Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) English Talmud Reviewed

            August 2012    
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Book Review: Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli

By Jay Levinson

Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli
by Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz)
Editor-in-Chief Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Jerusalem: Koren Publishers (2012)
ISBN: 978-965-301-5630

Today there is a long list of books in English to aid Jews in the study of Gemara. Years ago there was only the Soncino Talmud, published in 1961 in stilted English with sparse notes and no systematic commentary. In 1997 the ArtScroll Talmud appeared. Now there is another tool to learn Talmud in English - a translation of the Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli, the initial volumes of which are now available. Until now the Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli has been very popular, but it has been available only in Hebrew.

Adin Steinsaltz was born in Jerusalem to non-religious parents in 1937, and when he became of age he studied mathematics and science at Hebrew University as well as rabbinic studies. That combination of the physical world combined with religious studies would become apparent in the Gemara commentary that he would author.

In 1965 Steinsaltz established the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications with the idea of bringing the Talmud to the everyday Jew. His most comprehensive endeavor was to translate the Gemara into Modern Hebrew together with a series of commentaries. The task would take years and cover more than forty volumes. One commentary was not enough. In addition to elucidating the basic Talmudic text, Steinsaltz added notes on the personalities mentioned, described the realia (plants, vessels, coins, etc.) involved, and also discussed linguistic aspects such as Greek and words in Rashi’s Old French.

Old French at the time of Rashi was a language in flux, heavily influenced by the political turmoil that affected the northern region of France. Linguistic dialects were common, and knowledge of Modern French is insufficient to understand the language of Rashi’s time. The value of Rashi’s commentaries needs no explanation. Unfortunately, many religious scholars often skim over the Old French without trying to understand Rashi’s point. One of the major contributions of the Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli is to explain the Old French notations.

Koren is now publishing the Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli in English. The translation of both the Gemara and commentaries is in very readable English, and the page layout is excellent (even better than in the Hebrew editions). The first volume to appear is Berakhot. The appearance of further volumes is scheduled to coincide with the Daf Yomi (Page per Day) Program, so the set should be complete in another seven and a half years.

Although the Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli can certainly be recommended, one must add the caveat that people look for different things in their learning. Some readers of English will prefer ArtScroll, while others will chose Steinsaltz. A good approach is to try each, then decide what you like.

Perhaps the most important aspect of today’s book market is that there is a choice. The goal is to make traditional Jewish sources available so that everyone can learn, even if he prefers English rather than Hebrew. The Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli goes a long way in transforming that philosophic statement into a practical reality.

(Note: This review is based on Volume 1 – Berakhot of the Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli.)


from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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