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6 Elul 5759 - August 18, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Producing Modern Editions of Rishonim
by HaRav Moshe Rosner

We are privileged nowadays to be blessed with an abundance of Torah SheBaal Peh that previous generations never had. This includes many commentaries of Rishonim never before published, such as some parts of the Me'iri, the Tosafos HaRosh on Pesochim, the Ritva on Shabbos, and many others. Furthermore, many seforim of Rishonim are being published in new editions, corrected according to manuscripts and replete with cross- references, comparisons, and critical notes.

Surely those engaged in this meleches hakodesh have a great zechus, for they are helping publicize divrei Torah and chiddushim of the Rishonim. These editors are undoubtedly being mezakeh horabim. HaRav Yechezkel Sarna zt'l writes, in his approbation to the edition of the Rosh's commentary on Shekolim, that editing and publishing commentaries of the Rishonim "in general brings a brocho for other works more than for itself." HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l once remarked: "Because I engaged in publishing the Ramban's seforim I was privileged to publish my own seforim, the Even HaEzel."

It is a tremendous zechus -- but also a singular responsibility -- to transmit Torah to future generations in the most exact and correct form. Chazal's statement (Eruvin 13a), "My children! be careful in your work, since you are engaged in meleches Shomayim; you might leave out or add one letter, and by doing so destroy the whole world," is absolutely relevant here.

I will try to examine the difficulties and doubts facing those who edit commentaries of Rishonim. Furthermore, I will point out areas I think need improvement -- without, of course, citing details that will identify the improper publications.

First of all, the editor's task is to present the reader with the most accurate text possible. The principal basis for the text is the earliest known copy of a work, whether a printed edition or a manuscript. Any readings differing from that primary text must be conclusively proved to be correct before they can be accepted. There is a cheirem from the kadmonim not to change any sefer's text by relying only on logic.

We must demonstrate a source that we can depend upon for corrections, and show that it is more accurate than the earlier text that we feel must be rejected. Generally only manuscripts written near the time and place where and when the author lived are usually included in this category. It is necessary, after studying and examining them, to conclude whether the scribe copied them from an accurate source and whether he copied precisely, without skipping, changing or adding words or letters -- all of which are of course mistakes. The editor should not rely on a manuscript blindly. There is no scribe, no matter how exactly he tried to copy, who did not add his own mistakes. We should not ruin a good text because of a manuscript.

There are those who base the text of a new publication on three or four manuscripts and choose in each case what they feel is the correct version from among those. This method results in a text not exactly like any one manuscript, and we are totally dependent upon the editor's skills in making the right decisions.

Then the editor must carefully compare the text of the first printed edition with the manuscripts and consider the differences. Naturally the decision as to what changes to accept or reject will come only following intensive study of the sugya according to the Rishonim and Acharonim. It is essential for the editor to have a photocopy of the manuscript handy throughout his work so he can continuously check doubtful points in the text that are liable to emerge during the editing.

I have many times seen publications of Rishonim that include in the introduction a photograph of pages of the manuscripts used. Unfortunately, frequently when I inspect these photographs and compare them to the corresponding parts of the publication, I find that the manuscript texts are better than the one published. An extreme example of what can happen is my discovery, on one occasion, that the facsimile of the manuscript shown was not even used by the sefer.

Sometimes in the seforim of Rishonim and Acharonim who still learned from manuscripts (before the advent of printed editions), the author quotes another sefer. We should not "correct" his quote according to our text of the sefer he quoted from, since we cannot know whether our text is more correct than his or vice versa. Moreover, sometimes the author did not at all intend to offer a precise quote, and only wanted to cite the basic content of the passage together with his explanation (naturally the footnotes should point this out). For example, we should not correct or change texts in the Shittah Mekubetzes or the Beis Yosef according to our texts of Rishonim who quote them, nor should we do the opposite.

We must consider seriously and at length whether it is possible to change texts even by relying on other seforim by the same author -- such as the Chidushei HaRashbo according to his other sefer, the Toras HaBayis, or according to his numerous teshuvos -- or conversely whether we may correct those seforim according to the Chidushei HaRashbo. We must furthermore consider whether it is at all proper to enter corrections within the text itself, even if gedolei Yisroel have made them, and surely we must consider if our own reasoned-out changes should be implanted in the new text when the old texts seem corrupt. We should also be cautious when emending according to corrections indicated in footnotes in the manuscript, since they were not always written by someone reliable.

In preparation for printing a new edition (and of course there must be a careful proofreading for typographical errors, since we have accomplished nothing if new mistakes are added to the old ones), the editor must indicate in the introduction his basis for the new edition. In the footnotes, he must point out the differences between the various manuscripts and when the decision which one is right is not clear-cut and both can possibly be correct. He should indicate only the differences that will benefit the reader and not bother mentioning variant spellings when their meaning is identical. (I have seen in the footnotes of one Rishon six forms of writing "Beis Shammai say.") Likewise, I believe that there is no need to refer to obvious mistakes or skipped text in the manuscripts.

We must also protest against new editions of Rishonim that are termed "scientific editions." What does science have to do with a beis midrash? It is likewise not clear to me why it is necessary to enumerate the number of lines per page in the manuscript whose photocopy is shown in the introduction. There are those who are even "mehadeir" to specify how many letters there are in each line. Many write in the beginning of the book a list of Rishonim mentioned in those chidushei Torah. I do not understand what benefit it is for those studying the maseches (except for an editor especially occupied in the chidushim of one of those Rishonim).

The text should be divided into sections and properly punctuated. In the footnotes of recent editions we see two methods: one is to offer minimal references and notes, while the other tries to explain and emphasize the author's school of thought through comparing it with his other works, comparing it with other Rishonim who differ with him, citing the logical source or perhaps different readings in the gemora that caused the disagreement, pointing out practical halachic distinctions, and referring to seforim that explain what this Rishon writes in another way, and other such techniques. I do not feel it proper to concentrate on merely compiling a list of Rishonim who concur with the first opinion, and another of those who follow the second opinion, and in what seforim these opinions are mentioned.

During the pagination and preparation for printing an attempt should be made to maintain the appearance of the sefer as much as possible as it was in its previous, familiar editions. Those seforim cited by Acharonim and Poskim by the page in the first printed edition or the currently popular edition, should continue to be numbered that way in the new edition so that it will be easier to locate the indicated section. In fact this is what was done in the new Tur HaSholeim.

In conclusion, the profession of preparing new editions of commentaries of the Rishonim requires know-how and much experience. It would be fitting for some recognized body to organize serious training courses for those engaged in this area. I would say that it is also probable that a rabbinical committee will be established in the future that will supervise this area, which is undoubtedly no less important than rabbinical committees on children's books.

A painful problem that we must find a solution for is preventing dual publications of works on the same topic. The acute agony of an avreich who has toiled for a year or more on one sefer and suddenly sees the same sefer published by another institute cannot be imagined. Attempts have already been made to solve this problem, but it requires the entire public's cooperation.

HaRav Moshe Rosner heads the editing project of Mifal HaRosh. Address for comments: POB 5106, Yerushalayim

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