Monday, March 27, 2006

The Ban on the book HaGaon

Now, as the Yiddish newspaper Der Yid has gotten around to commenting on the book HaGaon, I thought it would be worthwhile flesh out the entire controversy surrounding this book. Interestingly, R. Kamentsky in Making of a Godol actually discusses this very topic, although not in the context of HaGaon.

HaGaon written by R. Dov Eliakh in three volumes discusses everything and anything having to do with the Vilna Gaon. Most of the book is not controversial at all, instead, in painstaking detail R. Eliakh chronicles what we know about the Gra and the times he lived in. However, the third volume was the one that many took issue with. That volume, which discusses the controversy between the hassidim and the non-hassdim, also includes most of the primary literature on the topic. That means, R. Eliakh quotes extensively from many of the early anti-hassidic tracts which were published. Some of these contain scathing critiques of the hassidim and accuse them of rather disturbing acts.

However, as many are aware this was not the first time these were published. All of these, and more, have been published by Mordecai Wilensky, in his Hasidim u-Mitnagdim (which is now available again). In fact, much of this has even been translated into English in Elijah Schochet's The Hasidic Movement and the Vilna Gaon. But, for some who are unaware of these, Eliakh's book was highly disturbing.

The main complaints came, as is not a surprise, from hasidic circles. For instance, in the magazine Olam haHasidut, has three issues devoted to the book. On the cover of two of those issues, the book HaGoan appears in flames. Needless to say they were not fans of the book. The title reads אוי לדור שכך עלתה בימיו (how unfortunate we are to have this happen in our time). Among the major complaints about the book is that it is "written in the style of the maskilim (enlightenment)." I assume that means that as Eliakh documented everything he wrote that is in the style of the maskilim.

Additionally, they complain that as this controversy is no longer applicable (as the hasidim of today don't do what they did back then), it serves no purpose in relating this again.

Now, here is where Making of a Godol comes in. R. Nathan Kamenetsky records what his father, R. Yaakov's opinion on whether to discuss the history of the controversy between the hasidim and the non-hasidim. "My father [R. Yaakov] approved of snubbing of 'a book on the Goan of Vilna by an outstanding author' because 'the author had purposely omitted chapters dealing with the Gaon's opposition to Hasiduth and that he [R. Yaakov] said, 'It is prohibited to conceal substantive and important issues such as these. Such distortion is tantamount to falsehood.'" R. Nathan Kamentsky goes on to relate that the book in question was R. Landau's biography of the Gra and that his father [Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky] actually confronted R. Landau and accused him of "falsifying the image of the Gaon." See Making of a Godol vol. 1 pp. xxvii (available here).

Consequently, R. Yaakov felt that leaving out such a seminal fact in a biography was equivalent to lying. However, as we see, the publishers of Olam haHassidut appear to disagree. They are not the only ones. R. Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbi, wrote a long article where he also takes issue with Eliakh's book. He also claims that R. Eliakh should have left out the details of the controversy.

It would appear that there is a fundamental controversy as to whether or not one should lie regarding history. In fact, in the journal Ohr Yisrael, there was an article addressing this very point - whether one should lie to tell stories that create yirat shamyim. The author concludes "if the teacher is telling stories which are not true, but is doing so leshem shamyim, so long as he doesn't make a habit out of it, there is a place to be lenient in this matter, however, one should try to minimize this."

Interestingly, in the next volume the Admor from Slonim has a stinging rebuttal of the article. He starts by saying, "Our tradition is based upon truth . . . how terrible it is to inject lies into our tradition." He then explains such a view undermines our entire religion "whomever permits [one to lie] it is as if he is creating uncertainty in the truth of our entire tradition, which is based upon the passing from generation to generation. My teachers have taught that one should only accept truthful stories."

So it would appear that there is an ongoing controversy, one which implicated the book HaGaon, with some arguing lying or covering up fundamental historical facts, is ok. While others claim this is totally unconscionable.

Sources: Olam haHassidut no. 88, Shevat 2002; 89, Adar 2002; 90, Nissan, 2002. Rabbi H. Oberlander, "HaIm Mutar l'Saper Ma'siyot shaninom amitim kedi l'orrer al yedi zeh l'Torah v'lyerat shaymim, Ohr Yisrael, 29 p. 121-123; R. Avrohom Weinberg (Admor M'Slonim Beni Brak), Letter, Ohr Yisrael, 30, 244. See also, Ari Zivotofsky, Perspectives on Truthfulness in the Jewish Tradition, Judaism 42:3 (Summer, 1993): 267-288. R. Yaakov Perlow, Yeshurun vol. 10 starting on page 831. Der Yid, Talumat Seftei Sheker haDovrot al Tzadik Atik, March 17, 2006. See also here for a discussion of the book. There are others that discuss this as well, and in R. Nathan Kamenetsky's introduction he quotes them. Further, as a helpful reader/movie buff has noted, I should have included R. Dr. Jacob J. Schacter's article on this topic available here.

1 comment:

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