Friday, July 06, 2007

The Other Works of R. Yehiel Mihel Epstein, Author of the Arukh HaShulhan

A Review of: Kitvei Ha'Arukh HaShulhan
Eliezer Brodt

Almost every Friday morning, I get a call from a fellow seforim addict asking me what's new on the market. The past few weeks, he had been complaining to me that the market is dry, and nothing of note has been put out. Yesterday, he told me that finally one interesting thing came out the night before: a collection of the writings R. Yehiel Mihel Epstein (1829-1908), the author of the Arukh HaShulhan, called Kitvei Ha'Arukh HaShulhan. So off I ran to the seforim store to get this new piece. What follows is a review of this new sefer.

Kitvei Ha'Arukh HaShulhan is divided into multiple parts. The first part is a reprint of the "Or La'Yesharim" by R. Epstein. The Or La'Yesharim is a commentary on the classic work, Sefer HaYashar of Rabbeinu Tam. R. Epstein wrote this when he was very young, although it wasn't published until 1869.

The Sefer HaYashar of the Rabbeinu Tam[1] (this is not to be confused with the mussar work with the same title which is incorrectly attributed to the Rabbeinu Tam – there is some debate exactly who the author is, with some claiming it is R. Zerachia HaLevi, author of the Ba’al HaMe’or, others attribute it to R. Zerachiah HaYevani, and finally others claim the author is Rabbeinu Yonah) which is today available in two parts – Hiddushim and She'elot u-Teshuvot. The Sefer HaYashar was first published (both parts together) in 1811 in Vienna, but this edition was full of errors. Later, in 1898, it was reissued – but only the She'elot u-Teshuvot section, by R. S. Rosenthal for Meketzei Nerdamim. He included both his own notes as well as notes from R. Ephraim Zalman Margolis in an effort to correct the seriously corrupted text. In 1959 R. S. Schlesinger republished the the Hiddushim section of this sefer in a more critical edition. Professor E. E. Auerbach writes that it is ironic that the Sefer HaYashar should have so many textual errors, when one of the purposes of the Sefer HaYashar was to provide a correct text of the Gemara. (Balei Hatosfot p. 94). In Kovetz Al Yad (volume 7), R. Yosef Kapach printed some more teshuvot of Rabbeinu Tam. Today, however, there are still still many pieces which rishonim quote from the Sefer HaYashar of Rabbeinu Tam which are not found in either section of the Sefer HaYashar that we have.

The Or La'Yesharim by R. Epstein is an extensive commentary covering the Nashim and Niddah masekhtot of the Hiddushim section of the Sefer HaYashar. The original edition was very rare and now, thanks to work R. Horowitz, the editor of the newly published Kitvei Ha'Arukh HaShulhan, it is now available to all. This part of the volume comprises 200 pages and is nicely printed and includes a thorough index.

Or La'Yesharim has many haskamot from: R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor; the author’s brother-in-law, R. Naftali Zevi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv); the author's uncle R. Meir Berlin; R. Yehoshua Leib Diskin; and even from a Hasidic Rebbe, R. Aaron M’Chernobyl. It seems that there also was a haskama from the R. Menahem Mendel Schneerson, third rebbe of Lubavitch known as the Tzemach Tzedek, but it was lost.

The next part of the Kitvei Ha'Arukh HaShulhan is a collection of the Arukh HaShulhan’s She'elot u-Teshuvot on all areas of halakha. It’s known that the Arukh HaShulhan wrote a very large amount of She'elot u-Teshuvot to thousands of questions that he was asked from all over the world. But, he writes that he was too busy to keep copies of all of them and thus, unfortunately, we do not have too many copies of these letters. However, R. Horowitz collected the letters that we do have from various sources: publications of the time, people he corresponded with that printed his letters in their seforim and manuscripts. There are some interesting statements in the teshuvot such as “Chas vesholom to rely on the shekia of Rabbeinu Tam as the Gra and Shulhan Arukh Harav already come out not like him” (p. 7). Another interesting letter is where R. Epstein writes after trying to find a leniency, he writes “even though I always try to leniencies where needed here I could not” (p. 74).

Interestingly enough, this new edition included all letters of the Arukh HaShulhan based on the advice of R. Chaim Kanievsky, to produce a complete work and not to censor any of the letters. This includes the famous letter of the Arukh HaShulhan permitting one to use electricity on Yom Tov. But, as has already been pointed out by many people, this was based on a faulty understanding of the exact science of how electricity works (pg. 12-13). Another famous letter of his printed here is his allowing of Metzizah through an instrument (p. 50).

The next part of the sefer is a collection, but not all, of derashot (sermons) of R. Epstein. One only wonders why the editor chose to put in these and not all, (or perhaps none) as we already have all this in a recently released volume. These derashot are excellent continuing in the path familiar already through his commentary on the Haggadah called Leil Shimurium.

The volume continues with a collection of letters related to community work, various semikhot that he gave to Gedolim and haskamot that he gave to various works. These come from private collections, including those from Hebrew University and the Schocken Collection of Jerusalem.

One interesting letter that seems to have bypassed the radar of the editors is a letter where someone had asked him about something, and R. Epstein responded:
“unfortunately, we cannot ask my brother in law, the Netziv, because he’s ill, and we can’t ask R. Yitzchok Elchanan Spector because he’s surrounded by people (מוקף מסביב)” (p. 141).
He seems to be hinting to what is claimed by many – the R. Yitzchok Elchanan was greatly influenced by his secretary, R. Yaakov Lifshitz. For examples, see Yaakov Mark’s work: Bemechitzasam Shel Gedolei Hador (p. 102), where he reports such a confession from R. Yaakov Lifshitz himself. (See also Nathan Kamenetsky, Making of a Gadol, pp. 458-463). However, interestingly enough, there is a letter in regard to another issue, where R. Yitzchak Elchanan himself writes:
“I have been a Rav for tens of years authored thousands of teshuvos on every area of halakha to inquires from all over the world and in regard to many areas relating to the zibur and no one has ever questioned that I was not going according to my own mind and it’s a great chutzpah to say publicly that I have no da'at and people in my household use me!”
(Iggerot R’ Yitzchok Elchanan Spector, vol. 1 pp. 59-60 [2]). Another interesting letter included is against Zionism (pp. 139-140) and R. Epstein’s defense of the Mussar movement (pp. 132-136).

After each piece throughout the sefer R. Horowitz writes its exact source. I personally find this method much more user friendly than other similar works where they include this material in the back of the sefer which many times confuses the reader.

The volume ends off with a short biography of R. Epstein. The only point of criticism on the biography is that not enough credit is given to the sources. One of the sources is R. Meir Bar-Ilan, a nephew of the Arukh HaShulhan, who is only mentioned in one footnote, but should have been mentioned in many more.

In sum this is a beautifully presented volume of the writings of the R. Epstein and is well worth adding to one’s collection.

[1] See generally, E.E. Aurbach, Ba’alei HaTosefot, 80-91; Y. Felix, “Sefer haYashar l’Rabbenu Ya’akov ben Meir,” Sinai, 39 (1956): 52-61, 106-15, 172-83, 224-39.
[2] It is possible that R. Yaakov Lifshitz actually authored this letter.

1 comment:

Nicholas said...

Be sure to check with your local utility company as well because some have incentives and breaks for their customers. Central vacuums work to clean the air throughout an entire home or building structure. What you will eliminate from your home is all the benzene formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene chemicals that constantly float around your house.

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