Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Preliminary Review of The New Koren Talmud Bavli: A Goldilocks edition

A Preliminary Review of  The New Koren Talmud Bavli:  A Goldilocks edition
by Jeremy Brown
Jeremy Brown lives outside of Washington DC. He is the author of New Heavens and a New Earth: The Jewish Reception of Copernican Thought, to be published later this year by Oxford University Press.
We are only weeks away from finishing the seven-year cycle of Daf Yomi.  Right on cue, publishers are ready to meet the demand of those ready to study Daf Yomi the first time as the cycle begins anew, or perhaps students who wish to learn Talmud at a slower pace.  We are promised Daf Yomi apps (“apps” did not exist seven years ago) and the publication in English of a new translation and commentary on the Talmud: the Koren Talmud Bavli, with a commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel, better known as Adin Steinsaltz.  The team is led by Rabbis Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (formally executive Vice President of the OU) and Joshua Schreier (formally at Midreshet Lindenbaum) both of whom have stellar reputations, and the project will eventually comprise the entire Talmud Bavli in 41 volumes.  The regular price of each volume will be $49.95, but Amazon is advertising Berakhot at a significantly discounted rate of $29.54.  If these prices are maintained, the entire English Steinsaltz could be purchased for about $1,200; by comparison the entire (full size) ArtScroll English Talmud in 73 volumes, costs about $2,450  - twice as much.   Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn to both the older translation by Isidore Epstein and much more recent ArtScroll English translations, and even a cursory glance reveals striking differences between the productions. (To keep things simple, we will refer to the Koren edition as the “Steinsaltz” Talmud; the ArtScroll Schottenstein edition will be called the “ArtScroll” edition; and the translation by Isidore Epstein will be called the “Soncino” edition.)  

First, there are significant production differences. While the ArtScroll production team included several women proofreaders, the Steinsaltz team includes women as translators as well as language consultants.  This change does not guarantee a better product of course, and the outcome must be judged on the basis of its merits alone. However this approach demonstrates a commitment to a refreshing worldview in Jewish publications in which outstanding scholars are no longer barred from contributing simply because they do not carry a Y chromosome. With the repugnant attempts to marginalize women occurring in some fundamentalist sectors of Jewish society today, the Steinsaltz Talmud reminds us that Talmudic scholarship and teaching are no longer male dominated spheres. It is a message needs to be heard in Jerusalem and in Brooklyn.

Another difference also points to a subtle but palpable embracing of the modern: the approach to transliteration. The Steinsaltz team has adopted a transliteration schema that generally reflects the Academy. Thus the letter ח is transliterated as H with a dot under the letter, a כ is  kh, and ת is t. ArtScroll published Berachos, Steinsaltz published Berakhot. Again, such differences do not guarantee a better product, but imply that the Steinsaltz Talmud has an approach that might include lessons from the academy and modern scholarship. Finally, the designers have added a magnificent full color cover to the book, which is both eye-catching but utterly impractical if the volume is to be carried every day since the translucent paper easily scars.  Still, there is a simple solution to this. Just remove the cover while learning from the Talmud. If you do this you will notice the warm red tone of the volume, which is remarkably similar to many editions of the standard Hebrew only ש"ס today. Was this a clever way to disguise the book for those who feel the need to do so? 

Interestingly the Steinsaltz Talmud includes five haskamot from rabbis who died recently or long ago. Two are from R. Moshe Feinstein dated from 1970 and 1983.   An even earlier haskamah from R. Menachem Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, dates from 1969, or some 43 years before the publication of the English edition. There is an undated haskamah from R. Moshe Zevi Neriah who died in 1995, and the final haskamah is from R. Mordechai Eliyahu, who served as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and died in 2010.  Quite what these haskamot are doing here is not clear; do such things persuade the reader to that the work is indeed appropriate, or do they serve instead as a kind of spiritual shield, meant to deflect any criticism of the project? The five haskamot printed in the Steinsaltz Talmud are all translated, so perhaps the target audience is indeed the reader who is not fluent in Hebrew, although I doubt there is much persuasive power in the haskamah as a book blurb. In comparison, ArtScroll printed twelve signed haskamot, but translated none of them. (Essay question: Compare and contrast the haskamot of the Steinsaltz and ArtScroll editions of the Talmud.)

The Steinsaltz Talmud contains an introduction to Masekhet Berakhot which is more or less a translation of the original Hebrew, but generally improves on it.  Here perhaps the editors faced an important question: should this opening volume of  ש"ס contain introductory essays about the place of the Talmud in Jewish thought and history, its development and why it must remain a meaningful foundation of Jewish identity? Or should the reader instead be thrown headfirst into the project, learning what Talmud is by, well, learning Talmud. In fact such a guide already exists, written by Steinsaltz and published by Random House in the 1989 English language Reference Guide. This work will soon be reprinted in a re-edited book as part of the larger Steinsaltz English Talmud set.  Such a guide will help many of those taking their first steps along the path of Talmud study. 

