Thursday, November 24, 2011

Top Ten Things to Thank (Artscroll)

Back in 1976, While America was celebrating her bicentennial, a new publishing phenomenon was born. Artscroll released a Shloshim commemoration volume on the Purim Megillah, a conglomeration of short commentaries and insights, culled from the classic Jewish commentators. Due to the unusual enthusiastic response, AS embarked on more and more exciting projects, as they realized there was a void in the market for classic Jewish literature, translated and annotated using the aforementioned Meforshim.

Emboldened by the early successes, AS took on other projects, building themselves a reputation for producing top quality books, both on the inside and the outside.

Recently, I've seen some AS bashing on other Jblogs, so I felt that on this day of Thanksgiving, I should express my appreciation towards the AS revolution. Below are 10 things that we owe AS, not in any particular order.

1. Aesthetics:

AS has raised the level of Jewish book publishing to a new plateau. There was a time when the term "Seforim Store" conjured up images in one's mind of dilapidated quarters on the Lower East Side, where the proprietor would wait for his disheveled customers to choose a Sefer from the overladen, decrepit bookshelves. Eichler's of Flatbush changed that image, in the early 80's, expanding from a one-storefront to a three-storefront superstore; clean and immaculate, with music playing in the background. In my opinion, much of Eichler's success was due to the new AS market, as the customer was now the typical Flatbush Baal Haabos, not the nerdy bespectacled scholar. AS's Seforim, in addition to the content, were produced to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, in addition to being well bound by their SeferCraft Inc. bookbinder.

2. The Shul Siddur:

In 1984, AS produced their first Siddur. It was a weekday/shabbos Siddur, yet it came with English translation, commentary on the bottom, contained every possible Tefilah one could ever need, and had easy instructions. In addition, they ensured that there would be minimal "flipping" around. They even produced an RCA edition, to satisfy the MO community that preferred the Prayer for the State of Israel and some other minor changes. Shortly thereafter they published the Siddur with a Russian translation, to ease the transition of Russian emigrants during the Glasnost and Perestroika era. AS also produced a children's edition, and finally an all Hebrew edition which has gradually taken over the Shul market, being cheap and sporting a superior binding. Additionally, their linear Siddurim, with bi-directional flow, have become favorites of many.

3. The Shul Chumash:

In 1993, they offered a Shul Chumash. This was a fantastic work, culling insights from a myriad of scholars over the centuries. Much thought went into it's production, even the height was altered so as to fit the average Shul shelf. A classic. In 2004, they initiated the all-Hebrew version, which is also slowly cornering the "Shul Chumash" market, being of long lasting quality binding and cheap in price.

4. Rashi/Ramban on Chumash:

Pure classics. Monumental works which required much research which clearly shows in the end-product. The old blue linear Rashi translations have been totally replaced by the AS Rashi (1995-1998). The notes are superior, explaining much of the French/Laaz and just about any question one could have on Rashi will be explained in those notes. The Ramban (2004-2010) is similarly a fabulous work, easily usable by the scholar and layman alike. Sure to become the definitive Ramban translation for anyone studying this work.

5. Machzorim:

Following on the successes of the Siddur, AS published the full set of Machzorim. RH, YK, Pesach, Shavuous and Sukkos. True to the AS tradition, these Machzorim provided easy instruction, simple translation, no flipping, and interesting footnotes. Also they complemented the works with a short summary of Halachos in the back. Upper end leatherbound editions were also marketed. In 2003 and 2004, they also introduced the bi-linear versions of the RH and YK Machzorim, to make it easier to know the meaning of what one is saying as one is saying it. Similar bi-linear versions of Tehillim, Selichos and Kinnos were also published.

Notable though, was an unheard of recall for the Sukkos Machzor. Due to a minor error, AS recalled the entire shipment of Machzorim, and replaced them with a brand new version. [Recently I've read how there are mistakes in the new Koren Machzorim, yet I have not heard of any such unprecedented recall as was done by AS.]

