Saturday, December 29, 2007

מקור ברוך- האם השבח שבכתביו אינו מגיע לכזביו

Of late several harsh criticisms have been directed against the works of R’ Baruch Halevi Epstein including accusations plagiarism and of "manufacturing stories". For the moment, I will focus on the latter complaint. I hope to focus on some of the other complaints in future posts.

As part of a series analyzing various “Sippurei Tsadddikim”, Mr. Y. Mondeshein has provided us with a through (according to his lights) analysis of various inconsistencies in R’ Epsteins work.

The majority of his criticisms merely prove that R’ Epstein availed himself of a small amount of artistic license. Hardly a devastating criticism given that (to the best of my knowledge) R’ Epstein never intended to produce an academically accurate history.

Mondeshein cites only two proofs to support his insinuation that these stories are a complete fabrication. Namely,

1. אבל הסיפור בכללותו סותר את המקובל בקרב חסידי חב"ד, שאביו עזב את ליובאוויטש בחרון-אף על אשר אחד מגדולי החסידים נהג בו שלא בכבוד המגיע לו לדעתו

2. אנחנו ידענו את הרב רש"י זוין ע"ה, שנסמך להוראה גם על-ידי בעל 'ערוך השולחן', והקשרים ביניהם נמשכו גם לאחר מכן. האם הרב זוין סיפר בהזדמנות כלשהי על "כללי ההוראה" שקיבל מ'ערוך השולחן' בשם אדמו"ר ה'צמח צדק'?! האם בעל 'ערוך השולחן' לא מצא לנכון להשמיע באזני אברך עילוי זה, חסיד חב"ד, עוד סיפורים מאשר שמע במאות שעות שיחותיו עם ה'צמח צדק'?! וכלום לא נזדמנה ל'ערוך השולחן' הזדמנות נוספת כלשהי לספר על אותו חודש מאושר שזכה לו במחיצת ה'צמח צדק'?!

And it is precisely complaint number two that causes Mondeshein's entire house of cards falls. For a close talmud of the Aruch HaShulchan does in fact record some of these conversations. R’ Y. L. Maimon (Fishman) in his books Sarei HaMayos (V. 6) describes several such conversations that “the Aruch Hashulchan himself has told me when at the request of some of the (Chassidic) townspeople he went to visit the Tzemach Tsedek.” Their first conversation involved a discussion of the disagreements between Chassidim and Misnagdim…." (See at length there)

Of course for a conspiracy theorist of the like of M. (he writes that R’ Epstein invented these tales to get Chassidim to accept the Pesakim of his father, to put all sorts of strange anti-Chassidic statements in the mouth of the Tzemach Tzedek [1] , etc. ad nauseum) this presents no difficulty. He will simply extend the conspiracy to a vast Misnagdik – Tsionist (R' Maimon) conspiracy to discredit Lubavitch. This may be amusing material for a pulp novel but hardly constitutes good scholarship. [2]

It also seems eminently reasonable to suggest that the AS received Kabbalistic knowledge from the Tzemach Tzedek (Something that M. thinks unlikely). See the study of the AS's unique use of Kabbalah here.

As far as the first comment, it is clear that the AS had very positive relations with the Chassidim of his town. Proof of this is the enthusiastic approbations given to his Ohr LaYesharim by the Rebbe of Chernobyl and his son (The Tzemach Tzedek had passed on at that time). The AS printed these to his own detriment. This enraged the misnagdim who ripped the haskamos off of the work. (See the account in Maimon ibid. He obtained a copy of the work with Haskamas at great expense. Undoubtedly a study of these Haskamas will yield important information to a more serious scholar then M.)

Note also that R’ Epstein brother-in-law Meir Bar Ilan records somewhat similar information on this in his book. Many of R’ Epsteins stories are corroborated there.

Dan Rabinowitz’s has a far more balanced discussion in Tradition (Rayna Batya…An evaluation of R’ Baruch Halevi’s sources). Lacking access to a Mayin Ganim I cannot refute his sole proof [3]. Still being as her son R’ Chaim Berlin (and presumably other people who would have know her well) alive, R’ Baruch could not have entirely recreated her personality. This holds good for many of R' Baruch's accounts.

