Artscroll Is Not To Blame

letter-447577_1280

The blame for any perceived shortcomings with Artscroll does not belong with Artscroll. The real culprit is far more sinister.

My recent post on pictures of Gedolim of previous generations unpredictably invited a large number of comments, many heading in all sorts of directions. A sub-thread took aim at the editorial and hashkafic policies of Artscroll.

I believe that the critics have forgotten an important factor, perhaps the single most important factor in determining Artscroll’s policies. Artscroll is not an academic institution. It is a for-profit business. It can hardly be blamed for doing what businesses do – keeping an eye on the bottom line.

Full disclosure. I’ve been published by Artscroll, and have no complaints about my treatment. I continue to work on an ongoing project. I know many of the writers, and people in the upper administration. Those whom I know are bright, principled, and possessed of definite hashkafic views. At the same time, virtually everyone I’ve met in the Artscroll orbit displays far more intellectual openness than you generally encounter in our community. The people I know enjoy a good thought from Rav Kook, or from Rav Soloveichik. They know all about the treatment of the Three Oaths by the Avnei Nezer, the Meshech Chochmah and others (see comment #35). Their view of the Shoah is nuanced and well-considered.

Why are their personal views and openness often not seen on the printed page? I firmly believe that the Artscroll market won’t permit it. Artscroll can not afford to alienate large groups of its patrons. While some people grumble about what they – rightly or wrongly – regard as editorial transgressions, Artscroll enjoys readership in both centrist and right of center communities. I strongly suspect that the latter is the larger cohort, and far more important financially. In any event, most people in the centrist community will continue to use Artscroll in spite of reservations.

The situation on the right is more complex. If Artscroll showed more balance, most haredim would hardly care or voice any objection. The zealots, however, would wreak havoc. They have for hundreds of years, and their influence has hardly waned as of late. Zealots don’t just rant, rave and fulminate. They are persistent. They will call you at all times, accost you in all places. They will start whispering campaigns behind your back, malign you to your rabbeim, friends, colleagues and employers. They make life miserable for great Torah luminaries; they do the same to us commoners. Like terrorists, they don’t negotiate. Many people don’t give in to them, but virtually everyone gets worn down by them.

The owners and editors of Artscroll are bright and knowledgeable. They have been around the block a few times, even if it is a single block in Flatbush. They know that quoting Rav Kook or Rav Soloveichik will without any doubt bring the taint of heresy and calls for boycott.

The zealots are hardly the majority of the community, but their tactics give them more power than their numbers would predict. I don’t think that it is fair to ask the decision makers at Artscroll to risk their incredibly wonderful accomplishment – or even their personal sanity – by standing up to the Army of the Doctrinally Pure.

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119 Responses

  1. Jewish Observer says:

    I’d rather be a big koton than a small godol

  2. Ron Coleman says:

    I don’t think so, Steve. But then again, you have the advantage here, in a way: The people I think are gedolim, you (must, and do) agree are gedolim. And that is not the case in the other direction except under DL’s definition. It’s true, though; I am stuck: I can’t see how someone these gedolim don’t view as a gadol can be viewed by me as a gadol. That doesn’t give me license to be disrespectful to them, etc., but there you have it. Tsorech iyun.

    But surely we grow fatigued at this point?

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    Ron-your comment illustrated what you denied doing-evaluating the Gadlus of Gdolim,no more, no less.Despite the fact that the SR, the LR and R Shach Zicronam Livracha all made statements that any of us could disagree with, I would never say that their hashkafic views rendered them ineligible for the pantheon of Gdolim.

  4. Boruch Horowitz says:

    Chareidi Leumi,

    I could’t have said it better!

  5. Ron Coleman says:

    By your definition, Chareidi Leumi, of course RYBS was a godol.

  6. Chareidi Leumi says:

    What’s the dividing line?

    If someone knows the entire Torah (both talmuds, rishonim, shulchan aruch, etc), and leads a significant portion of Am Yisrael in an halachic manner, then they are a godol – even if you greatly disagree with them. Of course this definition can be more refined but I believe it is sufficient for the purposes of the Amcha like you and me.

    Even if I was a talmid of Rav Shach, I would still think 10 times before I ever said anything that had a shemetz bizayon to the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt”l. He was a godol by any definition of the term. The last time the whole Jewish world got into a gedolim world war was the Emden-Eybeshutz controversy and that was probably the greatest cause of the destruction of Rabbinic authority that we suffer from to this day! We should stay away from such machloket like the plague.

  7. HILLEL says:

    Amen!