The introduction that is provided is both inspiring and welcoming, as the following will demonstrate.  Consider for example, the ArtScroll Talmud, which (after some 37 pages listing the sponsors) opens its introduction to Berachos in this way: 
Berachos [“Blessings”] as its name implies, deals primarily with the assorted blessings that are recited at various times and occasions. In essence a ברכה, blessing…is an acknowledgment of God as the Creator of the phenomenon beheld, the Commander of the mitzvah performed or the Provider of the benefit enjoyed.
Here in comparison is the Steinsaltz introduction: “Tractate Berakhot is the first tractate in the order of “Faith.” The primary focus of the tractate is the myriad ways in which a Jewish person expresses faith throughout his life.” There is a certain grandeur here that is captured, a certain look at the big picture that lies behind the detailed halakhic discourse.  This theme is echoed later in the introduction when the reader wonders just how the detailed halakhic path can lead to greater appreciation of the divine.  
Furthermore, faith, despite its broad scope, is not a palpable presence, in one’s daily life. True, faith as Weltenschauung and as a general approach exists, in one form or another in the hearts of all people, at different levels of consciousness and acceptance.  However, the difference between that faith and real life is too significant. There is no comparison between accepting the fundamental tenets of faith in one’s heart and fulfilling them in practice, especially at all of those minor, uninspiring opportunities that constitute a majority of one’s life.  If the abstract concepts of faith are not manifest in a practical manner in all of the details of a person’s life, faith will loose its substance; consequently all of life’s details will be rendered worthless and pointless.  Indeed the fundamental demand of religion is well characterized in the phrase “if you devote your heart and your eyes to Me, I know that you are mine.”
This introduction addresses one of our great challenges, and yet it is rarely acknowledged. Every day life is often, well, just ordinary everyday life.  Although we may, at times, be keenly aware that life is a gift that cannot be taken for granted, in truth, there are many “minor and uninspiring” moments, and these do indeed constitute the majority of life. Yes, there is indeed chasm that separates faith and real life, and the introductory essay addresses this existential reality head on. 

The layout of the Talmud is a radical departure from that of the Vilna  ש"ס  and follows the earlier decision of Steinsaltz when his Hebrew translation and commentary no longer stuck to the Vilna format.  In that version each single amud was split into two pages, whereas in this English edition there is no allotted page format, and hence no automatic rubric that ties the page of the English translation with that of the Vilna  ש"ס . For the ArtScroll translation the need to retain the look and feel of the Vilna  ש"ס  was a guiding editorial principle that resulted in the same Hebrew page being reproduced several times in order to accommodate the English translation alongside.  The editors of the Steinsaltz Talmud made the wise decision that assumed their reader would be comfortable reading a page of Talmud in a form that no-longer resembled the standard page of Talmud, and the decision works.  Should the reader wish to refer to the page of the Vilna  ש"ס , the entire masekhet is reproduced at the back (or front depending on your orientation) of the volume but with the addition of vowels. The result is that Masekhet Berakhot is in one volume, unlike the ArtScroll edition in which the Berachos is spread over two.  

Despite this break with traditional formatting, the Steinsaltz page maintains a Talmudic feel with its central text in Hebrew to the left of the English translation, surrounded by notes, just as in the Vilna  ש"ס  there is a central Talmudic text surrounded on three sides by later commentaries.  In the original Hebrew Steinsaltz edition the various comments were largely to be found at the bottom of the page, whereas in the English edition they are where Rashi and Tosafot are usually to be found.  The result is a central ancient text surrounded by later comments – which is very Talmudic indeed.

The actual text is a pleasure to read, using Koren’s by now very familiar fonts.  Phrases in Hebrew are widely separated from each other, and the English translations are also printed in a paragraph style, rather than as a running text, which was generally how it appears in the ArtScroll.  The Steinsaltz presentation is, as a result, a greater pleasure to read and the Talmudic arguments are easier to follow than the page presented in either the traditional Vilna format or as translated in the ArtScroll or Soncino editions.  Small notes direct the reader of the English text to notes found at the borders of the page.  Like the original Hebrew Steinsaltz, these comprise of Notes on the Talmudic discussion, Background on material, Halakha (which references the Shulhan Arukh and Rambam), Language and Personalities.  These notes are supplemented with high quality color illustrations (although only in black and white in the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi edition). The illustrations are generally a superb addition and aid.  In a discussion of ritual impurity (36b), the illustration of the crown of the pomegranate is critical to understanding the text. Similarly the illustration of the issar (28b), a small coin, helps the reader understand the discussion. However the text states an opinion that one must bend down during the Amidah “until he can see an issar [on the ground]” so here the discussion might have been better illustrated with a reproduction of the actual size of the coin since this is most germane to the issue.  Some illustrations are vital – like that of a katedra or chair from the Talmudic era (43a) which was significantly different from the modern chair, and Talmudic era burial cave (14b). Others seem rather unnecessary; does the modern reader really need a color picture of a lion (56b) or elephant (57a)? And there are some errors too: Ursa Major is not “the largest a star in Taurus” (59a). Indeed it is not a star at all, but rather a constellation. Nor is it “the eye of the ox;” that would be Aldebaran. Elsewhere we correctly learn that polycythemia vera is one of the only conditions for which bloodletting remains an effective therapy. This is true, but the description of the disease causing excessive bleeding from the gums and from ordinary cuts is not; that would be hemophilia. (There is a subgroup of patients with PV who have thrombocytosis and dysfunctional platelets in whom bleeding can occur, but this is an obscure detail).   Perhaps, to complement the impressive group of translators and language consultants, the publisher should add a scientific consultant. These (relatively) minor quibbles aside, the notes provide important clarifications and points of interest which change the often dry Talmudic texts into accessible and even enjoyable reading material.

