02 December 2013

Quoting Rabbinic [and Other] Authors (The Importance of [Rabbinic] Citation IV)

Books don't write themselves
{Previous posts in this series: The Importance of [Talmudic/Rabbinic] Citation, Quoting the Author, "In the Name of"?: A Brief Clarification of Citation in the Babylonian Talmud}

As someone who values the importance of rabbinic citation (รก la the Talmud) (see link above), it is important to me who contributes an idea or is responsible for a statement.  Taken to it's logical conclusion, this leads one to quote someone who wrote a book or generated new thoughts by making mention of their name.  So this means not only quoting those rabbis in the Talmud by name (and, of course, as people are wont to do, to also quote the tractate and page number on which their statement has been preserved), but also those that are post-Talmudic.

Something that bothered me when I was in different yeshivot was that people frequently quoted books, unaccompanied by their authors.  That isn't inherently a problem, of course: if someone says "Such-and-such is in the Shulhan Arukh", it's clear that that idea is found in the book that Rabbi Yosef Karo composed, just as, for instance, one would say "Such-and-such a line is found in The Hobbit", and one would know that JRR Tolkien wrote it.  However, what was difficult to process was when people would say "The Mishnah Berurah wrote such-and-such" - that's a book; it doesn't write itself.  It's just the same as "War and Peace wrote such-and-such" - didn't Leo Tolstoy actually write it?

 I decided, whilst in rabbinical school to buck this trend, and actually quote those who contributed their ideas, spent time, ink, and more on getting their books out there and contributing to the intellectual richness of our people's heritage.  So, I decided to quote not only the books in which certain positions or ideas are taken or espoused, but also those rabbis who made them.  For an example of this move, you can check out a responsum of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's that I translated (and taught).

I did receive some pushback from my push to cite the authors and not just their book titles, due to it not being how those in the Orthodox community speak.  Sure, it's a lot easier to just say different ideas are written in books - and I can certainly speak that way - but it's more honorable to those authors to quote them.  That, and it makes more sense when hearing it.

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