Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Making of a Mountain out of a Molehill

As already announced on this blog, the new -- "Improved" -- edition of R. Nosson Kamenetsky's Making of a Godol is now available. A helpful reader of this blog was kind enough to ensure that I obtained a copy. This new edition has, among its many changes, a 3-page foreword to the new edition and an index of all the changes to the book.

I was going to write a long post detailing the changes in the book, but someone already beat me to it. See these posts (I & II) for a discussion of the some of the changes in the book. And see here for an interesting interview by Steven Weiss with R. Kamenetsky.

Let me just add a few more changes to those listed in the two posts mentioned above:

1. Whereas the previous edition related a story about how R. Aharon Kotler, in the heat of an excited study, told his father-in-law R. Isser Zalman Meltzer that he (R. Aharon) could learn better than him (R. Isser Zalman), and R. Isser Zalman replied that it isn't much anyway; the new edition attributes the original source of this story as R. Ya'akov Yitzhak Ruderman (p. 1097).

2. The new edition revises the story of R. Barukh Ber Leibowitz offending R. Elazar Mayer Preil's family when the latter's daughters started singing zemiros on Shabbos and R. Barukh Ber ran out of the room. According to the Preil-Teitz family, it was not R. Barukh Ber but his student, R. Reuven Grozovsky, and he only wanted to run out but R. Barukh Ber would not let him. There is also one report that the girls were singing bentching (pp. xxii, xliii-xliv). The author makes it clear that there is otherwise a "seeming normative halakhic imperative to leave the room."

3. After describing the protagonist's broad-mindedness, in praising the large attendance at R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik's yahrtzeit shi'urim and of having gone to hear a Zionist orator as a youth, the author adds in this new edition that his father saw the world in figurative shades of gray (p. 1187). Evidently, this made it clear that the protagonist was not a full supporter of R. Soloveitchik or the Zionist orator.

The new edition is full of corrections and additions. My favorite correction is that the word shai'ur (the way my wife pronounces it) is now spelled shi'ur (the way I pronounce it). It is not possible for one blog post to detail all of the improvements and elaborations that can now be found in the book. But I think the most important information garnered from this new edition is not found on any specific page.

What is so shocking about this "Improved Edition" is how minor the changes are. If we are to take R. Kamenetsky at his word and believe that he revised all of the "offending" passages, then we now have a complete record of the issues that led to his ban and most public humiliation. One would hope that in order to be called cruel and sadistic, to be accused of intentionally trying to cast doubts on the fundamental principles of faith, to be called a Rasha Aritz (a wicked tyrant), etc. (quotes are from pp. 152, 160 of Anatomy of a Ban and were not stated by Gedolim but by interested parties) one's offense would have to be exceedingly egregious. But such is not the case. The "Improved Edition" of Making of a Godol only demonstrates how minor the author's indiscretions were, if they can even be termed indiscretions. The public humiliation, the name-calling, the black-listing, the financial damage and the betrayals are entirely incommensurate with the perceived offense.

The "Improved Edition" of Making of a Godol is supposed to be a commentary on the pre-War yeshiva world, but it is really a commentary -- no, a biting indictment -- of the contemporary Orthodox community.

UPDATE: Steven I. Weiss reports on this in The Forward.

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