The censored text
The publisher’s preface to the Steinsaltz Talmud notes that the standard “Vilna edition was read against other manuscripts and older print editions, so that texts which have been removed by non-Jewish censors have been restored to their rightful place.” This is evident with the inclusion of a censored text on 17b in which the censored Vilna (and ArtScroll) text reads  שלא יהא לנו בן או תלמיד שמקדיח תבשילו ברבים  .  The original uncensored text identified the student who caused others to sin by name:שלא יהא לנו בן או תלמיד שמקדיח תבשילו ברבים כגון ישו הנצרי.  No mention of the censored text is mentioned in the ArtScroll Talmud, which instead directs the reader to the Ritva “for a specific reference.” The Ritva indeed mentions the reference to Jesus, but why did ArtScroll decline to amend the censored text? Of what precisely, were they afraid?  

This is not an isolated example. The text of the Talmud is also censored on 3a.  The original uncensored text reads  אוי לי שהחרבתי את ביתי ושרפתי את היכלי והגליתים לבין אומות העולם

However the Hebrew text of the English ArtScroll (and the Soncino) reads as follows:

אוי לבנים שבעונותיהם החרבתי את ביתי ושרפתי את היכלי והגליתים לבין אומות העולם

The additional words  לבנים שבעונותיהם  were added by Christian censors and the corrupted text was noted in Dikdukei Soferim. None of was evident to the editors of the English ArtScroll, who compounded the error by adding the following homiletic note to the corrupted text.

In its effort to comment on (nearly) everything, the ArtScroll edition has added a homiletic explanation of a text written (almost certainly) by a Jewish apostate serving as Christian censor. Fortunately, the Hebrew and English editions of the Steinsaltz, together with the Hebrew Schottenstein (ArtScroll) have returned the text to its original and uncensored form.  

While the number of such censored Talmudic texts is not especially large, the modern reader should expect no less than the most accurate text of the Talmud, and the editors of the Steinsaltz Talmud seem to have been sensitive to this need.

Side by side comparisons
The real test of the new Steinsaltz Talmud is how it feels to use it, and how that experience compares to the older ArtScroll and much older Soncino translations.  What follows is a comparison of a section of text chosen at random. The comments are preliminary; an in-depth comparison of the three editions would require far more space than this review allows. First the Talmud itself, from ברכות ז:

Here is the Soncino translation togther with the foonotes, (which are not found on the same page in the orginal):

Next, the ArtScroll:

And finally the Steinsaltz with the Notes as they appear on the printed page:

In elucidating the meanings of this passage, the Soncino provides the minimalist approach, which consists of a translation of the biblical verse as it is cited in the Talmud, together with a translation of the comments of R. Yohanan and Resh Lakish.  The English text is understandable, but only with some effort. (What exactly are “stripes”?) In order to appreciate the biblical proof text cited the reader would have to look up the verse in its entirety. The notes provided in the Soncino edition are at the foot of the next page, so that in order to know where the verses are from, the reader must divert her attention from the text to the notes.   Finally, having studied this passage, the reader is left wondering just why regret is preferable to punishment.  Should her skills allow she could read Rashi’s explanation (who emphasizes that regret is reached through a personal reckoning), or provide an explanation of her own.  

The ArtScroll translation does more work for the reader, filling in the missing biblical text so that the verse is understood in its entirety without the need to actually reach for a Bible to look it up.  But the explanation, like the reference explaining where the verse comes from, is to be found in a footnote under the text, which is distracting.  Even more disruptive is the explanation of the verse provided in note thirty-two.  It explains how the verse may be understood metaphorically in the context of Hosea’s rebuke of Israel’s infidelity, but this is of no relevance in understanding the Talmud here.  Finally, following Rashi’s explanation, the ArtScroll translation of the verse from Proverbs used as the proof text for Resh Lakish is unnecessarily verbose: “The humbleness following from reproof…”

The Steinsaltz Talmud adopts a different approach than the ArtScroll, placing the references into the flow of the text so that the reader never has to search for the biblical citation.  Like the ArtScroll translation, it fills in the words missing from the biblical quotes, but it also provides a psychological explanation in the body of its translation, noting that “remorse is more effective than any externally imposed punishment.” The reader’s attention is directed to a note that appears immediately next to, (rather than below and distant from) the text that is being studied, and it here that the text is explained; it reveals an educational methodology in which a student learns best when “approached in a sensitive manner.”  This insight is acknowledged to come from Ein Ayeh, although the opportunity to tell the reader that this is a work of Rabbi A. I. Kook was sadly missed.  Finally, in its translation of the verse from Proverbs, the less verbose Steinsaltz translation is more germane and better understood: “A rebuke enters deeper into a man of understanding…”

The Soncino translation, once of great service as the only English translation, uses language that is anachronistic. It is difficult to use, and lacks the kinds of explanations that the modern reader is looking for. The ArtScroll translation is busy both esthetically and in its content, with so many references that the reader is often not able to distill what is of true value – namely, understanding the meaning of the Talmud and using it whenever possible to guide contemporary Jewish living. The Steinsaltz approach provides a Goldilocks translation, one that is just right, providing the reader with enough detail and explanation to discern the meaning of the Talmud, and to leave its study with a profound lesson that is applicable to contemporary society. For the student who wishes to study the Talmud in depth but who lacks the Hebrew skills to do so, the ArtScroll translation provides plenty of references and additional material.  For the more casual student, and for the reader engaged in the challenge of following the Daf Yomi cycle, the Steinsaltz translation is more readable and the page less overwhelming, without sacrificing any of the ability to understand the text itself. Less is certainly more.  Much more.  

