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An Alternative to ArtScroll Halachah
A while ago, in a post entitled The Publishing Renaissance, I wrote about how when Religious Zionist/ Centrist/ Modern Orthodox Jews in North America and the UK complain about the "slide to the right" in Orthodoxy, or about how their children have become charedi and expect to be financially supported for the rest of their lives, it irks me. After all, it's their own fault! They have failed to make a basic effort to perpetuate themselves, whether with regard to producing educators, or with regard to literature.
We are the People of the Book, and books form a major part of our lives. They influence us in all kinds of ways, from the role models that they choose to present, to the sources that they choose to quote, to the hashkafic outlook that they reflect - often very subtly. And yet, for many years, Religious Zionist, Centrist and Modern Orthodoxy ceded this important field almost entirely to the Charedi community.
Sure, there were always non-Charedi publishers. But they were small operations that did not present a comprehensive range of publications, and just published whatever came their way. It's ArtScroll that has been overwhelmingly dominant. Every shul in North America has ArtScroll Siddurim, Chumashim, and Gemaras. Many people like to mock or protest ArtScroll for their approach, which includes such things as censoring the non-charedi opinions of Torah scholars and altering texts. But I don't think that such criticism is entirely fair. ArtScroll had a comprehensive vision. They went ahead and exerted enormous effort to fill a huge gap, for which they deserve much credit; of course they are going to reflect the approach of their own community. Where on earth was everyone else?
The donor pages of ArtScroll publications are astonishing. Few donors are charedi - they are mostly modern Orthodox (or even non-Orthodox) Jews. Why are these people sponsoring publications which are from a different community and do not reflect their worldview? The answer is that there was no alternative. There was no YU Talmud or OU chumash to compete. Only ArtScroll was serious about publishing a full range of Jewish literature.
Well, finally, things have been starting to change. There is the OU Press, which recently published the Mesoras HaRav Chumash. And there is a huge development, which finally marks a publishing renaissance for Religious Zionist, Centrist and Modern Orthodoxy: Koren. Koren is the only Jewish publisher aside from ArtScroll to have a comprehensive publishing vision. They are putting out siddurim, machzorim, and a Shas. They are working on several Chumashim and a series of works on Tenach. In this post, I would like to briefly review some aspects of a halachic work published by Koren: Rabbi David Brofsky's Hilkhot Mo'adim: Understanding the Laws of Festivals.
As its subtitle indicates, this book is very different from those in the ArtScroll/ Feldheim/ Targum genre. Most such books in that genre usually just give the bottom-line halachah, so that one can follow it correctly. Rabbi Brofsky's book, on the other hand, is about understanding the halachah. It takes the reader through the development of the halachah from the primary sources in the Chumash, Mishnah and Gemara, through the Rishonim and Acharonim, down to contemporary practice. It also includes a discussion of the reasons, symbolism and significance behind the halachah. Furthermore, Rabbi Brofsky applies a scholarly analysis to the discussion. For example, on p. 595, he writes that "Rashbetz insists that this Rambam must be based upon a scribal error, but reliable manuscripts indicate otherwise."
As a book reflecting the Religious Zionist approach, this book also includes sections pertaining to Yom Ha-Atzma'ut and Yom Yerushalayim. It also quotes non-charedi rabbinic authorities. See, for example, the reference on p. 484 to Rav Hershel Schachter permitting regular toothpaste on Pesach, and the reference on p. 419 to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein's sanctioning of women's megillah reading.
Rabbi Brofksy is also not afraid to quote extreme charedi views (which would normally be censored by English charedi publishers), and express his opinion of them. In discussing the beating of the aravot, Rabbi Brofsky quotes the view of Rav Moshe Sternbuch that the arava, which has no taste or smell, is comparable to the sinners of Israel; "When the arava is taken alone, we are obligated to beat it on the ground, to hint to us that those sinners who separated into their own groups, such as the Reform, Conservative, Nationalists (leumi'im) and the like, since they come by themselves, we are obligated to "beat them" until they surrender and are lowered, and not to bring them closer at all, and certainly not to bind ourselves to them." Rabbi Brofsky notes that this view is "somewhat shocking" and contrasts it to the view of Rav Kook, who explains that we do not beat the aravot, but rather beat with the aravot, invoking the fervor of the simple Jew.
At 750 pages in length, this is a very comprehensive work. It is truly a book that everyone should read, to deepen their understanding of the halachos of the Jewish year. Hilkhot Mo'adim is a very worthy part of the Koren comprehensive publishing vision for the Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist communities.