Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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LEVY / ORTHODOX PUBLISHING EXPLOSION IN PERSPECTIVE
13
the Orthodox readers’ religious commitments, and is useful for
the insights it affords the uninitiated into the ways o f the
halakhically committed. A host o f books also deal with the
halakhah-related area of Jewish ethics, including social and busi­
ness ethics; but the most popular subgroup is medical ethics. This
field was introduced to the English reader by Rabbi Immanuel
Jakobovits’
Jewish Medical Ethics
(New York, 1959), which has
spawned an entire literature. Several thousand years of serious
thinking about medical problems and a long standing Jewish
involvement in the medical profession have enabled this litera­
ture to take its rightful place at a time when questions of medical
ethics are a matter of daily media concern, and technological
potential continues to baffle our human and religious sensibili­
ties.
Because halakhah controls the religious behavior by which an
Orthodox Jew expresses his or her relationship to both man and
God, halakhic works are written with extreme care. As an addi­
tional precaution, and to enable a halakhic work to command the
attention and respect to which it aspires, it must be accompanied
by rabbinic approbations that attest to its accuracy. But there are
several problems with this practice that may escape some less dis­
criminating readers. Hand written letters of approbation, rep ro­
duced photomechanically at the beginning of a volume, are fre­
quently difficult to read and unaccompanied by an English trans­
lation. While they are endorsements for the author and his book,
in many cases they clearly state that the book has not been read, or
that the endorsing rabbi does not even read or understand the
language in which the volume in question was composed.11 In
most cases, they state that they are written because the author was
an outstanding student or is a rabbi worthy of the reader’s trust,
but not because the approving rabbi has read and evaluated the
contents of the book. Relying on the endorsement and ignorant
of its true contents, the reader approaches the book with confi­
dence.
But the introductions to many of these books, and not only
11 In Aharon Feldman’s translation and edition o f the
Mishnah Berurah
(Jeru­
salem, 1980), Rabbi Moses Feinstein’s Hebrew letter notes, “I am unable to
testify about the translation for several reasons.” In Mordechai Katz’s English
book
Menuchah VeSimchah
(Brooklyn, 1982) he writes, “. . . and I have not seen
the book, because I do not know the English language” (translations mine).