2/19/06

Fear and Greed at the SOY Seforim Sale

Forty years ago I shlepped boxes of books around to help set up for the annual SOY Seforim sale at Yeshiva University. I am amazed at the growth of the sale over those years. Its organizers now claim to sell, "Over 10,000 titles" at the "Largest Jewish Book Sale in North America."

I haven't been there this year. Last time I went was a couple of years ago and I found the place hopping. Reminded me a little of the book fairs in Israel and a little of the book exhibits that you find at disciplinary academic conferences.

For the organizers who shlep the books I must extend a hearty yasher koach. They pull off quite an accomplishment in logistics.

But I have a few questions.

First off, it is truly amazing how many items are for sale. However, that said, I estimated a count of fewer than 7,000 titles in the sale catalog, not 10,000. Many of those titles were CDs and many were children's books. OK you are entitled to puff up the numbers. It's not against the law.

Second, I have to give much credit to those who toiled to assemble a sale catalog. However, I wish there was a better organized and more complete catalog both online and in print -- with authors listed, not just titles. With standard categories, not ones made up for the occasion. With ISBN and publishers listed, for all entries, no just some, etc.

Third, I have to note the irony of a mere 121 entries -- about one percent of the titles -- in the "Department" called Yeshiva University. I wish there were more. In fact, I wish they carried my books and my sister's book. But they don't.

In fact what they do offer is highly ironic. Many dozens of the authors come from the Right Wing Orthodox - some call it the Meshuggena Orthodox - those who do not consider RIETS a proper Yeshiva -- and who do consider YU to be a place of uncleanness and sin where they would never set a foot. I assume there is a reason for selling books written by those who are your opponents, if not your enemies. Some might think it was to make money -- i.e., greed.

And on the other side, so many thousands of titles in all categories were not for sale. Nothing was for sale from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College or secular academic or trade presses. Entire sets of Talmud translations, Tosefta editions, historical series, fiction --they were not to be seen. OK. We can understand why not. I'd call it fear. Fear of ideas that are not kosher.

I'm serious when I say how impressed I am that such a wonderful sale could be offered.

And I am also serious when I say how disappointed I am to see this sale marred by what some might think was greed and fear.

4 comments:

DJR said...

I haven't been there this year (and won't), but last year they did have some books from JTS Press.

On a slightly different note, one of the reasons I own so few books by you or your mentor is that so many of them seem to be published by such exprensive presses (U of C Press, Brill?!?). Simply too expensive for people of normal means (even book lovers!) to buy.

Any thoughts?

BTW, what is your sister's book?

Tzvee said...

My sister Miryam Wahrman's Brave New Judaism deals with how the different denominations of Judaism respond to biotechnological advances.

Amazon has plenty of books by Neusner for $2 and up (used).

DJR said...

Thanks for the reference to your sister's book. It looks very interesting, and I agree that it would be good for any Jewish book sale. I'm glad to see that Brandeis University Press is actually interested in having people of normal means buy their books.

It isn't that I can't find any of Professor Neusner's book (Indeed, I seem own 28)...it's just that often, a book of his that I'd otherwise consider is published by Bri$$.

Anonymous said...

You make some good points. Why does the sale have to import so many books from various Brooklyn sects ?