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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5775

P'ninat Mishpat: Rabbinic Ban to Protect Jewish Publishers

(based on Shut Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 41)

Presentation of the Querying Rabbi (Rav Mordechai Benet of Nichelsburg): If the illustrious Rav Moshe Sofer asks me to add my haskama (approbation) to the compilation of Torah ideas from masters of the past, I find it difficult to refuse, but I see little gain. One reason for a haskama is to approve its content, which is unnecessary in this case.

The second reason is to ban others’ reprinting of the book. However, I already wrote to the Rav of Diernfort that we cannot do that. Firstly, the rights and responsibility for publishing are in the king’s hand, and who can prevent him from a new publishing that he wants? Second, how can a first publisher prevent a second publishing, especially when it is not an original work but a compilation requiring little work? Since many non-Jews publish sefarim and they will not listen to us, banning Jews from publishing just damages the other Jewish publishers without effectively protecting the original publisher. I must thus refuse your request. On second thought, I will be polite enough to write a letter appealing to publishers not to publish without permission.


Response of the Chatam Sofer: Greeting to the distinguished Rav of Nichelsburg. I received your words, along with your haskama on the sefer Uryan Tlita’i – may the merit of the authors quoted help you.

I was very surprised that you want to cancel the minhag of haskamot, which I consider appropriate even for the re-printing of old works. Realize that since the practice of haskamot has been weakened, many irresponsible books have been published. Baruch Hashem, there are still G-d-fearers who will not buy a sefer unless it has the haskama of a known rav. I explained the matter in my haskama to Halachot Gedolot, although the censor removed a few lines. Fortunate is the generation in which the great people (Rav Benet) listen to their juniors [ed. note – written in humility; while Rav Benet was a little older and an important rabbinical figure, the Chatam Sofer already exceeded him in prominence].

Because the Kaiser forbids placing a ban, I only mention the existing prohibition of hasagat gevul (encroaching on another’s livelihood). Admittedly, it is unclear if the laws of hasagat gevul alone apply formally in this case. This has prompted rabbis to always write haskamot, from the time printing began to use them to warn other publishers not to harm those who invest time and money into publishing Torah works. It is unlike other forms of competition because it is impossible to publish without significant expenses, which one loses if someone else publishes a book after he has. The Rama already took this step to protect the publisher of an edition of the Rambam. [He continues with other historical precedents.]

It is true that a rav cannot impose his ban on inhabitants of another country, but this is a general ban of rabbinic leaders throughout the world over the ages, which the present-day rav is only needed to apply. It is not true that a ban impinges on the government’s efforts to raise money through licensing taxes, as the same publishers can publish a different book that is not spoken for.

I remember that my father-in-law (R. Akiva Eiger) wrote to me in a letter that he is very upset that a rav in his region told him that the rabbinate no longer accepts haskamot as binding. Now I realize that it was the Rav of Diernfort, with your support. I wait to hear your response.

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