Sunday, April 23, 2017

When I Became a Censor

Upon completing my reading of Marc Shapiro's book, Changing the Immutable, which deals with Orthodox censorship of 'inconvenient' texts, I suddenly had a very uncomfortable feeling, a type of dejà vu. Upon further thought, I realized why. I was once faced with a situation similar to that which confronted the various editors and publishers that Shapiro describes. And, much like those who are the targets of his indignation, I chose to modify the record.

And this is the story.

In 1982, in anticipation both of the eightieth birthday of Mori ve-Rabi, Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל and the fortieth anniversary of his tenure at RIETS, the Student Organization of Yeshiva decided to publish a Festschrift in his honor, which would be solely comprised of articles in classic Talmud and Halakhah. We planned to invite leading Rashe Yeshiva in the United States, as a way of underscoring our Rebbe's status as the greatest exponent of Brisker Lomdus in our generation (as once asserted by the late Ponivizher Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman זצ"ל) and of pushing back against the antagonism that lesser lights in the Yeshiva World expressed toward him. The editor of the volume, my old and dear friend Moshe Sherman (now the Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Jewish Studies at Touro College) asked if I'd be interested in serving as Co-Editor. I was deeply honored to have been asked and accepted immediately. (I am listed on the Title Page by my Hebrew Name, with the Yiddish spelling of my Last Name--which was changed by the Israeli Interior Ministry when I made Aliyah. So a lot of people don't know that I was the Asst. Editor).

Cover Page

We made up a list of Rashe Yeshiva from whom we would solicit articles. If I recall correctly, to our great excitement and satisfaction, almost all those to whom we turned agreed. 

One person to whom we turned, was the Lubavitcher Rebbe זצ"ל, with whom Rav Soloveitchik had a long relationship. I wrote a letter, which was edited by Rabbi Herschel Schacter ז"ל (who agreed to deliver it) and then signed by both myself and Moshe. (The letter recently resurfaced in the book, Early Years.)

As can be seen from the Rebbe's notation, we were turned down because submitting such articles was, apparently, something that Lubavitcher Rebbeim didn't do. However, while we were disappointed, we were very happy with the positive response to our invitation. 

We were especially happy that the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Gifter זצ"ל, agreed to contribute to the volume. Rav Gifter had a long history of affiliation with Yeshiva University, having studied there in the 1930's where he was a disciple of the Rav's father, Rav Moshe Solovveitchik זצ"ל. In fact, it was his uncle, the Dean of RIETS, Samuel Sar ז"ל, who sent Rav Gifter to study in Telz in Lithuania. Nevertheless, Rav Gifter was ideologically very far from the YU World. When Moshe handed me his hand-written article for transcription, I felt it was a real coup.

And then I read the dedication. 

  - בהגיע ראש הישיבה הגרי"ד סולובייצ'יק שליט"א לגבורות דכירנא עם בואו לאמריקא ואזכור שמחת אביו מורי הגר"מ סולובייצ'יק ז"ל בבן חכם המשמח אב. ועוד דזכורני שיעורו הנפלא בבואו לישיבה בגדר דין הקרבן שבשעיר המשתלח שיש בו קיום קרבן פנים בדין ועמד חי והעמיק הרחיב בברירות המחשבה והסגנון גם יחד.

 א"כ ברבות הימים העמיד (או עמדו לו) תלמידים שאינם הגונים ולכן גם שיעוריו בפילוסופיא היו למקור אכזב ועתה בהגיעו לגבורות יחזקהו ד' להמשיך בהרבצת התורה, לפתח בתלמידים הבנת התורה ועוד רבות בשנים יזכה בתורת ה' רק להמנות בין ממשיכי דרכה של בית בריסק.
 As I read the words, especially those I've highlighted (and which I've reconstructed from memory), I didn't know what to do with myself. On the one hand, how could I let such harsh words be published and thereby humiliate Rav Soloveitchik, who was still alive and well ('unworthy students' 'philosophy lectures were a source of disappointment/failure'?). On the other hand, Rav Gifter was one of the leading Rashe Yeshiva in America. Could I really tamper with his text? I really didn't know what to do. 

It was at that point that I recalled something that Professor Twersky זצ"ל had once told me. If a phrase can be removed from a paragraph, without thereby harming the flow thereof, that phrase may be deemed to be parenthetical and incidental to the argument. I reread the paragraph without the offending sentence and was happy to discover its absence was not felt. I told Moshe of my idea, and we decided to publish the dedication accordingly (telling myself that Rav Gifter couldn't really have expected that we were going to include his nasty remarks in the final product--and that's why wrote as he did.) As it was, the last sentence retained some of the sharpness of the deleted words (רק להמנות בין ממשיכי דרכה של בית  בריסק

 After reading Shapiro's book, and recalling this episode from long ago, I felt I needed to set the record straight and to admit that, in retrospect and despite my agreement that the Past should be allowed to speak for itself on its own terms, I do understand and feel for the dilemma of disciples who resort to censorship in order to protect the feelings of their masters.

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