Thursday, October 07, 2010

Distorting the Hashkafos of a Gadol

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (pictured left) was a genius. At east that is my impression from learning his great work Oznayim LeTorah. His insights and explanations of various Torah passages rarely disappoint me. He is often quoted in one of my favorite Seforim, Torah L’Daas. Whenever I see his name or his see his Sefer quoted I know it will be satisfying piece of Torah. My wife - realizing this - bought the five volume set of Oznayim LeTorah as a gift for me a couple of years ago.

ArtScroll has recently translated that work into English. It’s called Insights in the Torah. Now that it is available in English Rav Sorotzkin’s work can be more widely appreciated. That is one of ArtScroll’s greatest contributions to publishing. They have translated major works in Judaism and made them accessible to the English speaking public. Not the least of which is the ArtScroll Talmud Bavli. None of this is news.

But neither is the following. ArtScroll has once again whitewashed a historical fact. Only this time it wasn’t in a biography. It was in this Sefer on Chumash. They have decided to omit translating a passage that mentions Robinson Crusoe.

Not that it distorts or changes anything Rav Sorotzkin wrote. It really doesn’t. But it does distort Rav Sorotzkin’s Hashkafos. This was pointed out by a post on the blog On the Main Line. It correctly questions why ArtScroll omitted a reference to this great literary work.

It is no secret that ArtScroll leaves out what they consider unflattering anecdotes about their biographical subjects. When asked about it, publisher Rabbi Nosson Scherman said that their purpose in writing biographies is to inspire – not to faithfully record every detail of their subjects life. Why would they want to publish information about their biographical subjects they consider unflattering? How would that inspire the reader?

Of course the obvious answer to that was given by Rabbi Nosson Kamintesky after his book the Making of a Gadol was banned. It was banned because it contained what certain Charedi leaders felt was unflattering information about those Gedolim. Like relating the fact that one of the greatest religious figures of the 20th century, Rav Aharon Kotler, had as a youth read secular novels.

Rav Kaminetskyexplained that he wrote the truth of history precisely to inspire. It is far more inspiring to see a great leader overcome his background then to do what ArtScroll does and whitewash any flaw out of their lives. How inspiring can it be to read about someone who was born a saint?

But in the brave new Charedi world of the 21st century they will have none of it. And they’ve eliminated Robinson Crusoe from Rav Sorotzkin’s work. They apparently feel that it inappropriate for a Gadol the sature of Rav Sorotzkin to be associatecd in anyway with a secular novel.

Do they think they are Frummer than Rav Sorotzkin? Apparetnly they do. Why else leave it out?

But let us analyze this. They have deemed what Rav Sorotzkin wrote in a Sefer to be out of bounds for Charedi Judaism. Why else leave it out? The problem is that in doing so they have declared themselves to be Frummer than Rav Sorotzkin!

That is what is so frustrating about ArtScroll!

It isn’t entirely their fault. They - like so many other Charedim today - are victims of the brave new world of 21st century Charedi Hashkafos. A Hashkafa that considers a precious Gadol’s words controversial by today’s standards. And what exactly are those standards? Are 21st century Charedi standards on a higher spiritual level than those of Rav Sorotzkin’s?

Like I said, I don’t entirely blame ArtScroll for this. They derive this attitude form the current attitude of certain types of rabbinic leaders found in various Charedi Yeshivos in America and in Israel. I don’t know exactly who they are. But they are the ones who got Rav Nosson Kaminetsky’s book banned.

And they are the ones who disparaged the translation of Makor Baruch called My Uncle the Netziv. There too they felt that information revealed about the Netziv did not fit with their particular version of Charedism. And they apparently feel that the previous generation of Gedloim were just not as Frum as they are.

Rav Ahron Soloveichik made the following comment about the people who disparaged ‘My Uncle the Netziv’: They are not worthy to stand in the dust of the feet of those giants. ArtScroll would do well to take note of that.