By COLlive reporter
An eclectic variety of documents and artifacts relating to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and its Rebbes and Rebbetzins has been flooding public auctions in Israel and the USA in recent years.
Among the historic treasures being sold of late are snuff-boxes and kiddush cups from the Mitteler Rebbe (1773-1827), Rebbe Maharash (1834-1882), Rebbe Rashab (1860–1920) and Rebbe Rayatz (1880-1950), a dress of Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah Schneerson (1860-1942), and a half dozen wristwatches from Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson (1901-1988).
An investigation by COLlive.com revealed that at least 100 of them are sourced by a dubious seller who has been embroiled in legal woes and accused of theft and falsehoods.
By a conservative count, in the past year, the seller has netted well over a million dollars from these auctions, conducted by unsuspecting and otherwise-reputable Judaica auction houses.
Behind them is Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch (“Shimmy”), a resident of Boro Park who has called himself the Liozna Rebbe, claiming to be the successor of the Chabad dynasty since Gimmel Tammuz 5754 (1994).
Deutsch, once a Lubavitcher chossid, has created the Living Torah Museum adjacent to his home on 14th Avenue. The New York Post called it in 2019, “a struggling unaccredited Jewish museum.”
To help fund it, Deutsch has been accused of selling historic relics that were donated and meant for public display.
Rabbi Hyman Rubin discovered that an 8-foot-tall Krumbach Torah Ark rescued during the Second World War and which his family endowed to Deutsch’s museum was illegally put up for sale at Guernsey’s Auction in New York City.
In another case, an Israeli antiquities dealer named Robert Deutsch (no relation) claimed that Deutsch stole a fifth-century marble slab engraved with the Ten Commandments worth $110,000.
In the years since Gimmel Tammuz, Deutsch has been accused to be a fabricator and consummate liar. He claimed the Rebbe learned with him privately in chavrusa on a weekly basis (there’s no evidence of this being done with anyone), that the Rebbe hired him to conduct research (secretaries don’t recall even one such instance) and that the Rebbe asked him to be his successor.
Some of his recent sales which are dubious:
Deutsch has auctioned off numerous U.S. dollar bills which he claimed were given to him by the Rebbe personally. Among them were $100, $50 and $20 dollar bills.
One such $20 bill was sold on January 19, 2021 for $1,875. Dollars from the Rebbe are regarded as sacred and carry with them a blessing, in addition to their historical value.
The authenticity of these bills are in question as Deutsch told the Kedem Auction House that he received them “for immersing the Rebbe’s dishes in our Mikvah.”
He said he received them through Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Hodakov, the Rebbe’s Chief of Staff. This claim is suspect, since Rabbi Hodakov ran the Rebbe’s office from 770 Eastern Parkway and had many responsibilities, but was not involved in the Rebbe’s household.
People who were involved in running the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s house on President Street in Crown Heights say nothing remotely similar to the use of a mikvah was ever done in the home of Deutsch’s parents.
A second example is the sale of dozens of United States 1-cent coins, known as pennies. The Rebbe would often hand out 5-cent nickels to children to give to tzedakah. At times, 10-cent dimes were given at Tzivos Hashem rallies to children directly or through their counselors.
“Everyone knows that the rebbe didn’t distribute pennies,” one Chabad historian told COLlive.com. “Perhaps one can argue that there may have been an exception where the Rebbe gave someone a penny (though no one has been able to find even one such an instance). But dozens of pennies? It just didn’t happen.”
A third example was the sale of a $500 bill ostensibly given to Mrs. Chana Gurary (1899-1991) by her father the Rebbe Rayatz in 1942 for “buying supplies when he moved into 770” – today the Lubavitch World Headquarters. Deutsch pocketed $16,000 on that sale.
On some of the items, Deutsch admits that the “authentication notes” were written by himself and ostensibly signed by Mrs. Gurary. Only they are dated in 1989 and 1990, a time in her life when she could hardly see and a comparison of the signatures on these notes are quite different.
One such signature was dated on the 7th of Adar I in 1989, the same day as the funeral of her husband Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary (known as the “Rashag”).
“Are we to believe that she had nothing to do on the day of her husband’s funeral other than to go through clothing that she had from 30-40 years ago and detail the history of each such item and help compose a note and sign off on it?” asked one historian.
Genazym, a highly reputable Jewish auction house, conducted the first few auctions of Deutsch and has since stopped.
Another recent offering of his are photos said to be of Rebbetzin Rivka and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. Three Chabad experts have claimed they are fraudulent. A fourth expert said they seem they may be authentic but pointed out that anyone who is considering purchasing them should beware.
“The fact that Deutsch is the seller, puts the sale or purchase of them in very questionable standing,” he said.
He added: “Let’s assume for a moment that some of them are real. The idea that the personal possessions and photos belonging to the Rebbeim being auctioned for profit to the highest bidder is abhorrent. The Rebbe cried, screamed and begged like no other time ever in history when the possessions of the Frierdiker Rebbe were being sold and auctioned, going so far as to lead a Federal court case in order to protect them.
“Even regarding certain advertising of the sale of a video of the Rebbe, the Rebbe wrote that it was undignified, like selling a slave “על אבן המקח” – on the auction block. We all know how the seforim case caused the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin so much pain, and the Rebbe stressed many times that such holy things should not be put up for sale for private profit. Buyer beware.”