Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Iyar 5765 - May 25, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
On Writing Biographies of Gedolim

Our biographies of gedolim remain one of our most popular features. Our attempts to capture in a few short pages something of the greatness of our Torah leaders provides inspirational reading that many of our readers find enjoyable.

From time to time criticisms are raised about the genre of biographies of gedolim. Although our work is not singled out for criticism, nonetheless as regular producers of this sort of material we feel it is appropriate for us to respond to the critics.

In order to fully appreciate the life of a Torah giant, one has to be generally interested in the lives of other people and one must be interested specifically in a Torah life. Many complaints come from critics who lack one of these interests and sometimes both.

One who is not particularly interested in a Torah life cannot be expected to appreciate the specific areas of interest and achievement that characterize individual Torah leaders. The paths that they followed, the nature of their achievements in Torah, and the nuances of their specific avodoh will be lost on someone like that.

Just imagine the opposite: ask a talmid chochom to evaluate several biographies of baseball players. What would he say? One hits a ball this way, one hits a ball that way, one catches a ball and another one throws a ball. What's the big deal? What is there to write about? Mir spielt a zei oder azei? What difference does it make if one plays this way or that?

Of course, to baseball fans it makes a big difference if a player is a pitcher or a catcher and if he hits home runs or singles. It is even interesting to the fan if the player hits more to the right field or to left field and if he is right- handed or left-handed. All the details and all the information that he can learn, he is happy to learn because of his strong interest in baseball players.

We do not of course compare a baseball life to a Torah life, but the analogy to the interest that one has is obvious. If one is deeply interested in Torah lives and in how others lived their lives of Torah and avodas Hashem, he or she will be eager to hear about nuances that a casual observer would not notice. What an outside critic sees as a numbing sameness, is seen by those seeking to improve themselves from the example of great people as valuable and fascinating new information.

That at least is the theory. The quality of the work varies as it does in any area. At Yated we set our standards high and we believe that we generally meet or beat them. In any case mediocrity is deplorable, but it is by no means unique to the field of biographies of Torah giants.

A related complaint that is sometimes made is that we leave out information. This is true, but the reason is that in our Torah-based scale of values, the harm or embarrassment that can be caused to someone — perhaps a family member or bystander — rates much higher than the needs of the historical record or journalistic objectivity. The actual or potential tears of a widow or an orphan weigh very heavily, and we unhesitatingly withhold any information or anecdote that may cause such pain. Even after we take this out, there is always plenty of material for our readers.

So we will continue writing biographies as we have been, until the days in which ubila hamovess lonetzach, death becomes obsolete.

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