In response to the recent review by Chaim Rapoport, "The Afterlife of Scholarship: A Critical Exploration of Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman’s Presentation of the Rebbe’s Life," the Seforim blog (14 June 2010), available here, of Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), available here, the editors of the Seforim blog are proud to present a response by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman (submitted on Tuesday, 22 June 2010), available here (PDF) with a rejoinder by Chaim Rapoport (submitted on Tuesday, 29 June 2010), available here (PDF).
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
Some More Assorted Comments, part 1
by: Marc B. Shapiro
1. Following my last post, a number of people have corresponded with me about the issue of anti-Semitism and how it it sometimes self-inflicted because of Jewish actions that cause a hillul ha-Shem, meaning that we can’t always claim ידינו לא שפכו את הדם הזה. As many readers know, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg already pointed out that some anti-Semitism arises for precisely this reason. He was not the first. R. Israel Moses Hazan (Kerakh shel Romi, p. 4a), speaks of the bad impression given non-Jews by Jewish texts (and obviously also Jewish behavior):
שאנחנו מצד אמונתנו אנחנו מחוייבים להיות משחיתים הקיבוץ המדיני
See also the words of R. Solomon Alami, Iggeret ha-Mussar, ed. Haberman (Jerusalem, 1946), pp. 11-12:
עם היותנו עבדים נכבשים להם התלנו בם וחיללנו שם קודש א-להינו בקרבם כי הלכנו אתם באונאה ובמרמה וקבענו אותם בחוקים לא טובים בערמה עד אשר מאסונו והחזיקונו כגנבים ורמאים מנאפים עצרת בוגדים.
See also Maharsha to Ketubot 67a, which so accurately describes what we often face:
ורבים בדור הזה שמקבצין עושר שלהם שלא באמונה ובחילול השם כגזילת עכו"ם ואח"כ מתנדבים מאותו ממון להיות להם כבוד בכל שנה ולתת להם ברכת מי שברך להיות להם שם ותפארת, ואין זה אלא מצוה הבאה בעבירה, ואין לעושר הזה מלח וקיום
(To understand the last words, see Ketubot 66b: מלח ממון חסר)
But there are limits to what we can do, and even if we were all complete tzadikim, it would not mean the end of anti-Semitism. Yet listen to a youthful passage recorded by Gershom Scholem in his diary in 1913. It is certainly an exaggeration, but in speaking of Jews living in the modern world (as opposed to the Shtetl) there is also some truth to it: “If Judaism were as Samson Raphael Hirsch thinks it should be, there wouldn’t be any such thing as anti-Semitism.” As Hirsch taught, it is incumbent on us to show that we are a great benefit to society, and we cannot behave as if the rules, and the consequences of violating these rules, only apply to everyone else. ודי בזה.
2. In my review of Gurock’s book (see here) I referred to Aish HaTorah honoring intermarried people at its events. In fact, they were not the first Orthodox organization to do so, as one can see from R. Avraham Weinfeld’s Lev Avraham, no. 134, which dates from the early 1970’s.
If anyone knows which institution he is referring to, please share it. For some earlier comments of mine with regard to Orthodox views of intermarriage, see here.
In general, there have been some real changes in how Orthodoxy deals with the non-Orthodox, and Adam Ferziger has recently published a valuable article on the topic. In reading the article, I was surprised to learn how even haredi Orthodoxy has begun to expand the boundaries in dealing with non-Orthodox movements and institutions. It appears that the Reinman-Hirsch book was only one aspect of this change. Here is some of what Ferziger reports:
ASK [Atlanta Scholars Kollel], however, has demonstrated a willingness to meet its constituency on its own terms by running a biweekly introductory prayer service in one of Atlanta’s largest Reform houses of worship, Temple Sinai of Sandy Springs. To be sure, the meetings take place in a social hall rather than in the synagogue sanctuary, but this is a clear departure from the guidelines set down by Feinstein. Similarly, members of the Phoenix Community Kollel have taught classes at the community sponsored Hebrew High that is housed at the Reform Temple Chai. . . . [T]he head of Pittsburgh’s Kollel Jewish Learning Center, Rabbi Aaron Kagan, meets on a regular basis with his local rabbinic colleagues from Reform and Conservative synagogues to study Torah together. . . . Based in Palo Alto, California, the Jewish Study Network—one of the most dynamic and rapidly expanding of these kiruv kollels—does not limit its interdenominational contacts to private study. Its fellows work together with Conservative and Reform representatives to create new Jewish learning initiatives throughout the Bay Area and to offer their own programming in non-Orthodox synagogues. Rabbi Joey Felsen, head of the Jewish Study Network and a veteran of five years of full-time Torah study at Jerusalem’s venerable Mir yeshivah, made clear that he was not opposed to presenting Torah lectures in a non-Orthodox synagogue sanctuary, although he preferred to teach in the social hall. Indeed, according to Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, leader of the highly successful Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA) Kollel and a well-respected halakhist, insofar as Jewish religious institutions were concerned the only boundary that remained hermetically sealed was his unwillingness to teach in a gay synagogue. . . .
3. Here is the link to my recent article in Milin Havivin in which I published R. Eliezer Berkovits’ responsum permitting one to enter churches. (R. Jeremy Rosen agrees with Berkovits. See here.)
In addition to the figures I mentioned who are known to have entered churches, the young scholar Chaim Landerer called my attention to the famed bibliophile, Judah David Eisenstein, who in his autobiography, Otzar Zikhronotai, testifies to entering churches on a few different occasions. These are mentioned by R. David Zvi Hillman in his article in the most recent Yerushatenu 4 (2010) as part of his effort to delegitimize Eisenstein, both from a scholarly as well as from a religious standpoint. The article is actually twenty pages of excerpts from Eisenstein’s writings designed to accomplish this objective.
There is no question that Hillman accomplishes at least one of his goals, which is to show that Eisenstein often misinterpreted rabbinic texts. Yet for the life of me I can’t figure out what possible objection Hillman could find in some of what he records. For example, what is wrong with Eisenstein mentioning, in his autobiography, that as a young man he served on a jury (בית דין של שנים עשר), learnt to play the piano, to ride a horse, to swim [!], to sail, to fence and to play billiards? What does Hillman expect, that Eisenstein is supposed to say that his entire life was spent in a beit midrash, never once venturing out to enjoy what the world has to offer? Hillman also finds objectionable that Eisenstein mentions that he played chess on Shabbat and Yom Tov and that in general he liked sports as they strengthened his body. Hillman even notes that Eisenstein tells the reader how much he weighed at various times of his life, and here too, I can’t figure out what the sin. In my opinion, the craziest of Hillman’s criticisms focuses on the following passage in Eisenstein’s autobiography:
בשנת 1886 הייתי בין הראשונים שעלו במדרגות לראש פסל החרות ובשנת 1928 עליתי שם ע"י המכונה נושאת אנשים עד הראש ועד מאתים מדרגות עד הלפיד של החשמל שהוא גדול בכמות רבבות אלפים נרות.
