by Sandy Eller and Yosef Shidler
Is there a Jewish home today that does not own at least one Artscroll book? Artscroll single handedly revolutionized the Jewish book business with the publication of their first book, Megillas Esther, in 1976. Today they are a household name and their most recent catalog features over 1500 books. For Pesach alone, Artscroll offers a full selection of Seder accessories and over 64 titles, including Machzorim, Haggadas, and an assortment of Pesach books and seforim.
With Pesach rapidly approaching, Artscroll granted an exclusive video interview to VIN News, conducted by Yosef Shidler of CJ studios offering a rare glimpse inside the powerhouse of Jewish publishing.
Their offices in Brooklyn, New York house not only their staff, but is where their books are assembled as well. While most of us are familiar with the maroon, gold stamped Artscroll Gemaras, it takes many painstaking steps to produce each volume. Every gemara is actually comprised of numerous small booklets that are collated and sewn together before being bound in those distinctive covers, which are gold stamped and gilded on site. Of course, hours of work go into every book before it can be assembled. Each manuscript must be edited, often involving research and potential rewriting. Books are then proofread and checked for spelling and grammar mistakes. Every page has to be typeset and laid out so that commentary and text appear on the same page. Countless hours go into each and every volume, making each book a true labor of love.
Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor of Artscroll, explains that the name Artscroll came from the desire to produce books that are visually appealing, instead of looking like they were printed in someone’s basement. While clearly it is the content of the book that is the main focus at Artscroll, R’ Scherman explains that the visuals are very important, particularly in the United States where people really do judge a book by its cover.
After the publication of Megillas Esther in 1976, it became apparent that Artscroll was something that was absolutely vital to American Jewry. R’ Scherman, who was the principal at the Stoliner Yeshiva, was urged by R’ Moshe Feinstein and R’ Mordechai Gifter to give up his day job and devote himself to Artscroll full time, along with co-author R’ Meir Zlotowitz. While many American born men and women were products of yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs, once they moved on in life, learning on their own proved too difficult and many gave it up entirely. Artscroll was a way to make learning attainable to the general public. Artscroll publications were accessible, understandable and attractive produced, always l’chvod shomayim.
While some have accused Artscroll of making learning too easy, R’ Scherman disagrees, saying Artscroll seforim are meant as study aids, used to complement the actual seforim. They should be used to resolve difficulties in the original text, or as a way to make learning fit into a busy schedule when time constraints don’t permit reviewing the complete text and commentary inside the actual sefer. R’ Scherman smiles as he explains that even R’ Elyashiv finds it helpful to go through the Hebrew comments in an Artscroll gemara, adding “If it’s okay for R’Elyashiv, it’s okay for me and you.”
With Pesach just around the corner, Artscroll offers over 40 Haggadas and R’ Scherman displays nine different haggadas, pointing out the different nuances in each one. The Family Haggada alone has sold over hundreds of thousands of copies. Artscroll’s latest release is the full commentary of the Ramban on the Chumash, a seven volume set which is slated to be released on March 18th. Work has just started on Artscroll’s latest project, Medrash Raba on Chumash, which R’ Scherman anticipates being a 15 volume set.
The original text of the article may be found here.