6. Font:

AS has produced their own fontpopularized a font , which is easy on the eye and has become easily recognizable world-wide as the AS font. My only complaint about this font, which is fine for adults, is that children who are learning to read would do better with a fuller version of the letters.

7. Daf Yomi:

A good portion of the Daf Yomi success can be claimed by AS. Their Shas project, begun in 1991 with the publication of Mesechta Megillah, and recently completed (2005), made learning the Daf something that anyone could do. While many may argue that it is a crutch, no one can deny that thousands have been added to the Daf Yomi rosters since the advent of the AS translation. Going from the Felt Forum to Madison Square Garden to dual arenas and now a stadium, AS can be proud to have had a hand in this Kiddush Hashem. Additionally, AS has produced a Hebrew version, French, and now they embark on the Yerushalmi. Heroic!

8. Halacha:

Classics have been produced in many areas, inclusing Kashrus, Shabbos, Niddah and Aveilus. Their "Mourning in Halacha" is certainly a classic, enabling one to know what to do in the time of need. Rabbi Forst's Seforim are excellent references for one to be guided by.

9. Biographies:

Great for the youth to have role models. Reb Yaakov, Reb Moshe etc.and many of the Gedolim of yesteryear come to life in these well written books.

10. Shaar Press:

A new Label created primarily for Rabbi Berel Wein and now includes any publication that does not fit 100% Hashkafically under the AS umbrella. Notable is the History Trilogy begun by RBW in 1990 and completed in 1995. Shaar Press has a picture of a "gate", as their monogram, but sometimes I wonder if Shaar Press was named for the other meaning of in remainder, left-over.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Heimishe Habilitate Hemorrhaging Hospital (Revival of Peninsula)

In January of this year, Mishpacha Magazine printed an article which featured Rabbi Yaakov Spitzer, Holocaust survivor and founder of Revival Home Care.

Jewish people have long been involved in Healthcare. Many doctors, pharmacists, medical supply providers, EMT's, ambulance services...all prominently feature Jewish "blood".

Perhaps this is an outgrowth of our forefather, Avraham Avinu. Hospitality, Health, Hatzaloh, Humanities, Helping etc. are all part of the Jewish psyche.

Noteworthy is the news item that it was Orthodox investors, primarily comprised of Revival Home Care, who stepped in to save the Hospital from closure, saving many jobs. I wish them much Hatzlocho.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

(Reb) NossonTzvi's Normalcy, Niceness Noted

This past week saw the unfortunate passing of many of Klal Yisrael's best. Notable atop the list was the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel ZTL.

What is most gratifying is that this was a rare occasion where even the most acrimonious blogs had positive things to say.

RNTF had humble origins, growing up as an all-American boy in Chicago. Nevertheless, with perseverance he was able to rise to the prominent position of Rosh Yeshiva of the Yerushalayim Mirrer Yeshiva.

I only met RNTF several times, yet all times his perennial smile adorned his face.

Considering that he suffered constantly from many illnesses during his life, this is remarkable. Yet what I find even more amazing is that he built the Mir Yeshiva into one of the largest, if not the largest Yeshiva in the world. The Yeshiva debt has been estimated in the millions of dollars. This must have weighed heavily on him, as the burden for raising the necessary funds lay squarely on his shoulders. Yet his trademark smile never left his face.

I am reminded of a little known story regarding R' Meir Shapiro and his Yeshiva, Chachmei Lublin. RMS, in addition to creating Daf Yomi had grand ideas to found a Yeshiva which would attract the best Bochurim from all over the world. The entrance fee was to know several hundred Blatt by heart. The Yeshiva rivaled the amenities of the Yeshivos of our day. There was a huge library, dormitory and dining room all housed on the Yeshiva's premises.

Yet while it was difficult to find funds to erect the beautiful edifice, maintaining it proved to be a monumental task. Similar to the Roshei Yeshiva of our day, RMS was frequently forced to travel overseas to collect money for his institution. Perhaps it was the burden of maintaining YCL that eventually led to his demise, at 46 years of age.

