Thursday, February 09, 2006

Putting rabbinic stories in context

Lamed Zayin's post at Maven Yavin about "reclaiming" a rabbinic "story" (I, II, III, IV) by applying the correct context to it reminded me of a passage from the beginning of Making of a Godol (introduction to MoaG can be downloaded here, courtesy of Yashar Books, or if that link isn't working download it by clicking here).

Yes, you can download it and read it, but it's an important point and it should be available for posterity on the internet, so I am posting this excerpt:
There may be some stories in this book that are known to some readers--and family members of the principals--of which the author may have a different understanding than they. For example, I was told by my son R' Yoseph that R' Shlomo Fisher told him how R' Yitzhaq Kulitz, Rav of Jerusalem, was incensed with the reaction of a "present-day rosh yeshiva" to a story he was told about how R' Isser-Zalman Meltzer was going up the steps to his house and overheard the cleaning lady singing to herself while washing the floor. R' Isser-Zalman went back down to the street and paced the ground for a long while until she had finished her work, and then he returned home. The rosh yeshiva understood R' Isser-Zalman's action as indicative of how careful he was in avoiding the sound of a singing woman (קול באשה ) for the time it would have taken him to walk from mid-staricase until entering his home--when the woman would certainly have stopped singing. "In actuality," said R' Kulitz, "R' Isser-Zalman was concerned that when he would walk into the house, the woman, who enjoyed singing while on the job, would be inconvenienced by having to stop singing for the rest of her working time." Also cf. the definitive biography of R' Isser-Zalman Meltzer, בדרך אץ החיים, where that tzaddiq's grandson records the story as it occurred--and that his grandfather himself explained his action without any reference to קול באשה; it even has R' Isser-Zalman pacing on the porch just outside the door to his house--where he could likely still hear the singing (if he chose to listen)! R' Yitzhaq Kulitz was still fuming about that rosh yeshiva's misinterpretation of R' Isser-Zalman's motive because through his wrong interpretation, he had missed out on R' Isser-Zalman's extraordinary consideration for people.

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