Bareheaded and Uncensored

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Six years ago, I blogged about a then-recently republished book of responsa that censored out what the publisher evidently considered an inappropriate responsum (link). This misdeed has now been undone, as a descendant redeems his ancestor and namesake.

R. David Zvi Hoffmann was the leading halakhic decisor in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century. A brilliant Talmudist and academic scholar, he succeeded R. Azriel Hildesheimer as rector of the Orthodox rabbinic seminary in Berlin.

His influential collection of responsa, Melamed Le-Ho’il, were posthumously published by his son. They have since been repeatedly republished, but always offset from the original edition. This made the omission in the latest edition very obvious — the missing responsum was replaced with empty space!

The “offending” responsum answers a question regarding swearing in court while bareheaded, as was standard secular protocol at the time. In his response, R. Hoffmann recalls the teaching job he held as a young rabbi in Frankfurt. Students learned secular studies bareheaded in the school founded and headed by R. Samson Raphael Hirsch. When R. Hoffmann went to visit R. Hirsch for the first time and failed to remove his headcovering, R. Hirsch berated him because other staff members may interpret it as a sign of disrespect. R. Hoffmann compared this with the strict views of Hungarian rabbis, who particularly forbade students in school to study bareheaded. R. Hoffmann concluded that litigants should request permission from the judge to swear while wearing a hat but if the judge refuses, they may swear bareheaded.

While R. Hoffmann was censored in the past, he has now been redeemed by his great-grandson and namesake. R. David Zvi Hoffmann of Jerusalem recently published a retypeset edition of Melamed Le-Ho’il. This new edition contains translations into Hebrew of all the German — a major improvement — and an extensive introduction by the contemporary R. Hoffmann. This proud descendant not only included the previously censored responsum, but highlighted it with a note in the table of contents.

See below for the title page, the relevant page of the table of contents (the yellow coloring is my addition), and the “offending” passage in the new edition.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

13 comments

  1. can you show the continuation of the teshuva as well?

  2. Steven Oppenheimer

    It is interesting – in this current edition Rosh Beit HaChinuch is translated in parenthesis as director. In the 1927 Frankfort edition it is translated as rector which I think is a more accurate rendering.

  3. “Director” will mean more to most readers than “rector,” which is archaic English. The interesting thing is that they are not identical terms at all, as you note.

  4. the original teshuvah says “director”. Just check out the original edition.

  5. It must be about 40 years ago that Rav Meir Kahane hy’d wrote an essay on this topic in the Jewish Press. Someone had written a letter to the editor criticizing some public figure (as I recall), and pointing out by way of condemnation that they don’t wear a kipah in public. Rav Kahane wrote defending the bareheaded, observant Jew from his detractor, and criticized the detractor’s ignorance and lack of compassion both that he could think this was a genuine violation and that he would besmirch many many observant Jews who do not cover their heads in public or on the job.

  6. Are you sure it was head coverings? The volume of collected writings done about fifteen years ago begins with a defense of clean-shaven rabbis; the new seven volume set has neither.

  7. Where can this new edition be purchased?

  8. Nachum, if your question was to me – yes, I am absolutely sure of the topic of that essay. I don’t have it though; so I can’t tell you where it might appear now. Seems to me that it appeared in one of the paperbound volumes of ‘Writings’ from the 70s. It served as a guide for me in relating to the many observant Jews I’ve known who don’t wear a kippah at work.

    Glad to hear that there is a new seven volume set of his writings. I haven’t seen it out here in the boonies.

  9. I will be selling an autographed copy of the new 7 volume set of all of the collected writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane. The set is being printed in a limited edition of just 200 copies. If anyone is interested, please make your order as soon as possible. Once they are gone they are gone! Price for the 7 volume set is $120 + postage from Israel

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