Thursday, October 15, 2015

R. Zevin, R. Ovadia Yosef, Pras haRav Kook and a Minor Case of Censorship

R. Zevin, R. Ovadia Yosef, Pras haRav Kook and a Minor Case of Censorship
by Jacob D.

At the end of R. Zevin's introduction to his Sofrim u-Sefarim [1] we read -

In R. Zevin's footnote we see that one of the works that he wanted to review but didn't yet get to was R. Ovadia Yosef's two volumes of Yabia Omer. As someone who enjoys R. Zevin's pen immensely (both his style and substance, especially the way he analyzes books and their authors) [2], and as someone that studies from R. Ovadia Yosef's prolific halakhic literature quite often, I was curious to know if R. Zevin ever ended up writing a review on any ​of ​R. Ovadia Yosef's works. For this I turned to R. Zevin's grandchildren.[3] In a phone conversation with R. Nahum Zevin (of Kiryat Eliyahu,Haifa) I was told that although he has some unpublished R. Zevin material, ​and also existing are​ some highly critical book reviews that R. Zevin felt should remain unpublished,[4] he doesn't think anything was written about R. Ovadia Yosef.

In R. Ovadia Yosef​'s​ Yabia Omer we find among the numerous approbations this -

Not exactly an approbation but an explanation why the work deserved the R. Kook prize ​of​ Torah literature for the year 571​5​ (1955). I have no doubt that although R. Zevin signs his name along with two other judges​,​ the explanation was penned by R. Zevin himself​​. From the three periods before​ these​ few sentences ​​it seemed to me that more had been written than the few lines which were ​printed in the ​book. I wanted to find the rest of the story​ (although I wasn't expecting a full review essay because R. Zevin wrote in his  Sofrim u-Sefarim published in 1959 that he hadn't gotten around to reviewing this work)​ and I spoke with the department in the Tel Aviv municipality that handles these prizes (see here). They said ​that ​they don't have any additional information or documents that pertain to this but ​that ​I should contact the Tel Aviv city archive (here) and they should be able to help. After speaking with the kind staff of that archive I receive an email with two documents and a short message-

אנו שולחים לך סריקה של ההחלטה על הענקת הפרס לרב עובדיה יוסף וכן סריקה של מכתבו של ראש העיר חיים לבנון לרב עובדיה המודיע לו על זכייתו ומברך אותו עליה. אין בידינו נימוקים מפורטים יותר

רבקה פרשל-גרשון
הארכיון העירוני

By now I kind of gave up, and forgot about the matter.

A short while later I get a call from my friend Israel Mizrahi of (and the Musings of a Jewish Bookseller blog). He tells me that I'm not going to believe it but in a recent shipment from Israel of some old books he found a little booklet printed for one years Pras haRav Kook. Upon opening it he sees that it was the booklet printed in the year 571​5​ (Summer 1955)​,​ the year that Yabia Omer was awarded the prize​​!

​For a small fee I purchased the booklet ​and although I found ​it​ quite interesting​,​ unfortunately nothing really more had been written about Yabia Omer that hadn't been​ ​printed in the book. Nothing really​ I say​, aside for one small surprise.

In the beginning of the little piece written about Yabia Omer we read-

 ​רגילים לחשוב שהתורה הלכה ונתדלדלה מהעדה הספרדית, ירד קרנה ופנה זיוה הודה והדרה. ולא היא. על כל פנים לא באותה מידה שחושבים
These ​last seven​ words​-
על כל פנים לא באותה מידה שחושבים

may seem offensive to the level of Sephardic scholarship at that time and were therefore censored out of​ ​ Yabia Omer volume one. Interestingly they were printed in Yabia Omer volume two. This is consistent in the numerous later editions of the books as well, including the latest re-typset edition (5775-2015).

We now learn that Artscroll's "The Festivals in Halacha" was ​​not the ​only, nor the ​earliest case of R. Zevin censorship (see here).​

It should be mentioned that in R. Ovadia Yosef's first volume of responsa Teshuvot Hazon Ovadia, he receives a nice close to page long approbation by R. ​Zevin, but still not the full review essay I was hoping for.

​[​​​​1​]​ I thank Eliezer Brodt for finding me the full three volume set. This set doesn't turn up in used bookstores too often​​. It's an exception from most of R. Zevin's other books that have been reprinted many times over.​ I remember the special morning I received his email informing me that he found them like yesterday.​
​[​2​]​ ​R. Zevin's ​Ishim ve-Shitot​ includes ten long essays on more famous Torah personalities ​​,​ and ​his ​three volumes of Sofrim u-Sefarim​ includes about a hundred and seventy-five (!) short essays​.
​​[​3​]​ I had previously spoken to one grandson Eliyahu who's an attorney living in Tel Aviv about having Sofrim u-Sefarim added to In the course of our conversations Eliyahu mentioned that he heard had already scanned and posted some of R. Zevins's other books, and that was done without permission. He asked me to send them a message that the family will take legal action if the issue isn't straightened out. Upon Hebrewbooks hearing that​,​ they seemed uninterested in dealing with the family to obtain permission to keep the books on their site​,​ and all of R. Zevin's books were instantly removed. Also included in the books removed was the essay whose true author is still in question about Yeshiva boys serving in the Israeli Army. See my comment here and see this post here.
[4] That came to me a little bit as a surprise because in the three volumes worth of essays that R. Zevin chose to publish in his Sofrim u-Sefarim, we do find some highly critical reviews. See for example in volume one (Geonim, Rishonim, u-Teshuvot)​​ his review on the third volume of Teshuvot Yaskil Avdi by R. Ovadia Hedaya (pg. 258), and in volume two (Pesakim, Pirushim, ve-Hidushim), a highly critical review of R. Aryeh Pomoranchik's first volume of Torat Zera'im (pg. 221)​.​​ Also in this same volume a pretty serious charge leveled (delicately) ​at his friend and colleague R. Yehezkel Abramsky's Hazon Yehezkel Hullin (pg. 114). However, upon looking through some old issues of Ha-Tzofeh from the 1930's and 40's (where most of the material in Sofrim u-Sefarim first appeared, ​see ​here​​)​,​ I was able to come across some of the  extremely critical reviews that R. Zevin chose not to publish in his books. None of the reviews that R. Zevin published in his books were nearly as critical as these.

See Ha-Tzofeh Fri. Aug 5th 1938

and Ha-Tzofeh Fri. Sep. 27th 1940

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