Of Books And Bans

Marc B. Shapiro writes in 2002:

At the end of 2002, within the space of a few months, Orthodox Jewry witnessed something very unusual. With great publicity two books were placed under a ban: Nathan Kamenetsky’s Making of a Godol1 and Jonathan Sacks’s Dignity of Difference. Kamenetsky is the son of R. Jacob Kamenetsky (died 1986), one of the gedolim of the previous generation, and is himself a personality in the haredi world, having been one of founders of the Itri Yeshiva. In years past he was even worthy of being referred to as Ha-Ga’on by Yated Ne’eman, the haredi mouthpiece. Sacks is the Chief Rabbi of England (technically only the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth), and an eloquent spokesman for traditional Judaism as well as a most prolific author.

Although there was a time when bans were issued against the writings of various alleged heretics, today the boundaries between denominations are clear and members of the Orthodox community do not need any special warning that non-Orthodox works may contain false theology. Besides, due to the sheer mass of such literature, it would be impossible to keep up with even the most significant of such publications.

As such, in modern times leading scholars in the haredi world will only rarely see the need to publicly declare a book to be dangerous and thus forbidden. The only time they do so is when it is thought that members of their community will see the book in question as acceptable. Thus, it is not surprising that condemnations are rare. Yet by the same token, when the condemnations come, they are usually directed against distinguished individuals who also identify with Orthodoxy, for it is their writings that have the potential to infiltrate the haredi world and influence it.

While one can find some exceptions to this (the 1945 excommunication of Mordecai Kaplan and public burning of the Reconstructionist Prayer Book comes to mind, it remains a valid generalization. Thus, there is no need for a condemnation of a book written by a typical Modern Orthodox intellectual, for it is unlikely to be read by members of the haredi world, and if read, it will not be taken seriously if it opposes the current haredi da`as Torah.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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