Reb Yisrael Salanter
The Story of Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin
By Yaakov Dovid Shulman
C.I.S. Publishers, 1995, 191 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - August 23, 2010
This volume is one of a genre of generally small books put out by all religious groups that ostensibly tell the tales of famous pious people. Their intent might be to inspire readers to copy the piety of the person who is being described. The problem with these books is that they are based for the most part on legends, many of which are miraculous and contrary to nature, and they depict the person as if he (or, rarely, she) was astute and pious from birth, was recognized as unusual from an early age, frequently even in the crib, and had no faults. The authors usually do not reveal what is a legend and what is not, and it is virtually impossible to find out what is true. Additionally, one legend may say one thing and another legend something else, and the author selects the legends he likes. Shulman, for example, tells how Salanter, as an adult, so impressed his community that so many people came to hear him talk that the meeting room was overcrowded, and Salanter made a significant impact upon his community. However, although he does not admit that he is passing on legends, he admits in this case that there is another source that states that very few people came to hear Salanter and he made no real changes during his lifetime.