Conclusion – the Talmud evolves
Writing some one hundred and forty years ago, Raphael Nathan Rabbinovicz described the 1554 edition of the Sabbioneta Masekhet Kiddushin as “the most becoming and beautiful. If the entire Talmud had been printed, it would have been the glory and most beautiful jewel of Israel.  All the editions before and after would not have compared to it…” The new English Steinsaltz Masekhet Berakhot deserves no less an accolade.  Aesthetically attractive, and containing new and important elucidations of the text, it is not simply a “me-too” translation, but a statement of the relevance and evolution of the central text of rabbinic Judaism.  It deserves a place on the shelf of every English speaking modern-Orthodox house and Bet Midrash, or better yet, every English speaking Jewish home.  The Koren Steinsaltz Talmud invites us to savor the Talmud. It shows us that far from being a work that is difficult and at times frustratingly opaque, the Talmud can be a colorful work that is not only easy to understand, but a pleasure to read. Ravina and Rav Ashi would have been proud.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Proselyte Doth Protest Too Much

By Eli Genauer

I recently acquired an early edition of Abarvanel’s Peirush Al Neviim Rishonim. It was printed in Leipzig in 1686. It was only the second edition of this commentary, following the first edition printed in Pesaro in 1511 by Gershom Soncino.

The publisher of this edition was Mauritium Georgium Weidmannum. The editors were Friedrich Albrecht Christiani, an apostate, and August Pfeiffer, a German Lutheran theologian. It was printed primarily for a Christian reading audience for reasons we shall discuss.

F. A. Christiani, who was the main editor, is described in a publication called “World – Today’s News Christian Views” (March 2, 2002):
“Friedrich Albrecht Christiani is stunned to find himself believing in Christ. The Hamburg resident, educated in the Talmud, says, ‘I was so zealous for my Jewishness that had someone told me then of my prospective conversion, it would have appeared as strange to me as it seems incredible to others.’ But finding himself unable to refute Esdras Edzard's arguments, he decides to go with what his mind, rather than tradition, tells him, and takes the last name "Christiani."”
It seems that later on he returned to Judaism as noted by this entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica:
He was baptized in 1674 at Strasburg, having formerly borne the name of Baruch as Hazzan at Bruchsal. After having occupied for twenty years the chair of Semitic studies at the University of Leipsic, he retired to Prossnitz, where he returned to Judaism.”
For the purpose of this study, we will assume that he was a practicing Christian when he edited this book by the Abarvanel, as this was before he had returned to Prossnitz. 

In studying the cover page of my Leipzig edition, I noticed the following handwritten notation:

The top notation reads עיין דף רמ"ד 2 (“see page 244b”). I do not know who made this notation in the last 300+ years, but I was curious to see what it was all about.

Shlomo Hamelech had died and his son Rechavam took over as king. The people had asked him to relieve some of the burdens placed on them by Shlomo, but instead he told the people that he would deal much more harshly with them than had his father. The people replied that they wanted nothing to do with him as king.

Their reply is reflected in the following pasuk in Melachim Alef 12:16.
טז וַיַּרְא כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי לֹא-שָׁמַע הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲלֵהֶם, וַיָּשִׁבוּ הָעָם אֶת-הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּבָר לֵאמֹר מַה-לָּנוּ חֵלֶק בְּדָוִד וְלֹא-נַחֲלָה בְּבֶן-יִשַׁי לְאֹהָלֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַתָּה רְאֵה בֵיתְךָ דָּוִד; וַיֵּלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְאֹהָלָיו 
16 And when all of Israel saw that the king had not listened to them, the people answered the king, saying: 'What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Yishai; to your tents, O Israel; now see to your own house, David.' So Israel departed unto their tents.
Abarvanel cites a Maamar Chazal which explains that the Jews meant as follows:

אין לנו חלק בדוד, זו מלכות שמים. ולא נחלה בבן ישי זו מלכות דוד.לאוהליך ישראל זה בית המקדש אל תקרי לאהליך אלא לאלוקיך

The people stated that they had no portion in the Kingship of Heaven, the Kingship of the House of David, nor of the Beis HaMikdash, which is interpreted to mean that they wanted no part of Hashem.

First let us look at how this section looks in the first edition printed in Pesaro in 1511. Starting on the 3rd line it reads ….. ובפרק כהן גדול אמרו אין לנו חלק בדוד . Clearly there is no editorial note in this edition after the words ובפרק כהן גדול אמרו אין..

Now let us see how this is recorded in our Leipzig edition, whose editor was F.A. Christiani.

It turns out that the quotation is actually from Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel Aleph 8:26 (and quite similarly in the Midrash Shmuel Chapter 13) but the Abarvanel mistakenly cites “Perek Kohen Gadol” in Maseches Sanhedrin as the source.

This error precipitated Christiani to launch into what can only be termed a “rant”.

You can follow his harangue starting on the first line, inside the parentheses, starting with the abbreviation א"ה

Let me paraphrase what Christiani writes: “So says the editor…It is truly unbelievable what he (Abarvanel) says…..the Rav has made so many mistakes in citing specific sources from the Rabbis….he should be totally embarrassed to cite a source that is not found anywhere close to where he said it was…It is only because he relied on his memory and his mind, which is a conceited and harmful trait….because, setting his honor aside, it is a bold and shamefaced lie to say that this saying is contained in this Perek or in any Perek in Sanhedrin…I have looked high and low for this Maamar Chazal and have found it nowhere …if anyone can find it and bring to a close this terrible error, he will truly be blessed.”

Christiani opens himself up for some criticism by stating that he has searched, “Chipus achar chipus be-gemaros u-midrashim” and was not able to find this Maamar Chazal. And yet we know that it is found both in the Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Shmuel, both of which pre-dated Christiani by many centuries. The Jewish Encyclopedia lists Abravanel as the first to quote from Yalkut Shimoni saying, “after the beginning of the 15th century, on the other hand, the work must have been disseminated in foreign countries, for it was used by Spanish scholars of the latter half of that century, Isaac Abravanel being the first to mention it.”

