Artscroll Gedolim biographies
Home › Forums › Decaffeinated Coffee › Artscroll Gedolim biographies
- This topic has 56 replies, 32 voices, and was last updated 9 years, 7 months ago by twisted.
October 18, 2012 1:49 am at 1:49 am #605300simcha613Participant
I have heard criticism against Artscroll’s Gedolim biographies that they don’t tell the whole story. They only focus on the positive aspects of the Gadol and not the negative. They seem to white wash the Gedolim. Many accuse Artscroll of not being intellectually honest, and detrimental to chinuch as it paints the Gedolim as above human, making some people feel it impossible to reach their levels.
The best counter argument that I have heard is that saying negative things about the Gedolim, or anyone for that matter, is loshon hara. Since when is loshon hara permitted for authors? Unless you want to argue that it’s not loshon hara. Just like the Torah spoke negatively about the Avos, Moshe Rabeinu, and other great tzadikim so we are able to learn from their faults, maybe that same treatment should be given to our Gedolim.
Basically, if Artscroll would write negative things about the Gedolim, would that be loshon hara? And if so, would it be better for Artscroll not to have written the biographies, then to write a skewed account of their lives?October 18, 2012 4:43 pm at 4:43 pm #981791Rav TuvParticipant
Besides LH it is also mezalzel gedolim and talmidei chachamim. Anyone reading these biographies should understand that they are human beings with human frailties and not melachim gemurim.October 18, 2012 5:10 pm at 5:10 pm #981792crisisoftheweekMember
How can anyone realize “understand” that they are human when all that is presented is this image of a malach.
But hey! As long as they keep selling no one will dare try and change it.October 18, 2012 5:35 pm at 5:35 pm #981793
A large part of the issue is that the definition of lashon hara depends on your values. So when you have one major publishing company printing almost all of these “biographies”, it appears as though all the gedolim consulted with the CEO of that company, since anything he would have thought was “wrong” by definition is excluded from the book. Also, the people who are vocal supporters of censoring books tend to share certain viewpoints as well, so even publishers who would be willing to print with another viewpoint have an incentive to keep things as vanilla as possible.October 18, 2012 5:41 pm at 5:41 pm #981794
The is virtually nothing negative to write about the Gedolim.
This is a non-issue.October 18, 2012 5:50 pm at 5:50 pm #981795akupermaParticipant
The genre of “lives of gedolim” is supposed to inspire. They aren’t attempts at critical biographies. It’s quite rare that someone write a critical biography of gedolim, and they don’t sell many copies.October 18, 2012 5:59 pm at 5:59 pm #981796gavra_at_workParticipant
The correct term is Hagiography, not Biography.
There is nothing wrong with it.October 18, 2012 7:13 pm at 7:13 pm #981797ChortkovParticipant
Firstly, why is this Artscroll more than any other publisher?
Secondly, the point of a biography of a ????? ??? or ???? is for a reader to take out the lessons, not for an interesting read. If there is nothing to learn, don’t put it in!October 18, 2012 7:16 pm at 7:16 pm #981798Ðash®Participant
The correct term is Hagiography, not Biography.
There is nothing wrong with it.
There’s nothing wrong as long as it is presented as a hagiography, producing a hagiography while claiming it’s a biography is wrong.October 18, 2012 7:21 pm at 7:21 pm #981799
Vochindik, that can mean two things. It can mean that gedolim never did anything that could possibly be criticized, which would indicate that that you’ve read too many Artscroll biographies yourself.
Or it could mean that since their gadlus cannot be called into question, analyzing the specifics of what they did, whether it seems to be something one would agree with or not, can never be negative. That is a more plausible view.October 18, 2012 7:38 pm at 7:38 pm #981800zahavasdadParticipant
The Idea of these “Biographies” is we should learn the proper way to live from the way the Gedolim lived their lives.
The problem is the lives as portayed in these books is a fantasy in itself and people are trying to emulate a life that did not actually exist.
And when people fail, they might feel downtroden and not try to get up.
Its lot easier to get up knowing that once or twice someone greater than me failed and was able to recover. There is much more Chizuk in that , than someone who went to Chedar at 3, Learned entire tanach by 7 and learned Shas for the first time by 13 and learned from Sunup to Sundown and learned with his feet in cold water so not to fall asleep.October 18, 2012 7:58 pm at 7:58 pm #981801gavra_at_workParticipant
There’s nothing wrong as long as it is presented as a hagiography, producing a hagiography while claiming it’s a biography is wrong.
