The Importance of Sefarim

Respectable Virtues Off 14

How important is publishing sefarim to the survival of the Jewish people? Important enough that the US Army recognized that it must help publish a Shas for Jews in the displaced persons camps after the war. Two rabbis from the American Joint Distribution Committee approached General Joseph McNarney, military governor of Occupied Germany, with a request to supply the survivors with Jewish books. The sympathetic general understood the significance of their request and ordered the creation of the US Army Talmud.
However, a complete set of Shas was needed to create the engravings to begin the process, and not even one could be found in all of Western Europe. It was no easy task finding one in the US either because the few yeshivos there relied on Polish publishing houses. A set was finally procured from New York, and a German publishing company that had previously printed Nazi propaganda now began turning out the sefarim, with financing from the German government.
This event was the only time in modern history that a national government published a Shas, and the preface of each volume contains a special thank-you to the US. It reads in part, “This special edition of the Talmud, published in the very land where, but a short time ago, everything Jewish and of Jewish inspiration was anathema, will remain a symbol of the indestructibility of the Torah.”
This column has often featured stories about individuals who were devoted to saving Jews from Churban Europa. As Jewish communities struggled to rebuild on American soil after the war, they faced a new set of challenges that posed no threat to their bodies but was harmful to their souls. Today I would like to talk about someone who helped combat those challenges by using the very same tools used by the Jews in the DP camps.
You have probably read many wonderful articles about the tremendous achievements of ArtScroll under the guidance of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, z”l, but I would like to share a personal angle.
Rabbi Zlotowitz was on the board of Amud Aish, and I always looked forward to the opportunity to speak to him when he gave of his precious time to attend our meetings. His was a refined character; his demeanor was always pleasant and warm, and his carefully calculated words were filled with wisdom and insight.
I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that Rabbi Zlotowitz transformed the Torah world for English-speaking Jewry. He was the general who led the “ArtScroll revolution,” enabling millions of people to experience the beauty of Torah.
The yeshivah community has also benefited immensely from this vast array of publications; ArtScroll has published popular siddurim, inspiring books about gedolim and many other sefarim. It is hard to find a shul in the world whose bookshelves are not filled with these well-used volumes.
Rabbi Zlotowitz understood that America is not Europe; the most modest house here is a palace compared to the largest home in the shtetl. In stark contrast to previous generations, we live in the lap of luxury, and Rabbi Zlotowitz believed that our precious sefarim should be upgraded as well.
Beginning with the cover, he made sure the sefer was a thing of beauty. However, the true splendor lay inside the pages, where words of Torah were masterfully expressed with fluency and precision. This, Rabbi Zlotowitz knew, was the key to unlocking the wisdom of the Torah for a new and diverse audience. From college student to rabbi to lawyer, everyone could appreciate each masterpiece of scholarly effort.
On a few occasions I experienced the impact of Rabbi Zlotowitz’s work firsthand. A member of the Amud Aish staff told me about the time he had visited a small Jewish community in Virginia. His host for the night was a ger who had made great progress in his learning. When the staff member rose early to catch his flight, the host was already at his table with an ArtScroll Gemara, engrossed in a sugya. When my colleague briefly mentioned our connection with the ArtScroll staff, his host gestured to his siddur and other sefarim and remarked, “I can’t even imagine being Jewish without these.”
Similarly, a number of years ago, I began learning with a fellow from the Midwest who showed genuine interest in Judaism although he had virtually no religious background. One Chanukah, I presented him with the ArtScroll Stone Chumash, thinking that it would be a tremendous asset to his growth. He looked at me and said, “But I have one of these already!”
I guess I should have known.

About the author / 

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann

Rabbi Sholom Friedmann is a Talmid of Rabbi Leib Bakst זצ"ל, of Yeshivas Ateres Mordechai, Detroit, Michigan. After learning in the yeshivah and kollel, Rabbi Friedmann moved to the British colony of Gibraltar and studied in the Gateshead Kollel for three more years, at which time he received rabbinical ordination. From there, Rabbi Friedmann moved to London, England. In London, Rabbi Friedmann taught in the Menorah Grammar School, and was appointed the communal Rov of Kehilas Kol Yaakov, Edgware, London. Rabbi Friedmann was awarded Qualified Teaching Status by the British Board of Education in 2002, and a diploma in educational psychology by the Tavistock clinic (London) in 2006. In 2005, Rabbi Friedmann was accepted as a Fellow in Holocaust Education by the prestigious Imperial War Museum, London. Rabbi Friedmann relocated to New York in 2008 to become the Director of Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education division of Torah Umesorah. While occupying that position, Rabbi Friedmann created teaching materials, videos, and teacher training programs, including the ZYO Holocaust education fellowship program. In April 2012, Rabbi Friedmann was appointed as the director of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum. The museum founded by Elly Kleinman will carry on the legacy of holocaust history. For more info about when it is expected to open read this article.

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