Beis Havaad, Le'arechat Kitvei Rabboseinu, ed. Yoel Hakoton and Eliyahu Soloveitchik, (Jerusalem, 2003); 272 pp.
Beis Havaad is a collection of articles based on a series of lectures that were delivered in Yerushalayim dealing with many aspects of the proper way seforim should be published. Beis Havaad was originally intended to be a journal but, to date, no other issue has appeared. With its focus on books, it is only proper that a review of this book should appear at the Seforim blog -- albeit somewhat belatedly -- and discuss some of the many important points raised in this book.
This book is a collection of articles from many of the top names in the field of printing and editing of seforim and includes articles by both rabbanim and professors. This sefer is basically a must have for anyone who wants to understand how seforim are printed, how to write them, how to find information and the importance of printing proper texts.
Although I believe it is currently out of print, The sefer is available at Beigeleisen and many of the articles can be accessed online here. I will list some of the many points of interest raised in the various articles in the book.
The book begins with an excellent article by Professor S.Z. Havlin regarding the importance of establishing the correct text of the seforim and using manuscripts. He gives some great practical samples demonstrating his points. Havlin also explains and examines the Hazon Ish’s position regarding the use of manuscripts and the need (or lack thereof) to establish a correct text. At the end of the article, Havlin highlights a source not typically used in the discussion about manuscripts etc. Havlin notes that the topic was touched upon in Chaim Potok’s novel The Promise. Havlin is not the only one to deal with this topic in Beis Havaad, R. Eliyahu Soloveitchik, in his article also discusses this topic. Both of these discussions add some more points to this ongoing discussion amongst talmidei hakhamim and scholars alike regarding the use of manuscripts and correcting texts. [I shall return to this topic at greater length in a forthcoming post at the Seforim blog.]
Professor Havlin also mentions a bit about the derech halimud of R. Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan. Additionally, included in this journal is a reprint of much of R. Kaplan's work on the topic. This work of R. Kaplan is a very special blueprint of how to print an extensive commentary on shas. [This great goan and his works will be the subject of a forthcoming post at the Seforim blog.] With permission of the family, they printed parts of this fascinating project which unfortunately never came to full fruition.
Another important article in this journal is from R. Hillel Parush of Machon Harav Herzog and deals with other aspects of the nusach of the Talmud. Amongst the topics that he discusses is the the Hagahos of the Maharshal on the gemara, if they were from based on logical deduction or manuscripts. [For more on this topic, see Yaakov Shmuel Spiegel, Amudim b’Toldot Sefer HaIvri, Haghot u’Maghim, pp. 279-85.]
There are at least three articles discussing exactly how one should edit seforim. Each of these articles contribute different, yet offer very important points for discussion. The first is from R. Y. Weiss who was the editor of the excellent journal, Tzefenous. He gives many practical samples on mistakes found in various classical seforim and how he would suggest these mistakes be corrected. Following R. Weiss’s article on the topic is another article on the topic from Professor Robert Brody of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, famous for his work on the geonim. Specifically, Brody's article discusses how after tracking down all the manuscripts of a specific sefer, the next step is to establish which manuscript is the most accurate text to base the actual text of the sefer. He also points out how one has to be very careful to be crystal clear when printing a sefer to note one's methods in coming to the decision of which manuscript to use. [As Prof. Brody notes, this whole topic is a very complicated one, one that takes him a few months to teach how exactly this is done. Here, however, he provides an outline of some of the more salient points.]
R. Yoel Koton, co-editor of this volume and editor of the Hamaayan, has an in-depth article with all the rules of writing an article or sefer. Amongst the topics are all rules of grammar and how to quote the sources exactly. This is an extremely important article and anyone who is printing anything for the public should look at it as he raises many important issues. Amongst the points he raises are: the need to cite exactly what source is being quoted, including the edition used as many times there can be many works with the same name or even of the same author with different printings and one trying to track it down has great difficulty doing so; and, consulting experts on particular topics. Koton gives the example of if one is working on Mesechtas Rosh Hashana and comes to the topics relating to Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh, he should consult people who are familiar with astronomy. [One who looks at the work of R. Chaim Kanivesky on Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh will see how he consulted an expert on these topics.] As R. Zev Lev writes, in his introduction to Marchei Lev, how he used to explain and discuss the various aspects of science with R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach when he was working on his teshuvos about opening a refrigerator on Shabbos.
Another article of interest is from Benjamin Richler where he discusses the history of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM), situated in the Manuscripts and Archives Wing on the ground floor of the Jewish National and University Library, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Richler writes that 95% of the Jewish manuscripts in the world can be found there, either through microfilm, or actual text. This was written a few years ago. More recently, Richler writes only 90% can be found here. Be that as it may, an extremely large percentage of the Jewish manuscripts in the world are found there. He writes that a very large percentage of the halachic works of the Rishonim have been printed. But on kabbalah and other topics there are still many works in manuscript. Richler encourages anyone working on a work of the Rishonim or Achronim to check if perhaps there’s another manuscript that will help them print a more accurate text of the work. See also Benjamin Richler's posts (here and here) offering some examples on the benefits of the JNUL manuscript room. The catalog is available online, and it is very easy to navigate through. The staff of the manuscript room is very helpful.
Another article is by Ezra Schwat, also of the JNUL Manuscript Room. His article has a list of all the different helpful websites for one to find different manuscripts. These sites are very helpful for all different kinds of research related to all Jewish areas. Another article is from Professor Spiegel, one of the heads of the Bar Ilan Responsa project. He writes that it is very important for any person working on a sefer to use the Bar Ilan program and similar programs, as they are extremely helpful, especially for locating sources. This article was written before the waves of hard drives from Otzar Hachochma, Otzar Haposkim, Otzros Hatorah, and Hebrewbooks.org which are also important to use.
