A 45 Year Effort Concludes

Today, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz will complete his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud. A world-renowned teacher, philosopher, social critic and prolific author, Steinsaltz has been one of our greatest champions for open access to Jewish learning. His life’s mission has been to give Jewish texts and learning back to the Jewish people.

To mark the occasion, a Global Day of Jewish Learning is being held around the globe. 370 communities in 48 countries and on 6 continents are participating in more than 600 study programs. As to Steinsaltz’s quest, according to The London Jewish Chronicle,

This monumental project began 45 years ago when Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was a mere 27. Today at 72, he has seen the fruits of work distributed throughout the Jewish world, not only in the main centres such as Israel, the USA ,the UK and the former Soviet Union, but also in far-flung places such as Havana, the Solomon Islands and Djerba, Tunisia.

Not since Rashi in the 11th century has one man performed the extraordinary task of redacting the more than 5,000 folio pages of the Babylonian Talmud – which is largely written in Aramaic – in a way that makes it accessible to modern readers. In addition to his Hebrew version, the text has also been, in part at least, translated into English, Russian and French.

What makes the Steinsaltz Talmud so special? The author’s prime aim was to make this esoteric text user-friendly, and it does so in a number of radical ways. It changed the traditional layout, a creation of 16th-century Christian printers and typesetters.

In the Steinsaltz format, the pages have been exactly doubled to give ample space for his modern Hebrew commentary to flow around the outside of the central column of the original talmudic discussions, leaving the inner page for the commentaries of Rashi and Tosefot. In this way the traditional pagination of the earlier editions (such as the Vilna Shas) is retained but doubled.

The commentary itself is written in crystal-clear, modern Hebrew, the type you can hear on any street in Israel. Rabbi Steinsaltz himself was brought up in a non-traditional home with a Communist father. So he is very much an Israeli writing for fellow Israelis. Much of his time was spent going over his writing again and again so that it would be unambiguous. The result is a jargon-free, contemporary Hebrew that matches the often terse Aramaic or rabbinical Hebrew of the original.

excerpted from The man who said ‘Let my people know’.

Watch Rabbi Steinsaltz’s live siyyum at 2:00 PM EST; available in English, Russian, French, Spanish and Hebrew.

eJewish Philanthropy is a supporting partner of the Global Day of Jewish Learning project.