Sunday, October 5, 2008

From Baranovitch to Bnei Brak: The Remaking of a Gadol

My first introduction to Jewish History was R' Chaim Dov Rabinowitz's "From Nechemiah to the Present". The book consists of short historical summaries followed by extensive discussions analysing import of the events from the religious point of view. I tried to describe some of the unique aspects of this work as well as his work in Biblical exegesis in a WP article I wrote awhile back.

I was therefore greatly interested in the recent republication of his Daat Soferim on Yehoshua in a new edition as well as a special section of the last Yeshurun (Nissan '08). I was somwhat surprised to see that the writers are trying to remake R' Rabinowitz's image to conform to the "standards" of modern Bnei-Berak.

1. It is clear that the Haskamos were taken from the letters collected in the beginning of the third edition of "From Nechemiah..". It is interesting to point to the omission of the letters of two great Rabbis who apparently aren't part of the Bnei Berak "canon":

1. R' Yitzchok Isaac Herzog Zt"l:

2. The Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt"l:

In the Yeshurun article when listing Rabbis who wrote comments on his sefer - the Rebbe's name, of course, does not appear.

As far as I can see, the Yeshurun article is actually a slightly expanded version of his obituary that was published in Yated - since the link in the WP article doesn't seem to work anymore I will provide it here:

Two aspects of R' Rabinowitz's career are not mentioned. First, his position teaching Chumash at YU (see letter from Dr. Belkin next to the Rebbe's Haskomoh). Nor was his position at the Ministry of Welfare mentioned in the article (although it is mentioned in the Yated article!).

R' Rabinowitz wrote some memoirs - one of which "Lebatim" recieved a glowing approbation from R' Yaakov Kamenetzky. He was not always this fortunate, his Daat Soferim was reviewed very harshly by the Radziner in HaDarom 57, this is one excerpt:

One of the things that Radziners disliked was the R' Rabinowitz's apologetics. For instance, he tries to explain the story of Yaakov and the different colored sheep with a quasi-scientific explanation (see also Shadal on that verse).

It is interesting that despite this apologetic tendency the Chazon Ish still had high praise for Daas Soferim (see Yeshurun article) - does this perhaps mirror the CI's relations with R' Gedalyah Nadel - who also apologetics?


Anonymous said...

One of my very first instances of exposure to modern, non-traditional Biblical exegesis was Prof. Yehudah Felix's interpretation of the episode of Ya'akov's sheep from the perspective of Mendelian genetics. Some quick googling indicates that he published it in Tehumin and in Teva Va-Arez Ba'Tanach. [According to a footnote in this paper: "Techumin 3 (1982), 461; Teva Va-aretz Ba-Tanakh (Jerusalem, 1992), 27-41."]

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Although I don't think he was much of a historian, I love his maverick spirit, eg, his willingness to interpret Mendelssohn in a totally different light from the party line.

Wolf2191 said...

"different light from the party line"

Thanks! That is part of my point.

I forgot to mention the interesting point that he says he discussed his deutero-isaiah idea with Gedolim V' Tovim - given the close relationship he had with a number of prominent Gedolim (CI, R' Moshe, etc.) its interesting to speculate who he may be referring to.

Anonymous said...

BTW in lubavtich circles they say that the Rebbe recommended da'as sofrim to nach teachers.

In this new edition did they make any changes?

Anonymous said...

I haven't been able to check - it wouldn't surprise me if they did (but there isn't that much controversial stuff in Yehosua, I'd like to see what they do with Bereishis).

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