Volume 27 Number 01
                      Produced: Tue Sep 23  6:15:40 1997

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Avi Feldblum]
Artscroll and History
         [Meir Shinnar]
Halachic Methodology of History
         [Chana Luntz]
Halakhic Methodology of History
         [Elie Rosenfeld]
The Cofetz Chaim Z"L's picture
         [Ezriel Krumbein]


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 1997 06:13:17 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Administrivia

Hello All!

OK, I've gotten through a whole bunch of my mail and there is not as
much new stuff submitted, probably no big surprise as without discussion
there is no new material. So most of what goes out this morning will be
about 1 month old. Hopefully, with my coming back on line we will get
all the stuff that you all have been thinking about over the last month
out on the list.

Avi Feldblum
Shamash Facilitator and mail-jewish Moderator
<mljewish@...> or feldblum@cnj.digex.net


From: <meir_shinnar@...> (Meir Shinnar)
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 97 16:45:51 EST
Subject: Re: Artscroll and History

One respondent said
>You posed the question as to whether it was halachically permissible to
>delete portions from a historical account.  I think a better question
>would be whether it is halachically permissible to include everything
>known about a subject or biography.

There are two issues with the Artscroll and similar approaches.  The
first is whether it is necessary to include blemishes in the lives of
different gdolim.  Thus, omitting details of marital problems, or
difficult personal relationships is one way of sanitizing history.  I
doubt that the Pell grant scandals, or the Popover chasidim scandal,
will figure in frum histories of the nineties.  Furthermore, there is
little mention in frum histories, except for indignant denial, of the
position of many gdolim before World War II who advocated people to stay

This is an understanable approach.  It is worth noting that the Tanach
clearly does not believe in this approach, and provides descriptions of
what clearly seem to be blemishes.  Thus, it can be said that in one
sense, this approach is not the "Torah" approach....

There is, however, another part of this sanitization process that is far
more problematic.  While the position ascribed to Rav Schwab, zt"l, that
true history is of no interest to halakhically oriented Jews, may be
largely true, there is one area that is of great interest.  Our belief
and support of a Torah shebealpe is ultimately dependent on our belief
in the reliability of its transmitters.  This is beautifully described
in the Gemara (Shabbat?) about Hillel and the ger who only accepted the
Torah shebiktav, where Hillel explicitly says that the reason for
believing the Torah shebealpe is his own credibility.

Ultimately, we believe the Torah shebealpe because we believe in the
integrity of its transmitters.  That is why "emet" and "amita shel
Torah" is such an important criteria ("hotmo shel hakadosh barukh hu hu
emet".. " the seal of the Holy one is truth").

Part of the recent frum histories is not merely the sanitization of
history, to remove blemishes, but the distortion of the actual positions
of gdolim, which they would not have viewed as blemishes, but part of
their Torah.  Thus, to take a notorious example, if Rav Zevin, zt"l says
"shezakhinu limedinat Yisrael", (that we merited the State of Israel),
that is a statement of a daas torah.  We may legitimately disagree with
that position, and we may therefore not wish to study or publish such
works.  However, to distort his position and just eliminate it strikes
at the heart of the very notion of the Torah shebealpe.

People who are involved with such distortions have removed themselves
from the chain of tradition.  In some ways, Artscroll and similar
histories are far more dangerous to the Torah shebealpe and the mesorah
than people who actively deny the validity of the oral Torah.  If we can
distort the tradition from only 30 years ago, how reliable can a
tradition of 3000 years be?

I believe in the Torah shebealpe partially because I do not believe that
my teachers lied, nor that their teachers lied.  Do I believe that
someone who writes or approves Artscroll historical distortions will lie
on other issues because he believes it enhances what he believes to be
Torah values?  How can such a person, who is known to lie for the sake
of "Torah", possibly be the source of authority for the validity of a

This issue of historical distortions leads directly to another thread,
of humrot and mixed seating.  It is well known that many weddings and
yeshiva dinners of the 40s, 50s, and 60s were mixed.  As mentioned, the
wedding of Rav Feinstein's, zt"l, daughter was mixed. There are also
reliable reports of mixed dancing at yeshiva dinners (in the responsa of
bnei banim on mixed dancing, he brings it down).

