Rabbi Zlotowitz of ArtScroll: Rebbe and Chaver to Thousands – Jewish Link of New Jersey

Posted By on July 21, 2017

Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, zl

As we are about to mark the Shloshim of Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz zl, the founder of ArtScroll, who was born in New York City in 1943 and passed away on June 24, 2017, at age 73, it is appropriate to consider how much ArtScroll has impacted our community and to note some of its history.

Imagine a member of the community who wakes up at 5 every morning to learn Daf Yomi from an ArtScroll Gemara. Its clear translations and layout, its detailed explanations on the page as well as in the footnotes, and its pictures and diagrams, help the modern learner envision the realia of the Talmudic world and enable him or her to enjoy the learning and feel a sense of accomplishment. The ArtScroll Gemara has increased Gemara study significantly by removing linguistic and cultural barriers. One can safely say (as the New York Times did in an obituary for R. Zlotowitz) that the Daf Yomi movement would have never reached its current proportions without the ArtScroll Gemara.

The idea for the ArtScroll Gemara was born in 1982 when Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky suggested it. In The Creation of the Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud Bavli, a booklet ArtScroll published in 2005, the editors reminisced, Smiling, the Rosh Yeshiva [Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky] asked when we would begin elucidating the Talmud. The first volume (Makkot) was published in 1990. It was wildly popular. Within nine months after the inaugural volume came out, they were already up to their third printing. The editors continued, After fifteen years, seventy-three volumes, 35,000 pages, infinite hours of arduous intellectual effort, and countless prayers that Hashem bless the effort with accuracy and success, the Schottenstein Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, 73 volumes, was completed in 2004.

Let us return to our hypothetical community member, who is ready to daven Shacharit after finishing the daf. He or she chooses the ArtScroll siddur, whose layout and font are pleasing to the eye and whose translations, comments and instructions help him or her better understand and properly recite the words that the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah wrote so many years ago. The ArtScroll siddur came out in 1984 and is now ubiquitous in Orthodox shuls.

ArtScroll did not just enhance the daily siddur. The company also published machzorim for all the holidays of the year, most importantly Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Furthermore, their editions of Kinot and Selichot have transformed the Tisha BAv and Yamim Noraim experience. What could have been a meaningless jumble of words was transformed into an inspirational and meaningful text. In addition, every Shabbat the Torah reading is enhanced by the ArtScroll Stone Chumash, which only came out in 1993, yet is now found in most shuls as the standard Chumash.

ArtScrolls meteoric rise in popularity began with the 1976 publication of its translation and commentary on Megillat Esther, written by Rabbi Zlotowitz himself. Rabbi Zlotowitz was a graphic artist, skilled printer and businessman, but together with that he was also clearly an incredible talmid chacham. Until 1976 he ran a small printing company that published brochures, ketubot, etc. Although the Megillat Esther publication was planned as a one-time memorial edition, it ended up selling about 45,000 copies, an amount that astonished ArtScroll at first, but then made them realize that they shouldnt have been surprised at all. People were thirsty to learn and understand Torah, but there was a language barrier. From then on, ArtScroll realized they had a mission.

In this spirit, ArtScroll has published not only a translation of the entire Babylonian Talmud, but is also currently working on completing the Jerusalem Talmud. They have published their wildly popular edition of Rashis commentary on the Torah, as well as the Rambans commentary, Midrash Rabbah and many other Torah commentaries. One of the unique aspects of ArtScrolls translation work is that they translate the primary text differently based on which commentary they are translating on the bottom of the page.

It is truly possible to become a learned Jew just from using the resources that ArtScroll provides. From yeshiva high school students working on their textual skills to newly learning baalei teshuva, many people can say that Rabbi Zlotowitz was and still is their rebbi and teacher. As one baal teshuva wrote in a letter to Hamodia on July 5, 2017, I think I can confidently speak for thousands of Jews who were not zocheh to a Torah chinuch but who now learn Gemara, Mishnayos, halachos, the parsha, etc. in saying that Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, zl, was our rebbi ArtScroll has been more successful than any kiruv organization in bringing me to authentic Judaism. ArtScrolls ouvre will continue to teach and serve as an important resource beyond the authors lifetimes.

ArtScroll does not just translate, annotate and elucidate existing texts. It also produces original works such as gedolim biographies and their Jewish History series. In these works as well as in their Torah commentaries, ArtScroll has a very clear goal: to enhance yirat Shamayim. In his obituary for Rabbi Zlotowitz, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, the general editor of ArtScroll, wrote about his business partner of 41 years, If a book contained even minimal content that could taint the readers fear of Hashem, he would reject it out of hand, even though he knew the book would be a great commercial success. (From an obituary published in the Flatbush Jewish Journal, June 29, 2017.)

Some people have attacked ArtScroll for having an agenda, and perhaps some of the editorial decisions ArtScroll has made can be legitimately criticized. However, as a community we should not lose sight of the unparalleled, incredibly positive and worthwhile contributions that ArtScroll and Rabbi Zlotowitz have made to our intellectual and spiritual lives. They have truly offered everyone a chance to fulfill the advice of Rebbi Yehoshua Ben Perachia, Knei lecha chaver, acquire for yourself a friend (Pirkei Avot 1:6). Rashi explains that it doesnt just mean another human being, but it can also be referring to a sefer with which one can spend productive time learning Torah. ArtScroll has given everyone a truly beautiful chaver with which to learn.

By Sara Schapiro

Bergenfields Sara Schapiro is a recent graduate of Maayanot Yeshiva High School for girls and an incoming freshman at Stern College for Women. She is a Jewish Link summer intern.

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Rabbi Zlotowitz of ArtScroll: Rebbe and Chaver to Thousands - Jewish Link of New Jersey

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