Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Hatam Sofer's Retraction of his Approbation to the Pinner Talmud

Of late, translations of the talmud have become a popular topic. [1] In the history of translations, the translation done by Dr. Efraim Pinner, is an important one for multiple reasons. Among other firsts, the Pinner translation was the first German translation of the talmud. Pinner envisioned a complete translation of the entire talmud but only one volume was produced, a translation meskhta Berachot. This edition contains multiple approbations, there is, however, one approbation does not appear in the book. (A good summary of the history can be found here at OnTheMainline, where S. has also posted a prospectus for the Pinner talmud, available here.)

The Hatam Sofer gave an approbation to Pinner's translation (no one to date has located the text of the approbation, in his retraction the Hatam Sofer says the text was published in a Hamburg newspaper but all attempts to locate it have proven futile). According to the Hatam Sofer after learning further details of Pinner's translation, he decided he would revoke his approbation and did so in a separate broadsheet. While this is all well known, what seems to have escaped those who have discussed this event is that there are actually two versions of the retraction and even two dates provided for when the Hatam Sofer wrote his retraction. The full text of the retraction appears in three places, N.N. Rabinovich's Ma'amar al Hadfasas haTalmud, in the additions from Habermann, in R. S. M. Adler's Emek haBacha, vol. 2, and in R. Greenwald's Otzar Nechamad (pp. 82-3, this appears at Hebrewbooks.org, but like many of the books available at Hebrewbooks.org, this is not a perfect copy and part is missing). None of these, however, published the actual retraction and instead, Adler's and Greenwald's are copies of a copy. Adler had an anonymous "ya'rei v'charad" provided copied it for him from the British Library, and Greenwalds came Amsterdam by Zidmand Zelegmann from a copy that Dov Ritter had. Habermann doesn't say where he got it; however, as the JNUL has an original perhaps he actually saw it and was not relying on a copy of a copy. But, as he doesn't say one can't be certain. As I mentioned there are small differences between the versions. Thus, to fill this void, below is a scan of the actual single sheet retraction. [Additionally, at the end of the post, is the prospectus for the Pinner edition.]

As one can see, the retraction is dated 21 Tevet, 1834. According to Greenwald's version the retraction is dated Tammuz, 1835. Moreover, the text confirms all of Adler's readings and not that of Greenwald. It appears that Greenwald's copyist did a poor job and thus produced a corrupted text.

Now, aside from the retraction there is another document, although discussed has never been republished - that of Pinner's notice that he was going to publish his translation. This document is also connected to the Hatam Sofer, in that Pinner mentions he received the Hatam Sofer's approbation. Subsequently, as we have seen, the Hatam Sofer retracted that approbation, however, at the time Pinner published his notice he still had the Hatam Sofer's approbation.

At this juncture it is worth noting that the Hatam Sofer held Pinner in high regard. According to R. Ya'akov Hirsch HaLevi, a student of the Hatam Sofer, Pinner spent time studying with the Hatam Sofer. Specifically, when Pinner came to obtain the approbation of the Hatam Sofer "Pinner spent a few weeks in Pressburg, and went daily to the Hatam Sofer." [See Zikrohnot u-Mesorot al Ha-Hatam Sofer (Bnei Brak: Machon Moreshet Ashkenaz, 1996), 306.] This picture of Pinner is counter to that of some who take a dim view of Pinner. [See Iggeret Soferim (Jerusalem, 2000), 74 n.2.] Some, have gone the other way. That is, they cannot fathom that the Hatam Sofer ever gave an approbation nor that he then retracted it. The Munkatcher Rebbi, makes this claim to note that the entire book Iggeret Soferim is a forgery as it mentions, inter alia, that the Hatam Sofer retracted. But, as is discussed in detail in the Zikhronot u-Mesorot, this claim is incorrect; specifically as it relates to Pinner story. The Maharam Schick, notes that the Hatam Sofer retracted, and in fact, according to the Mahram, this demonstrates the greatness of the Hatam Sofer that he is able to admit when he erred. (See Zikhronot, pp. 15-6).

Returning to the Pinner talmud. Why was it that no further volumes were published? According to some it was due to the retraction of the Hatam Sofer. That is, since the Hatam Sofer disapproved of the translation thus Pinner was unable to publish any further volumes.[2] This, however, makes little sense in light of the fact the Hatam Sofer had made known his negative views towards Pinner's translation some 7 years prior to Pinner publishing even his first volume. Additionally, it is hard to see how the Hatam Sofer's opinion would effect the target readership of Pinner's translation those who spoke German. While there is no doubt the Hatam Sofer held sway over many Eastern European Jews, those Jews didn't read German and probably were not interested in Pinner's translation to begin with.

Perhaps a more likely scenario is that Pinner shot himself in the foot. Pinner's edition contains a full page dedication to Czar Nicholas. Czar Nicholas instituted some of the harshest anti-Semitic programs, including mandatory 25 conscription into the Russian army. The point of conscription was to forcibly baptize the Jews. Pinner's translation was aimed at cultured and educated Jews, Jews who would be aware of Nicholas's programs. It is no surprise that there may have been significant reticence to purchase books glorifying such a person.

In fact, this would not be the first time a dedication didn't work out that well. The first Rabbinic bible published in 1522, was not a success. Instead, it would be the second Rabbinic bible that became the template for the Mikrot Gedolot Chumash. While both were done by the same publisher and soon after one another. The main difference was the first contained a dedication to the Pope, while the second did not. Perhaps, the same happened here, and Pinner was a victim of poor judgment in securing his approbations, both in the one's that appeared and the ones that did not.

[1] Rabbi Adam Mintz's research on the history of Talmud translations is the most comprehensive work on the subject; see his "Words, Meaning and Spirit: The Talmud in Translation," Torah u-Madda Journal 5 (1994): 115-155, [see here]; later revised and reprinted in the volume, Printing The Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, published in connection with exhibit on the Talmud at the YU Museum. Additionally, in a recent issue of Ohr Yisrael, no. 50 (Tevet, 5768): 36-78, there was also a discussion regarding translations. It is worth noting that none of the articles mention Mintz's articles. PDFs of these articles -- by Adam Mintz and those from the Ohr Yisrael, no. 50 -- are available in a recent post at the Michtavim blog.
[2] Greenwald goes so far as to incorrectly assert that Pinner acquised to the Hatam Sofer and never published the translation at all.

The Original Prospectus for the Pinner ed. of the Talmud

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