Thursday, April 30, 2020

Clean books for Satmar schools

The [Satmar] Rebbe was an eminently practical person. But there were principles on which he would not compromise. He had rules for this school. The first rule was about censorship: every year it was, and still is, a whole operation to carefully censor the books. It's hard to imagine the sheer size of the operation -- censoring books for thousand of students. It took weeks to do! Especially when new books came in.

The Rebbe had basic principles concerning what was unacceptable: 

Outright apikorsus.
Any kind of Divrei cheshek
Anything to do with radio or television
Anything that could have a negative influence -- including going to libraries and reading outside materials.

Interestingly enough, if a book had a picture of an X-mas tree, or if a story mentioned children going to church...those things weren't cut out. That wasn't a major issue to the Rebbe. He said it's enough just to put an X through those sections.

He told me, "One thing I'm sure of -- I'm not afraid our girls will, chas v'shalom, shmad themselves. Today, Artscroll and other publishers have begun producing customized readers for yeshivos, but even that is limited. It's the economies of scale. A company selling a few million books can afford to charge less. Those frum text books are expensive, and not every school can afford them. And even those books may not be acceptable by Bais Rochel standards. So just image how it was forty-five to fifty years ago, when there were no Jewish options. 

The Rebbe was very concerned about the whole issue of the books. He recognized that society had changed. Even the general population was more proper a decade or so earlier. The books published back then were not so corrupt. So the Rebbe came up with a plan. He sent me along with the rosh yeshiva, R' Nosson Yosef Meisels (close advisor the Rebbe who later was appointed Satmar Rav of London), to Colombia University Teacher's college to see if we could find some old textbooks that didn't need so much censoring. The pictures would be more modest in the older books.

We did succeed in finding some books that were more kosher. But we had a different problem: the books were out of print, and buying the rights to reprint them on our own was too expensive a proposition.

But the point isn't whether or not the plan succeed. The key point is just how practical a vision the Rebbe had. 

The Satmar Rebbe and the English Principal, Rabbi Hertz Frankel, pp. 46-47


  1. Censoring going to libraries? Seems to me the complete
    opposite of Torah Im Derech Eretz

    1. I wouldn't call it the complete opposite because in Frankfurt they also closed off whatever was not appropriate. In TIDE, you also censor. In Torah uMaddah you do not. Thus, there is actual, pure apikorsis taught at Yeshiva University because R' Soloveitchik's view was to have a regular university and the person would decide on the merits of the materials. R' Breuer, was offered a job there but said reportedly he'd rather sell apples on the corner than work in an environment like that. And the KAJ community just 300 meters away officially had nothing to do with YU and the Rabbanim never went there.
      A student complained to R' Soloveitchik about a Greek mythology course and he said to deal with the modern world you have to understand its origins. There was some perfunctory Greek mythology taught in Frankfurt but not in depth. So with TIDE you do allow the best secular material, screened and picked, but you don't just allow anything. So one could say, the library has too much junk, don't go there, a representative of the community will go there and bring back the appropriate books.