invited to celebrate from afar.

One such invitation has recently been discovered in the archive of Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, a cousin who had moved to Palestine at a young age. He became active in the legendary “NILI” underground organization, serving as a liaison between its operatives and British intelligence during World War I. According to his own account, he even coined the name “NILI”.  Following the war, he reported on Arab affairs throughout what is today Israel, Jordan, and Syria. A prolific writer all of his life, Levi Yitzchak composed poetry (largely in Russian), and published two books: an autobiography detailing his time in the NILI underground, and an early history of the city of Hadera.

Both Levi Yitzhak and Rabbi Menachem Mendel were born in Russia, descendants of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who founded Chabad in the 18th century. Besides that, their stories seem to share very little in common: one, a relatively unknown Zionist activist and writer; the other, one of the most important figures in modern Jewish history.

Nonetheless, given the emphasis “The Rebbe” placed on connecting all Jews despite their differences, it seems somewhat fitting that just prior to the 25th anniversary of his death, rare evidence of a seminal event in his life has appeared among the personal papers of an Israeli cousin who lived a life so different than his own.

The Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn archive has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of the Leir Foundation.

Thank you to Rabbi Dr. Zvi Leshem and Ivgi Slutzk for their assistance in preparing this article.

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Are King Solomon’s Magical Powers Concealed Inside This Book?

These methods will help you discover if you are in possession of an ancient book containing mystical powers, or perhaps not

“The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon,” an 18th-century manuscript that remarkably claims to be a work by King Solomon

Pseudepigraphy is not a Jewish invention, but resonances of this form of writing, which attributes later works to familiar and important historical figures, can be found already in the Bible.

It is not difficult to imagine the reason that prompted many later authors to omit their own names from various exquisite manuscripts created over the centuries. Why would scholars and mystics from a society that sanctifies traditions thousands of years old be interested in the writings and prophecies of unknown persons, when they might pay good money to purchase a work that was only recently “discovered” and contains the words of such luminaries as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (author of the Zohar), the Abraham the Patriarch (Sefer Yetzirah [“Book of Creation”]), or even the musings of Adam himself (The Book of the Angel Raziel).

For centuries, readers have had to decide whether to accept or reject the claim of authorship of a particular work ascribed to a great figure, relying primarily on their gut feeling. Today, with advances in historical research, a researcher wishing to date a suspicious work claiming ancient authorship often uses one of the four following questions to get at the truth.

First, what is the earliest mention of the work under investigation? It may not necessarily be the work itself, but its citings in other sources. The more removed this reference is from the period it is attributed to, the less likely it was composed then. It is rare that a work written by an important figure disappears without leaving any trace, and rarer still that it “suddenly” appears, hundreds or even thousands of years after the death of its author.

Second, what is the language of the work and is it compatible with what we know about the language spoken by the author it is attributed to? It is not enough to know, for example, that Aramaic was the language spoken by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in order to conclude that he was the author of the Zohar (the primary text of Kabbalistic tradition). While the Zohar was indeed written in Aramaic, this ancient language has a range of different dialects, each attributed to a different period.

Third, what is the story surrounding the circumstances of the writing and discovery of the work, and does this story make sense to us today? Needless to say, dream revelations or transmissions through supernatural means are incidents that historical researchers find difficult to accept today.

And the last and most important question of all – Is the content of the work compatible with what we know about the period in which it is claimed to have been written?

Now that we have laid out the research framework, let’s apply it using this suspicious manuscript—an eighteenth-century copy of a mysterious work known as “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon.

This manuscript purports to be a magical work describing various ways to enlist the powers of supernatural beings—angels, demons, and other higher spirits. The copy we will consider is preserved in the National Library collections.

Mysterious symbols for Monday with the names of the relevant angels, from “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon”
Mysterious symbols for Monday with the names of the relevant angels, from “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon”

The Secrets of Rabbi Solomon


The angel Anael, “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon

Earliest reference: Locating the earliest reference of a work is almost always the most complicated task, and this was no exception. The Hellenistic Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, was apparently the first to link the figure of King Solomon to his with magical practices. Josephus writes in his book Antiquities of the Jews that the heir to the throne of King David authored more than three thousand books, including several that dealt with the exorcism of demons.  It is possible that here Josephus is relying on works of magic that were widespread in the ancient world and were attributed to King Solomon.

