This blog entry comes as a follow-up to my posting of last week. To date there has been only one comment posted, anonymously, that somehow the rebbe HAD heard of the Book of Enoch. Well, I attended a Roman Catholic university in the early 1960s when the Legion of Decency still rated movies for Roman Catholics, and the priests I encountered knew all about the proscribed films even though they had not seen them. So it would not surprise me if the rebbe knew what the Book of Enoch was.
I did receive two or three lovely personal e-mails from persons at the College-Institute.
I also took the liberty of posting the blog to Hasafran, the electronic newsletter of the Association of Jewish Libraries. While the reaction from members was immediate, no one saw fit to enter a comment, but rather they too sent me personal messages.
There were seven altogether. Six of them told me how wonderful the story was, and how inspiring. One colleague waxed so elegiac on my being a role model of professionalism that my ears burned. And, by the way, six of the seven comments came from individuals one would categorize as “Traditional,” if not Orthodox. Yet all was not rosy. One colleague, Orthodox, librarian at a major day-school, and an individual of stature within the Association of Jewish Libraries, took me to task for censoring information. (She made an excellent point, that there are no evil texts, only the evil use people put them to.) Censorship is a “hot button” in librarianship, and even suggesting someone is censorious is something not taken lightly. She and I exchanged several e-mails in which she spelled out her feelings, which I certainly cannot fault. For her, perhaps the only thing that redeemed my not answering the young man’s initial question was the fact that he was a minor.
I will say that had the young man asked me about the Sefer ha-Aggadah, I think I would have had no problem in explaining who Bialik and Ravnitzky were and what the agenda behind the book was. This is very different from what he did ask.
Moreover if an adult had asked the same question about the Book of Enoch
, then I might have asked if the person knew what the Sefarim Hitsoniyyim
were. And if s/he said yes, then I would proceed from there.
Another person, also Orthodox, a professor at another institution, and a gentleman whom I have known for perhaps thirty years, and hold in the highest esteem, wrote to me that he found the story “heartwarming, but ultimately depressing.” I asked him what he meant. He wrote back that he saw yet another example of a young inquiring mind in the Orthodox world being squelched.
I begged to differ with him. After all, I had no expectation of the young man calling me back. Yet his rebbe told him to. Moreover, his rebbe told him to thank me and to tell me that the rebbe said I was a mensch. This, for me, bespoke a good deal about the rebbe. While the rebbe did not give me permission to tell the young man about the Book of Enoch, perhaps this rebbe took the young man aside and sold him privately about the Apocrypha, as well as Rabbi Akiba’s admonition on Mishnah Sanhedrin !0:1.
I adduced another example. One gentleman, now a professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at a major American university, had been a student at the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland more than 60 years ago. One of his teachers, recognizing the student’s brilliance, gave him permission to read the Humash with the commentary of Samuel Leib Gordon (1896-1933). By today’s secular standards, this commentary is rather “tame stuff,” yet for a yeshiva bahur 60 years ago, it was close to heresy.
There was a snap inspection in the dormitory and a volume of ShaLaG was found in this student’s locker. He would have been expelled from the yeshiva, but his teacher came forward and said that he had given the student permission to read the offending book.
Granted, this occurred three generations ago, and most likely might not happen today. But thirty years ago, and in my situation? I can only hope…
Oh, I nearly forgot - One professor at the College (a committed Reform Jew) asked why I simply did not answer the young man’s question. I would like to think the intention was other than to challenge and possibly destroy the young man’s beliefs. As I said to this person and to my two Orthodox interlocutors, “I may be ‘Hote’ [het-tet-alef], but I am not Mahati.” If I sin, it is my business. But I will not be a willing party to someone else’s falling prey to sin
Finally what sort of obligation do I have, in my profession and as a Jew, not to censor, but yet to protect?
One of the first things I learned in Hebrew School over fifty years ago was the statement: Kol Yisrael ‘arevin zeh be-zeh.” Jews are responsible for one another.
It has not ceased to be a guiding principle.