Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Making of a Gadol Biography


R. Yonason Rosenblum has a very troubling article in the current issue of The Jewish Observer. His article "The Chazon Ish: The Man and His Vision" is a translation and adaptation of a work by longtime Israeli Haredi politician R. Shlomo Lorincz. So, perhaps, the blame falls on the latter rather than R. Rosenblum, who might have just been doing a favor for someone by writing this material.

Two major issues jump out at me as troubling:

1. Extreme Historical Inaccuracy

From p. 55: "Readers who were not yet born in 1933 when the Chazon Ish made aliyah, or even six years later when I came to Eretz Yisroel, cannot imagine what a spiritual wasteland Eretz Yisroel was in those days... The concept of a ben Torah was completely foreign to this public. The new yishuv could only boast of one or two small yeshivos in which the learning was al taharas hakodesh."

This seems to be not only entirely inaccurate, but also insulting to the many Torah leaders who worked hard before and after the Hazon Ish's arrival. Notably: The Alter of Slabodka who established the Hevron Yeshivah, R. Yehezkel Sarna, R. Tzvi Pesah Frank, R. Isser Zalman Meltzer, and many more. This was hardly a spiritual wasteland. There were also clearly opportunities for proper education since R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach -- 23 when the Hazon Ish moved to Israel -- obviously received an excellent Torah education.

2. Gratuitous Insults

From p. 55: "Even those who rermained loyal to Torah values did not dream of challenging the Zionist leadership, or even the ideology of Mizrachi, permeated as it was with compromises and grateful acceptance of whatever bones were thrown its way by its Zionist masters."

Why was this necessary? What purpose does it serve to insult others? R. Yisrael Salanter famously said that there are two ways to praise someone: to elevate him or to denigrate others. The biography of a Torah giant is certainly not the place to denigrate those Torah scholars with different approaches, not to imply that there are other places when it is proper.

What is more ironic is that this was originally written by a longtime representative of the Haredi political parties, someone who arguably engaged in the very activities he denigrated Mizrachi for doing.

This type of writing is not only insulting to the very person the article is trying to praise, it lowers the level of public discourse and teaches the laity by example to hate and insult other God-fearing Jews.

(hat tip to Nachlas Dovid)

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