 If someone wants to argue that because of the current lax morality, we
need to be more mahmir today, that is an honest argument.  However, to
argue that such functions are intrinsically assur, one has three
 1) We pasken differently from previous gdolim.  This is a legitimate
position, but rarely taken, as it legitimates the kula.
 2) That (rahmana letzlan) gdolim such as Rav Feinstein zt"l
transgressed.  This position is rarely taken.
 3) To deny the reality of history.  These denials, while useful in the
short run in generating communal support for official positions, are
ultimately destructive of the entire Torah shebealpe.  Yaza scharo

Meir Shinnar


From: Chana Luntz <heather@...>
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 1997 22:35:53 +0100
Subject: Halachic Methodology of History

<rkosovsk@...> (Bob Kosovsky) writes:

>  In my opinion, I see these Art-Scroll and similar volumes as being
>"victims" of conflict between traditional Jewish utilitarian "history"
>and the more modern trends of historiography (which are rather recent -
>maybe 250 years old or so).
>The ArtScroll biography series is a very good case in point.  There have
>been rumblings at some of the volumes for what they include (I believe
>"My uncle, the Netziv" was a particular source of friction).  If you
>look at them as a historian you will probably laugh because the
>narratives are so sanitized and biased.  Yet, as a halachic Jew, their
>function is to provide models for our people.  Having less-than-stellar
>incidents from the lives of these gedolim would probably not enhance our
>respect for them.

It seems to me, however, that there are two issues at stake here, and
not just one.  Yes, there is the question as to whether one should
include "less than stellar incidents", and, to be honest, if I was sure
that the incident in question was definitely a "less than stellar
incident", I would not, from a halachic perspective, have a problem,
even if it conflicts with a secular notion of history.  But there is
another kind of incident - namely one that is considered by certain
segments of our community as less than stellar, while not by others.  To
take my Uncle the Netziv, for example.  It is recorded there that the
Netziv used to read a newspaper on shabbas.  Now some parts of our
community regard reading a newspaper on shabbas as forbidden, and some
regard it as perfectly permissible.  To delete it as a "less than
stellar incident" is to do more than indicate conflict with the secular
notion of history, it is an attempt to push psak on a particular issue
in a particular direction.  

Take another, and even stronger example - I grew up hearing from people
opposed to secular education that "the Netziv even closed the Volojhin
yeshiva due to his opposition to secular education" and that this was
proof positive that secular education is forbidden.  On the other hand,
if you read My Uncle the Netziv, the view of the Torah Temima is clearly
that this is not so.  What the Netziv was opposed to, according to the
Torah Temima were laws that virtually forbad the teaching of Torah in
his yeshiva (by making the number of hours of secular education so high,
and forbidding study when it was dark, that there were virtually no
hours left in the day for any Torah study at all). It is this portion
that, I believe, some have sought to delete.  And it is when these texts
are then used as the basis for justifying halachic positions that the
issue becomes far more problematic.

By co-incidence, an illustration of the problem occurs in the post that
Avi placed right underneath the one by Bob.

Idelle Rudman <rudmani@...> writes:
>  In a recent publication, "The World That Was: Lithuania; A study of
>the life and Torah consciousness of Jews in the towns and villages of
>Lithuania and northeastern Poland," by Rabbi Yitzchak Kasnett,
>published by The Living Memorial, c/o Hebrew Academy of Cleveland,
>there is a direct refuation of his [Rabbi Rekefet's] views.  Reb. Zlata
>Ginsburg, wife of the Mirrer Yeshivah rosh yeshivah and daughter of the
>Mirrer mashgiach, describes her wedding on p. 93.  "When the marriage
>ceremony was finished everyone went back to the Rosh Yeshivah's house
>for the seuda (meal).  The MEN WERE IN ONE ROOM AND THE WOMEN WERE IN
>ANOTHER ROOM (caps-IR)." 

Idelle uses this text as a contradiction to the position of Rabbi
Rakefet.  But in doing so, she is relying on a book of the nature we are
discussing.  If such books do not necessarily speak the truth, or find
ways to distort it to fit current halachic positions, we have therefore
to be choshesh [ie doubt] that in fact this did not occur as was
described (or that there was some significant factor that was
deliberately omitted that would shed a different light on the matter).