I am therefore somewhat surprised that a historian of the caliber of Dr. Marc Shapiro should write:

“While in many cases the stories told are strange and one wonders whether they are accurate, in some cases it can be determined with virtual, or even complete, certainty that they are false. Yehoshua Mondshine has authored a number of articles showing the falsehoods in (mostly) hasidic stories. Among the non-hasidic works he takes aim at is R. Barukh Epstein’s Mekor Barukh.[16] Mondshine’s prime concern is with the famous story recorded by Epstein about his father’s meeting with the Tzemah Tzedek, and Mondshine attempts to show that there is no reason to believe the report.To this I would only add that, knowing Epstein’s reputation as a plagiarizer and how he manufactured stories, one should not take seriously any of his “recollections.” I know the feminists will be upset with this, but we must assume that the entire dialogue between him and Rayna Batya,[17] which shows her as a proto-feminist, is contrived and has no historical significance other than revealing that Epstein himself wanted to call attention to the sad fate of talented women who are not permitted to study Torah In the unlikely event that he does accurately portray Rayna Batya, all I can say is that the punishment of one who tells tall tales is that even when he tells a true story he is not believed”

(Dr. Shapiro neglects to mention that this a quotation from TB Sanhedrin. See however S. Friedmans study of Talmudic proverbs here.)

As I think I have shown, M.’s study is deeply flawed and proves nothing at all. I hope to deal with the issue of Epstein's supposed plagiarism in a future post.

I would also like to put to rest any doubts on "the idea that the Netziv C"V read newspapers". The Netziv's full page article in support of Chovivei Tzion as well as some letters to the editor can easily be accessed here. (Republished and annotated in an isue of HaMaayan)

תבנא לדינא השבח שבכתבי ר' ברוך מגיע הרבה למעלה מכזביו (אם אכן יש כזה דבר שכלל אינו ברור אצלי) ותאלמנה שפתי שקר וכו

[1] R’ Epstein in fact shows a rather friendly face towards Chassidim - See for example his account of Avigdor M’Pinsk in Mekor Baruch.

[2] Some originality in this area would be quite a good thing. At present, the Charedi novel is largely a product of plagiarism. Compare for example Y. Weinstocks Calculated Risk and Agatha Christie’s Destination Unknown. The plotlines are almost identical except for the substitution of female characters with men (Somewhat in the manner of the ancient Greek and the English thespians) and an extended discussion of the dangers of computers as an “outside influence”.

[3] Also cited by M. Note that in his magisterial (an adjective that extends to all his writings) work על חינוך הבנות in Ohr Hamzrach. Dr. Meir Hershkowitz z”l arrives at the same conclusion as that of the Mayin Ganim (R’ Archivolti) using standard halachic sources. This being the case I see no reason that Archivolti (who was Leon Modena’s teacher (see Adelmans thesis on Modena) cannot be cited כתנא דמסייע


Sim said...

if you want a copy of Making of a godol i might be able to lend you one. e-mail me .

Marc Shapiro said...

Someone just sent me to your site. Very interesting. In my next Seforim blog post I will show, to I think everyones satisfaction, that the dialogue with Rayna Batya is a complete contrivance that never took place. I will also include a picture of the relevant pages in Maayan Ganim.

If after reading it you are still not convince, I encourage you to post something on the seforim blog.

I will also show an example of Epstein's fraudulence that has not yet been noted.

yehuda said...

That the מקור ברוך is fictitious is obvious to any casual reader of the book. I personally began reading it with the assumption that it was reliable history but after a while I saw that the stories did not ring true. For example, he claims that the name Epstein comes from Benebashte and the he's a descendant of the כנסת הגדולה (I don't have the book in my possession so I'm writing from memory). Epstein is really a town in Germany. Furthermore the ערוך השולחןwas a levi and the כנסת הגדולה does not sign his name as הלוי.

In addition, the מהר"ש of Lubavitch, the son of the צמח צדק spoke harshly of the גר"א (mentioned by his son the רש"ב in the unpublished portion of תורת שלום). It does not make sense that his father, הצמח צדק, would defend the gra's persecution of Chassidim.

On the other hand, anyone familiar with Mondshein's articles knows that he has an agenda of knocking Litvaks, especially the גר"א ותלמידיו, so it is understandable that he would take offense at the מקור ברוך for defending the התנגדותו של הגר"א.

הצלחה on your new blog. I'm looking forward to more interesting posts from you.


Fotheringay-Phipps said...

"For example, he claims that the name Epstein comes from Benebashte and the he's a descendant of the כנסת הגדולה (I don't have the book in my possession so I'm writing from memory). Epstein is really a town in Germany."

I agree with you in general that the MB is completely unreliable, but your memory is incorrect here. R' Epstien says that Epstein is a town in Europe, as you do. He says his ancestors were Sefardim who were exiled to Europe and took as their family name the first town they stayed (or settled) in.

Ha-historion said...

"he claims that the name Epstein comes from Benebashte and the he's a descendant of the כנסת הגדולה (I don't have the book in my possession so I'm writing from memory). Epstein is really a town in Germany. Furthermore the ערוך השולחןwas a levi and the כנסת הגדולה does not sign his name as הלוי"

There is in fact DNA research being done now to ascertain the connection (if any) between the Benveniste, Halevi-Horowitz and Halevi-Epstein families who are thought to be descended of 2 brothers from Spain. Contact me if you are interested in details.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for news

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