Our biographies of gedolim remain one of our most
popular features. Our attempts to capture in a few short
pages something of the greatness of our Torah leaders
provides inspirational reading that many of our readers find
From time to time criticisms are raised about the genre of
biographies of gedolim. Although our work is not
singled out for criticism, nonetheless as regular producers
of this sort of material we feel it is appropriate for us to
respond to the critics.
In order to fully appreciate the life of a Torah giant, one
has to be generally interested in the lives of other people
and one must be interested specifically in a Torah life. Many
complaints come from critics who lack one of these interests
and sometimes both.
One who is not particularly interested in a Torah life cannot
be expected to appreciate the specific areas of interest and
achievement that characterize individual Torah leaders. The
paths that they followed, the nature of their achievements in
Torah, and the nuances of their specific avodoh will
be lost on someone like that.
Just imagine the opposite: ask a talmid chochom to
evaluate several biographies of baseball players. What would
he say? One hits a ball this way, one hits a ball that way,
one catches a ball and another one throws a ball. What's the
big deal? What is there to write about? Mir spielt a zei
oder azei? What difference does it make if one plays this
way or that?
Of course, to baseball fans it makes a big difference if a
player is a pitcher or a catcher and if he hits home runs or
singles. It is even interesting to the fan if the player hits
more to the right field or to left field and if he is right-
handed or left-handed. All the details and all the
information that he can learn, he is happy to learn because
of his strong interest in baseball players.
We do not of course compare a baseball life to a Torah life,
but the analogy to the interest that one has is obvious. If
one is deeply interested in Torah lives and in how others
lived their lives of Torah and avodas Hashem, he or
she will be eager to hear about nuances that a casual
observer would not notice. What an outside critic sees as a
numbing sameness, is seen by those seeking to improve
themselves from the example of great people as valuable and
fascinating new information.
That at least is the theory. The quality of the work varies
as it does in any area. At Yated we set our standards
high and we believe that we generally meet or beat them. In
any case mediocrity is deplorable, but it is by no means
unique to the field of biographies of Torah giants.
A related complaint that is sometimes made is that we leave
out information. This is true, but the reason is that in our
Torah-based scale of values, the harm or embarrassment that
can be caused to someone — perhaps a family member or
bystander — rates much higher than the needs of the
historical record or journalistic objectivity. The actual or
potential tears of a widow or an orphan weigh very heavily,
and we unhesitatingly withhold any information or anecdote
that may cause such pain. Even after we take this out, there
is always plenty of material for our readers.
So we will continue writing biographies as we have been,
until the days in which ubila hamovess lonetzach,
death becomes obsolete.