Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Two Notes on Censorship and Plagiarism on the Ramban's Commentary on the Torah

There are a significant number of seforim that are considered “classic” commentaries on the Torah, including, for example, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Radak, Ralbag and Ramban, In this post, we shall discuss the Ramban’s commentary on the Torah, as it is also on important work in the history of Hebrew printing.

The first edition, published between 1469-72,[1] in Rome was the first book published in that city and is available online here [it was also reprinted by Mekor with a short introduction by A.M. Habermann]. Over the years the Ramban's commentary increased in popularity and in commensurate with that popularity many books have been written to further understand this commentary. The most commonly used edition today is the edition by Charles B. Chavel.[2] This edition, published by Mossad HaRav Kook, in two volumes contains a critical edition of the text as well as explanatory notes.

There are two interesting points about the above edition that are perhaps less well-known. The first, a fairly minor point, is the “problem” some apparently have with the fact Mossad HaRav Kook published this edition. In R. Wreschner's excellent commentary on Masekhet Avodah Zarah, Seder Ya'akov first printed in 1988 (reprinted in 2004, third edition), in his introduction he discusses the problem of censorship (in the “Jewish/Non-Jewish” sense, i.e. removal of mentions of Jesus) in Hebrew books. While he rightfully decries the numerous instance of censorship in the history of the Jewish book, he notes with that of late we have been partially able to rectify the omissions due to censorship.

He singles out various editions and says:
ובעזרת הית"ב החומל על דלותם באורך גלותם, נדפסים היום ספרים כאלו [אם המילים החסרים] מחדש כגון ספר הרמב"ם בהוצ[ת] פראנקל, וכן פרש"י והרמב"ן ורבנו בחיי עה"ת . . . בהוצאת ה.ק. עכ"ל

“With the help of God who has pity on our impoverished state due to the lengthy exile, today we have many such books [with the censorship replaced] anew, for instance the Frankel edition of the Rambam, and also Rashi's commentary and the Ramban and the Rabbeinu Bachya on the Bible printed by Hey. Kuf.”
What does ה”ק stand for? R. Wreschner a two pages later provides a full page explaining all the abbreviations in his book - this one, however, does not appear there. Of course, this abbreviation is for HaRav Kook, that is, Mossad HaRav Kook. It appears that even fully mentioning the name of this publisher was, in R. Wreschner's mind, unconscionable, even while bemoaning other forms of censorship. That is, not R. Kook, but a publishing house named after him is also taboo.

What is worthy of noting is that there may actually be a reason not to mention this particular edition - not because of the publisher but of the content. In one of the more interesting introductions, R. Moshe Greenes, in his commentary on the Ramban Karen Peni Moshe, takes the Mossad HaRav Kook edition to task for, in his mind, serious errors in that edition.

R. Greenes opens (after going on a couple of tangents including claiming that then [1988] people were so lazy they can't get up to look for a sefer, or even turn pages they are so lazy) by praising R. Chavel’s work on the Ramban. Soon after that praise, however, R. Greenes spends the next 8 pages or so pointing out all the inadequacies of R. Chavel's edition. First, he claims that R. Chavel plagiarized on many occasions from the earlier commentary on the Ramban by R. Mordechai Gimpel, Techelet Mordechai. R. Greenes then accuses R. Chavel of plagiarizing from R. Menachem Zvi Eisenstadt's edition (recently reprinted both volumes in a single volume but unobtainable by R. Greene at the time).[3]

R. Greenes includes numerous examples of the alleged plagiarisms and even explains that the footnotes with asterisks one can identify with the Techelet Mordechai. These, alleges R. Greenes, were put in only after R. Chavel got the Techelet Mordechai and thus required the insertion into the existing footnotes which necessitated not altering the number scheme and instead we have numbers with asterisks. Whether or not R. Chavel quoted these sources without proper attribution is still up for debate. But, irrespective of whether there was in fact plagiarism, the fact remains that R. Greenes introduction is one of the more unique ones out there.

[1] On the date of publication see Moses Marx, "On the Date of Appearance of the First Printed Hebrew Book," in Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (New York, 1950) pp. 485-501. For additional information on the Ramban's Commentary see M.M. Kasher, et al., Sa'arei haElef (Jerusalem, 1985), pp. 90-91, 571.
[2] For bio-bibliographical details about Chavel, see Moshe D. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (Westport; Greenwood, 1996), s.v. "Charles B. Chavel."
[3] Perush ha-Ramban al ha-Torah (Brooklyn: 5762)


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