Saturday, January 5, 2008

תערומות נגד ספרי בעל תורה תמימה - מה שטוב אינו חדש

יש בו מן הטוב ומן החדש אבל מה שטוב אינו חדש ומה שחדש אינו טוב – ח. אלבק (נגד ספרי רי"א הלוי

By far the most common criticism against R’ Baruch Epstein (henceforth RBE) is that of Plagiarism [1]. I admit that it is unquestionably the case that RBE frequently fails to provide proper attribution when quoting other authors. My work here is to attempt to prove that this aspect of his work was entirely unintentional. [2]

Most of the studies mentioned in footnote [1] focus solely on his Torah Temima. As far as his other works, I found that a comparison between his Tosefes Bracha and HaMeor Hagadol [3] demonstrates that many Divrei Torah in the TB were taken from the Gra . His other works {Mekor Baruch, Baruch Sheamar) are (as far as I can tell) almost entirely original.

The obvious question is -why is it that these two -and only these two – works show significant signs of plagiarism? It would appear that we must take RBE’s statement in his introduction at face value.

There he writes, (roughly translated) “the book has taken me 15 years to write and has gone through many drafts. During the course of this time much information has gathered in my mind and although I have made an earnest attempt to provide proper attribution the reader is requested to judge me favorably in this.”

I would like to illustrate my next point with the following personal account. This happened around Purim time several years ago. I had been reading up on the Czar Nicholai’s attempt to Russify the Jews (by way of dress, language and education) which he hoped would help him maintain control over Poland. It occurred to me that this information could be used to clarify a difficult point in the Megillah. Many have been puzzled at Ahaserus’s surprise at the end of the Megillah on the plot to eradicate to Jews. After all, hadn’t he himself agreed to this decree earlier on in the Megillah. I noted that the word used earlier was לאבדם whereas Haman used the word להשמיד. I suggested that by the word לאבדם Ahaserus was simply advocating a Persification of the Jews – to make them lose- אבד -their distinctive appearance and traditions. [4]

I said this over by the Purim Seudah and everyone was much impressed. Several days later my brother informed me that the same explanation (without the historical point- though one wonders if this may not have given him the idea) was given by the Malbim in his commentary. Now, I hadn’t learnt the Malbim on Esther at that point but I recalled that a year ago I had listened to a series of lectures on the Megilllah by R’ Uziel Milevsky Zt”l which had been largely based on the Malbim. I must have heard the explanation there, forgotten the idea although the distinction between these two words remained in my mind and the late made use of it- thinking it was my own explanation the next year.

Now if this was my own experience from one year to the next and involving one explanation– one can only imagine the situation of RBE in a work spanning 15 years and involving literally thousands of explanations.

One must also point out that the Gra’s personality dominated the Lithiuania of RBE's era tremendously. His "vertlach" must have been affectionally retold countless times. RBE would have heard many of these “vertlach” in his youth and “absorbed” them much in the way I “absorbed” the Malbim.

It is simply impossible to suggest that RBE consciously would plagiarize the Gra’s Torah in a sefer printed in Lithuania [5]. That would be the equivalent of my attempting to pass off Hamlet as my own production - in Victorian England. Obviously impossible. [6]

I would like to posit (based on this and other considerations) that TB was composed by making use of that part of his notes that he had not made use of in TT [7]. I believe that this would adequately explain why both of these works show an inordinate amount of “plagiarism”.

Stay tuned for the last installment – ומה שחדש אינו טוב

[1] See the sources cited in D. Rabinowitz – “Rayna Batya and other learned woman: A reevaluation Rabbi Barukh Halevi Epstein’s sources” Tradition – footnote 4. See also Yaakov Chaim Sofer (הרב היח"ס) in Shem Betsalel pgs 165-66 and the sources cited there.

[2] My only predecessor in this is Yaakov Bezek Sinai- Issue 66 – “Al Derech Kesivas Sefer Torah Temimah”.

[3] Yissocher Ber Kreuser - This Sefer attempts to track down various Divrei Torah of the Gra that were scattered in various books of his Talmidim.

[4] Come Purim I will post an amusing explanation from Chacham Faur on this point.

[5] Bezek has pointed out one of the “plagiarized” statements comes from the Sefer HaMitzvos L’Harambam. Something that RBE would have hardly intentionally concealed. I would add that it is equally unlikely that he attempt the same for the Maharsha, Minchas Chinuch or any of the other prominent seforim that he “plagiarizes”.

[6] The note to TB Shemos 8:17 “some years after I thought of this chiddush, a book of Likkutim from the Gra was printed containing this chiddush” also confirms my theory.

[7] In addition to making use of the “grammatical rules” (more on these later) that he devised in Mekor Baruch.

3 comments:

SBA said...

Any reasonable person reading the final paragraph of RBE's foreword to TT sees that he foresaw the possibilty of being accused of plagiarism and BEGS the reader not to accuse him of this.

How - after reading this - anyone can besmirch the reputation of this great scholar is beyond me. Being mevazeh a talmid chochom is no small matter!

Someone pointed out to me a piece in the TB saying more or less the same thing that Rashi says there.

Only a fool or someone with an unpleasant agenda would accuse RBE of plagiarising Rashi.

Moshe Y. Gluck said...

It always amazed me that people who wouldn't hold a candle to the TT in plain old Yedias HaTorah have the Chutzpah to criticize him. Even if they're right, Chazal already address this, "Hamesaper achar matasan (or mitasan, Ayin Maharsha) Shel Talmidei Chachamim Nofel B'Gehenom" (Berachos 19a).

Wolf2191 said...

R' Kasher was certainly on the level of the TT And if there are mistakes in his work then they should be pointed out. Its mostly a question of tone for me.

 
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