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The Lakewood bonfire of books
[Daily Edition]
Jerusalem Post - Jerusalem
Author: Shai, Eli
Date: Apr 16, 2003
Start Page: 07.B
Section: Books
Abstract (Document Summary)

So, for example, he does not hesitate to present the behind-the- scenes truth of haredi matchmaking, including the love letters sent by Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1892-1962) - the prodigy of the Lithuanian yeshivas, who served as head of the high seminary in New Jersey, and controlled Jerusalem's Etz Hada'at yeshiva from a distance - when he was betrothed at a young age to the daughter of Rabbi Meltzer. The future bride's father stole a peek, and suspected the matchmaker had set him up with some kind of dandy or "character," but when he complained to him, the matchmaker answered that the designated bridegroom might not be the epitome of sainthood, but was certainly a genius. The matchmaker's promise came true, yet Kotler's descendents were angry at the publication of these intimate details and his portrayal as an ardent suitor, to the point that their fury led to the book's burning.

Amnon Levy, in his book Haredim, wrote that haredi journalism writes about reality as it ought to be rather than as it is. Indeed, it seems that the fury over Kamenetsky's book stems, among other things, from the gap between what supposedly ought to be and what is. Kamenetsky out of principle rejects the approach that strives to hide the private lives of Torah greats for reasons of ideology, propaganda, or a supposedly educational indoctrination.The writer's motto is "writing without makeup... without adornment or flattery." He reminds his readers that even saints are not perfect, and they too need to atone for their sins, and says he learned from his father that hiding the truth is the equivalent of lying.

Kamenetsky seems to think there is much to be learned from such stories; in his introduction he writes that studying the lives of sages is like eating honey, and like the best of the mussar (ethics) literature. But there is a long history of anti-mussar in the haredi world, as Kamenetsky himself describes in Making of a Godol. After mussar was introduced by Rabbi Israel Salanter, one of the prominent leaders of the Lithuanian community, in the 19th century, those who believed in exclusive devotion to Talmudic casuistry viewed such studies as a waste of time and the cause of useless or even dangerous mental anguish to the delicate souls of the seminary students. Students came to blows, and the dispute threatened to split the glorified Slobodka yeshiva.

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