Is it possible that Hillman has never heard of the Statue of Liberty and instead thinks that Eisenstein made a pilgrimage to some pagan temple?
Here is another of the passages Hillman strangely cites in order to criticize Eisenstein:
תרפ"ב ברלין. ציר ארה"ב ואשתו הושיטו ידם לי לברכני
But if you really want to see Hillman’s extremism, look at the following passage which he finds objectionable:
עין חרוד בעמק והוא מקום הטומאה לחיי המשפחה . . . שאכלו חמץ בפסח להכעיס . . . אנחנו מקוים כי גם החלוצים יטיבו את דרכם במשך הזמן ובפרט כי הורגלו לדבר עברית ויש בכח הלשון הקדש ובמאור שבה לבדה להחזירם תחת כנפי השכינה
There is no question that Eisenstein was naive in his hope that the Hebrew language would help bring people back to religion, but does this make him a bad person? Citing this passage to disqualify Eisenstein says more about Hillman than it does about Eisenstein. (I will return to Hillman in a future post.)
Here is another of Hillman’s criticisms, but this time of a scholarly nature:
"חוה"מ נקרא מועד קטן". היש לזה מקור הוא [!] שהוא סברת כרסו של בעל האוצר?
We all know that Tractate Moed Katan deals with Hol ha-Moed. The reason the tractate is called such is presumably to distinguish it from the Order Moed. In fact, there is evidence that the original name of the tractate was Moed “and throughout this tractate the intermediate days are referred to as Mo’ed and not as hol ha-mo’ed.” It is because of this that Hillman is so dismissive of Eisenstein’s suggestion that Moed Katan can be understood as the “lesser holiday” and refer to hol ha-moed.
Yet Hillman spoke too fast in this case, because the great R. Aryeh Zvi Frommer, Eretz Zvi (Bnei Brak, 1988), pp 351ff, also assumes that hol ha-moed is referred to as Moed Katan. Here are two pages from his derashah.
Here is an article in R. Eliyahu Schlesinger’s Areshet Sefatenu (Jerusalem, 2005), vol. 1, pp. 16-17.
It is obvious that Schlesinger’s piece is taken from Frommer. In the introduction to Areshet Sefatenu, he tells the reader that he is going to be quoting ideas found in other sources, and that he is careful to acknowledge them, but if on occasion he forgets to do so we should excuse him. This doesn’t sit well with me. How can one copy another person’s words, include them in his book, and then forget to mention where he got it from? We are not talking about a source or two that someone saw in another’s book (and about which we can debate if one needs to cite the book that led him to these sources). Here we are talking about copying another rav’s hiddush.
Returning to Eisenstein, he mentions how he was a member of the Freemasons. Hillman, of course, points to this as another of Eisenstein’s religious defects. Yet the issue of Freemasonry and traditional Judaism needs to be examined carefully to see if there is any conflict between the two. (To this day, the Church forbids all Catholics from becoming Masons.) Interestingly, Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie of the United Kingdom was a well-known Mason (as was an unnamed nineteenth-century Orthodox rabbi in New York, who was even head of a lodge). Rabbi Louis Jacobs told me about the time Brodie visited Manchester, where Jacobs was then the young rabbi of the city’s Central Synagogue. Jacobs and some of the other rabbis decided to play some mischief on Brodie. They told Rabbi Isaac Jacob Weiss, who was then serving as a dayan in Manchester (later he headed the Edah ha-Haredit), all about the strange practices of the Masons that Brodie took part in. Weiss was understandably shocked, and Jacobs told me how they later watched Weiss quiz Brodie about this, and how Brodie was put on the defensive and forced to explain how all the various Masonic practices were symbolic and had nothing to do with Avodah Zarah.
There is actually a responsum about Freemasonry in R. Isaac Akrish, Kiryat Arba (Jerusalem, 1876), no. 14. He only has negative things to say about it and sees it as “complete idolatry.” He also believes that the special terms used by the Masons are משמות הטומאה מהסט"א.
Akrish himself was quite an interesting character. Although we are not used to seeing real religious fanaticism in the Sephardic world, he was an exception. When someone in Constantinople opened a school that also had secular studies, Akrish burst into his house and, accompanied by shofar blasts, placed the man under herem. Understandably, this created enormous controversy, and led to the chief rabbi R. Chaim Palache placing Akrish in herem. This forced Akrish to leave the city and travel to the Land of Israel.
If people today were aware of this story, I think it could help defuse the current controversy taking place in Israel. As I am sure all are aware, we have a situation where some Ashkenazic haredi schools are reluctant to accept Sephardim. But the case of Akrish shows that there is no need for this discrimination, as we see from here that Sephardim can also be extreme and intolerant. If these schools would allow the Sephardim to enter, and if they are given the proper education, one can assume that they too can be properly molded. Many of them would even become real Sephardic Uncle Toms (to use the expression coined by one of my friends). You know the type, the ones who are so embarrassed by their heritage that they that can’t wait to speak Yiddish with Moroccan accents and to change their last names, the ones who instruct their sons not to wear a tallit until they are married, the ones who insist on having a yichud room at their wedding, and the list goes on. They have been recently referred to as "anusei Sefarad shel yameinu."
The truth is, and anyone who examines the writings of young Sephardic rabbis can testify to this, that there already is a great deal of extremism out there. For every R. Hayyim Amsalem, who tries to preserve the old Sephardic approach, there are rabbis who write as if they are part of the Edah Haredit. To give just one example of many, here is the title page of a recent responsa volume by R. Eleazar Raz, Mi-Tziyon Orah (Jerusalem, 2007).
In Even-ha-Ezer no. 2, Raz discusses if a woman is permitted to attend parents’ night at her son’s school. In case people are wondering why she would have any interest in doing so, well, she is a mother and normally mothers want to know how their children are doing. The problem, of course, is that by attending she would be forcing the teacher to look at her, and unlike other poskim, Rabbi Raz holds that
דמצד עיקר ההלכה הסתכלות אסורה אפילו שאין מתכוין להנות ואין לו שום הרהור
In other words, only a quick glance at a woman is permitted, but not actually looking at her. But Raz is even uncomfortable with this heter:
מיהו אעפ"כ אין ראוי לאדם לראות פני אשה "כלל". והמחמיר במקום שאפשר ולא מקל אפילו בראיה בעלמא, "קדוש" יאמר לו. ובפרט שלדעת איזה פוסקים אסור אף ראיה בדרך העברה
With this type of attitude, there isn’t much hope that he will permit a mother to come to parents’ night. Here is his conclusion:
זאת תורת העולה, שנכון מאוד למנוע הנשים שלא תבאנה ל"אסיפת הורים". וכבר יפה עשו ויפה נהגו בכמה ת"ת וביה"ס, ששירטו וביקשו: ש"לא יבואו אלא האבות"
Raz’s book was added to hebrewbooks.org in a recent update. Coincidentally, another of the books added at this time was Livyat Hen by Rabanit  Hena Kossowski. Here is the title page.