  8. Ron Coleman says:

    I mean “is my a statement a chesoron in kivud talmidei chachomim?”

  9. Ron Coleman says:

    Statements such as “the Rav, for all his brilliance and influence, is not one of “the gedolim’ in my worldview” illustrate what the issue quite clearly. Some of us view concepts such as Kivud Talmidei Chachamim, Ahavas Yisrael, Sinas Chinam as applicable only to those Gdolim that they consider as Gdolim.

    There are people who consider the Lubavitcher Rebber to have been the Gadol Hador. Are we all forbidden from questioning his many questionable decisions? I know people who think of Rabbi Meyer Kahane that way. What’s the dividing line? Or do they all get gadol treatment? I mean, Steve, how much more pareve can my statement be? I didn’t say he was anything but an odom gadol. Is “not one of the gedolim in my worldview” an example of a lack of ahavas yisroel? Of course not. Is it sinas chinam? Of course not. What possible sinah is it? These are straw men, and your raising them doesn’t speak well of what I otherwise perceive to be noble intentions. Perhaps you are emotionally engaged out of the honor you feel has been inadequately expressed toward RYBS.

    Now, as to number 3: Is my statement kivud talmidei chachomim? Well, that’s arguable, I guess. Do I have to agree that a talmid chochom is a “gadol” to be yotzi kibud talmidei chachomim? I’d like to see a source for that. I’d also like to know how it is such a conclusion would square with the likes of people many, many madregos above me — actual talmidei chachomim — who do not and did not view the Rav as a “gadol” because of their disagreements with his hashkafoh. What, you say? If they say that they’re not gedolim if they say that?

    Wait a minute. That’s can’t be how it works. Can it?

  10. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Well, I see we won’t agree on this Zionism vis-a-vis Judaism issue. So, maybe the best way to sum it up is to say that you’re Chareidi-Leumi, and I’m Chareidi non-Leumi.

    I have no problem with disagreements. I have a BIG problem with hashkafic and historical revisionism. Feel free to state your case, just don’t push it on all of those gedolim who disagree (or imply that they were not Torah-True leaders). Doing so is a bizayon to the Torah greats of the past and a bizayon to truth.

    I have no doubt that you are writing what you are leShem Shamaim but you should have little more trepidation when writing about those gedolim of yesteryear who do not fit into your conception of what the Torah demands. Our sages teach us that the kavod of Chachamim is similar to the kavod of Heaven – please be more careful not to disparage Maran HaRav Kook Zt”l just as I am careful not to disparage the Satmar Rav and maybe we will all be Zoche to see the final geula quickly in our day.

  11. HILLEL says:

    Chareidi-Leumi:

    Well, I see we won’t agree on this Zionism vis-a-vis Judaism issue. So, maybe the best way to sum it up is to say that you’re Chareidi-Leumi, and I’m Chareidi non-Leumi.

  12. Chareidi Leumi says:

    (as opposed to having the exact same Mesorah on every issue as that held by other Gedolim)

    What in the world does this mean? Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach had VERY different hashkafos than the Chazon Ish or the Brisker Rav. Does anyone doubt that all three were gedolim??? For that matter, the Chazon Ish generaly opposed the whole Brisker derech in limud. There is no such thing as what you describe above – it does not exist.

  13. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Reb Reuven, ZT”L was recognized as one of the foremost leaders of Aguda, and he explains that the Edah Hachareidis may well be right in boycotting the new State of Israel, because it is wrong to seize the Holy Land by force before Moshiach comes. But he, reluctantly, joins the Government, in order to salvage whatever he can for Orthodox Jewry from the hands of the secular atheists who run the Government.

    So why in the world do they need to sign the declaration? They could participate in the elections without signing any such document!

    You are once again falling victim to chareidi revisionism of history. Almost EVERY godol in EY at the time supported the establishment of the state. RAv Zvi Pesach Frank, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Tokitchinski, Rav Yechezkiel Sarna, Rav Moshe Yaakov Charlap. They all supported the establishment of the state. To say these people were not “leaders of authentic Orthodox Jewry” is horrid beyond belief!

    Hillel, Don’t take my word for it, just learn the sources from ALL the books, not just the current chareidi revisionist ones, and if that is not enough then go back and research the documents yourself – they are all publicly available. Go to Yerushalaim and ask Rav Elyashiv who was there during the time – he will tell you the truth. But for goodness sakes, don’t spout revisionist histories and hashkafas which you obviously know very little about.

