On Editoral Ethics

April 10, 2009 at 15:52 Leave a comment

Editors have a lot of hidden power.

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah learned this the hard way. He was a great scholar of his time — in fact of all times — and his opinion was held in high esteem among his sagely colleagues in the Talmud. As a young rabbi, he was even granted the high office of patriarch for a short while, and when he died, it was said that “With the death of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was removed the crown of the sages”. (Sotah 49b)

Nonetheless, we all remember him as the guy who got Ben Zoma wrong, because once — no doubt drowsy after a long night without sleep in the company of rabbi Eliezer, rabbi Akiva and rabbi Tarfon — he didn’t keep his mouth shut, and he rendered an interpretation of Ben Zoma that the sages disagreed with.

No big deal, one could think — this happens all the time in the Talmud, which is filled with arguments and disagreements.

True, but the problem is that this one quote — a mere 50 words — made it into the Passover Haggadah. Thus it’s one of the few Talmudic passages that most people ever read, and Eleazar comes out as a shmuck, dissed by the sages of blessed memory.

Once again we’re reminded of the media’s power to manipulate people’s images.

If she’s got one, I’m sure Eleazar ben Azariah is the Dutchess of Cornwall’s favorite Talmudic sage.


Entry filed under: Judaism.

Now Also in Jerusalem On the Way to the Maimuna

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