This book records her Torah thoughts. What interests me at present is the preface which mentions how she spoke before a large gathering in Volozhin at the establishment of a girl’s school. We are told that she was congratulated after her talk by one of the rabbis. In other words, she was not only speaking before the women. The preface also records that R. Joseph Kahaneman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh, liked to talk Torah with her. He even said “that he enjoys speaking with her in Torah matters more than with many well-known rabbis.”
I find this all very interesting: Raz doesn’t think that a mother is permitted to briefly speak to her son’s teacher to see how he is doing in school, while R. Kahaneman enjoyed his many conversations with Rabanit Kossowski. Haredi Orthodoxy has two directions in front of it when it comes to how women will be treated. Which way will it go?
In reading Raz I wondered why he doesn’t suggest a simple solution, namely, to allow the mother to have a telephone conference. Perhaps he also views this as forbidden. If so, he could have cited one of my favorite commentators, Joseph Ibn Caspi. (Are there any Twersky students who didn’t fall in love with Ibn Caspi?) In Mishneh Kesef, part 2, p. 55 (to Gen. 18:13), Ibn Caspi raises the question why the verse says that God spoke to Abraham and not to Sarah. He replies: “It is not proper for one who is exalted and holy to speak to women.” Perhaps we can identify a little medieval misogyny here, but what I find most fascinating about this passage is what comes directly after this: “And therefore, I have guarded myself from this all my life.”
Before anyone starts associating Ibn Caspi with the Vaad le-Tzeniut, let me disabuse you of this notion. Ibn Caspi avoiding women has nothing to do with halakhic humrot, but with a desire to remove himself from the “matter” that women represent, so that he can concentrate on the spiritual realm. As I have often explained, there is a reason why the Torah had to command procreation. Some people find this a strange commandment because certainly people would have done so without a specific mitzvah. Yet this commandment was not given for the average person but for those like Ibn Caspi, and I daresay Maimonides. Had it not been for the commandment then Judaism would also have developed an elitist class that thought, much like in Christianity and Buddhism, that avoidance of physical pleasures and the burden of parenthood is the way to get close to God. The philosophy of Ibn Caspi (and Maimonides) leads directly to at least the first assumption, and perhaps also the second. Therefore, by making procreation a commandment, the Torah ensures that even those who would choose to remove themselves from physicality so as to be bound to the spiritual, they too are still forced to be part of the physical world. The Torah is making sure that there is no spiritual caste system in Judaism, between those who succumb to the weakness of the flesh and marry, and those who are more "holy" and devote themselves only to spiritual things. For us, the spiritual can only be found together with the physical.
Nevertheless, where there is a will, there is a way, and Jews have a lot of ingenuity. Judaism therefore saw the development of its own form of asceticism which acknowledged that procreation had to be fulfilled, yet once the husband had fathered children the door was left open for real asceticism. And if you are wondering, well doesn’t the husband have to satisfy his wife sexually? The answer given is that this is not applicable if the woman is agreeable to ending sexual life, in part or even in whole. As you can imagine, this opened up the door for all sorts of ascetic practices (think of Gerrer hasidim) on the assumption that the wives don’t mind, and when they married they agreed to this. Those who have read Gandhi’s autobiography will find this all familiar, and as with Gandhi’s wife, I can’t imagine that the wife of one of these Jewish men who chooses to live an ascetic life really has much of a say in the matter. After all, are they supposed to complain and by doing so show how selfish and lustful they are, while their husbands are trying to reach great spiritual heights? The pressure on them to support their husbands in their spiritual path is enormous. It is precisely because of this that the Steipler had to write his famous letter on this matter, as he saw the contemporary ascetics as completely undermining Jewish sexual values and selfishly seeking to raise themselves in holiness at the expense of their wives.
R. Yitzhak Abadi's new sefer, Or Yitzhak vol. 2, has just appeared, and he too deals with this issue. (For those who know Abadi's brilliance and originality, they will not be disappointed. I think the most radical responsum in the book is Orah Hayyim no. 166, where he permits one who forgot to turn off the refrigerator light before Shabbat to open and close it throughout Shabbat without doing anything special, not even a shinui.) Abadi is hardly a liberal when it comes to relations between the sexes. He does not even believe it is permitted to kiss an adopted child of the opposite sex (Or Yitzhak, vol. 1 Even ha-Ezer no. 4). In this responsum he also says that one can't make a yeshiva dinner in which there will be mixed seating and you also cannot go to someone's house for Shabbat if the wife and daughters sing zemirot. In his new volume, p. 250, he states that it is not permitted for a male photographer to take pictures of the women dancing at a wedding, and you must make sure to have a women photographer do that. He also tells us, vol. 2 p. 253, that he asked the Hazon Ish about shaking a woman's hand. The Hazon Ish told him that it is yehareg ve-al ya'avor, and this is the viewpoint Abadi adopts.
Yet Abadi is also sensitive to the problems of intimacy for modern people. As he states, this was the motivating factor for his famous and controversial responsum in which he declares that today very few newlyweds need concern themselves with the issue of dam betulim (Or Yitzhak, vol. 1, Yoreh Deah no. 33. Abadi's conclusion is rejected by R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin, Bnei Vanim, vol. 4 no. 14, in a responsum addressed to a חוקר אחד). So it is not surprising to see him deal with this in his new volume, Orah Hayyim no. 95. Here he shows that he is opposed to any sort of asceticism in marriage and asks why the modern day ascetics have to be more pious than the rabbis of the Talmud. As he states elsewhere in this responsum: איפה היא שמחת העונה. Most fascinating is the end of the responsum where he rejects the common view that the reason for washing one's hands after sex is to get rid of the ruah ra'ah. Such a conception, which itself leads to a negative view of sex, is, as Abadi shows, a fairly recent development.
Despite Abadi's efforts, we must admit that asceticism has a long tradition in Judaism. In a future post I will cite many more examples of it, as well as examples from the non-ascetic tradition. One that falls into the latter category is the story told in R. Shlomo of Karlin, Shema Shlomo (Jerusalem, 1956), no. 58 (p. 96). Here we read of a pious young hasidic man who as part of his conditions for marriage tells the woman suggested to him by the Maggid of Koznitz that he needed to have sex every day:
שהוא צריך תמיד בכל יום לאשה ואינו פרוש להמתין משבת לשבת
Needless to say, the woman was shocked, and all who are interested can consult the book to see how the Maggid convinced her that despite the man's unusual demand, she should nevertheless agree to the match.
3. JOFA recently published Women and Men in Communal Prayer. This contains a complete translation of Daniel Sperber’s book on the subject, as well as the famous article of Mendel Shapiro and the responses of Eliav Shochetman and Shlomo Riskin. On p. 322, Shochetman writes:
Among other sources R. M. Shapiro finds a basis for permitting women’s aliyyot outside the synagogue in an anonymous opinion quoted in Sefer ha-Batim. . . . Indeed, here we find a clear statement that one opinion considers women’s aliyyot problematic only in the context of public reading in a synagogue, whereas when a group prays at home, women may receive aliyyot.
