THE TANYA COLLECTOR
November 20, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #903, Feature, Tanya

When we went to his house to look at his collection, which includes over 1500 editions of Tanya, it was clear that this wasn’t just a hobby; R’ Chaim lives and breathes each seifer

About 5000 editions of the Tanya have been printed thus far, in fulfillment of the Rebbe’s instruction that the Tanya should be printed wherever Jews live.

R’ Chaim Steiner of Nachalat Har Chabad works for the Chish publishing house which is owned by R’ Chaim Reichman. R’ Steiner is a bookbinder and has bound over a thousand editions of the Tanya. Over the years, he has accumulated an impressively large and unusual collection of Tanyas, which also includes old and rare Tanyas.

When we went to his house to look at his collection, which includes over 1500 editions of Tanya, it was clear that this wasn’t just a hobby; R’ Chaim lives and breathes each seifer. He caresses the many volumes and his finger pauses on some of them as he says, “This one has a story.”

His family members also feel that the Tanyas are a part of the character of the home and they do all they can to enlarge the collection. The children try to help too and it turns out that the children’s expert knowledge of the collection is no less than their father. On their own initiative, they guided us to the unique and interesting editions. 

“No, it’s not a collection,” corrected R’ Chaim, “it’s part of my soul and my home. I worked hard on a large part of these editions and they became part of me.”

How did you get such a large collection?

“In 5745, I began working at Chish in the binding department. At first, the binding was done almost exclusively with Tanyas. We would also go out often to print Tanyas on a special truck belonging to the printing house.

“At some point I decided to start collecting the Tanyas I bound. Over the years, it became an impressive collection. At the same time I also began collecting older editions and editions that were printed around the world.”

What was the first Tanya in your collection?

“The first and most important Tanya that I have is one that I received from the Rebbe in 5739 with his signature on it. That is the most precious Tanya of all to me and is the basis for the collection that followed it.”

Which Tanya is most dear to you?

“Each volume is holy and is a source of inspiration to me, especially when I bound it myself and was involved in the printing of many of them. Some of the editions stand out, for example, the printing of the Tanya at the grave of Yosef HaTzaddik in Sh’chem, while Arabs were mobbing around us and threw stones at us. We did our work as IDF soldiers stood guard. It’s hard to forget that printing.”

Not only are there stories about the printing but also about the binding, especially during those years when Tanyas were printed at a fast clip:

“There were times we had to speed up the pace and work until late at night in order to meet the demand. The Tanya that we printed at the Chanukas Ha’bayis of 770 in Kfar Chabad, 15 Tammuz 5746, has a gold emblem of 770 on the back of the volume. This was a numbered edition and after some behind the scenes wrangling I received #3. The first volume was sent to the Rebbe, of course. We bound it the night it was printed in order to be able to send it to the Rebbe immediately.”

Are there other numbered editions of the Tanya?

“Yes. The Tanya that was printed at the Knesset, through the efforts of R’ Lipa Kurtzweil in 5751. I chose #751 to correspond to the year (5751). Although over the years I have bound hundreds of Tanyas, to me, each edition is special. I feel the k’dusha.

“As someone who dealt with the printing from up close, I can say that I have seen the wondrousness in the Rebbe’s instruction to print the Tanya everywhere. There is no question that the feeling and connection of the people in a given place to the Tanya printed there, creates something special. As the Rebbe said: to bring the wellspring itself to the place.”

In looking through your collection, I see a “confidential” Tanya whose printing location cannot be disclosed.

“Yes, there is one edition that we printed secretly at a yishuv in the south of the country in the home of a supposed Misnaged who was actually very close to Chabad. He asked that we keep it a secret, for obvious reasons, and I’m still keeping that promise. After it was printed, we had a moving farbrengen in his home.”

How does the procedure of printing and binding work?

“Before every printing we had to get the okay from New York. Between the printing and the binding we would wait to get a number; sometimes, this took a few months.

