Monday, November 20, 2006

Another Case of Historical Censorship at Volozhin or Simply Poor Research?

One of the more important sources for the history relating to the famed Volozhin Yeshiva is Moshe Shmuel v’Doro, by R. Moshe Shmuel Shapiro (Shmukler), which is is full of important material on this yeshiva and the related personalities. R. Schapiro also published a monograph on the founder of the Yeshiva, R. Chaim of Volozhin. This work, Toldot Rabbenu Chaim Volozhin, was first published in 1909 in Vilna, republished a year later in Vilna and then published twice in Israel, once in Bnei Brak in 1957 and once in Jerusalem in 1968. Recently, in 2000, Toldot Rabbenu Chaim Volozhin, was republished by R. Schapiro’s descendants.

In the 2000 edition of Toldot Rabbenu Chaim Volozhin, R. Schapiro’s descendants include a brief introduction about the history of the book, yet they were unaware of some key facts. First, they claim the book was only published twice, when in fact it was published four times. Additionally, then erroneously note that their edition is the third when in fact it is the fifth. Finally, they claim the first edition was the 1910 edition, when in fact the first edition appeared in 1909.

In addition to these three inaccuracies and omissions, there is a much more glaring one; not bibliographical in the abstract, but related to the content of the book – they have left out something which appeared in the earlier editions. In the first (1909) edition, a letter from R. Dr. Abraham Eliyahu Harkavy (1839-1919), a former student at the yeshiva in Volozhin, appears which contains both his warm approval of the book as well as a few comments on the book. Further, the fact Harkavy’s letter was included was no small thing as this was noted on the title page of the book. Specifically, the title page states the book includes:

עם הערות ומלואים מאת הרב החכם הגדול
ד"ר אברהם אליהו הרכבי

In the 1909 edition of Toldot Rabbenu Chaim Volozhin, Harkavy’s letter and notes were included by R. Moshe Schapiro. In the current reprint, the time that the fifth edition of Toldot Rabbenu Chaim Volozhin, published in 2000, by Schapiro’s grandchildren, Harkavy’s letter and notes are mysteriously missing. Perhaps this letter was removed intentionally as Harkavy was a maskil (intellectual) and later the head librarian at the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg.

It is possible these are missing due to a corrupted reprint the current publishers are relying upon. But, even if that would be the case, it does not absolve them of getting the first (or their “first” edition – the 1910 edition). Moreover, the title page they include does not give the current editions date, instead, the date and thus the reference is to the Vilna 1910 edition. Thus, giving the appearance they are merely reproducing the 1910 edition which is incorrect.

As an interesting aside, in 1999 the Artscroll publishing house released the first of two volumes of Shenot Dor v’Dor (the second was published in 2004) by Reuven Dessler, of a collection of priceless letters from important rabbinical personalities culled from the invaluable manuscript collection of the Dessler family, wherein an entire section (in vol. 1) is devoted to correspondence between Harkavy and some of the greatest rabbis of his time, many of them his colleagues and teachers at the yeshiva in Volozhin, including R. Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv) and R. Chaim Soloveitchik.

Title page of Toldot Rabbenu Chaim Volozhin (1909)

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