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THE STORIED WORKS OF THE CHAFETZ CHAYIM

By: Dave Gordon



A lifelong member of our community, Yedidya Danny Levy has been helping to translate into English the life work of the Chafetz Chayim, making them more accessible than ever before.

Over the last fifteen years, Danny Levy has produced more than twenty volumes of the esteemed rabbi’s writings in Hebrew-English translation. The Chafetz Chayim’s works have not been published in any analogous series, in full translation before.

“The goal is to bring the Chafetz Chayim to the general public, to learn and internalize his Torah,” says Levy, who relies on the backing of community members to help offset the cost of the series.

The pseudonym Chafetz Chayim is the popularized name of  Yisrael Meir Kagan, the influential rabbi, posekand ethicist born in Poland in the 19th century.

The Chafetz Chayim’s first set of books, entitled Sefer Chafetz Chayim, deals with the lawsof kosher speech. His companion sefer titled Shemirat HaLashondeals with mussar, or our ethical imperative as Jews. The book systematically presents the laws of hurtful speech and gossip so that any layman can understand them.

Another of the Chafetz Chayim’s groundbreaking sefarimis the Mishnah Berurah, a widely used six-volume commentary of Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch. It deals with laws encountered by the average man in his everyday life and is recognized as one of the authoritative works on halacha. According to Levy, the Chafetz Chayim frequently represented himself as the author of Sefer Chafetz Chayimand the Mishnah Berurah, giving the books equal value in his estimation.

How the Translation Project Began

“It originally began with wanting to say something at the family’s Shabbat table which was novel and informative. A week or two after we began, this project took on an entirely different angle,” recalls Levy. In fact, it became an act of fervent prayer to spare the life of his daughter, Mazal bat Yedidya v’Frieda, a”h.

Though the project began for personal reasons, Levy recognizes its universal appeal. “We are bringing the holy words of the Chafetz Chayim to English-speaking communities that might not otherwise ever learn his words, he says. “In learning his words, [the hope is] to become better people, as Hashem asks of us, and expedite the Geulah.

The first book of the series entitled Mazal Elul, was printed in 2006. Six thousand copies were distributed forfree to communities throughout the United States. Highly successful, it was endorsed by many of our community’s rabbis. Rabbi David Ozeri, Rabbi Chaim Benoliel, Rabbi Eliezer Harary, Rabbi Shlomo Diamond, Rabbi Eliezer Ginsburg, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen in Lakewood, and Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua Zaks in Jerusalem, who is a grandson of the Chafetz Chayim, all have given their approbation to these and subsequent sefarim.

The follow up to Mazal Elul, called Sefer Shemirat HaLashon, is two volumes and contains about 900 pages of text. The next publication, Sefer Chafetz Chayim, contains 1,700 pages divided into four volumes, with English translation facing the original re-set Hebrew text.

Subsequent sefarim include the two volume Sefer Nidchei Yisrael, which is a guide to every day halacha. There’s also Kuntres Sfat Tamim, addressing the issue of people living beyond their means, Tzipitah LeYeshuah, an essay relating to the End of Times, and Kuntres Ahavat Yisrael, the Chafetz Chayim’s appeal for love and unity among Jews.

“The words of the Chafetz Chayim extend very much beyond the laws of speaking,” says Levy. “They focus on the way Hashem expects His children to act in caring for each other, and in protecting one’s own soul.”

A Monumental Undertaking

Levy estimates that, since the month of Av, 5761, more than 15,000 hours have been spent reading, translating and editing the Chafetz Chayim’s texts, all in preparation for these new versions. Much of the initial translating was done during Levy’s spare time – on the subway going and coming from work, during lunch breaks and vacation time.

The manuscripts are handwritten and then typed before going to several talmidei chachamimfor review. Sefer Chafetz Chayim, for example, went through the editorial hands of four talmidei chachamim, Typographical errors in the Hebrew text are corrected and the text is vowelized before the manuscript are sent for layout and printing in Israel. Sometimes more than seven years can pass from the inception of the translation to publication.

From start to finish, it is a time consuming and disciplined process, with parallel timeslots created to fill specific assignments; slots to translate, slots to type and slots to edit and review Both the English translation and Hebrew text are edited inthis way.

The Hebrew text facing the English translation is re-typed from an original early source, usually the Kol Kitveh Chafetz Chayim– an anthology of writings compiled and published by Chafetz Chayim’s son Rabbi Leib and his brother-in-law, Rabbi Mendel Zaks, circa 1950.

“Once a manuscript has been reviewed, and the editorial corrections have been inputted, it goes to a second editor for review, correction, and comment,” says Levy. “The flow of the translation has to be rigorously accurate and yet speak to the reader in an easy comfortable vernacular, just as one would speak to his friend,” Levy says.

The cover art is developed by talented community member David Benoliel The web design and site management is done by an equally talented member of the Five Towns community, Liad Macabbi.

Over the course of executing this holy task, Levy says he gained a greater appreciation for “the mussarof life – where everyone is heading and why we are here”). He adds that he was especially reminded of “the critical importance of time. Not to waste time ever, not even a moment,” and to “plan your time carefully. Don’t leave yourself with an empty timeslot. Focus only on what is important, as it impacts who you are and where you are going.”

There are still sponsorship opportunities are available for these sefarim. Contact Yedidya Danny Levy at mazalelul@chafetzchayim.orgfor quarter-page, half-page and full page dedications.

Coming Soon!

In the next year, more books are expected to roll off the presses. Below are seven titles that are currently being worked on.

Kuntres Taharot Yisrael (concerning the purity of a woman and her family)

The imperative for a woman to go to mikveh and fulfill the laws of niddah, in addition to the blessings that evolve for a woman who follows these laws.

Kuntres Ahavat Hashem(concerning self-sacrifice for the honor of Hashem)

The profound sin of worshipping an idol god (literal gods, as well as figurative gods) and the incredible reward for sacrificing one’s life for the honor of Hashem if that situation should ever arise. As Levy notes, there have been “173 generations of our ancestors who were absolutely faithful to Hashem over the past 3,300+ years since Har Sinai, and because of them we are here today.”

Kuntres Midot V’Mishkalot (concerning weights and measures)

The sin of false weights and measures, and the reward for following these laws as an act of belief in Hashem.

Kuntres Tiferet Adam(concerning the splendor of a man)

On the merit of letting one’s beard grow, the laws of shaving; the punishment for violating these laws and the reward for fulfilling them.

Kuntres Marganita Tova (imparting precious pearls of Torah wisdom) written by Rabbi Yehonatan Wallener.

The Chafetz Chayim so valued this short essay, Levy says, that he attached it to his own Sefer Ahavat Chessed as a means of encouragement for the public. The English translation was published earlier this year. The Hebrew text is now in the process of Spanish translation. The general topic concerns focusing one’s life on holy deeds.

Sefer Chomat HaDat (laying down the fortress of our religion)

Topics include loyalty to Hashem and His Torah, and the state of one’s soul after a person has died.

Sefer Davar B’Etau(a timely essay)

 Using the framework of eating kosher food, the Chafetz Chayim insists that though circumstances might present hardship for a person, they do not change or modify the laws of Hashem’s Torah.