In fact, there is also another source that permits women’s aliyot if done in a private minyan, yet none of the scholars who have dealt with the issue have mentioned it. Here is what the sixteenth-century R. Samuel Portaleone writes (Asupot 3, p. 199-200):
ולא נהגו היתר בינינו באשה כלל משום כבוד הצבור והצניעות, דלא אכשור דרי עכשו כבתחילה. ונערה שאין מקפידין להביאה לב"ה של אנשים, מותר להעלותה לס"ת ולהפטיר, אלא שלא נהגו כן. נפקא מינא בב"ה של יחידים שמותר. ואולי גם בזה לא נהגו משום שעכשו הנשים אינן נזהרות בכל מילי דצניעותא שהיה להן ליזהר, ומרבות שיחה עם האנשים, וסייג יש בדבר. לכן המקל יהיה מן המתמיהין.
Despite his final words, he leaves no doubt that women are permitted to receive an aliyah and read the haftarah.
I was happy to write a blurb for this book, but it was not included in its entirety. So here it is.
The proper role of women in the synagogue is an issue that Modern Orthodoxy has been struggling with for over forty years. While everyone agrees that halakhah has to guide all changes in synagogue practice, women's changing self-perception and religious sentiment must be central to any discussion of synagogue life. In recent decades many avenues for Modern Orthodox women have been opened, and have achieved widespread communal support. Yet when it comes to a fuller participation in public prayer and reading of the Torah great conflict has ensued. In this provocative book, Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber, using his characteristic erudition, makes the case that in the twenty-first century it is time for women to be given their halakhic right, and be permitted to read from the Torah. Together with the responses of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Prof. Eliav Schochetman, this book is Torah study on the highest level, by scholars who thankfully choose to be engaged in an important issue affecting the Modern Orthodox world.
4. In a previous post I quoted from the recently published writings of R. Kook. In the next post (or maybe the one after that), I will deal with more of these writings, and also discuss in detail R. Kook’s Li-Nevokhei ha-Dor. A number of people were curious as to how much from R. Kook still remains in manuscript. That is a great question, and I don’t have any definitive answer. Some years ago R. Avraham Shapiro spoke of 200,000 pages that hadn’t appeared in print. I am certain that this was a great exaggeration on R. Shapiro's part, but hopefully not. For a long time the people who were in charge of R. Kook’s writings were able to stop publication of some of the most provocative material, as they held the position of the Gaon R. Yaakov Ben-Nichol that the people couldn’t handle the truth. Thankfully, in recent years the embargo has been broken.
In the next post on R. Kook I hope to also respond to some comments I was sent about R. Kook and sacrifices. For now, however, let me just say that when it comes to R. Kook’s ideas on vegetable sacrifices and vegetarianism in general, some of the most opposed to R. Kook’s views expressed themselves very similarly to the Daas Torah of R. Avraham Bunker. I am sure this will make them very happy.
For those for whom every word from R. Kook is precious, you must get a hold of R. Moshe Tsuriel’s recently published Peninei ha-Rav, especially as it contains excerpts from an unpublished book of the Rav (which is how R. Kook is referred to in Israel). Tsuriel’s book is almost 800 pages long and is full of important material, in particular his hundreds of pages of articles (and there are also great pictures). I know I am going out on a limb to say this, and some might object and offer the name of Rabbi X or Professor Y, but I don’t think that there is anyone else in the world who knows the works of R. Kook as well as Tsuriel. I am not commenting here on his interpretations of R. Kook and comparing him in this regard to other scholars. I am only speaking of sheer mastery of the Rav’s works. Tsuriel has also published more of R. Kook’s writings than anyone else in our time. If that was all that Rav Tsuriel worked on, it would be an incredible achievement, but there is so much more. His other writings will, however, have to wait for a future post.
5. In a previous post (see here), I dealt with the “inflation” that is often seen in rabbinic titles. Among the sources I mentioned in this regard, I neglected to call attention to R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin’s Bnei Vanim, vol. 2, no. 35. While there are many sources that discuss the phenomenon, Henkin’s responsum is noteworthy for it has a practical aspect that concerns Jewish books, the focus of this blog. But before getting to that, Henkin points out that there is a distinction between הג"ר and הרה"ג in that the former is reserved for someone whose essence is that of a gaon, while the latter is for one whose essence is that of a rav. In other words, everyone gets הרה"ג but only a few get הג”ר. While not actually adhered to by all authors, if you pay attention you will find that this is indeed a common practice. In fact, I first noticed this years ago in the responsa of R. Ovadiah Yosef. When R. Ovadiah gives someone the title הרה"ג, it is a sign that he does not regard him as one of the outstanding authorities. R. Yitzhak Ratsaby also picked up on this. In Ner Yom Tov, p. 76, he writes:
ותמהני טובא נמי על הרב הטוען שליט"א, שכתב על בעל שושנת המלך הרב הגאון מלא, ועל מהרי"ץ בראשי תיבות הרה"ג, ואין ספק בעיני המבין והיודע, שאין זה במקרה. וכי יציבא בארעא וגיורא בשמי שמיא.
Returning to Rabbi Henkin’s responsum, he says that while it is understandable in writing to someone to use all sorts of exalted descriptions, even if undeserved, writing this way for publication is improper and causes people to regard someone as much greater than he really is. Henkin even states that this sort of exaggeration sometimes causes financial loss, since if a rabbi is described as a great gaon people will be led to buy his books.  In other words, this is false advertising, no different than if Toyota would tell the world that they make the safest cars. If I go out and buy a book because I am told that the author is a great scholar, and then I find out that the book is nothing special, who is going to reimburse me for the wasted money? It will certainly not be the person who passed out the high praise, and obviously not the publisher (as we saw when Rav Tzair tried to return a flawed book, see here).
In fact, long before Rav Tzair tried this, we are told that R. Eizel Harif (died 1873) stated that after he died he was going to take R. Ezekiel Landau to a heavenly beit din for causing him monetary loss. It turns out that in his responsa(Noda bi-Yehudah, Even ha-Ezer, I, no. 74) R. Ezekiel gives all sorts of exalted titles to R. Isaac ben David of Constantinople, the author of a work entitled Divrei Emet. Here is its title page.
Upon reading what the Noda bi-Yehudah wrote, R. Eizel bought the book. Yet after examining it a bit, he realized that he had wasted his money, as there was nothing of value in this work. R. Hayyim Soloveitchik, however, pointed out that in one responsum the author made a valuable point, and that R. Eizel therefore had no case against R. Ezekiel. This reminds me of something said by Jacob Neusner, when he was responding to attacks that he published too much and that in some of his books there was nothing of value. He replied that in every one of his books there was at least one significant thought. There might not be more than that, but there was at least one. In other words, if you learn even one thing from a book it has some value. Rare indeed are the books from which there is literally nothing to be learnt (but sometimes we come across these books also).