One might imagine that launching a diatribe against a respected Jewish scholar was to be expected of a Meshumad. However, Christiani’s hakdamah to this edition shows a complete other side of him. He writes as follows (starting from the second line with the word od):

Again, let me paraphrase: 
“I found in many places where the Rav erred in citing sayings of Chazal by saying that it was in this Masechta and it turned out to be in another one…..The reason for this might be that he relied on his memory or relied on other authors who misquoted the source. It is also possible that he did not have with him his books, as he was exiled from the land of his birth and wandered from place to place with his books being lost…as he himself laments in the foreward to this and in other works.”
Christiani is referring to Don Isaac’s life on the run. He lived in Portugal until 1483 and was forced to flee to Spain at that time leaving behind his books and his wealth. He fled Spain in 1492, again leaving everything behind. He settled in Naples and was forced to flee from there in 1495. He wrote his commentary on Yehoshua, Shoftim and Shmuel in 1483 after he had fled to Spain. He wrote his commentary on Melachim in 1493 after he had fled to Naples. Most ordinary humans would have been satisfied to just survive, but the Abarvanel did much more than that. He continued to write with or without a library, relying on an almost superhuman memory, and was truly one of the creative geniuses of commentary in Jewish history. Christiani seems to acknowledge that in his foreward, but he cannot contain himself later on from lashing out at the Abaravanel. What gives?

I mentioned before that this Leipzig edition was produced by Christians for a Christian audience. It would be helpful to find out what attracted them to Abarvanel. B.Z Netanyahu in his book “Abaravanel, Statesman and Philosopher” (fifth edition, Cornell 1998, pp.252-253) gives several reasons on what made Abarvanel popular with Christian audiences. Among them are:

1. “His lucid and colorful style was preferred to the schematic, sometime illusive language which characterized the works of other Jewish commentators.”

2. “His manysided method of discussion….was preferred….to the terseness of his predecessors..”

3. The audacity he displayed in refuting certain Jewish authorities and the objecitivity with which he treated certain Christian biblical interpretations. ( my paraphrase)

However he concludes with the following statement:
“These, however, were merely contributory causes to Abarvanel’s influence in the Christian world. The main cause from a Christian standpoint, lay not in the positive aspects of Abarvanel’s writings, but rather in their negative ones. More plainly, his influence in Christendom was due to his attack upon Christianity as a whole and its messianic doctrine in particular, and that is why it was in the religious world, even more than in the world of learning, that Abarvanel’s figure loomed large.”
It seems that what Netanyahu is describing is that the Christians had somewhat of a love/hate relationship with Abarvanel. The love portion is displayed in Christiani’s hakdamah where he makes excuses for the Abarvanel, but the hate portion comes to the fore when he digs into the Abarvanel for misquoting a source. It is almost as if he tried to control himself, but in the end, was not able to.

There was another edition of the Abarvanel printed in Hamburg in 1687. It was meant for a Jewish audience and quite clearly did not contain Christiani’s editorial note.

At the end of the seventh line starting with “u-be-pherek”, you can see that the diatribe by the Lepizig editor is missing because the Hamburg edition was copied from the first edition printed in Pesaro in 1511.

The next printed edition of the Abarvanel did not appear until 1956. The title page looks like this:

It states quite empahitically that this edition was researched and edited very carefully according to all the previous editions “by the hands of one of the resident Rabbis of Jerusalem who is great in Torah,” והכל מוגה על צד היותר טוב בעיון רב על ידי אחד הרבנים מתושבי ירושלים גדול בתורה.

This great Torah scholar was not aware that Christiani’s diatribe was written by a Meshumad, or I doubt whether he would have included it in the edition he so carefully researched!

You can see it above starting from the 8th line from the bottom.

The next edition of the Abarvanel was printed between 1989 and 1999 as one of the commnetaries in a Mikraot Gedolot. The title page looks like this:

Here too we find the offensive hagaha ( starting on the 4th line):

We finally find it missing from the latest edition which was printed in 2011. The editor of this latest edition notes that he based his edition “Al pi defus rishon, u-defusim yeshanim”, but not on any kisvei yad of the Abarvanel. Here, the editor cites Midrash Shmuel as the source. While most editions of the Midrash Shmuel do not read exactly the way it is quoted in the Abarvanel, Shlomo Buber in his Cracow 1893 edition notes that in a manuscript of the Medrash Shmuel, the last portion is found אל תקרי לאהליך אלא לאלוקיך.

Finally, I want to mention that Christiani’s edition did receive praise from a noted scholar of the 19th century. This scholar composed an entry on Abarvanel in A Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, John Kitto ed., 3rd ed., J. B. Lippincott and Co, Philadelphia, 1866.

The end of the entry speaks about which editions of Abarvanel’s various works are recommended by this scholar.

