Thursday, October 25, 2007

Off On a Jewess/Feminist Tangent

Jewess sent me over to a story in The Jewish Week on a feminist issue. And that is the worth of the new ArtScroll woman's siddur.

I will not debate that matter although I admit that my sympathies are not at all with ArtScroll due to my incapability of fathoming their Hareidi orientation as in no prayer for the state of Israel (when every Russian and Austrian siddur had a prayer for either the Czar of Emperor respectively) or for soldiers of the IDF.

What interested me is a bit more obsure:

...Ellen Frankel, CEO and editor in chief of the Jewish Publication
Society...“I admire ArtScroll greatly,” she said. But the company has created a model that shapes the work of others in the field. Every ArtScroll religious text has letters of endorsement from leading Orthodox rabbis reproduced in the first pages. Frankel said that she approached someone to support JPS’s new translation of “Mikraot Gedolot: The Commentators’ Bible.” Even before opening a newly published volume, the Orthodox donor asked which rabbis endorsed it, how observant the editor was and what rabbis he had studied with. “This donor wouldn’t even consider funding something unless he knew it was approved” by rabbis, said Frankel. “That was an interesting eye opener for me. It’s somewhat regrettable that Orthodox readers now
require a hechsher (stamp of kosher approval), and it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the scholarship or writing. There are many good books being published that would not be objectionable to a traditional reader, but they won’t open them.”

Dr. Frankel is the author of many books, including The Classic Tales: Four Thousand Years of Jewish Lore and The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, and is also an accomplished story teller. Dr. Frankel received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University. But she is doing Jewish feminism no favor inexpressing her above opinion.

Jewish books for centuries have carried approbations, haskamot, from Rabbis and some have even been forged as they were that important to the author and the book's sales. They are a mine of bibliographical and historical information about persons, places and dates. And here's a nice haskama story: approbation (הסכמה) written for R. Judah Leib Zirelsohn's collection of responsa, Gevul Yehudah (1906). The writer of the approbation was R. Eliyahu Hazan, who was then the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria, Egypt. R. Hazan apparently was not only very impressed with R. Zirelsohn, but was also quite disappointed with the quality of many books that had been written. Regarding Gevul Yehudah he wrote,

"The gentleman asked to send him an approbation for his book of responsa Gevul Yehudah which is soon to be published. He also sent me copies of the responsa which had already been published in order that I see them. Since then I have seen many books published which are not worth the damage done to the paper and printing, and they are not helpful or useful. On the other hand they contain that which will cause damage to religion and knowledge, and to my disappointment I saw in some of them the approbations of well-known rabbis. Maybe it is that they didn't know what was written in the book, or because of their great humility they weren't able to turn the authors away empty-handed. After this no person is able to judge a book and his author on the basis of the approbations that are in the beginning of the book. It is only after an examination of the contents of the book that one will know the worth of the book and the level of the author. Therefore I restrained myself as much as possible from writing an approbation for the book".

Now, back to Dr. Frankel. If she displays what I consider this little knowledge in the field of Jewish books, where is the JPS going and of what use is she to Jewish feminism?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps she was (mistakenly, wishfully) assuming that the Orthodox community had become a little more free-thinking since 1906.

YMedad said...

Free does not necessarily mean responsible, serious, intellectual and well-researched. That is what a haskama should signify besides the reliability of the author on the subject.