With the publication of a new book, the central Chabad-Lubavitch library in New York – which maintains one of the largest collections of rare Jewish manuscripts in the world – has made it possible to, in a manner of speaking, place a piece of Jewish history on a coffee table.

Written in Hebrew and English, Treasures From the Chabad Library takes a sample of the archive’s 250,000 volumes and antiquities – some dating back to the mid-15th century – to complete 154 entries spread across 564 pages. It contains some of the center’s most-prized relics, complete with descriptions, photos and historical essays.

“This book is a compilation of 35 years of work,” says Rabbi Shalom Dovber Levine, the library’s chief librarian and author of the book. “It is a collection of our rarest and most interesting pieces.”

Released by the Kehot Publication Society, the book comes amidst a public exhibition of many of the library’s artifacts.

The collection, housed alongside Lubavitch World Headquarters in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, has its roots in the personal library of the First Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Its few hundred volumes passed down to the Second Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, who moved the collection to the town of Lubavitch, where it remained through three successive generations. At the beginning of World War II, having grown to thousands of books, manuscripts and personal letters, the bulk of the library was moved to Moscow for safekeeping by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

That collection was confiscated by Soviet authorities and is currently held in the Russian State Archives, where it is the subject of American diplomatic and legal efforts to have it restored to Chabad-Lubavitch.

A remnant of the original library, however, made it to New York, where the Sixth Rebbe and his successor, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, built it up to its current size.

Treasures From the Chabad Library, 564 pages.
Treasures From the Chabad Library, 564 pages.

Amongst the library’s oldest items is one of the first copies of the printed Talmud. Featured in Treasures, its pages were printed in Spain in the late 1400s.

Also featured in the book are a pair of black prayer boxes known as tefillin that belonged to the First Chabad Rebbe. The rare find was donated to the library by a Canadian Jew who acquired them during a 1966 trip to Russia.

According to Levine, the book does something extraordinary. It takes relics of the Jewish tradition, he said, and makes them accessible to all.

TreasureS From the Chabad Library can be purchased from the Kehot Publication Society by clicking here.