However, the earliest mention of the particular work before us is not found in antiquity and certainly not in the biblical period. It can be traced back to thirteenth-century Europe. The example in the National Library is a copy of a text found in a notebook belonging to the estate of Ebenezer Sibley, the renowned eighteenth-century naturalist, who also dealt with “deeper truths”—meaning the occult.

Portrait of Ebenezer Sibley. Artist unknown, source: Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology, 1826

The language of the work: There is a clearer hint here. The manuscript in the National Library is written primarily in English—a language that did not exist at the time of Solomon. In the introduction to the work, Sibley claims that the book was first written in Hebrew, translated into old French and from there into English. Study of older manuscripts of “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon contradicts this claim, proving that the original language of the work was Latin. Could a biblical figure who lived in the tenth century BCE, even the wisest among them, have been fluent in Latin? Common sense says no. However, this particular individual was also said to be capable of conversing with animals, so who knows?

In contrast to earlier versions of “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon,” this later version is characterized by clear language and simple instructions for the user

Wednesday, under the sign of Mercury, from “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon

The story behind the work: Contrary to the norm with a work that is “discovered” after thousands of years of being lost, the copy in the National Library does not boast an origin story about the treatise or its later discovery. To better understand the background story, we will have to look at other, earlier manuscripts of the work.

Many of them contain different versions of the story, but if we remove all of the various embellishments we arrive at the heart of the matter: Towards the end of his life, Solomon compiled a book for his son Rehoboam (some versions claim the work was a joint collaboration). The magical book by Solomon was buried with him and a version of it was discovered a thousand years later. The attempt to decipher the work frustrated those involved and they turned to divine help, which appeared in the form of an angel. The angel agreed to interpret the text, provided that the interpretation did not fall into the hands of unworthy readers, who were either wicked or lacking in their faith.

As mentioned, this story does not appear anywhere in the Library’s copy of “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon” and was apparently omitted from all the later versions of the work.

Summoning demons and spirits - “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon”
Summoning demons and spirits – “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon”

The content: It seems that herein lies the answer that may undermine the belief of those who are convinced of the work’s authenticity. Simply stated, this hundreds-of-pages-long book is a magical manual that provides clear and simple ways to summon spirits and make them fulfill the wishes of the conjurer. The mystical summoning of souls occurs in a number of ways, with the main one being the use of spells and incantations, and the drawing of various mystical symbols such as the pentacle. There is also the possibility of turning to various mythological creatures such as nymphs and satyrs or conversing with spirits face to face (which very few can do).

“The Grand Pentacle of Solomon,” from “The Key of Magic of Rabbi Solomon

This abundance of creatures, powers and symbols points toward the varied sources from which the author of the work drew his inspiration. Alongside the biblical figures—angels or human—are creatures from Greek and Roman mythology, in combination with crosses and other Christian symbols. In addition to all this are the names of many superhuman beings that have no parallel anywhere other than in this work.

How could King Solomon be aware of all these mystical and mythological symbols, most of which did not exist in his time? The answer to this question is not to be found in any copy of this work, however ancient and “authentic” it purports to be.

This article was written with the help of Gal Sofer and Dr. Yoel Finkelman.


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How to Buy a Jewish Manuscript in Four (Not So) Easy Steps

This story of the purchase of this Spanish Kabbalistic manuscript encapsulates much of the work done here at the National Library.


The manuscript in question

Dr. Yoel Finkelman, the curator of the Library’s Judaica Collection, reveals the four steps that are taken before deciding to add (or not to add) a new item to the Library’s collections.

Some time ago, an individual in the Hebrew book trade approached a worker in the National Library with a manuscript of Jewish interest that had been put up for sale. Today, that very manuscript sits among the many treasures of the Library, so that researchers and future generations might benefit from its preservation. Manuscripts appear for sale constantly, and despite a desire to do so, we cannot purchase everything. Given that budgets are limited, how did we arrive at a decision to purchase it and why did we make that decision?

