Monday, July 08, 2013

Only uncensored Babylonian Talmud in English may be complete in a few years

By Michael Hoffman

If the Koren translation of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's Babylonian Talmud is as faithful to his text as was the Random House edition, and if all Steinsaltz volumes are printed, this will represent a milestone in the history of the publication of the Babylonian Talmud - the first complete edition in English which has not been redacted.

A little more than half way through the project, Random House stopped publication of the uncensored Steinsaltz Talmud after printing 21 volumes and a "reference guide," for reasons never fully explained. A set of those 21 Random House Steinsaltz volumes have commanded relatively high prices on the rare book market, when they can be located.

One reason for pressure perhaps being brought to bear on Random House may have been Steinsaltz's unprecedented candor.

Unlike the Schottenstein edition which is basically a whitewash, or the Soncino, which confines controversial passages to footnotes, Steinsaltz candidly translated the most revealing and troubling Talmud Bavli passages which, heretofore, had been concealed from gentiles, as well as those Judaics who did not read Aramaic and the middle Hebrew jargon in which the Babylonian Talmud is written.

Caveat: this Koren edition is not a reprint of the superb Random House translation. The 2012-2013 Koren edition of Steinsaltz represents a new English translation, and may or may not constitute a strictly uncensored rendering of Steinsaltz's Israeli Hebrew edition. It remains to be seen how faithful Koren will be to the Random House translation (we will exercise due diligence in comparing the two as the Koren volumes appear).

From our preliminary examination of the first five inaugural volumes, it appears that the Koren edition has not been censored. We began our analysis by turning to sensitive passages in tractate Berakhot. We started by examining the portions pertaining to the halachos of niddah (the vertiginously oppressive laws on menstruation), and the permission for the use of lies and deception — "circumventions by artifice" (Berakhot 31a [p. 205]). In these cases there was no evidence of redaction. However, we have not yet read the entire set (approximately 25 volumes yet to be printed), consequently our initial enthusiasm is, at this point, necessarily conditioned by the fact that we will need to examine the entire printing before we can say for certain that the Koren English version is faithful to Rabbi Steinsaltz's modern Hebrew version.

Our hope is that the Koren edition both accurately translates Steinsaltz and gives us the Steinsaltz Talmud tractates never published by Random House, in which case the Koren Talmud Bavli will represent a true landmark in the study of the Torah SheBeal Peh in English.

Hoffman is the author of the 1100 page textbook, Judaism Discovered, available on the Amazon Kindle.

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