6. In a previous post, see here, I discussed the way some in the haredi world try to cover up R. Yerucham Gorelik’s association with YU, where he was a Rosh Yeshiva for so many years. We recently saw another example of this. R. Yerucham’s son unfortunately passed away recently, and here is the way his death was reported on the haredi website Matzav.
It is with great sadness that we report the petirah of Rav Tzvi Abba Gorelick zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg, NY. Rav Gorelick’s most noted accomplishment was his leadership of Yeshiva Gedolah Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg, where thousands of bochurim and yungeleit have grown in Torah and yiras Shomayim. The yeshiva was founded in 1969 in the Bronx and later relocated to South Fallsburg. Rav Gorelick was a son of Rav Yeruchom Gorelick zt”l, a talmid of the Brisker Rov zt”l who founded an elementary boys school and later a girls school, Bais Miriam, in the Bronx, and combined had an enrollment of over 800 students. The boys’ school was named Zichron Moshe after Moshe Alexander Gross z”l, a young man who was drafted into the Navy during World War II and whose ship sank during the D-Day invasion in 1944. As the neighborhood began to decline, Rav Gorelick looked for other places to move. The Laurel Park Hotel in South Fallsburg, NY, was available and Rav Gorelick decided to buy the property with money that he had from the yeshiva. In 1970, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, a friend of Rav Gorelick, joined the hanhalla as rosh yeshiva. The rest is history, as the yeshiva grew and grew, becoming one of the most respected yeshivos in the world. To this day, bochurim from across the globe come to learn at Yeshiva Zichron Moshe. The yeshiva’s mosdos, under the direction of Rav Gorelick, burgeoned and currently consist of the yeshiva gedolah and mesivta, a premier kollel, as well as a cheder and Bais Yaakov elementary school. The passing of Rav Gorelick is a blow to the entire South Fallsburg Torah community and the greater Olam Hatorah. The levaya will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Yeshiva Gedolah Zichron Moshe, located at 84 Laurel Park Road in South Fallsburg, NY. The aron will leave South Fallsburg at approximately 1:30 p.m. to JFK Airport, where the levaya will continue (exact time to be determined). Kevurah will take place in Eretz Yisroel.
In omitting any mention of R. Yerucham’s primary activity throughout his life, that of Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS, we have another example of the Big Lie seen so often in the haredi press. As with all such lies, if you repeat it enough times, eventually some people will begin to accept it. Unfortunately, there are many examples that can be brought to show that the Big Lie has been quite successful in the creation and popularization of numerous haredi myths, especially when it comes to issues relating to Zionism, the State of Israel, and especially R. Kook.
Here is a picture of R. Yerucham from his youth. It has appeared in a number of places. (I also thank David Eisen for sending me a copy of it.) The rabbi in the middle is R. Baruch Ber Leibowitz and the one on the right is R. Hanoch Eiges, the Marheshet.
 These last two sources are cited in H. Z. Reines, “Yahas ha-Yehudim le-Nokhrim,” Sura 4 (1964), p. 197.
 Lamentations of Youth (Cambridge, 2007), p. 25. See the index to locate other positive references to Hirsch. In later years Scholem had a much more negative view of Hirsch’s philosophy, referring to it as a “ghastly accomodation theology.” See The Messianic Idea in Judaism (New York, 1971), p. 329.
 “From Demonic Deviant to Drowning Brother: Reform Judaism in the Eyes of American Orthodoxy,” Jewish Social Studies 15 (Spring/Summer 2009), pp. 56–88.
 I will deal with R. Chaim Kanievsky’s criticisms of Eisenstein in the next post.
 Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. Moed Katan.
 In a future post I will deal extensively with the phenomenon of plagiarism in seforim, an issue that goes back to medieval times. In the meantime, see this hilarious example of plagiarism from the internet age (called to my attention by David Assaf).
 See Yosef Goldman, Hebrew Printing, no. 1115. The book referred to by Goldman is David Moses Hermalin, Ha-Yehudim ve-ha-Bonim ha-Hofshim (New York, 1899).
 The story is briefly recounted in Shmuel Glick, Kuntres ha-Teshuvot he-Hadash (Jerusalem, 2007), vol. 2, no. 3482, who also provides references. This is not the only time that Palache came to the aid of one who was persecuted by extremists. After the rabbis of Aleppo burnt R. Elijah Benamozegh’s commentary on the Torah, Palache wrote to Benamozegh offering his support. See Ha-Levanon, July 3, 1872, p. 351. Interestingly, on this page in Ha-Levanon, Benamozegh states that according to Ibn Ezra there are post-Mosaic additions to the Torah, and he strongly rejects this viewpoint. I mention this because every now and then I get an e-mail from someone citing his rosh yeshiva or some other talmid chacham that it is impossible, and even laughable, to assert that Ibn Ezra believed this. For some of them, even to suggest this approaches heresy. If these people would simply disagree with the widespread assumption that Ibn Ezra held these radical views, that is fine, and I would very much like to hear their arguments. But generally, the people claiming as such have no idea what the issue is and make it seem like only an idiot (or a heretic) could accuse the great Rabbi Ibn Ezra of such an assumption. I already discussed how this is R. Yosef Reinman’s tactic. See here.
At the risk of being repetitive, let me say again that to assert that no one with any Torah knowledge could conclude that Ibn Ezra had these “critical” views not only shows an ignorance of the relevant literature, but also degrades numerous great Torah scholars. In Limits of Orthodox Theology I cite 26 rishonim and aharonim who understand Ibn Ezra as advocating a “critical” position, and we can now add Benamozegh to the list. There can also be little doubt R. Ezra of Gerona is referring to Ibn Ezra when he writes (Kitvei Ramban, p. 548):
והנה השמר על נפשך להיות מין, לאמור כי עזרא הסופר הוסיף בה בלבו [מלבו] בהעתקתו כמו והכנעני אז בארץ, והנה ערשו ערש ברזל כי זו היא כפירה גמורה
This passage was brought to my attention by Bezalel Naor, Ma’amar al Yishmael (Spring, Valley, 2008), p. 26. Another source that can be added to the list is R. Judah Halawa (fourteenth century), for he too identifies Ibn Ezra as holiding critical views. See his Imrei Shefer, ed. Hershler (Jerusalem, 1993), p. 335. Halawa doesn’t agree with Ibn Ezra in this matter, and writes:
וזה הדעת רחוק מדעת רבותינו שדעתם שכל התורה כלה מפי הש"י למשה
See also R. Solomon Judah Rapoport, Iggerot Shir (Przemysl, 1885), pp. 25-26.
While on the topic of Benamozegh, and since a recent post of mine dealt with Maimonides’ view of sacrifices, readers might find the way Benamozegh characterizes Maimonides’ approach interesting (Eimat Mafgia, vol. 1, p. 11a):
והטעם המדומה והמגונה לעבודת הקרבנות
See also here for a video taken on June 23, 2010, which shows R. Yaakov's supporters. At this event, one of the Sephardic rabbis from Emanuel appeared together with R. Yaakov. He attacked the Slonimer hasidim and said that there was no choice but to take the case to the Supreme court. According to one source, see here, he even stated that the Slonimers are worse than the Nazis! R. Yaakov how now (June 25, 2010) given his first radio interview explaining his position. See here.