This scholar writes clearly that the best edition of the commentary on the earlier Prophets is the one printed in Leipzig in 1686 and edited by Professor Pfeiffer and F. A. Christiani. This scholar bypasses the first edition printed in Pesaro in 1511, and the Hamburg edition printed in 1687 which included the important commentary of Rabbi Yaakov Fidanque. He signed his name to this entry as C.D.G. He is better known by his full name Christian David Ginsburg, the noted 19th century scholar of the Masoretic corpus of the Tanach. He is described in the Jewish Encyclopedia in part as: “English Masoretic scholar and Christian missionary; born at Warsaw Dec. 25, 1831. He was converted in 1846, and was for a time connected with the Liverpool branch of the London Society's Mission to the Jews, but retired in 1863, devoting himself entirely to literary work.” It seems that in many ways, he followed in the footsteps of F. A. Christiani and perhaps that is why he favored Christiani’s edition of the Abarvanel.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Some recent seforim

Some recent seforim
By Eliezer Brodt

This is a list of some of the recent seforim I have seen around during my seforim shopping. This is not an attempt to include everything or even close to that. I just like to list a wide variety of works. I note that for some of these works that I can provide a table of contents if you request it, email me at

א. מסכת קידושין חלק א, מכון תלמוד הישראלי
ב. שו"ת הרשב"א, חלק ג, תשובות השייכים למסכת ברכות וסדר זרעים, מאת חיים דימיטרובסקי, מוסד רב קוק.

This is the much awaited continuation of Dimitrovsky edition of the Rashba. Mossad Rav Kook also reprinted the very sought after first two volumes of this set. On the first two volumes professor Yisroel Ta- Shema writes:

מגוון ההערות משוכלל מאוד, ומאיר עיניים ותורם תרומה יוצאת דופן להבנת סוגיות קשות אלו (הספרות הפרשנית לתלמוד, חלק שני, עמ' 62).

ג. מגלת קהלת\ איכה, מהדורת תורת חיים, מוסד רב קוק.
ד. שבלי הלקט, מכון זכרון אהרן, שני חלקים.

This edition contains new notes, the Shibalei Ha-leket Hakotzer and two article of Professor Yakov Spiegel on this work. Unfortunately the parts of this work on Chosen Mishpat and Even Ha-ezer have still not been printed in book form.

ה. שערי דורא עם הרבה הוספות על פי כת"י וכו' מכון המאור.

An excellent review appears in the most recent issue of Ha'mayan trashing this work, available here.

ו. פירוש ר"י אלמדנדרי על מסכת ר"ה, מכתבי ידות, על ידי ר' יוסף ברנשטיין, עט עמודים.
ז. פירוש ר"י אלמדנדרי על מסכת מגילה, יומא, מכתבי ידות, על ידי ר' יוסף ברנשטיין, צד+מג עמודים.
ח. ר' יעקב צמח, נגיד ומצוה, על פי כתבי יד עם הערות והוספות, מכון שובי נפשי, שמח עמודים.

This book is based on manuscripts but none of the important discussions of Yosef Avivi or Zev Gris were mentioned in the introduction.

ט. זכרון אבות, ר' אליעזר פואה, תלמיד של הרמ"ע מפאנו, על פי הרבה כ"י, שיח עמודים, עם מבוא, הערות ומפתחות.

 Simply put, this work was beautifully done, by the editor Yehudah Hershkowitz.

י. ר' שלמה תווינא, פ' שמע שלמה על קהלת, כולל מבוא גדול הערות ומפתחות מ שאול רגב ויעקב זמיר, רעה עמודים.
יא. מאיר השחר, ר' מאיר סג"ל מליסא, על עניני ברכת התורה וברכה אהבה רבה שפוטרתה, והמסתעף בדיני ק"ש וברכת התורה ובכללי מנין המצות, [נדפס פעם ראשונה בתק"ט] כולל מבוא והערות מאת ידידי, ר' שלום דזשייקאב, קסב עמודים.
יב. שו"ת צפנת פענח החדשות, כולל שו"ת מכתבים ואגרות, גליונות על שלחן ערוך יורה דעה והשאלתות, תקנה עמודים.
יג. חידושי בעל שרידי אש על הש"ס, חלק ג, פסחים, חולין, עם כמה מכתבים בסוף, תקסב עמודים.
יד. נטעי אד"ם, ר' דוד מאיר אייזנשטיין, מכון הרב פרנק, כולל ב' חלקים בכרך אחד, תכד עמודים. חלק א, חידושי תורה ובירורי הלכה, חלק ב, חיבור שלם על יש אם למקרא יש אם למסורות (170 עמודים).
טו. שלחן ערוך אורח חיים חלק ה- מכון ירושלים, הלכות עירובין.
טז. אוצר מפרשי התלמוד, קידושין, חלק ב.
יז. נחל יצחק ר' יצחק אלחן ספקטור, ד' חלקים, מכון ירושלים.
יח. יד דוד, ר' דוד זינצהיים, קדשים, מכון ירושלים.
יט. חידוש רבי ישעיה רייניגר, דרשות' מכון ירושלים.
כ. מנחת חינוך, בשולי המנחה כרך שני.
כא. יד אלימלך, ר' דוד אלימלך שטורמלויפר, חידושי ושו"ת עם גדלי גליציה, מכון ירושלים.
כב. תולדות יעקב, ר' יעקב מאהלער, חידושים על ש"ס, מכון ירושלים.
כג. ר' אביגדר נבנצל, תשובות אביגדר הלוי, אורח חיים, תקטז עמודים
כד. ר' אביגדר נבנצל, ירושלים במועדיה, שבת קודש, חלק ג, על ל"ט מלאכות, שמו עמודים
כה. ר' יעקב הלל, שו"ת וישב הים, חלק ג.
כו. ר' יצחק דרזי, שבות יצחק, מלאכת בורר, ש+סח עמודים.
כז. ר' יצחק דרזי, שבות יצחק, דיני יום טוב, קעד עמודים.
כח. כל חפציך לא ישוו בה, שיחות מר' שמואל אויערבאך, מב עמודים.
כט. ר' יוסף אפרתי, ישא יוסף חלק ג, או"ח, יו"ד
ל. מחשבת סופר, ר' ישראל ברוורמן, הלכות בורר, רסה עמודים.
לא. מראות האדם, הל' עגונות, ר' אריה דודלסון.
לב. ר' דוד פלק, בתורתו יהגה, עיוני הלכות בעניני הפטורים והאסורים בתלמוד תורה, [נשים, נכרים, אבלים ותשעה באב, חכמת הקבלה, תלמד שאינו הגון, מקרא בלילה, דבר בשם אמרו ועוד], תקלח עמודים.
לג. ר' חיים בניש, שערים על הפנימיות, מושגי יסוד בקבלה ובחסידות, על פי ספרי רבותנו גדולי ההגות והמחשבה, ובפרט הספר הק' שפת אמת, תרסט עמודים.
לד. הרבצת תורה, עצות מר' שטינמן והגר"ח קניבסקי שליט"א, וק' מרבה חיים מפסקיו של ר' חיים פנחס שיינברג, 71 עמודים.
לה. דעת יהודה, תשובות בהלכה ובהנהגה של ר' יהודה שפירא, מתלמידי החזון איש, רמט עמודים.

