Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Biography of Gedolim

Long before Making of a Godol there was another book that contained terrific stories of Gedolim. These stories are especially refreshing in that they give a "human" look at gedolim. This book was originally published in Yiddish and subsequently portions were translated into Hebrew. The book written by Ya'akov Mark, (1857-1929) is titled Gedolim fun Unzer Tziet (or the great ones of our time). This book was first published in New York in 1927 and included a picture of the author. Mark was from Palanga, Lithuania (or Latvia depending upon how the wind is blowing). Palanga is a resort town on the Baltic Sea where many gedolim came for vacation. Mark, thus was afforded first hand contact with many of the greatest Rabbis at the end of the 19th and the turn of the 20th century. Eventually, in 1920 Mark moved to America and his book was published there.

The book is divided by type of person, namely, Rabbonim, Manhigim, 'Askonim, and Maskilim. It includes biographies and stories about, among others, R. Y. Salanter, R. Yitzhak Elkhonon, R. Hildesheimer, Shmuel Yosef Fuenn, R. Ma'atishyau Staushun.

Mark's work was utilized by many. R. Dov Katz in his Tenuat haMussar uses it extensively. In another work on the early ba'ali mussar, haMeorot haGedolim by R. Ha'ayyim Zaichyk, (New York, 1953) also uses Mark, especially in the section devoted to R. Y. Salanter. The use of Mark is documented in the footnotes. In the most recent reprints of haMeorot haGedolim, all footnotes that reference Mark have been removed. Of course, the publishers that reprinted haMeorot haGedolim don't mention this, let alone offer a reason for this omission. Perhaps it was one of the following "sins" that "warranted" the exclusion of Mark from this edition. The first, he was an accountant and not a Rav. The second was that he offers a more human portrait of the persons mentioned in his book. The third is that includes "questionable" people in his book such as Saul Pinhas Rabinowitz (Shepher) or Dr. Harkavy. Again, I don't know that these were the reasons, however, I think they are plausible although inexcusable.

In 1958, Mark's work was partially reprinted and translated into Hebrew. The Hebrew title is b'Mihitzham shel Gedolei haDor. This edition only included the portion of the original Ra'abanim and Manhigim those in the second half of the original under 'askanim and maskilim were not included. The publishers stated that they planned on publishing a second volume which would include those, however, it seems that never happened. The one exception was R. Ma'atishyu Staushun, who although was in the later category was included in this edition.

Either edition is worthwhile reading full of fascinating anecdotes and stories. The Yiddish is more difficult to obtain, but not impossible.

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