Another important article was written by Rabbi Mordechai Honig. This article is a continuation of an article from Professor Simcha Emanuel, available here, about the great necessity of an updated version of the sefer Sarei Haelef from Rabbi Menahem M. Kasher. The last updated print edition of the Sarei Haelef was in 1979 and much has been printed since then. Emanuel began to list in his article some of the updates and Hoenig gives another few hundred additions. The work is extremely important. Many times when one is working on a topic, one is curious to know if a work quoted by a Rishon was actually printed, or if there was any historical information about the Rishon. One can turn to this reference. But, as both Emanuel and Hoenig show, Sarei Haelef really requires an comprehensive update.
Included in this journal is an article from Rav Yitzchak Shilat dealing with one of his pet projects, the reprinting of the Perush HaMishnah of the Rambam. There is also an article describing the important project of Halacha Berurah based on R. Kook.
One of the articles which seems to be completely out of place of the spirit of this journal is written by R. Yehuda Liba ben Dovid. This author has written many excellent articles in different Torah journals, some of which he collected and printed in a very interesting sefer called Shevet Mi’Yehuda. Reprinted here is an article that was printed many times before, which is his macha’a (objection) on the way many frum authors write their works. His first problem is on two works printed from Machon Ofek, one called the Teshuvos Hagaonim Hachadashos by Prof. Simcha Emanuel and another called Teshuvos R’ Naturnai Gaon by Professor Robert Brody. His main complaint is that both of these works use Christian, Greek, Karai and Maskilic sources. He says that there’s no reason for a frum work to quote any of these works today. He writes that there is a reason why these works aren’t found in the local beis medrash or yeshiva library. Another example he gives is Ahavat Shalom reprinted a work on minhagim called Kesser Shem Tov from Shem Tov Gagen. This author also brings quote in his work from Christians, Karaim, and Reform Jews. Again, R. ben Dovid writes that he doesn’t understand how a respected publishing house could reprint this work. He goes on to list some other examples and complaints.
In my humble opinion I beg to differ on this point. The basic problem with R. ben Dovid’s article is that what he is suggesting runs directly counter to a significant portion of Beis Havaad and general common sense. As the Rambam teaches: Halomed Mikol Adam. Even if the sources aren’t religious or Jewish at all, if they have a good point, they may be quoted. Granted, this approach has been debated throughout the generations by many. In litvish circles, most notably, R. Yosef Zecharia Stern held that one may quote all sources as long as one realizes who he is quoting. Today in the field of Jewish academics and printing new seforim, there’s much to be learned from the way scholars, even non-Jewish ones, have presented their works, and sometimes they might have good point or two that’s beneficial for the work at hand. For example, if one is working on medical halakhic questions, he can’t just rely on the words of the poskim, but he must be familiar with updated studies in the scholarly world of medicine and to be at least aware of what they write about the various medical conditions before he reaches his conclusions. Knowledge of history is also very important especially in learning halakha as one needs to know who learnt by whom and who was born first, all of which plays a great role in deciding halakha. It is quite obvious to all that the Chida in his classic work Shem Hagedolim was not wasting his time when he wrote it.
There are many other examples of why this is important. For another example, see the excellent Haskamah of R. Shlomo Cohen to the Otzar Haseforim [a bibliography of Hebrew books] by Ben Yakov a Maskil - yes, a maskil – how, according to R. Yehudah, could he give a haskamah to such a work. So to in printing these works of Gaonim, Rishonim and even Achronim many times it is very helpful to be aware of history of the time in order to understand there words. Many times statements of the Geonim it has been proven how many things they wrote were specifically against the Karaim (there are numerous examples of this). Of course, no one is suggesting to pasken based on these Karaim or Christian sources, but it just helps one understand the specific words of the Gaonim and Rishonim. Great people had no problem using works that quoted such sources just to list a few: R. Mordechai Gifter, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg and R. Reuven Margoliyot all quote Prof. Saul Leiberman in their writings, as they did not seem to be bothered by R. ben Dovid's concern. (many others have hid it see Marc B. Shapiro, Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox).
Another example is when Professor A. Sofer, who also taught at JTS, passed away late at night. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was a good friend of his, was feeling very weak than yet he made it his business to attend the funeral as a hakarat hatov for all R. Sofer’s work on the Meiri’s writings. (See Yeshurun, vol. 15, p. 501). When one works on minhagim it’s very helpful to be familiar with the history of the time in order to understand the development of certain things as Professor Daniel Sperber ably demonstrates time and time again in his now-eight-volume set of Minhagei Yisrael. Recently an excellent work on minhaghim came out from the ultra-Orthodox -- as opposed to academic -- circles called Mihnaghei Hakehilos by R. Yehiel Goldhaber. R. Goldhaber also uses such sources and he has received many haskamot from various gedolim. In sum it is important to use all available sources to understand what ever topic one is working on.
Of course, there is the very important point to all this which Professor Lieberman said many times, that the most important thing is to learn real Torah. All of these things are helpful but only a tafal to the learning. All of Professor Lieberman's excellent writings on Greek in Jewish Palestine were on the side his main learning goals was to complete his works on the Tosefta and Yerushalmi.
In all, Beis Havaad, is an extremely important collection of articles on the topic of seforim in general.