    The truth is that almost no one was choshesh about the three oaths in any real halachic way. There are a couple teshuvas in the rishonim which mention them but they were not included in any halachic code at all – not in the Yad, the Tur, the Rif, the Shulchan Aruch. No where. It was basicaly a polemic tool used by the Rebbe Rashab of Lubavitch, the Minchas Eliezer, and the Satmar Rav (who had the Yismach Moshe to rely on) in order to fight against Zionism. IT IS IN NO WAY A MAINSTREAM APPROACH. It was rejected by the overwhelming majority of gedolim and among them were those who opposed secular Zionism for other reasons – mainly because they saw it as an agent of assimilation. So please, stop with the falsification of history and the Torah and simply write that you hold like Satmar – don’t drag the other gedolim into this with you.

  14. Steve Brizel says:

    Statements such as “the Rav, for all his brilliance and influence, is not one of “the gedolim’ in my worldview” illustrate what the issue quite clearly. Some of us view concepts such as Kivud Talmidei Chachamim, Ahavas Yisrael, Sinas Chinam as applicable only to those Gdolim that they consider as Gdolim. Baruch Horowitz’s latest statement provides a much needed corrective in this regard. FWIW, R D Eliach also encountered much grief when he attempted to write about the legitimate battles between Chasidim and Misnagdim in his bio of the Vilna Gaon.

  15. Jewish Observer says:

    “Showing such respect is not a contradiction to strongly maintaining one’s own positions.”

    exactly!

    check out the respect that RMF demonstrated for RYBS. granted, other charedi gedolim did not accord him that much respect. still, we can surely be mekil like R’ Moishe himself was in this regard. It’s got to be at least as good as kli shlishi or cholov stam

  16. Boruch Horowitz says:

    I think that one needs to define what is meant by the term “Gadol”. It seems to me that people disagree on this term. If we define Gadlus as greatness in Torah and a leader of a specific community(as opposed to having the exact same Mesorah on every issue as that held by other Gedolim), Rav Soleveichik and Rav Kook ZT”L definitely qualify as Gedolim.

    Although I am not from the MO world, I personally have tremendous respect for these two Gedolim and would have liked to have met them. This does not mean necessarily that I follow, or agree with every one of their positions.

    I am certainly sensitive to the fact that the respective communities of the above-mentioned two Torah leaders view these Rabbonim as Gedolim. Rav Dov Eliach, in a recent interview, mentions that he took into consideration the sensitivities of some groups within the Charedi community when writing one of his biographies. I feel that the same goes towards those not within the Charedi community. If we want others to view our leaders with respect, we should show the same respect towards their leaders. Showing such respect is not a contradiction to strongly maintaining one’s own positions.

  17. Jewish Observer says:

    “the Rav, for all his brilliance and influence, is not one of “the gedolim” in my worldview”

    this is what I was trying to get you to say. you would not dare to speak with such chutzpah about gedolim.

  18. HILLEL says:

    If you want to revisit how and why Rabbi Levin of the Aguda signed the declaration and what the true views of the leaders of authentic Orthodox Jewry were in 1948, read Rabbi Reuven Grozofsky’s “Boyos Hazman.”

    Reb Reuven, ZT”L was recognized as one of the foremost leaders of Aguda, and he explains that the Edah Hachareidis may well be right in boycotting the new State of Israel, because it is wrong to seize the Holy Land by force before Moshiach comes. But he, reluctantly, joins the Government, in order to salvage whatever he can for Orthodox Jewry from the hands of the secular atheists who run the Government.

  19. Chareidi Leumi says:

    The idea of seizing Ertetz Yisroel from the gentiles and reconstructing a Jewish State by force of arms before the coming of the Messiah has always been considered a heresy by the mainstream leaders of authentic Torah Jewry.

    So the vast majority of achronim who paskened like the Ramban were not mainstream leaders of authentic Torah Jewry?

    Please! If you want to hold like Satmar, then go ahead, just don’t claim it’s mainstream. The VAST majority of gedolim had no problem with the establishment of a Jewish state per-say. ALL were troubled by the secular component of secular Zionism – SOME to the extent of not supporting Zionism at all while others felt you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater – still the Aguda sent Rabbi Levin to sign the Israeli declaration of independence. ALMOST NONE were troubled by the idea of a Jewish state before mashiach – the only group which had this problem was Satmar.

    If you want to see an overview of the halachic/hashkafic treatment of the Three Oaths throughout history, may I suggest you take a look at Rav Shlomo Aviner’s “kuntress shelo yaalu baChoma” – it might just open your eyes as to exactly how marginal your POV is.