This work is full of interesting tidbits. To list one, in regard to the now famous statement of the Chofetz Chaim's son that he wrote parts of the Mishana Berurah for his father, he writes:

המשנה ברורה כותב בתחילת ספרו כל זה חברתי בעזה"י ופשיטא דזהו אמת ואם נסתייע פעמים בקרוב ודאי עבר על זה בעצמו, וחלילה להכנס בלב מחשבות כאלו. ובהערה שם מביא בשם ר' חיים קניבסקי שליט"א, שמעתי ממרן החזון איש שאין זה נכון אמנם עזר לאביו אבל החפץ חיים עבר על הכל, ומש"כ שיש סתירות אינו נכון ואין שום סתירה והוא טעה עכ"ד.

לו. שיבת ציון, ר' אברהם סלוצקי, קובץ מאמרי גאוני הדור בשבח ישוב ארץ ישראל, כולל מבוא והערות, 438 עמודים.
לז. המעין גליון 202, אפשר לראות הכל כאן.
לח. בר מצוה, אוצר הלכות ודרשות והדרכה לבר מצוה, ר' משה קרויזר, שפד עמודים
לט. אנציקלופדיה תלמודית, אוצר התפילה, ר' דוד כהן, 280 עמודים.

It is well known that Rav Dovid Cohen wrote the entry of tefilah for the Encyclopedia Talmudit many years ago. Perhaps he wanted to see it out in some form already, so they printed it as he wrote it then. That is, this work was completed and submitted in 1964. It was edited but no additions were made since its composition in 1964. What is impressive about the work is the amount of sources that he had and used while writing it. Unfortunately the very important topic of tefilah did not have a proper work on it - until now. This recent volume definitely helps one with this huge and extremely important topic, but the information in this work is only based on what had been printed until 1964. However since then there have been many great discoveries related to this siddur and tefilah in general which were not used in this work.

מ. רבבות קודש, ר' אלישע אלטרמן, מבוא לכל לשונות חז"ל, תרגום אונקלוס, תרגום הכתובים ועוד, סד עמודים.
מא. ר' אלחן שאף, ברכתא ושירתא, על מסכת ברכות כולל חומר מעניין על עניני הלכה ואגדה מתוך אלפי ספרים, 587 עמודים. בסוף הספר יש ק' של כמה הערות מהגאון ר' משה פינשטיין שלא נדפס.
מב. ר' דוד בן שמעון, שערי צדק,- שער החצר, עניני ארץ ישראל, ב' חלקים עם הערות.
מג. ר' יצחק שילת, זכרון תרועה, [ספר מצוין] בסוגיות תקיעות שופר, 706 עמודים. נדפס מחדש.

This special work has been out of print for many years.

מד. ר' יונה מרצבך, עלה ליונה, תקפב עמודים.

This special work has been out of print for many years as well. The new edition claims to fix typos from the first edition and add in a few pieces. It is annoying that they do not tell the reader which are the new pieces. It is also annoying that they changed around the order of the sefer making it confusing for one when citing a piece. But on balance it's good that they reprinted this important work.

מה. חכמה פנימית וכמה חיצונית, - חכמת ישראל וחכמת יוון, ר' צבי אינפלד, מוסד הרב קוק, 247 עמודים
מו. רבי עקיבא ודורו של שמד, מנהגי ימי העומר, ר' צבי אינפלד, מוסד הרב קוק, 325 עמודים
מז. מילי דחסידותא, חוברת בענין החומרא, קמב עמודים.
מח. ירושתנו חלק ו, מכון מורשת אשכנז, תלה +77 עמודים, [ניתן לקבל תוכן הענינים

I have heard from many people that they were not excited about this issue compared to the previous volumes. I disagree; I think this volume has some very good articles. The first (seventy pages) article on Tosefos Shantz on Mesechtas Kidushin is a veritable work of art. This author wrote an incredible article on Rashi Nedarim in an earlier volume (4) of this journal. Another article of interest based on some new discoveries is related to the controversy of Pozna about learning philosophy, especially the Moreh Nevuchim. This article continues after the recent article of Professor Elchanan Reiner in the Ta-Shema Memorial Volume. Another article of interest is from Dr. Rami Reiner about various gravestones discovered in Wuerzburg based on his recent work on the topic. Another article I enjoyed was from Profesor Yakov Speigel related to abbreviations and gematriyos. A very special article in this volume was written by Rabbi Hamberger. This article deals with the siddur printed recently called Tefilos Yishurin. In this article Rabbi Hamberger deals with many issues related to siddur and Nussach that have been posed to him due to this edition of the siddur. Another great piece in this journal is Rabbi Dovid Kamenetsky's response to the attack mentioned a while back against him in regard to Panim Yafos being a chassidic work [pdf available upon request]. Another article of great interest written in English is from Rabbi Yakov Lorch about Rabbi Breuer. This article (77 pages) is well researched, gathering much new material focusing especially about this great Gadol's personality. Just to list some other articles of interest related to the world of Minhag:

