Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rabbi Yehuda Henkin -- Opposite of Plagiarism

Rabbi Yehuda Henkin is the author of Shu"T Bnei Banim in four volumes and the commentary Chibah Yeteirah on the Torah. He learned privately with his grandfather, Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, and served as Area Rabbi of the Bet Shean Valley in Israel. He now lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Henkin has two degrees from Columbia University, and has written extensively in English: Equality Lost--Essays in Torah Commentary, Halacha and Jewish Thought, (Urim Publications); New Interpretations on the Parsha (Ktav); Responsa on Contemporary Jewish Women's Issues (Ktav); and the forthcoming Understanding Tzniut--Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community (Urim).

This is his first contribution to the Seforim blog.
Opposite of Plagiarism
Rabbi Yehuda Henkin

Plagiarism is a lack of attribution; less common is its opposite, mistaken attribution; rare indeed is the attribution of a defamatory work to the object of the defamation himself! An example of the latter can be found in the entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica [1] concerning my grandfather, R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin zt"l.

The offending sentence reads: "His published responsa appear in Chaim Bloch's Even me-Kir Tizak (1953) and his own Perushei Lev Ivra (c. 1925)."[2] But in fact, not only does the pamphlet Even me-Kir Tizak contain no responsa of R. Henkin, it is an unbridled personal attack on him on the part of one who lost a din Torah heard before him. Bloch refused to accept the verdict, and resorted to defamation of the judges. If I recall reading correctly about the affair, he was subsequently put in cherem by the Agudas HaRabbonim.

How did the mix-up in attribution occur? Since the card-catalogue of the Jewish Reading Room of the 42nd Street Library in New York listed Bloch's pamphlet under R. Henkin, one can surmise that the researcher[3] for the EJ copied the listing without bothering to look up the reference.

Since then the mistake has been copied in Rafael Halperin's Entziklopedia l'Bet Yisrael and, earlier this year, in the new edition of the EJ (2007). Surely a case of shigegat talmud oleh zadon [4].

[1] First published in 1972, vol. 8 column 324. The EJ contains a number of incorrect or partial biographical details; for a comprehensive account see my Equality Lost (Urim), chap. 16. See here for Shnayer Z. Leiman's review of the NEJ at the Seforim blog.
[2] This confuses two separate works: Perushei Ivra [PDF] (1925) and Lev Ivra [PDF] (1957). Together with Edut leYisrael (1946), all were reprinted in Kitvei haGri"a Henkin, vol. 1 (1981). In addition, Kitvei haGri"a Henkin, vol. 2 (1989) is a collection of his responsa and articles, edited by his son (my father) Avraham Hillel zt"l. (The volumes may or may not be available from Ezras Torah in NY. I have some of vol. 1 and a few more of vol. 2.)
[3] Not to be confused with the rosh yeshiva of the same name, but an otherwise reputable academic scholar.
[4] Avot 4:13.

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