The only people who claim it is a biography don’t know that the word hagiography exists. Blame the Yeshiva system for not teaching English.
P.S. Rav Gifter was once giving a shiur (I guess on Hilchos Shabbos) and describing an item that could be part of clothing “like an epaulette”. Seeing the blank faces of the Talmidim, he closed his sefer and said that after you learn English, you can come back and learn here.October 18, 2012 8:51 pm at 8:51 pm #981802YatzmichMember
Personally, I don’t read Artscroll Gedolim biographies anymore.
Every single one is exactly the same.October 18, 2012 9:06 pm at 9:06 pm #981803truthsharerMember
Most people would be more inspired about a kid who was a troublemaker or not really interested in anything and then turned his life around and became a gadol.
It’s a shame a book like that was banned around 15 years ago.October 18, 2012 9:21 pm at 9:21 pm #981804OneOfManyParticipant
gavra: I learned what Hagiographa means in limudei kodesh, not English. 😛October 18, 2012 9:54 pm at 9:54 pm #981805WolfishMusingsParticipant
Sometimes, when discussing this subject, I am reminded of the quote from the play 1776. In discussing his place in history with Ben Franklin, John Adams says:
It doesn’t matter. I won’t be in the history books anyway, only you. Franklin did this and Franklin did that and Franklin did some other damn thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them – Franklin, Washington, and the horse – conducted the entire revolution by themselves.
The WolfOctober 18, 2012 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm #981806WhiteberryMember
If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If enough people don’t buy it they will stop publishing it. There is no chiyuv to purchase every biography to hit the stores.October 19, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am #981807
my favorite artcroll biographies are those written about the great sefaradi gedolei hador like rav ezra attia and rav yosef chaim. what a good read. i also enjoyed the one about rav soleiman eliyahu very much. also, the one about rav bentzion abba shaul was compelling. also, artcroll wonderful biography about rav yotzchak nissim was simply awe inspiring. artcrolls wonderful biography about rav yehuda tzadka should win a pulitzer this year. i particularly enjoyed the biography that artcroll published about Rabbi Chaim Falagi.
Oh, wait, artcroll never published any of those. hmmmmmmmmmm…..October 19, 2012 2:09 am at 2:09 am #981808Josh31Participant
“he closed his sefer and said that after you learn English, you can come back and learn here”
Such statements will not make it into Artscroll.October 19, 2012 2:11 am at 2:11 am #981809MediumThinkerMember
“The correct term is Hagiography, not Biography.”
“The only people who claim it is a biography don’t know that the word hagiography exists. Blame the Yeshiva system for not teaching English.”
You realize that being a hagiography does not exclude something from being a biography. It is like saying it is not a fruit it is a red apple.
As Rabbi Meriamm-Webster defines hagiography:
1: BIOGRAPHY of saints or venerated persons
2: idealizing or idolizing biography
Before you rant about the Heiliga “Yeshiva system for not teaching English”, use a dictionary.October 19, 2012 3:21 am at 3:21 am #981810WIYMember
The owners of Artscroll are not of Sefardic descent, I think you can excuse them for focussing on Ashkenazic gedolim.
I would hope that there is also a Sefardic publishing company out there that puts out books on Sefardic Gedolim and if not its the Sefardims fault for not doing so. Go do it! Blaming Artscroll is so lame and pathetic.October 19, 2012 11:33 am at 11:33 am #981811
WIH, let us ignore the (wanted or wanted) role and responsibility that artcroll has assumed in the greater jewish world for a second and allow me follow your logic here. because artcroll is ashkenazi it publishes for the ashkenazi readers. why would anyone of ashkenazic decent care to read about sefaradic gedolim? WIY: when you say “go do it”, you assume i am also sefaradic but alas, i am not.October 19, 2012 6:07 pm at 6:07 pm #981812
If anyone has a problem with Artscroll, hang out your shingle and open up your own Jewish publishing house. Otherwise shut up. Clearly the Orthodox Jewish people appreciate Artscroll as they keep purchasing their products, keeping them in business, while no one has displaced them as the King of Jewish Publishing.October 21, 2012 4:35 am at 4:35 am #981813
Litvishe Kiryas Yoelite, that is not a reasonable point of view. Not everyone has time to run a publishing house, and if there is a legitimate criticism of Artscroll, then there is no reason why someone shouldn’t voice it. One such criticism is that unlike what someone above posted, it’s not true that they wouldn’t print them if no one would buy them. They have all their books paid for long before they hit the shelves, because they have The Mesorah Foundation, which solicits donations for the books. Everything they make on the books is pure profit.