 See Ha-Absurd: Al ha-Absurd ha-Gadol she-be-Yahasei Sefaradim ve-Ashkenazim u-Mah she-Beinehem (Ashkelon, n.d.), p. 16.
 For Amsalem’s latest “bombshell,”, this time in opposition to “Torah only” as a lifestyle choice, see here.
In R. Meir Mazuz' just published Arim Nisi: Gittin, p. 109 (first pagination), we see that he agrees with his student Amsalem.
כן מ"ש הרמב"ם שצריך להיות לת"ח מלאכה המפרנסת, אילו שמעו בקולו כמה צער היה נחסך לאברכים בזמננו, המצפים בכל חודש למילגה עלובה של נערי האוצר
It was only a matter of time before the haredi gedolim attacked Amsalem, and this has now come. Here is the placard that went up against him, and relates to his new book Zera Yisrael which argues for a more liberal approach to the concept of kabbalat mitzvot in conversion.
See here for the report in Yated Neeman, which even removes the title “rabbi” from Amsalem. See here where R Binyamin Lau argues that if R. Ovadiah Yosef sacks Amsalem, it will be the end of the Shas party and R. Ovadiah's Sephardic revolution. For Amsalem's website, see here.
Zera Yisrael appeared with haskamot from, among others, Rabbis Meir Mazuz (whom I regard as the gadol ha-dor), Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, Shlomo Dichovsky, Shear Yashuv Cohen, Dov Lior, Yaakov Ariel, and Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch. I am certain that the rabbis who condemned Amsalem have never seen his book, the second volume of which contains numerous responsa from great sages who, according to the placard, have the status of eino bar hora’ah. Unfortunately, the attack on Amsalem is just the latest example of haredi verbal assaults—others will call it bullying—on those who don't "toe the line." These attacks have become very popular in recent years, and the list of those targeted is already quite long. Since, to mention only Sephardic gedolim, R. Mazuz, R. Amar, R. Bakshi-Doron and even R. Ovadiah have been subjected to this, the attack on Amsalem was certainly not unexpected.
 Regarding looking at women, I think most people will be surprised by what Maimonides writes in his Commentary to Sanhedrin 7:4
ואשה שאינה נשואה מותר למי שאינה ערוה עליו ליהנות בהסתכלות בצורתה, ואין איסור בכך אלא בדרך הצניעות והפרישות מן המותר כדי שלא יכשל באסור
 This is how she is described on the title page. Incidentally, R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai has an entry for “rabbanit” in his Shem ha-Gedolim. He lists there a few learned women. When Azulai uses the term rabbanit, it does not mean “rebbetzin” but “female rabbi”. I am sure that there are those who would object to Hida that these women were never “ordained”. Yet Hida also includes many others who were not ordained, but I don’t think anyone would take the title of “rabbi” away from them. One such figure was Moses ben Maimon.
I know that some in the Modern Orthodox world do not like the modern title “rabbanit” or “rebbetzin.” It bothers them that rebbetzins have a title which comes to them only by virtue of whom they married, and yet learned women who are not married to rabbis are not given any title. However, the practice of calling a woman by her husband’s title actually has biblical precedent. See Isaiah 8:3: “And I was intimate with the prophetess and she conceived.” Here Isaiah is speaking about his wife. As Radak and Ibn Ezra point out, the wife of a prophet is called a prophetess even if she herself never received prophecy. (Rashi, Is. 7:14, disagrees, but I think the peshat is in accord with Radak and Ibn Ezra.) Also, let us not forget the notion that אשת חבר כחבר, which in modern times I assume works in reverse as well. (As to why there is no obligation to stand up for a rebbetzin, as is done with her husband, see R. Yitzhak Yosef’s recent Shulhan ha-Ma’arekhet, vol. 2, p. 248, ma’arekhet heh no. 17. Here R. Yosef states that all agree that standing up for an אשת חבר is only midat hasidut and that there is no halakhic obligation. He also quotes that Hida that after the death of a rebbetzin’s husband, it might not even rise to midat hasidut. Yet in his Kitzur Shulhan Arukh 242:19, R. Yosef states the exact opposite: מצוה לקום מפני אשת חבר, ואפילו אחר מות בעלה מצוה לקום מפניה)
Would it be so hard for Modern Orthodoxy to come up with a title recognizing those women who are talmidot hakhamim? I am not referring to a title that has anything to do with the practicing rabbinate, as we have seen how divisive that is, but simply a way to acknowledge achievement (which would also bring the recipients certain practical benefits).
The RCA has recently reaffirmed its support for women’s Torah study: “In light of the opportunity created by advanced women's learning, the Rabbinical Council of America encourages a diversity of halakhically and communally appropriate professional opportunities for learned, committed women, in the service of our collective mission to preserve and transmit our heritage.”
I am curious as to how this will work in the real world. Before this statement was issued, I was told by a learned woman that a Modern Orthodox high school refused to hire her to teach Talmud. They told her that they thought these positions should only be held by men. I wonder, would the typical Modern Orthodox high school, where girls are taught Talmud and halakhah by men, ever hire a woman to do this as well? And if yes, would she ever be allowed to teach these subjects to boys or to a co-ed class? If the answer is no, I think that this should be made very clear. It is not fair to encourage all these women to study advanced Talmud and halakhah if at the end of their studies they find that there is a glass ceiling. If it is true that there will be no jobs for them, then they should be told this up front.
The RCA should also explain what positions are “communally appropriate”. Is it ever appropriate for a woman to give a shiur in Humash to the community (men and women)? If yes, what about a shiur in Talmud or halakhah? If yes, can such a woman answer halakhic questions? The purpose of the advanced Talmud study programs for women at Stern and elsewhere should also be explained. Are they only Torah li-Shemah, or is there some expectation that these women will be given the opportunity to make use of their knowledge in the Jewish community? (For R. Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch's recent defense of the Yoatzot Halakah, see his Siah Nahum, no. 60. He even has no problem with the Yoatzot actually "poskining" she'elot)
Basically, Modern Orthodoxy opened up a can of worms when it sanctioned advanced Jewish education for women. It has not yet found the way to make this work without creating controversy on the one side and dashing expectations on the other.
 For sources on the permissibility of hearing a woman lecture, see the outstanding young scholar R. Yonatan Rosman’s Taher Libenu (Staten Island, 2009), pp. 138-139. Hardal Orthodoxy has many of the same issues as the haredim. I was surprised to see that R. Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed and one of the leaders of the hardalim, who is extremely stringent in matters of tzeniut (to the extent that he holds that women’s pictures should not be published), actually sang before hundreds of young women. He did this during sefirah no less. Even though the event took place on Rosh Hodesh Iyar, since when does Rosh Hodesh affect the sefirah restrictions? Presumably, the heter was for kiruv purposes. See his performance here.