“Each edition had a minimum of 100 copies and sometimes 200, 400 or more. I’ve bound over 150,000 Tanyas.”

Tell us about the sizes.

“The standard size we printed was a pocket-sized edition, 5.8 by 12 centimeters. In my collection I have very small Tanyas; one of them was printed in Brazil and is 4 by 6 centimeters. There are also the large Tanyas which the Rebbe distributed in 5750 and 5751. For now, these are the largest editions. The idea was raised of printing a Tanya the size of a Gemara. 

“There are differences in the binding too. Some bindings are soft, some are hard, and some have pictures on an added page. For example, the Tanya that was printed at the gravesite of Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava, one of the Asara Harugei Malchus, has a picture of the gravesite on it. There is also the special Tanya of artist Boruch Nachshon of Kiryat Arba with his drawings on it. There is the Tanya that was printed at the Israel museum when Rechavam Zeevi was the director, with drawings by Boruch Nachshon.”

I see that you remember the various printings of Tanya.

“I consider this one of the most special and beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. First of all, it’s a horaa from the Rebbe. Second, you see the excitement of the people in the place, with each one wanting to press the button on the machine. It is exciting every single time and each printing is different. An outsider can’t understand this. Maybe this is why I felt the need to collect the Tanyas so they would all be in one place.”

Which is the oldest Tanya in your collection?

“If I am not mistaken, it is a Tanya from the 26th edition that was printed in Vienna. It has no date on it, but it is estimated to be at least 170 years old. It is stamped with the name, ‘Zalman Ber Labend, Warsaw.’ Each page consists of two columns and it does not have the introduction of the compiler.”

R’ Chaim insists on pointing out that to him the most important Tanya is not necessarily the oldest one, but the Tanya that he “lives” with, and there are many of those.

I found a pocket edition of a Tanya in his collection from Goa, India with a blue binding that was printed in 5763. A Tanya of the “Histadrut HaKlalit – Religion Division.” A special Tanya that was printed at an air force base. A Tanya printed in the Yehuda-Shomron-Gaza settlements and other strongholds. A Tanya of the aircraft industry and an edition from the diamond exchange. A series of Tanyas printed in Lebanon and other interesting editions.

R’ Chaim took out an edition of Tanya that was printed on a ship in the Red Sea port, when the entire truck carrying the printing equipment was lifted onto the ship with a crane hoist. He also showed us a Tanya that was printed at the Kosel whose cover has a drawing of the Kosel. There is also the Tanya that was printed at the site of the terrorist attack at the Tarkomiya checkpoint in 5760, where three Lubavitcher bachurim were shot at and were miraculously saved.

Do people take an interest in your collection?

“There is great interest. Talmidim come up to my house to see my collection and we explain the Rebbe’s horaa. People get excited when they hear the names of cities they know or where their families live. 

“Well-known book collectors have looked at the collection, mainly at the rare Tanyas. A yeshiva which was making a dinner, asked me for a rare Tanya from my collection. I’ve been offered a lot of money, but this collection doesn’t leave my house. It’s not just another collection of someone who is enthusiastic about some item or another. A large part of the collection is something I worked on with my own hands.”

Do you plan on adding to your collection?

“Yes. Because of my line of work, I am able to frequently add new editions. And friends who know about my collection occasionally offer me other editions. Some want to sell them, others offer me what they have because they don’t want them. I hope to obtain the vast majority of editions of Tanya. I’m in the process.”

Is it a special feeling to be in a house surrounded by Tanyas?

“I would describe it with the two points made by those who gave their approbation to the Tanya, R’ Yehuda HaKohen who said that the Tanya is the incense for all spiritual plagues in Ikvisa d’Meshicha, and R’ Zushe of Anipoli who said that with the Tanya the Jewish people will go forth to greet Moshiach.

“G-d willing, I will go forth to greet the Rebbe MH”M with my special collection.” 

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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