Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Revisionism and the Aruch HaShulchan

A very interesting book review of the new Friedman Edition "Oz Vehadar" of the Aruch HaShulchan (AhS) came to my attention (hat tip, RSBA of Melbourne, via Areivim). While it's always nice to see another major halachic work re-typeset, to avoid the broken and missing letters that always arise from the photo-lithographic reprint process, the accompanying notes and front-matter reflect the interests of the new publisher, often in surprising ways.

The new edition was published about a year ago; the original work appeared in fascicles between 1883 and 1908, commenting on the entire Shulchan Aruch (a few sections are still missing). The famous Mishneh Berurah (MB) was also published in the same time frame, 1884 to 1907, covering only the Orach Chaim section of the Shulchan Aruch. The time was certainly ripe for new compendia of halachic development, as the last major commentary to summarize then-current opinion had been the Ba'er Heitev, which summarized halachic commentators between the time of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) in the 1550s, and his time in the late 1700s. The socioeconomic shifts caused by the twin challenges of the Enlightenment and Chasidism made a new halachic summary necessary.

Since the AhS covered the entirety of contemporary halacha, and the author was a known city-rabbi, rather than a non-ordained genius in a yeshiva, for many years the AhS was taken to be authoritative, inasmuch as the author was used to dealing with practical halacha. Since the Second World War, however, there has been a concerted, if subtle, effort among many Roshei Yeshiva to promote the MB as the primary halachic work for daily life. There are pictures of prominent Roshei Yeshiva carrying the MB with the title prominently displayed, to convey the impression that the work is endorsed by the Rosh Yeshiva, and therefore should be authoritative for his students.

The Friedman Edition of the Aruch haShulchan takes a clear position in this battle for halachic dominance, according to the unnamed reviewer (the review was published in a journal of the Hesder yeshivah in Kiryat Arba [Chevron], by "the editors") - for the MB and against the AhS.

In republishing the AhS, the editors at Machon Oz VeHadar have subtly attacked the credibility of the work itself. They include a new commentary, "Piskei Mishneh Berurah", at the bottom of each page, pointing out where the MB's rulings disagree with those of the AhS. The editor is quite clear in his introduction, telling us that he included this commentary "so that we should know what the final ruling is" - implying that the AhS does not have the authority to be a final decisor of Halachah.

In fact, the texts of the two works indicate that the author of AhS had seen the MB when he wrote his sections on Orach Chaim, after the MB was published, and explicitly disagreed with the MB on a number of issues. See the review for examples. Usually we follow "halacha kebatrai", the later decisor wins, because he has seen the earlier work and takes it into account. Not so here, according to this editor - the earlier work wins, presumably because of the "righteousness" (as opposed to rightness?) of the author. Other books, e.g. current editions of the MB, include "piskei this and that", other people's rulings on the same issues, but they are generally printed in the back, and are the work of later decisors, who again, saw the MB and took issue. They are not examples of an earlier work, with which the AhS disagrees, being presented as trumping the later work.

The new edition goes further in its revisionism, into plagiarism.

The new AhS includes a 23-page biography of R' Yechiel Michl Halevi Epstein (RYME), the author of AhS. The unnamed biographer cites the Mekor Baruch, R' Baruch Halevi Epstein's biography of his father, RYME. However, much of the material is taken from, nay, copied from, two other books on the sages of the turn of the 20th Century: Sarei haMeiah (Centurions), by R' Yehuda Leib Maimon, a student of RYME, and MiVolozhin Ad Yerushalayim, by R' Meir Bar-Ilan, grandson of RYME.

The reviewer brings five clear examples of plagiarism from these works, and lists eight more. Quoting is not plagiarism, if one cites one's sources, so what overriding moral issue brought this unnamed biographer to engage in plagiarism? Fear of being associated with Zionists. The authors of the two latter works were "Mizrachistim", the antecedent party of today's Religious Zionists in Israel. It's not stated explicitly, but other material in the biography leans that way. For example, while it is known that RYME was anti-Zionist, he wrote one tract against the Zionists. R' Maimon reports that it was only the one tract, and that RYME regretted it afterwards. He was cordial with various known Mizrachists.

