By Yaakov Rosenes
When Rav Yisreal Gustman Zts”l eulogized Harav Moshe Feinstein Zts”l beside his grave at Har Menuchot he mourned the loss of the last real Talmid Hacham, i.e. the last Rav whose knew all of the Torah and Shas Poskim, Rishonim and Ahronim, Midrash and Aggadata, Mussar and Hashkafa. But to comfort the mourners and the holy Niftar, Rav Gustman said something new. He said that today although no individual is likely to approach Rav Moshe in his breadth of knowledge but the sum total of all the individuals learning Torah rivals and even surpasses Rav Moshe. Seeing that today there is an unprecedented number of people studying Torah therefore their common knowledge is like a Rav Moshe! For all his prescience I am not sure that the Rosh Yeshiva Z’l understood then in 5747 (1987) that what he was also prophesying an entirely new phenomenon which would become a reality in a few short years.
It is true today we have unprecedented Koach Haklal . There are more people are sitting and studying Torah that any generation since Har Sinai but unfortunately the Torah of our generation is fragmented and there no one person, no Gadol Hador, who can unify, filter and absorb all of it. Today sadly each Talmid Hacham is sitting in his corner and working on his project but there is no Rav Moshe who can compile it and view it its entirety. Rav Gustman himself was simultaneously a leading: Rav, Dayan, Rosh Yeshiva and a Baal Eitza. How many people in our generation can aspire to all these titles? Today thousands of Talmid Hachamin are working on thousands of Hibburim of Torah all over the world but with little coordination, with much duplication and unfortunately a high percentage of wasted resources.
In terms of printing Seforim I once believed that we need a Vaad HaRabbonim for publishing – a coordinating committee that would approve and recommend who should publish his Sefer and who not. However I quickly rejected this idea as totally undo-able and ill advised. Then I dreamed of a grandiose project which would coordinate authors and tell each Mehaber on what topic to write. Sadly the age of grandiose projects like the Encyclopedia Talmudit has passed and even the Encyclopedia Talmudit which has a good start will need at least another 36 volumes or 75-100 years to reach the end of the aleph-bet!
However it recently dawned on me that there is another approach, an organic approach which is even happening on its own. There is a new Rav Moshe on the horizon,a new star has risen, a new Super Talmid Hachami, and he isn’t even Jewish – his name is Rabbi Google! Before you exclaim “Rachmane Letzlan” and go on to the next screen let me tell you a story. At a wedding 12 years ago I once asked Hagaon HaRav Shlomo Fisher Shlita if computers are not a “Maase Satan”. His answer shocked me to the core. In his quiet way he dropped a bomb. “There is no such thing as a Maase Satan”. Computers and cell phones and Internet and all of the technology that is driving the world towards distraction are only a Golem. If we choose to use it for good – Hashem Yaazor, and if we choose to use it for bad -Hashem Yaazor. Let’s step back and look at Limud Torah and the Mesora of Torah from generation to generation and lay down certain premises.
1. No word of Torah that has been thought, spoken, written, or printed, from Har Sinai until today, was in vain. Every single Torah Hiddush, idea, expression or word is intrinsically significant. Of course there are levels and levels and levels of Torah thoughts. There are Torah essays that are fully formed, succinct and encompassing and there are those that are far less – but every Torah thought is significant. No Torah thought should be left to wither. Each thought should be explored and examined and if found true recorded somewhere in the Torah of Klal Yisrael. As the Haffetz Haim wrote technology which records past events is only a Mashal (metaphor) how every deed (or for our purposes word of Torah) is remembered in heaven.
2. Hazal themselves say that Rav Eliezer Ben Hyrcanus’ teachings could not be recorded, even if all the inhabitants of the world were Soferim and all the reeds were quills and all the heavens were parchment. What do they mean by this hyperbole? I suggest that it should be taken literally! Today we have almost unlimited machine memory: Terabytes, Petabytes, Exabytes, Zettabytes,and Yottabytes of memory. If this happening now in the physical universe certainly in the spiritual universe all of our Torah is being recorded.
3. Shlomo HaMelech writes that there is no end to books and we all know the adage that not every thing you think should be expressed and not every thing you speak should be written and not everything you write should be printed etc. However I have noticed that almost every Sefer has at least one reader. Among the thousands of Seforim I have handled over the past 40 years invariably someone has become excited and asked me to find that specific Sefer. Even the most unremarkable Sefer in my eyes seems to somehow attract a kindred Jewish spirit somewhere in the world who wants to learn from it. That is not to say that there are no Seforim out there which the groaning bookshelves of the world would prefer not to bear – there are thousands. But nevertheless, at least from the point of view of the author, it was a learning experience – he didn’t waste his time.
So if we posit that the main benefit of publishing Seforim today is for the author and not the reader – how do we restructure Jewish publishing so that it reflects this new function?
The immediate answers are simple:
- Rule 1 Stop, Don’t Print – Research! Check your local Seforim store and Torani library to see if your topic is already covered and if your content is original. Look on Google.
- Ask the Rabbis who are giving you letters of recommendation for advice. What could I do to improve the book? How can I make it shorter? Soft-cover or Hardcover? How many copies?
- Show your manuscript file to a professional editor and book designer and get a price.
- Print an edition of 100 copies for distribution via your personal network of friends and students.
- If you run out of copies copy in .pdf files or print digitally and bind soft-cover another 10
- If you sell out in a month take your Sefer to a commercial publisher or Machon to get their opinion.
- Completed all of the above – Now you can print
No matter what we can be sure that printing a “best seller” today on a Torani topic is a major illusion. Today in Jerusalem one only has to pass by one of the Shteiblach to witness the death of uncontrolled Seforim printing. There out in the elements, in winter’s rain and summer’s heat, hundreds of Seforim sit on tables offered for only 5 shekels each and sadly no one is buying them! However the world of joint publishing is coming into its own. The Torani databases: The use of: Otzar HaHachma and Hebrewbooks.com, Otzrot HaTorah and The Judaica Archival Project are growing by leaps and bounds. I have been told that new authors can now send unprinted works in digital format directly to these databases. Electronic books and electronic readers are not at all suitable for commercial Torani publishing but as learning tools and a place to mine information the electronic media have no comparison. Let’s be frank with ourselves sometimes despite the stigma we may feel the best person to ask is “Rabbi Google”.