We knew from the seller that the manuscript was written in Spanish in the late sixteenth or in the early seventeenth century and that it deals with Kabbalistic issues, particularly transmigration of souls and reincarnation. This already sparked our interest. The Spanish-language suggested a community not fluent in the Hebrew or Aramaic of standard Kabbalistic texts, and pointed broadly in the direction of Spanish exiles and crypto-Jews, perhaps in Italy or Amsterdam. But, the seller himself knew almost nothing else. Fortunately, he agreed to allow us to hold onto the manuscript temporarily while we looked into it.

Step one: determining the condition of the manuscript

The manuscript was not in good shape. The binding was torn, at least one entire quire (kuntres, in Hebrew) was missing from the beginning and end, many individual pages were torn, and there were a handful of wormholes and stains here and there. This required a trip to the National Library’s restoration lab, where the staff of book restorers examined the document closely.

Yes, the binding needs work, as do many pages, but the most serious problem was the feared fungus growing on several pages near the binding. Clearly, the book had gotten moist at some point or had been stored in damp surroundings, and fungi on books and manuscripts cannot be killed. At most, they can be cleaned before the books are stored in conditions where the fungi will not develop further (or infect other books). Still, we were told, if the manuscript is important enough, we can handle it.

We needed an expert’s advice, someone with a deep knowledge of the Spanish-speaking Jewish communities after the expulsion, expertise in Kabbalah, and experience with the work of manuscript identification. A leading scholar — who spends some of his time in Spain, some in Oxford, and some in our reading room – offered to help out. Was this the work of crypto Jews still in the Spanish peninsula working in secret, or was it the work of Spanish-speaking Jews, descendants of those expelled, in Amsterdam, Italy, or even South America?

Step two: figuring out what the manuscript is

The scholar spent several hours in my office examining the handwriting, searching the paper for watermarks that might identify the time and place, and trying to understand the content. The handwriting pointed, as we suspected, to the late sixteenth century, and on-site he recognized one of the papers that had been used in the binding as a popular Spanish translation of the Bible from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. And while the content certainly seemed to be about Kabbalah and reincarnation, he could not determine what text it might be. Could it be related to the school surrounding Abraham de Herrera, a sixteenth and seventeenth century Kabbalist who wrote in Spanish for communities of anusim in Italy and Amsterdam? Hard to tell, but our expert was skeptical, based on the style and content of the book. He wanted some time to think about it and get back to us.

A few weeks later he and a friend, another scholar working in various aspects of early modern Kabbalah, arrived in my office with computers in hand, prepared to dedicate several hours to solving the mystery. The second scholar concurred that the physical evidence of the codex pointed to what we already thought. But what, exactly, is the text, and how could we find out? Is it an original work or a translation, and if a translation, of what? If original, by whom, and with whom did he study Kabbalah and learn? Who is the intended audience?

They found a few dates written here and there, which helped confirm the 16th-17th-century range. But the work was made difficult by the fact that the opening quire was gone and there were not any clear chapter headings. They tried some educated guesswork, opening several fifteenth and sixteenth-century Kabbalistic texts and trying to find parallels here and there, but without success. Finally, we were able to find a foothold: a handful of places in the manuscript where the scribe had written some words in Hebrew, even a quote or two from a biblical verse. Let’s find digital copies of contemporaneous Kabbalistic texts, they suggested, and search for those particular words in Hebrew. After half an hour of trial and error, they hit a jackpot. Those same Hebrew words appeared in R. Hayyim Vital’s Sha’ar Hagilgulim. Within minutes it was clear, this text, or at least much of it, contains, among other things, a Spanish translation of parts of Vital’s major work on reincarnation.


A peek inside the manuscript

Step three: determining the importance of the manuscript

The discovery of the nature of much of the work was critical, but how important is this translation? Certainly, the two scholars said, this translation is interesting, but only a full-fledged study of the manuscript could fully determine its significance in the history of Kabbalah. Is it worth performing such a study? Absolutely, they said, and therefore the manuscript could make an important contribution to the National Library’s collection.

