Monday, October 31, 2011

Can you sell Mendelssohn's books? Especially if no one reads it anyway?

Here's an interesting teshuva from one of those horaah type collections. The question is, is it permitted to sell Mendelssohn's books?

In fact, the response only concerns his Chumash. The question is, an antiquarian book seller noticed that he had acquired a very nice Chumash which upon inspection proved to be the infamous Netivot Shalom edition by Moses Mendelssohn. Is it permitted to sell it, or not permitted either because of Lifnei Iver ("do not place a stumbling block before the blind," i.e., the buyer) or perhaps it is in the category of things which are prohibited to sell.

The reply is that since it is well known how terrible the man was, and what came about because of him, amalek, etc. of course it's terrible. However, we cannot forget that many great rabbis did not discern the impurity in it. The story concerning Maharam Shick and the Chasam Sofer is brought, where the rabbi and his student disagreed about the intrinsic evil of it. Therefore the bottom line is that we simply don't have the power to judge it literally as a heretical work according to all its laws, even though undoubtedly one must not read it.

As for the question of Lifnei Iver - which could still apply - this would certainly seem to apply. However, in the special circumstances here, where we are talking about selling and buying antique books, there is a leniency because many people buy old books without any intention of using them. He checked with Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern and Rabbi Nosson Gestetner and both concurred, that to sell such books to collectors is permitted.

Indeed, many must have wondered such things when browsing the shelves of apparently piously owned book stores. Of course on the one hand business is business, and on the other hand not every apparently pious book seller has any interest in appointing himself the sefer police. And if he did, en ledavar sof. I was reminded of a recent interview in Mishpacha Magazein with the proprietor of the famed Biegeleisen Fine Emporium of Hebraic Literature in Boro Park. The owner, Shloime Biegeleisen, seemed amused/ half-annoyed by the interview. It seemed like he didn't understand why he was being interviewed , not considering himself a celebrity or a legend, and was used to people who knew seforim, not people who were trying to extract a juicy conversation for a magazine for the mass market. One of the questions he was asked was something about how does he deal with questionable books. A dumb question - my apologies to the interviewer - for a mocher seforim. So he replied, that then only book he wold never stock is one which attacks Belz (he schtams from Belz) - a reply which seems to have been taken seriously.

See these two interesting posts on Chabad Revisited on "What Mendelssohn Did Wrong." I and II.


  1. Great line from Shlomie Biegelesien!!

  2. Does the psak also mean they can sell Mendellsohn's 5th (Reformation) Symphony? ;-)

  3. Rav zilber, in birur Halacha siman 285 cites from the toras Shabbos that one can fulfill שנים מקרא with targum of mendelson.

  4. Wow, I thought nobody ever quoted from the Toiras Shabbes, except Rav Hamburger -- and even Rav Hamburegr quotes from him only because he's so excited to find a commentary on the Shulchon Oruch by someone in 19th-century Germany, because it proves that Yekkes can lern.

  5. I remember how pleasantly surprised I was when leafing through my deceased grandfather's posessions and came across a copy of Leone Da Modena's "Ari Noham". Just didn't expect the man to own it..

  6. Funny how they call him 'ר as in ספרי הרמ"ד.

  7. The chasam sofer also referred to him that way. I think it was the mekor baruch who suggested it stands for rasha.

  8. Frum yekke with a sense of history5:22 PM, May 04, 2012

    "The reply is that since it is well known how terrible the man was, and what came about because of him, amalek, etc. of course it's terrible."

    This disgusts me, and it disgusts Yiddishkeit. People who have no sense of Jewish history believe that Moses Mendelssohn was terrible, causes reform, etc. That's like saying Rav SR Hirsch caused the Conservative movement.

    Moses Mendelssohn spent his life defending Yiddishkeit and Torah values against the pressures from his contemporary philosophers to accept Christianity or secularism as ideal. He led his life 100% according to Torah values. His only failure was that he did not take enough care to teach other how to be the example he was, and his own daughters and grandsons went astray.

    Rav SR Hirsch (letter 18) praises Moses Mendelssohn as the ideal Torah im Derech Eretz, as did most rabbanim of his time. There were rabbonim of his time (mainly Noda Biyehudah) who were against him, but none of them have met him, and it is definitely not "well known what a rasha he was."

    Loshon hora is a terrible thing. Loshon hora over the internet, about an example for Jews everywhere and a Talmid Chochom (although not Moreh Horo'o) - it is impossible to do Tshuva properly.

    Fun fact: the sefer "Cheshbon hanefesh" was written by a maskil.


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