This also has a tendency to skew the market. Yes, they have the largest market share, because they have done the best work overall of all their peers. But it’s still fair to raise the question whether they should dominate the discourse. This applies not only in choosing which books to publish, though there’s a valid argument that if they paint themselves as Klal Yisroel’s publishers and support themselves with donations, they do in fact have a mandate to publish Sephardi books. It applies also to their unwillingness to entertain any viewpoint outside their own. It applies to their business tactics, which, like those of any other successful business, including Mitt Romney’s, can be questioned.
And lest you counter that the people who buy the books and support them with donations are responsible to know what is going on, well, then, let them find out in the Coffee Room.October 21, 2012 4:57 am at 4:57 am #981814mddMember
The problem is that many people do not want to recognize that there could be out there people more perfect than they themselves are — tzadikim and gedolim. They want everybody to be “human” — namely, with serious chesronos. And who said that everyone is entitled to grow up to be a godol? There is a medrash which says that before Shmuel Ha’Novi was born it was known that a great gadol was going to be born and his name was going to be Shmuel. So people would name kids Shmuel. After others would see a new Shmuel act, they would say:”this is not the one”. Untill the real Shmuel was born, and everybody saw on him that he is the real one. Get the point??October 21, 2012 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm #981815NaysbergMember
Meshugener: Mesorah doesn’t solicit donations for biographies. Only for seforim/translations. So your point is incorrect.October 21, 2012 1:29 pm at 1:29 pm #981816
What an appropriate name. There are some many gross misstatements in your comment as to be considered libelous.
Just a small sample, the Mesorah Foundation has nothing to do with the biographies.
Where do you come up with the nonsense if not by fabricating it out of thin air.October 21, 2012 2:48 pm at 2:48 pm #981817
as a daf yomi-er i am tied at the hip to artcroll. that being said, i feel that artcroll has ignored anglo-sefaradic jewry even in its elucidation of shas as can be evidenced by the achronim/late achronim cited (and not cited). the fact that artcroll has never published a sefaradic siddur is curious. the biography issue.
on the other hand, artcroll has published the sefaradic haggadah and rabbi mansours daily halacha so i do not believe it is an intentional anti-sefardic bias, chas veshalom. i think more can be done to encourage artcroll to include our sefaradic brothers and that may also include donations and involvement of the sefaradic community with artcrolls efforts.October 21, 2012 3:14 pm at 3:14 pm #981818susheeMember
Sephardim represent 10% of Jewry. Publishing a book that caters mostly to them will result in a much poorer return of investment (if not outright loss) than publishing something with broader appeal. Also, there have been many more Ashkenazic gedolim in the last 250 years, and that is reflected in the quantity of seforim published by and about them.October 21, 2012 7:00 pm at 7:00 pm #981819CircleParticipant
First of all, I don’t think the issur of lashon hora applies to dead people. Also, the Chazon Ish clearly states in the beginning of Parshas Noach that it is important for us to know the real truth about the great people of our past if we are to learn lessons from their lives. (Ayin Sefer Bais Av)October 21, 2012 9:07 pm at 9:07 pm #981820
There is no reason to attack me, Nishtdayngesheft, if you disagree with something I said you can feel free to argue with the points and I will either concede or respond. I didn’t say that they do anything wrong – I said that like any successful business, there are criticisms that can be raised on some things that they’ve done.
I’m debating between writing a detailed post that seems to criticize them when that wasn’t my intention, and cutting it short in a way that unintentionally makes it seem like I have some inside information. I’ll do something in the middle.
1. I maintain that many of their books are also sponsored, but even if I’m wrong, the market position is mainly based on the sponsored books.
2. Even if the sponsorships are warranted for something like the Gemara, they are arguably not warranted for something like the Siddur Yitzchak Yair, which was sponsored in advance, marketed extremely aggressively, and had the effect of putting several smaller distributors in a bad position.