The unnamed biographer, however, paints a different picture. He tells us that RYME attended a Zionist conference to rail at the attendees, and that he made his opinion known "at every streetcorner." This does not sound like someone who had cordial, even friendly relations with "all the leaders of the religious Zionist movement," in R' Maimon's words.

Similar elision of Zionist sources occurs in other recent works where the author hopes for a large Chareidi market. The editor of the Frankel Rambam, when asked why he did not include any references to R' Avraham Y. Kook's Shabbat HaAretz, a major early-20th Century work on Shemitta, has allegedly replied that he did not want to alienate the chareidim who might buy his books, while the religious-zionists would buy it regardless. (source: a private email list) The reviewer notes this lacuna in the Frankel Rambam.

As in Lawrence Kaplan's article on Revisionism and the Rav, groups today feel free to change the nature of works and writers of old, to fit a contemporary agenda. In view of the diversity of opinion that has characterized the Torah world for millenia, we are poorer for it.

UPDATE (10 pm): Nachum comments at Seforim that the new edition doesn't include the material on Hilchot Nedarim published as the 9th volume, edited by R' Dr. Simcha Fishbane. Does this imply that the Bar-Ilan family, as well as R' Fishbane, favor the existence of the State of Israel? R' Fishbane has written about both the MB (his dissertation, Method and Meaning in the Mishnah Berurah, Ktav, 1991) and the AhS.

UPDATE 7/15: The author of the review has revealed himself - R' Eitam Henkin, son of H"R YH Henkin.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i feel better about my old-style photo-offset edition now.

DafKesher said...

It's interesting how the mizrachi people will get mad when their works are censored, but censor others - any references to Lieberman in the Halakha Berurah index to works on the Rambam?

thanbo said...

Lawrence Kaplan's article on Revisionism and the Rav (hence the title of my piece) notes that both left and right revise the Rav to fit what they saw of him - most don't capture the essence of the whole person.

But what of Lieberman's would have been appropriate to an "index to works on the Rambam"? AFAIK, he wrote almost entirely on Yerushalmi, Tosefta, early Midrash, and the history of Jewish Hellenism. What commentary did he write on the Rambam?

Eliyahu said...

He published Hilchos Yerushalmi of the Rambam an attempt by the Rambam to produce a Rif (Hilchos Alfasi) on the Yerushalmi (the Rambam mentions that he wrote such a work). It was originally published by Louis Ginzburg as sridei yerushalmi (fragments of the Yerushalmi; though he suspected it was the Rambam's). Lieberman interspersed the fragments of the Rambam's Halachos with his guesses of the missing fragments. I think you can consider that a commentary. In any case, it was on Kesuvos and Berachos. In his Tosefta KiPhshuta he quotes many Rishonim with explantions (probably the more relevant here; aharon aharon haviv).

Anonymous said...

Worse yet is what they do in our schools--- its gotta be that 50% of rebbis in mo schools come from the charedi world. This too is a form of self selected censorship. We must demand austrit from the charedi or mo and all its variations will die out in a generaltion

Anonymous said...

These reaction seem a bit blown out of proportion. The fact is that most users nowadays do go to the MB when they want to know halacha lemaase and go to the Aruch haShulchan when they want to see the lomdus behind the halacha or for a more in depth description of the major opinions.

There is nothing in the old edition that is left out of this one (I assume) so why get so agitated?

Joe Socher

Anonymous said...

what about the fact that the aruch hashulchans work on hilchata limeshicha was titled ah"s leatid and when mossad harav kook printed it they named it ah"s heatid because according to modern hebrew it sounds better

Avi Schwartz said...

Despite these problems, this is still a remarkable edition. One major ma'alah of the Oz Vehadar over the Baruchman reprint are the marginal cross references to seif in SA, which make this version much more usable.
Regarding the Frankel edition of Rambam Zeraim - I heard while learning in Yerucham that the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hahesder Yerucham, Rav Eliyahu Blumenzweig שליט"א, was among the original staff of scholars working on the mafte'ach for this volume of the Rambam, but quit when they wouldn't let him put in the references to Rav Kook's book.