The Publishing Rennaissance
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!
Religious Zionist, Centrist and Modern Orthodoxy (if there's a less clumsy term, please let me know) have failed to make a basic effort to perpetuate themselves. For example, at least until very recently, there has been little effort to encourage students to become educators. As a result, their schools, yeshivot and seminaries have to draw upon the Charedi community for teachers. Is it any wonder that many kids then see Charedim as the role model to emulate and join that community?
In this post, I would like to talk about another manifestation of this problem: publishing.
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. (For example, consider how the ArtScroll Gemara assures its readers that Talmudic discussions of cosmology are not intended literally - against the view of all the Rishonim.) 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 against 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 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 are 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. They are putting out a range of stimulating works on Jewish Thought and Law, one of which, Hilkhot Moadim, I plan to review soon. And their works are all distinguished by high intellectual caliber, great accuracy, beautiful design, high standards of publication - and commitment to the values of Religious Zionist, Centrist and Modern Orthodoxy.
You can take a look at Koren's partial list of forthcoming projects at their website. But bear in mind that Jewish publishing - especially in the Amazon and digital age, and especially with books that are produced to a high standard - is an extraordinarily costly business. Please support their works - whether by sponsoring them, buying them yourself, or encouraging your shul/ school/ yeshivah to buy them. (I am also still short of about half the funds for the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, if you would like to be a part of that project!)