3. Even if they have done nothing wrong, a position that I am perfectly happy agreeing with, if they hold themselves out as Klal Yisroel’s publisher one could argue that they should have a more expansive view of what they should be doing. If there’s no money in Sephardi Biographies, let them start raising money for Biographies. 🙂
4. I am happy to continue to discuss this, but ad hominem attacks reflect well on nobody.October 21, 2012 9:11 pm at 9:11 pm #981821lesschumrasParticipant
Let me understand the this. It’s not loshon hora for the Torah and miforshim to point out the shortcomings of Noah, Abraham, Yaacov and the shvatim but Artscroll can’t mention failings of an Achron?October 21, 2012 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm #981822susheeMember
Artscroll never held themselves out as Klal Yisroel’s Publisher.October 21, 2012 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm #981823
Aha, now I understand lesschumras’ thought process. He feels that he can make the same distinctions as the medrashim while the gedolie rishonim and achronim did not do so. That is why he can make the silly simile he did and why he makes many of the comments he does.October 21, 2012 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm #981824lesschumrasParticipant
you didn’t address my “silly points”. It’s clear that noone is exempt from criticismOctober 21, 2012 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm #981825
sushee: your nonsensical stats about sefaradic jewry reinforces the need for better education about acheinu hasefaradim.October 22, 2012 12:04 am at 12:04 am #981826
In 1931 92% of Jews were Ashkenazic (based on an academic study of worldwide Jewry at the time.) It’s probably a bit less today.October 22, 2012 12:07 am at 12:07 am #981827Dr Uri BakayMember
How about the Rabbi Sherer biography where they neglected to mention that his brother is a reform Rabbi, Harry Sherer? Artscroll is the Jewish equivalent of the New York Times, they have an agenda and just publish what is “politically correct”October 22, 2012 12:23 am at 12:23 am #981828
The point is simple. Based on the example of rishonim and achronim they know that it is not up to them to print pointless negative items. Sure you see it in the Torah. HKB”h included it for a toeles. While you may that way, you are not HKB”H.
There is never negative items printed just for no reason. Publishers would be hard pressed to find a supportable reason to publish items that are not there to teach us or inspire us.October 22, 2012 12:24 am at 12:24 am #981829
How is that relevant to anything? Did they mention you? No, because you are not relevant. So too they did not mention R Sherer’s brother.October 22, 2012 12:34 am at 12:34 am #981830
What’s Harry the rasha got to do with Rabbi Sherer? Nothing. He cut him out of his life as soon as he went Reform. So it does not belong in his biography any more than rasha Stephen Wise belongs in it.October 22, 2012 1:50 am at 1:50 am #981831
vochindic: in 1931, ashkenazi jews believed that 92% of world jewry was sefaradic because ashkenazi jewry looked only to european jews. the study you cited was plain wrong. anyone who believes that 10% of world jewry is ashkenazi is a fool (if you include mizrachi jews as sefaradic). in fact, when you consider that more than 50% of israeli jewry is sefaradic and that 75% of american ashkenazi jewry is so far removed from judaism they are not really jews in any real way, you realize that sefaradic jewry is actually a larger target for artcroll.October 22, 2012 2:03 am at 2:03 am #981832
besalel: According to studies and research conducted by Daniel J. Elazar, Political Scientist and demographer at Bar Ilan University and founder of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, in 1931 Ashkenazim accounted for 92% of the Jewish population and today account for 80%, while Sephardim/Mizrachi today constitute approximately twenty percent of world Jewry.
There are 5.8 million Jews in all of Israel according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (and that’s including their overcounting with non-halachic Jews.) Of those 3 million are Ashkenazim and 1.8 million are Sephardim/Mizrachim according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. And a majority of Sephardim live in Israel. The overwhelmingly vast vast majority of Jews outside Israel are Ashkenazim. The only other countries with notable Sephardic populations are France with 300,000 Sephardim and the U.S. with 200,000. After that it is 50k in Argentina and 20k in Turkey. There is between 9-11.2 million worldwide Ashkenazim, with 5-6 million in the US alone.October 22, 2012 2:23 am at 2:23 am #981833
Jewish MultiCultural Project’s project records 40% of world Jewry as mizrachi or Sephardic. When you take into account that Ashkenazi Jewry has been diluted by intermarriage and secularization in proportions mizrachi Jews have not (and most Ashkenazi Jews are Jewish in ways you and I don’t consider Jewish) it becomes a lot closer .October 22, 2012 2:49 am at 2:49 am #981834MDGParticipant
“There are 5.8 million Jews in all of Israel according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (and that’s including their overcounting with non-halachic Jews.) Of those 3 million are Ashkenazim and 1.8 million are Sephardim/Mizrachim according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.”
You first quote 5.8 million, but your numbers add up 4.8 million.October 22, 2012 3:07 am at 3:07 am #981835David Bar-MagenMember
Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Artscroll’s contribution to the Jewish world.
I find their gemaros to be invaluable for “bekius” learning, and their language to be concise and crystal-clear. It is a pleasure to reap the benefits of their efforts to promote regular, accessible Torah study for all, and I am grateful to them for it.