In the biography on RMS, titled "A Blaze in the Darkening Gloom", a most fascinating story is told. It seems that the Prudential Insurance Company opened an office in Poland and the local representative figured it would make good business sense to offer a cheap policy to RMS as a publicity stunt. RMS named the Yeshiva as the beneficiary in the event of his death. It was this 50,000 dollars that staved off bankruptcy.

Similarly, RNTF may have been literaly Moser Nefesh for his Yeshiva. Perhaps his demise will be the catalyst for a successful emergency campaign to return the Mir to financial stability.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Prisoner's Pidyon Price Prohibitive (Gilad Shalit)

Several weeks ago, Samuel Freedman offered up this essay in the NYT.

The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of “pidyon shvuyim” — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.

Interestingly, he makes note of the juxtaposition between the deal to free Gilad Shalit and Avrohom Avinu's pursuit to secure Lot's release during the War of the 4 vs.5 Kings.

Yet I heard in the name of Rabbi JD Bleich that surprisingly enough, the fact that AA engaged in this act of "Pidyon Shevuyim" still is not sourced anywhere as this being the Makor for the Mitzvah of PS, and is in fact incorrect. The source for PS is the Talmud BB 8a/b, codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Siman 252 of Yoreh Deah that deals with Tzedakah. It seems that the entire Mitzvah is predicated on the idea of altruism.

רבה רמא צדקה איתמי דבי בר מריון א"ל אביי והתני רב שמואל בר יהודה אין פוסקין צדקה על היתומים אפילו לפדיון שבוים א"ל אנא לאחשובינהו קא עבידנא איפרא הורמיז אימיה דשבור מלכא שדרה ארנקא דדינרי לקמיה דרב יוסף אמרה ליהוי למצוה רבה יתיב רב יוסף וקא מעיין בה מאי מצוה רבה א"ל אביי מדתני רב שמואל בר יהודה אין פוסקין צדקה על היתומים אפילו לפדיון שבוים שמע מינה פדיון
פדיון שבוים מצוה רבה היא אמר ליה רבא לרבה בר מרי מנא הא מילתא דאמור רבנן דפדיון שבוים מצוה רבה היא א"ל דכתיב והיה כי יאמרו אליך אנה נצא ואמרת אליהם כה אמר ה' אשר למות למות ואשר לחרב לחרב ואשר לרעב לרעב ואשר לשבי לשבי

So the question is: Why is the rescue of Lot not listed as the source, being that the Talmud endeavors to bring a source and only does so somewhat from the Navi Yermiyahu?

Answered RJDB, with a Medrash. The Medrash says that the "318" people that AA took with him, was really only his trusted servant Eliezer (which adds up to the Gematria of 318). What happened to all of AA's entourage? It seems that when they realized the danger of rescue, they slipped away one by one until only Eliezer remained. They reasoned correctly, that they were not obligated to rescue Lot by putting their own lives in danger.

Which could be why AA/Lot is not the source for PS. PS is perhaps using one's assets to secure release of another, but one needn't endanger his/her own well-being!

{Having an extra 1,000 terrorists on the streets is definitely, based on statistics, dangerous to one's population. Hence freeing GS is not necessarily PS, and is probably prohibited. I imagine that AA was able to rely on his Zechusim, but I don't think that Netanyahu is on the same Madrega.}

Disclaimer: This is only 2nd hand, so it is quite possible that the person who shared this thought with me heard/understood incorrectly.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Composer Carlebach Creates Chiddushim

I have posted several times on R' Shlomo Carlebach, one of the great pioneers of true Jewish music. This coming week will be the Yahrtzeit, consequently a new post is in order.

Recently, one of RSC's Talmidim has published some of his Chiddushim. I have not seen the Sefer, so I can't comment on it, although based on past experience I would imagine it will probably be of the Chassidic genre.

The best book I ever read about RSC is Holy Brother, by Yitti Halberstam. The stories are remarkable. It is in my opinion, one of the best books written in English for the Jewish public. What I find notable about the book, is that there are so many stories which portray his innate drive to help the unfortunate. It was typical of him to give away all his money, and when he passed away, it is said that all he had left were his daughters and 20,000 Seforim.

For some vintage RSC, see this.
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