Just to be sure, though, we turned to one other leading scholar of Kabbalah and asked his opinion. He looked at photos of about ten pages of the document, and I met with him to discuss it. He concurred with what the other scholars had said but added something else significant. He felt certain that it is not connected to Herrera, in which case it might be even more interesting than we thought since it could point to students of Kabbalah that we do not yet know of. (In passing, he mentioned two other Kabbalistic manuscripts in his possession, which he lent us to digitize for the Library’s collection, including a translation of the same Sha’ar Hagilgulim into Romanian.)

Step four: provenance and haggling over the price

The person who brought the manuscript to the Library suggested a particular price. It struck us as a bit high, particularly given the bad physical state of the manuscript and the necessity to invest funds in repairing it. More than that, our manuscript budget remains limited. We turned to the middleman with two important issues. First, we wanted to contact the owner directly and speak to him about the provenance (origin) of the manuscript. How did he come to own it, how long has he owned it, and why is he selling it? We needed to receive written guarantees that the manuscript belonged to him and that we were not dealing in goods that might be stolen. Second, we indicated that we simply could not afford the asking price. After several rounds back and forth, we reached an agreement much closer to what we wanted to pay, and a contract was signed.

After the purchase was completed, the manuscript underwent a thorough process of disinfection, in order to kill any bookworms or other lifeforms that might have been living in its pages. Then, the restoration lab did whatever was necessary to fix the binding and the torn pages and to clean as much of the fungus is possible. A unique box was constructed to protect the manuscript, and it has now been photographed in high-quality so that scholars can work on it without damaging the manuscript or risking the spread of the fungi to other books. You can view the manuscript here.

If you know a Spanish-speaking Kabbalah-scholar or graduate student looking for a challenging research project, put them in touch with us.


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When the Child Prisoners of Cyprus Dreamt of Israel

Stone carvings, made by Jewish children in detention camps on Cyprus, depict their longing to finally reach the Land of Israel


As waves of refugees from World War II made their way to the Land of Israel, the British were forced to find a solution for the influx of immigrants. The detention camp in Atlit was filled to capacity. As a result, additional camps were built in Cyprus, also under British control at the time, in 1946 and 1949. There, tens of thousands of Jews awaited government approval to enter the Land of Israel. A dream, which would eventually come true.

The British understood that they could not treat the Jewish refugees as ordinary prisoners and, therefore, allowed the detainees a certain level of autonomy. With the help of large donations from the Land of Israel and Jews across the world, the Jewish leaders in the camps tried to create a semblance of normal life for the refugees. Part of setting up this new order was the creation of jobs and societal roles within the camps.

An image of an illegal immigrant ship made by a child in the camp
An image of an illegal immigrant ship made by a child in the camp


Within the confines of the barbed-wire fences, cultural, welfare, educational and religious activities were established and organized in an attempt to recreate routine, daily life. Naturally, nurturing the children of the camp was at the center of community priorities and values.


A map of Israel engraved in stone. The opposite side shows an engraving of the name Haim Itzkovich, who was in the fifth grade.
A map of Israel engraved in stone. The opposite side shows an engraving of the name Haim Itzkovich, who was in the fifth grade.


An expression of what life was like in the camp for the children which also tells us something about their mindset, can be seen in an unusual collection preserved at the National Library. There was no shortage of stone available in the Cyprus camps, and it was soon utilized in the children’s educational frameworks, which included the art of stone carving.


Inkwell with the words "Cyprus 1948" and the initials of the carver, S.L (ס.ל.).
Inkwell with the words “Cyprus 1948” and the initials of the carver, S.L (ס.ל.).

What did they choose to carve?

Perhaps the obvious choice. The children carved images of the ships that were supposed to bring them to Israel- and one day they would. They also carved maps of the Land of Israel in to the stones, anything that might serve as a reminder that the detention camps in which they were imprisoned were not their home, but a temporary station where they awaited the opportunity to reach the Promised Land.


A stone carving by fifth-grader, Dov Feldman, who also added the inscription "Long Live the People of Israel"
A stone carving by fifth-grader, Dov Feldman, who also added the inscription “Long Live the People of Israel”


In many cases, the children inscribed their names and school grade on the carvings. The artists who created these works as children may very well still be with us today, living in the State of Israel.

This collection was presented by the National Library in honor of the third Global Forum of the National Library of Israel held in March of 2019 and dedicated to the subjects of “Migration-Borders-Identity”.


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