- נוסח ספירת העומר הקודם
-מהג ק"ק מגנצא בסדר התפילה ונוסחאותיה
-רווח בין פסוק לפסוק בכתיבת סת"ם
-מנהגי קריאת התורה ביום שמיני עצרת
-ביאור חי העולמים וניקודו
-נוסח חתימת ברכת השכיבנו בלילה שבת

מט. אוריתא, חלק כא [תשע"א], השואה, תרח עמודים, כולל אוסף חשוב על השואה בהרבה תחומים.
נ. בתורתו של ר' גדליה, מדברי תורתו של הגאון ר' גליהו נדל, ר' יצחק שילת, הדפסה שניה עם הוספות, קצט עמודים.

This book sold out as soon as it came out, it has been sought after by many. It was available on the web in different places and then removed from some of them. This work was supposedly never going to be reprinted again as this book was the source of great controversy. However Rav Shilat decided to reprint the book including twenty pages of new material and two more pages of an introduction. In this new introduction he writes that there are many more tapes of Rav Nadel on interesting potentially explosive topics waiting to be printed. One can only hope that they are printed in the near future. Copies of this work are available at Biegeleisen in New York or through me [].

מחקר ושאר עינינים

א. שירת הי"ם, שירת חייו של איש ירושלים הרב יעקב משה חרל"פ, 584 עמודים.
ב. חכמי ישראל כרופאים, דוד מרגליות, 222 עמודים
ג. המאסר הראשון, יהושע מונדשיין, מאסרו הראשון של בעל התניא, מאבקי המתנגדים והחסידים בוולינא המלשינויות ומאסריו של הגר"א מווילנא לאור תעודות ומסמכים חדשים גם ישנים, 681 עמודים. This work continues in his famous path, of course he cannot resist attacking R. Eliach and R. Kamentsky on various issues.
ד. משנתו של רבי עמרם, שיחה עם רב עמרם בלויא, מנהיג נטורי קרתא, 176 עמודים.
ה. כלי מחזיק ברכה, עיצוב המשנה כפרשנות, מרדכי מאיר, 120 עמודים.
This work contains some of the articles of Meir related to the mishna topic include:
-הממד הפרשני בניקודן של מילים במשנה
- פיסוק המשנה כפעולת הכרעה פרשנית
- עריכת המשנה כפועלת הכרעת פרשנית
- המשמעות הפרשנית של החלוקה למשניות
-משניות הפותחות פרק בשעה שאמורות היו לחתום את הפרק שלפניהם
ו. גרשום שלום ויוסף וייס חליפת מכתבים 1948-1964 עורך נועם זדוף, הוצאת כרמל, 413 עמודים
ז. על אמונה, על אהבה, וגם על אמנות מחקרים בחכמת ישראל, לאה נעמי פוגלמן, הוצאת כרמל, 220 עמודים, [אוסף מאמרים וכת"י על דברים שונים ומעניינים].
ח. שמות מקומות קדומים בארץ ישראל השתמרותם וגלגוליהם, יואל אליצור, מהדורה שנייה משופרת, 511 עמודים, יד יצחק בן צבי.
ט. וזאת ליהודה, ספר היובל לכבוד יהודה ליבס, מוסד ביאליק, [ניתן לקבל תוכן הענינים.
י. ר' מנחם פלאטו, רבי יצחק אלחן ספקטור, ספר תולדות חייו, 256 עמודים.

This work does not appear to be impressive comparing it to the other recent Toldot on him printed in the introduction of the volume called Teshuvot Rabbenu Yitzchack Elchanan Spector from Mechon Yerushlayim.

יא. תעלומת הכתר, המצור אחר כתב היד החשבו ביותר של התנ"ך, מתי פרידמן, 288 עמודים

This work came out in English at the same time, the title is The Aleppo Codex. As far as I have seen the two works are identical. Some recent weekly magazines, amongst them Mishpacha (both in Hebrew and in English), printed a nice interview with the author about his new work. The main point of this work is to trace the story of the Aleppo Codex from the riots in Aleppo until today. The book reads like a modern day action thriller and has nice conspiracy theories which might very well be true. I do not want to mention the accusations that he makes at various people, some more of a stretch than others, as I do not want to ruin the book for someone who did not read it yet. All in all it makes for a very exciting and entertaining read.

English titles

1. The Gaon of Vilna and his Messianic Vision, Aryeh Morgenstern, Gefen Press, 446 pp.
2. Collected writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, volume 9, 362 pp. This work includes an index of all the previous volumes [Many thanks to Naftoli Lorch for tipping me off about this work and providing me with a copy].
3. Rabbi J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Volume 6, Ktav press, 455 pp.
4. Defining the moment of death, understanding Brain Death in Halakhah, Rabbi David Shabtai, 417 pp.
5. In his ways, Reb Dov (Schwartzman), R. Shmuel Wittow, 189 pp.

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