Tuesday, September 27, 2005

'Improved' edition, nudge nudge, wink wink

A number of blogs have begun to discuss the fact that R. Nathan Kamenetsky has released a new and "improved" (his wonderful word) edition of the Making of a Godol. (SIW even has an interview with him -- the first since the original book was banned -- presumably for the Forward, which is a curious choice for R. Kamenetsky.)
Although I haven't seen a copy of the "improved" book -- it's only being sold in Monsey -- what is clear is that it doesn't differ by much from the original. Yes, some details are very slightly toned down and even exorcised (see Steven's interview for another detail, in the question about promoting secular knowledge) but it also seems that many of the most controversial and remarkable passages -- eg. the story about R. Aharon Kottler's letters to his fiancee -- seem still to be there.
Indeed, reading the examples of the changes R. Kamenetsky did make, and reading his attitude in Steven's interview, it becomes clear that he is keeping to the strict letter of his word, to obey / show respect to today's "Gedolim" by not allowing the sale of the book they banned (can't remember what he said exactly, but it was to that effect) -- whilst, in reality, basically giving them the finger. Given the limited number of changes, and their subtlety, the very word "improved" is a massive, ironic snub to those who disliked the first edition.
What does this mean? Basically that the Gedolim's control over such matters, and their power of intimidation, is waning (mainly because their bans have been so widely perceived as inherantly unfair). In the past year, we've seen R. Slifkin re-issue basically the same books that were banned; and now this. OK, certain segments of the population may have thrown their books out or not bought them; but bans are meant as much to control authors as they are to control readers, and these two (... unlike one Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) have basically stood their ground, and lived to tell the tale.
How will the 'Gedolim' react to the "improved" edition? I'll be curious to see whether they turn a blind eye. For whilst one might argue that they were mislead, or allowed themselves to be talked into, banning the original edition, which they had never read -- and they were insistent enough about that one -- this book, whilst paying lip service to their authority, actually seems to be a defiant challenge to it, and therefore more is actually at stake.

(Some links through AJHistory)

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