A newly revealed portrait of the Tzemach Tzedek has Chabad scholars debating which of the numerous paintings published over the decades is closest to the original.
By Anash.org reporter
Photo: Kfar Chabad Magazine
A newly revealed portrait of the Tzemach Tzedek has sparked a debate between Chabad scholars as to its originality and authenticity.
The original painting of the Tzemach Tzedek was painted by a non-Jewish painter towards the end of the Tzemach Tzedek’s life. The painter came to see the Tzemach Tzedek on Shabbos, as he was saying a ma’amar dressed in his white Shabbos garments, and then went back home to paint what would be the only portrait of the third Chabad Rebbe.
In the centuries since the painter created that first portrait, various copies were made of the painting, each changing different details. The most well-known edition is the one published by Kehos in 5713, in which they corrected a number of mistakes made by the non-Jewish painter due to his unfamiliarity with halacha.
In 5751, Rabbi Sholom Ber Levine, chief librarian at the Central Chabad Library, discovered an oil painting in a home in Moscow while on a visit there trying to redeem the stolen seforim of the Rebbeim. After extensive deliberation, he determined that the picture was the original one, upon which all other paintings were based.
This week, thirty years later, another, unknown portrait of the Tzemach Tzedek was published. It was purchased by a Israeli Lubavitcher from a descendant of the Tzemach Tzedek. The family of the original owner believed that this was the original painting, painted during the Tzemach Tzedek’s life.
Rabbi Yechiel Ofener, the one who purchased the painting, wished to prove that it was the original one based on various details which he said proved its authenticity.
Rabbi Berel Levine, however, responded that there were two conclusive proofs that showed that the newly discovered painting was only made after the Tzemach Tzedek’s passing. Firstly, the caption said zecher tzadik l’vracha, and more importantly, in the actual painting itself, the sefer on the Tzemach Tzedek’s lap is titled “Tzemach Tzedek”, a name which was given to the Rebbe’s seforim only three years after his passing.
In a conversation with Anash.org, Rabbi Levine said that after examining the portrait, he still remains convinced that the Moscow painting is the original.
“I suspect that what really pushed him to conclude that this new painting is more original was the sensation and excitement of finding something new,” he said.