Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Publish?

[Post I’m reading: Rav Nir Ben Artzi Packs The House With Latest Predictions of Doom at Life in Israel]

About a year ago, I heard a prominent shul rabbi express disdain for the standard Torah articles published by yeshiva students on esoteric topics or analyses of the philosophy of legal minutiae. He would prefer they expend energy on new thinking, new ideas, and major issues.

I believe he would agree that writing these articles is valuable for the growth of the yeshiva students, as they develop their ideas more fully and learn to express them. And I think he would agree that minutiae, and legal theories, must be examined in the traditional ways, too, in order for one to understand how to rule on the more mainstream cases.

However, I agree with his critique when I contemplate my own possibilities for print publication. From time to time, people suggest publishing a book of derashos, or of shiurim. But – aside from the time investment – I am caught short by the question of why.

Whom would I be helping? Would it be for a resume? Would it just be for the sake of my own aggrandizement – look, that’s MY sefer, there on the shelf, with the faux-leather and gold-leaf and the articles with titles like בענין כשרות מילה בליל פסח מצרים? (Not to mention – doesn’t a blog with this many posts, not to mention WebShas and HaMakor and YUTorah audio shiurim and Koshertube video shiurim, count as some sort of publication?)

And then I walk into a seforim store and see how many seforim, written by people far more erudite and eloquent than I am, are ignored, gathering dust in piles. And I wonder: Would mine be any better, or deserve any better?

Certainly, there are sefarim I want to write, more along the lines of the “bigthink” writing that the above-referenced rabbi had in mind. I want to write a work on bioethics in which the medical, halachic and historical material are presented. I want to write a mussar sefer for Modern Orthodoxy. I want to complete the translation of the Aruch HaShulchan I started over a decade ago. And so on. And maybe one day I will.

But for now, whenever I think about cutting out some activity to devote time to writing, the answer that comes back is, “Why?”

Heed Kohelet 12:12 - There is no end to the production of books...


  1. IMHO-translate the AH"S. Kohelet 12:12 - There is no end to the production of books... was never more applicable then today (imho due to supply and demand of rabbis but that is another topic) but the AH"S is a gem for anyone who wants to learn to fish rather than be given one.

    Joel Rich

  2. I'll share my opinion of daf yomi, and you can draw the parallel.

    Few people who attend a daf yomi shiur gain much. Running through all that material at that pace and superficiality is not the most efficient use of that learning time by a long shot. (Mishnayos Yomi would be a better use of that time, if one doesn't have time to figure out the gemara for themselves, IMHO.)

    However, the daf yomi phenomenon created a new class of men -- daf yomi shiur givers. And that could make it all worthwhile.


  3. I would also encourage you to publish. You have ideas for books you feel will provide something to people. I especially think a translation of AH would be most appreciated. Truth is, I know many people who struggle the same as you, including myself. In the end, one writes as a means of expressing one's own thoughts and hopes others might find something interesting in it also.

  4. What would be the point of translating the Aruch HaShulchan?

    Though interestingly I saw someone with what looked like an English mishna brura this morning in shul.

  5. Joel-
    AH is great. I just can't prioritize that right now.

    ברוך שכוונתי, I wrote pretty much the same thing regarding Daf here.

    But is that the best use of one's time and energies?

    Anonymous 8:08 PM-
    It gives the reader a bottom-up view of how halachah develops, reverse-engineering the Shulchan Aruch. On the other hand, the reason not to translate it is that learning on that level is generally done in Hebrew.

  6. The question of "why" plagues me, too. That's why my 19 Letter blog only has one real post (another dozen are sitting in "the cloud" waiting to be edited into something readable).
    However, this item from Sefer Chasidim that was posted by A Simple Jew helped me answer "why":

    I hope to see your works in a seforim store soon.

  7. Neil-
    Thanks for your comment, and that link. I came across that Sefer Chasidim a while back, but I am bothered by the question of how to know Divine intent, and what was worthy of publication. [Also, the Netziv story cited in a comment there is highly unlikely, given what we know of the Netziv's life.]

  8. That Netziv story is a classic (and maybe shetel-myth). While it might not be true, it makes you think.

  9. Startinng at the bottom of page 248 of this dissertation, there's a suggestion the Netziv's selection of what to comment on and publish was driven by the realities of what was coming to print at the time.

    A Window into the Intellectual Universe of Rabbi Naftali Ẓvi Yehudah Berlin

  10. Melech-
    Interesting. That's a long dissertation, by the way.