Books That Ruin Good Paper
I can think of many books today that would have been put to better use had they been converted to underwear.
While not using the same words, this description of the worthiness of certain books reminded me of an approbation (הסכמה) written for R. Judah Leib Zirelsohn’s collection of responsa, Gevul Yehudah (1906). The writer of the approbation was R. Eliyahu Hazan, who was then the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria, Egypt. R. Hazan apparently was not only very impressed with R. Zirelsohn, but was also quite disappointed with the quality of many books that had been written. Regarding Gevul Yehudah he wrote,
אדוני שאל לשלוח לו הסכמתו על ספרו שו”ת גבול יהודא העומד בדפוס. גם שלח לי עלים לתרופה מהתשובות שכבר נדפסו כדי לשים עיני עליהם. ומאז ראיתי הרבה ספרים נדפסים אשר אינם שוים בנזק הנייר והדפוס ולא לעזר ולא להועיל המה, ויש בהם כי אדרבא עוד יזיקו להדת ולהחכמה, ולדאבון לבי ראיתי גם באיזה מהם הסכמות רבנים מפורסמים, אולי טרם ידעו הכתוב בספר או מרוב ענותנותם לא יכלו להשיב המחברים ריקם. ואחרי כי כן לא יוכל איש לדון על הספר ועל מחברו מההסכמות הבאות בראש הספר, ורק אחרי העיון בגוף הספר, אז ידע ערך החיבור וגודל מעלת המחבר. לכן משכתי את עצמי בכל האפשר לתת הסכמתי על הספר
The gentleman asked to send him an approbation for his book of responsa Gevul Yehudah which is soon to be published. He also sent me copies of the responsa which had already been published in order that I see them. Since then I have seen many books published which are not worth the damage done to the paper and printing, and they are not helpful or useful. On the other hand they contain that which will cause damage to religion and knowledge, and to my disappointment I saw in some of them the approbations of well-known rabbis. Maybe it is that they didn’t know what was written in the book, or because of their great humility they weren’t able to turn the authors away empty-handed. After this no person is able to judge a book and his author on the basis of the approbations that are in the beginning of the book. It is only after an examination of the contents of the book that one will know the worth of the book and the level of the author. Therefore I restrained myself as much as possible from writing an approbation for the book.
R. Hazan goes on to say how impressed he was with R. Zirelsohn when they met, and how much he thinks of his work that he has already seen, but he says that he is intentionally making comments of a general nature. One final not is that while R. Hazan has been subject to the insightful analysis of Tzvi Zohar, very little has been written about R. Zirelsohn. I wrote a seminar paper on him ages ago, and hopefully I will find the time to go over it and make it into an article.