This is a very different question to whether or not the books would
satisfy the test of a secular historian, and to my mind, a much more
serious one.  In many ways it could be argued to strike at the heart of
the halachic process, given that people, such as Idelle (sorry Idelle, I
hope you don't mind) are likely to rely on what is said. Idelle may well
have inside information that allows her to feel secure that she can rely
on this book, but most readers will not.  One of the reasons it is said
that we posken like Beis Hillel, is because they always brought the
opinion of Beis Shammai as well as their own.  But this is more than not
bringing other opinions.  This can mean that somebody who poskened one
way, can be taken out of the equation, or even made to look like they
poskened a different way. M'dvar sheker tirchok [keep far from a false
matter - Shemos 23:7] commands our Torah.  It is one thing if matters
are left out because they genuinely will not enhance our understanding
of the Torah and the Halacha as lived by the gedolim of the past, it is
another thing if it is left out because in fact it will.



From: Elie Rosenfeld <erosenfe@...>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 11:49:10 -0400
Subject: Halakhic Methodology of History

Some very interesting points have been raised in this thread.  The
options presented are whether it's better to present Jewish history and
the life of gedolim accurately in every detail - the "good" with the
"bad" - in the name of historic truth, or whether it's better to present
only the useful, functional, inspirational incidents for "mussardikke"
purposes.  This very choice, however, is based on an assumption that I
seriously question.

When we decide that a certain episode or attitude in the life of another
person is "bad" and better off hidden, we are making a highly subjective
and unjustified value judgment.  The reason that "whitewashing" history
is dangerous is not that people are nosy and want the real "dirt".
Rather, it's that by choosing which incidents to show and which to hide,
we using people from the past, who are no longer around to speak for
themselves, to support and justify our modern values.  The fact that
certain real incidents in the lives of our heroes don't fit with today's
stereotypical notions of "frum" and "frei" should make us question those
notions, not try to cover up the incidents.  Furthermore, even stories
that clearly show objective "flaws" in our past heroes (e.g., things
they themselves are known to have regretted) have tremendous positive

Suppose the book of Bereishis was just now being newly written as a
contemporary-style "Gadol biography series".  How many incidents would
surely be edited out - Abraham and Sarah in Egypt, Sarah and Hagar,
Yehudah and Tamar, Reuven and Bilhah, etc.  Yet chazal and the meforshim
elucidate each of these seemingly "incongrous" stories in a variety of
ways.  In some cases/views, the incident in question was not quite what
it seemed, and the actions were actually proper under the circumstances.
In other cases - e.g., the first incident I mentioned - some meforshim
state that this was, in fact, a failing on the part of the Avraham.  Yet
far from diminishing our opinion of him, we should all the more so
marvel at how an imperfect human being could rise to the heights we all
know Avraham reached!

And what is, after all, more effective as an inspiration?  Thinking of
the Biblical figures - or of more modern gedolim - as superhuman,
perfect unblemished figures, far beyond our comprehension?  Or thinking
of them as human beings JUST LIKE US who were able to rise above their
flaws and shortcomings to achieve such greatness!  And which of those
positions is more likely to instill the readers with the confidence that
they, too, can strive for the heights?

Elie Rosenfeld


From: Ezriel Krumbein <ezsurf@...>
Date: Tue, 12 Aug 1997 22:51:06 -0700
Subject: The Cofetz Chaim Z"L's picture

>From: <rkosovsk@...> (Bob Kosovsky)
>(It has always bothered me that the images one sees of the Chofetz
>Chayim are drawings of a kindly old grandfather, and not reproductions
>of the photograph from which all those images are taken.  This, too, is
>an example of selecting what is useful and functional over what is

It may interest you to note that in the June/July issue of the Chassidic
Historical Review page 16, there is an article indicating that the
picture is not of the Chofetz Chaim.  To quote.  "The picture of the
Chofetz Chaim has become one of the most reproduced portraits of Gedolei
Yisroel in recent years. It is ironical that Mrs. Feige Zaks, the
daughter of the Chofetz Chaim, told her son, Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Zaks
(named after the Chofetz Chaim), on many occasions the the man in the
picture "iz a shaine yid ober das iz nit die Tatte" (is a nice looking
Jew, but is not my father)."  The source is Rabbi Moshe Kolodny the
archivist of Agudath Israel.

Kol Tov 


End of Volume 27 Issue 1