Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Response to Aaron Rakeffet

In the latest issue of BaDaD, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet published a letter criticizing my critical review of his book, The Rav. Most of the communication requires no comment. However, I would like to correct one error in his letter.

In the review, I noted that in his biographic introduction, Rakeffet fails to mention the important work done by Marc Shapiro and Seth Farber. Rakeffet responded that I was being sloppy in my criticism since 'In order to cite them I would need a double measure of רוח הקודש, Divine Spirit. Their scholarship was not completed or published when I was writing The Rav.'

Rakeffet, however, is wrong on both points. Shapiro's research was effectively completed in 1995, with the acceptance of his doctorate at Harvard (upon which his book is based). Farber's PhD was submitted in 2000, a year after 'The Rav' was published. However, as Rakeffet himself declares, he was well aware of (and involved in) both projects while he was preparing his book. All he had to do was pick up the phone (or log onto his e-mail) to obtain a copy of Shapiro's PhD, and drafts of Farber's work (which were already extant). No prophetic capacity was required, only responsible scholarship.

Anyone purporting to write a biography of the Rav, or even a biographical introduction, is obliged to avail himself of the best sources at his disposal. The failure to do so, as I wrote, renders the introduction (even in its limited form) 'stunningly inadequate.'

[Update: I noticed tonight that Rakeffet possessed a copy of Shapiro's PhD, but didn't use it for the information it contains about the Rav. Furthermore, his book was completed while Rakeffet was still writing his (though they appeared the same year). My point still holds.]

4 comments:

Shlomo Pick said...

As far as the Shapiro work, I agree with you, a finished phd is an important source and should have been used. However, as long as Farber's work had not been approved, anything could have been changed, deleted, etc. thus Rakeffet could not use it or even cite it. The Maximum he could have done and perhaps should have done was write a note saying that Mr. Seth Farber was doing a phd on Maimonides and when published it would probably add a lot of material, elucidate... in Boston and the school.

Anonymous said...

Actually, when writing any scholarly work there is an obligation to avail yourself of the best sources at your disposal. Even if it is not a biography of the Rav, or a biography at all.

YMedad said...

A someone who is trawling through Avi Shilon's new biography of Menachem Begin, purporting it to be the result of 5 years of research, I can only agree that best/most sources be used. In Shilon's case, he has made a mockery of biographical writing.

BinahMalka said...

With all do respect, Seth Farber is/was RothKoff's STUDENT. Which would mean Rothkoff most likely have better understand of the Rav than Farber....... Also if the works were not printed yet, why would he use them, when writing a great work on the Rav