 He also doesn’t deal with Moed Katan 3:9, which shows that in Mishnaic days a woman led the wailing: “The woman speaks up and all respond after her.” Along these lines, it is very interesting to see how haredi and hardal authors deal with Ta’anit 4:8, which describes how young women in search of husbands would dance in front of the young men. (In a future post I will discuss whether they did so also on Yom Kippur or only on the 15th of Av.) Many assume that this didn’t raise any tzeniut problems, because in the days of the Second Temple the young men were at a much higher level than today. They could be trusted not to set their eyes on beauty but on spiritual traits, which were somehow best conveyed through the women’s dancing . . .
According to R. Shimon Schwab, in ancient days the women danced in circles, which was more modest than what occurs today. It was therefore permitted for the men to gaze upon them. See R. Yitzhak Abadi, Or Yitzhak, vol. 2, p. 251. You can be sure that today, no matter how modest the dancing, it would be regarded as a violation of tzeniut for the men to watch the women.
 To give just one example, see R. Hayyim Eleazar Wachs, Shem ve-She’erit le-Nefesh Hayah, no. 13, who discusses a “holy man” who was completely celibate with his wife for the last fifteen years of her life.
 Regarding how women were viewed as lustful, the Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 22:18, states:
אלמנה אסורה לגדל כלב מפני החשד
Rashi, Avodah Zarah 22b s.v. lo, explains the underlying Talmudic passage: שמא תתאוה ותרביענו עליה
This is, to put it mildly, not a very sympathetic view of woman’s nature, and I daresay that of the mentally deranged people who are into this stuff, a much higher percentage are men (as seems to be the case with all such perversions). Tosafot, Bava Metzia 71a s.v. lo, completely disregards Rashi’s reason, and assumes that there is no actual prohibition. According to Tosafot, there is a concern not with what the woman will actually do, but what people will say about her. From our perspective, this too is strange. We assume, with good reason, that when it comes to matters of sexual morality, the generations have declined, and yet today no one would ever dream of insinuating anything improper about someone who has a dog, even if the person is regarded as completely dissolute. I also can’t imagine any rabbi suggesting to a widow that she get rid of her dog, because what woman wouldn't be insulted by such a request? Hundreds of years ago, R. Yitzhak Lampronte already noted that this law of the Shulhan Arukh was ignored. See Pahad Yitzhak, s.v. almanah, p. 73a:
והאידנא לא ראיתי מוחים באלמנה מלגדל כלב, אולי דעתה לא נחשדו ישראל על כך
Yet see R. Haggai Levy, Ginat ha-Egoz, no. 79, who rejects Lampronte, and states that even a female divorcee is forbidden to have a dog. I am curious, however, why there is no distinction made between owning a male or female dog.
 The letter is found in Orhot Rabbenu, vol. 5 pp. 29-31. Portions of it first appeared in print in R. Nathan Drazin’s 1989 book, Zivug min ha-Shamayim, pp. 110-111. Since Drazin is trying to present what he regards as a healthy attitude towards sex, it is understandable that he quotes the Steipler’s letter. Yet Drazin’s discussion is not entirely accurate. For example, in dealing with the somewhat ascetic approach of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, Drazin states that is directed towards
גדולי תורה אשר הגיעו לדרגה גבוהה ויכולים למצוא את סיפוקם במישור הרוחני, וכל זה בהסמכתה המלאה של האשה ובמחילה בלב שלם אך לא לאנשים בינוניים.
When confronted with the approach of the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, the proper answer by Drazin should have been that this work represents a tradition that is not suitable for modern people, or that other gedolim disagree. But to state that something in the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh is directed towards gedolei Torah and not the masses is simply a distortion. The Kitzur Shulhan Arukh is the halakhic work for the masses par excellence, and has been printed hundreds of times in various languages. If there is any work which is not directed towards the gedolim, it is the Kitzur Shulhan Arukh.
With regard to the Kitzur, we can see a reflection of the decline in Jewish learning in that abridgements of the Abridged Shulhan Arukh were published. One such example is R. Israel Kanovitz, Hayyei ha-Yehudi (New York, 1929. This book describes itself as: תמצית הס' קצור ש"ע מהר"ש גנצפריד
In fact, this book was itself abridged. See Ve-Hai ba-Hem (Montevideo, 1956).
 Since it is a shame for anything written to go to waste, here is what I wrote in 2003 for the website hebrewbooks.org when it was still in its infancy. In those days the site only focused on American rabbis. Shortly after writing the letter, the focus of the website changed, meaning my piece was no longer suitable. I publish it here for the sake of posterity
The history of Orthodox Judaism in the United States in the years before World War II still awaits careful study. Many, in fact, are under the misconception that until the 1930's the United States lacked great Torah scholars. The truth is that already at the turn of the twentieth century, there were many outstanding Torah scholars who had settled here. Had they remained in Europe it is likely that some of them would now be well known in the Torah world.
For a variety of reasons these rabbis were forced to leave Russia and Europe and travel to a new land. They ended up in communities throughout the country. Although it is hard to imagine it today, there were world-renowned scholars in such places as Omaha, Nebraska, Burlington, Vermont, and Hoboken, New Jersey. These were men who lived in the wrong place at the wrong time, and their communities did not appreciate the greatness that dwelled within them. The challenges of the new land were indeed difficult and unfortunately, many of these rabbis' children did not follow the path of their fathers.
The works of these rabbis, in addition to being major contributions to Torah literature, are also priceless historical documents. They reflect a time, unlike today, when Orthodoxy was on the defensive, appearing to many to be on its way out. After their deaths, these rabbis were forgotten as were their books. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, and the indefatigable efforts of Chaim Rosenberg, this situation is being rectified. The Torah writings of these forgotten American rabbis are now being made available. Those who peruse these works will see the learning and dedication of our American sages. They will see how these rabbis grappled with challenging halakhic problems, and how they attempted to offer religious inspiration to their congregants. It is they, the "Gedolei America," who laid the groundwork for Orthodoxy in the United States, and for this we are all grateful.
 For R. Yuval Sherlo’s recent pesak (which should have been obvious to anyone) that it is not regarded as lashon hara to negatively review a book, see here.
 See R. Zvi Schachter, Nefesh ha-Rav, pp. 234-235.
 In this post I quoted R. Mark Urkowitz’ recollection of how R. Gorelik viewed the importance of YU. Subsequently, Urkowitz wrote to me that he recalls just about verbatim the language of Gorelik. R. Yerucham prefaced the remark with something to the effect that he always makes negative comments about YU. He then added:
אבער איר זאלט וויסען אז דאס איז די איין אונד איין איינזיגער מקום תורה אין אמריקא ווייל נאר פון דא גייען די בחורים ארוים צו זעהן אז עס זאל בלייבען ידישקייט אין די לאנד
Friday, June 18, 2010
There are few upcoming events that we wanted to highlight. First, on the auction front. There are two auctions, one Baranovich is having its auction on the 23rd of June. Kedem is having its auction the next day on the 24th. Additionally, Kedem now offers online bidding so those unable to make it to auction don't have to rely upon either phone bidding or absentee bidding.