That said, I WISH that their contributions were just to the area of limud Torah. I find their Holocaust treatments, for one thing, to be highly glossed over, distilled tales of religious heroism, compacted for our easy consumption to deliver neat little moral lessons. This man had emuna and tried to keep Shabbos, so he survived. Obviously, the other man was lacking in his emuna, so Hashem let the Nazis kill him. I sometimes feel that I’m peering into a historical fiction world wherein only frum Jews suffered and died in the concentration camps and only the tzaddikim amongst them merited inexplicable open miracles.
I have met and spoken to a good number of Holocaust survivors, frum and otherwise, and their stories generally have one running theme in common: desperate, brutal hanging-by-the-nails survival. There was murder, cannibalism and betrayal by unassuming men who set next to them in shul. There was heroism and moral values exhibited by “quarter-Jews” who likely never entered a shul in their lives.
Oftentimes the Nazis themselves were too busy recording the facts and figures of their final solution, so they left the barbarism to the hands of other Jews to wreak upon their own brothers and sisters.
Basically, what I’m saying is that there is no neat, storybook, cut-and-dried version of the Holocaust. It was a GEZEIRA. It was a desperate, hellish, indescribably evil time in our history that is now, in the distance of time, being used to further an agenda.
I feel the same way about the gadol “biographies”. These books COULD be inspirational, motivational stories of human beings who were born with both their feet planted upon the same modern world as us and yet rose above the noise to become great men. Instead, they are tales of angels given human form who were capable of great feats of brilliance and virtue at an age that most of us still haven’t mastered the bathroom. By the end of chapter one, most of us are already nodding to ourselves resignedly and dismissing the tale from the bounds of any relevance whatsoever to our own lives and experience. You can practically sit back and play a drinking game with the term “paragon of humility” or “bastion of Torah.”
So yes, I think Artscroll is slowly revising and reshaping the Jewish world in its own distinct, politically-acceptable image. I think they have now reached soaring popularity with the second generation born into a world where Artscroll has always existed. This generation lives and breathes the stories they tell and speaks in the terminology they have taught them.
Well…I guess you know where I stand on this issue by now.October 22, 2012 3:19 am at 3:19 am #981836
MDG: I noticed that. But those are the figures on the Israeli government (Central Bureau of Statistics) website. I assume they have an ‘other’ category. Perhaps things like non-halachic Jews or Teimanim, Romaniotes, Italkim, etc. and the like fall into that category.
besalel: I don’t know where the JMP pulls out that number other than thin air, but the statistics I presented you come directly from the Israeli Census and from scholarly studies by demographers at Bar Ilan University. The current breakdown is 80/20 Ashkenazic/Sefardic.
Furthermore, 50% of Sefardim converted to Christianity during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions 500 years ago. That seriously stunted Sefardic growth — resulting in over 500 years of lost Sefardic generations. And even today most Sefardim, like most Ashkenazim, are not religious. This, in large part, is a result of the zionist secularization programs and mostly occurred since the founding of the State of Israel.October 22, 2012 3:58 pm at 3:58 pm #981837MDGParticipant
“In 1931 92% of Jews were Ashkenazic (based on an academic study of worldwide Jewry at the time.) It’s probably a bit less today. “
I’m sure that there were more than 8% Sefardim. Like then, the Ashkenazim ignore the Sefardim.October 22, 2012 4:03 pm at 4:03 pm #981838
vochindik: when i am wrong, i am wrong. I decided to crunch the numbers. Pre-war and Pre-Israel, there were 50,000-60,000 Jews in Yemen, 100,000 Jews in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, 250,000 in Morocco and half a million Jews in Iran and Iraq. There were about 100,000 sefaradic jews in europe and america. The total, in fact, is about 10% of the world jewry, as was stated earlier. i still do not believe the bar ilan study is accurate about israel’s jews.
According to hebrew university in 2007, 3 million ashkenazi jews in israel with about 500,000 being non-halachik jews and about 2.5 million mizrachi/sefaradic jews. They put it at about 35% sefaradic worldwide today.
the whole point with artcroll is that ashkenazi jews (and sefaradi jews) should be interested in learning about sefaradic gedolim (and ashkenazi gedolim).October 22, 2012 4:59 pm at 4:59 pm #981839WIYMember
How many frum sefardim are there? Amongst those numbers how many would be interested to buy biography books of Sefardic Gedolim? Artscroll is a BUSINESS dont ever forget that they are a FOR PROFIT BUSINESS. It takes a lot of work and costs money and man power to write a biography and if it wont make enough money its just not worth it.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.