For those in the Washington, D.C. area next Tuesday, there will be a talk at the Library of Congress at noon. The flyer appears below.
For those in the Washington, D.C. area next Tuesday, there will be a talk at the Library of Congress at noon. The flyer appears below.
Monday, June 14, 2010
In response to a request from the editorial board of the Seforim blog, we are pleased to present a monograph-length review essay of Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Princeton University Press, 2010), by Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, who is a frequent contributor to the Seforim blog (see here for his earlier essays at the Seforim blog).We believe that Chaim Rapoport, "The Afterlife of Scholarship: A Critical Exploration of Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman’s Presentation of the Rebbe’s Life," the Seforim blog (14 June 2010), available here (http://seforim.blogspot.com/2010/06/chaim-rapoport-review.html) greatly contributes to the growing study of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement during the latter half of the twentieth century.
The Afterlife of Scholarship: A Critical Exploration of Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman’s Presentation of the Rebbe’s Life
Two Books for the Price of One
‘The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson’ by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman (Princeton University Press, 2010), 382 pages.
This book is comprised of two studies.
Firstly, we have a sociological study of the Lubavitch ‘mission establishment’ (shlichus); a layman’s guide to the now global phenomenon of shluchim,, shluchos and their Chabad Houses – at least as they have become consolidated over the last two or three decades. The authors describe the dedication of these emissaries; their ambitions, achievements and the (messianic) ethos that spurs them to work tirelessly with the aim of drawing the hearts of all Jewish People closer to their Father in Heaven.
In this section they speak, often quite fondly, of the sterling work performed by the shluchim and their families who go and live in small towns, far-flung cities and secular university campuses in order to re-ignite religious life; providing Jewish amenities for both residents and itinerants, observant or otherwise, across the globe. They emphasize the novelty of this phenomenon, in contradistinction to other chasidic and haredi groups who tend to retreat into their insular communities, shunning exposure to the outside world and its religiously threatening elements. They depict the ‘equal rights’ and privileges of women on shlichus, describing the uniqueness of this somewhat ‘egalitarian’ phenomenon within an otherwise ultra-traditional group. They explore the motives that they believe drive so many young, talented and charismatic couples to choose such a challenging life-long career, and describe how they maintain the high level of inspiration, stamina and perseverance that are essential for success in this vocation. Finally, they demonstrate how such families see themselves, as astonishing as this may seem, to be acting as emissaries of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch dynasty [henceforth: ‘the Rebbe’]; who passed away in 1994.
Secondly, and most importantly, we have an attempt to present the life-story of the Rebbe, the man who created this mission, and the one who, to this day, inspires those who have embraced it. The authors do not merely endeavor to reconstruct the factual data of his life, much of which, they allege, is shrouded in mystery, but they also venture to penetrate the deepest recesses of his psyche. They purport to reveal his unspoken thoughts, feelings, incentives, and they sometimes even second guess his actions or reactions at any given time of his life. As Sue Fishkoff has put it, Heilman and Friedman “take a psycho-bio approach to Schneerson’s life, trying to get inside the man’s head to uncover his motivation”  – a tall order indeed!
The Focus of This Review
Although the biography of the Rebbe and the history of his movement are presented as intrinsically intertwined, the critical analysis I offer hereby, will focus primarily on the biographical section of the book. I propose to appraise the methodology of its authors, their sources, inferences, pre-suppositions and conclusions, and ultimately judge the quality of this biography as a work of scholarly research. At the conclusion, however, I will also make some remarks that are relevant to the work of the Chabad emissaries and the future of their mission, inasmuch as these are related to the concept of the Messiah and Redemption, subjects that are central to both the biographical and sociological sections of Heilman and Friedman’s work.
A reliable biography of a 20th century figure usually relies on several sources of information: (a) hard documentation; (b) autobiographical testimony of the subject; (c) [interviews with eye] witnesses; (d) anecdotal evidence and hearsay: “mi-pee ha-shemuah”; (e) the objective, un-prejudiced analysis and interpretation of a, b, c and d.
The subject of the biography will be ‘constructed’ by the reasonable and balanced usage of these five construction tools. This equilibrium requires that priority is given to (a) over (b) and (c) over (d) etc. [To an extent, the credentials of the biographer as a historian in general can be tested by the way he utilizes these five informants].
It is, working from this vantage point that I proceed to explore the work of Heilman and Friedman. But before I commence this task, a preliminary remark is called for. 
To read the entire (forty-five page) review essay, click here (PDF).
 In their first endnote on the book Heilman and Friedman express surprise that Lubavitch emissaries are referred to as shluchim: “The precise Hebrew or Yiddish word for emissaries would be ‘shlichim,’ but for whatever reason, Lubavitchers have chosen to use the term ‘shluchim,’ perhaps to distinguish themselves from all other types of emissaries, religious or otherwise.” Heilman and Friedman, chapter 1, note 1. This comment bespeaks ignorance in the Hebrew language. Whilst it is true that in Modern Hebrew (the Ivrit of Ben Yehudah) the plural shlichim is used, in rabbinic Hebrew (and therefore Yiddish) it is virtually unused. The term shluchim and its derivatives are found in hundreds of places in rabbinic writings.
 Sue Fishkoff, “New bios of Lubavitcher rebbe dig for the man behind the myth,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency (17th May 2010), available here (http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/05/17/2394846/new-bios-of-lubavitcher-rebbe-dig-for-the-man-behind-the-myth).
 There are those who would have it that only non-Israeli’s can pass judgment on the Arab-Israeli conflict; only indifferent Jews can assess the qualities of Jewish Orthodoxy; only atheists can write impartially about religion; and only academic sociologists can write objective history. I disagree.
I am an orthodox Jew. I consider myself to be a disciple of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, and although I studied in other Yeshivot (Manchester and Gateshead), and I am familiar with a broad array of orthodox theologies, my main training was in Lubavitch. Nevertheless I consider myself to be a fair and reasonable thinker, even with regards to matters that relate to Judaism, orthodoxy, and, yes, Lubavitch. I acknowledge that I may not be able to achieve the maximum possible degree of objectivity with regard to any of the above, but on the other hand, I believe that my first-hand experience of Jewish, Orthodox and Chasidic life affords me advantages that outside scholars often lack.
Moreover, as many recent studies have demonstrated, the vantage point of the outsider is not always free from bias and prejudice. All too often, the so-called detached scholars have their own axes to grind. Not all ‘external’ expertise is objective, and, not all insiders are blind. I therefore appeal to readers to avoid pre-judging the value of my essay, by resorting to the knee-jerk: “Well, he is a Lubavitcher; what else do you expect him to say?!” Rather, listen to my argumentation, look up the sources, and judge for yourself with the maximum possible degree of objectivity that you are able to achieve.
Chaim Rapoport, “The Afterlife of Scholarship: A Critical Exploration of Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman’s Presentation of the Rebbe’s Life,” the Seforim blog (14 June 2010): 3, available here (http://seforim.blogspot.com/2010/06/chaim-rapoport-review.html).