Still Lazy After All These Years: A Critical Review of The New Koren (Steinsaltz) Talmud

As I see that people are still finding and reading this post, I would like to present the caveat that this post is now one year old and possibly greatly outdated. I have not kept up with the issue and do not know whether any of the problems discussed below have been fixed either in the original volume or in subsequent volumes. This post should be interpreted as what it is – the singular opinion of one observer one year ago. ואני ואת נפשי הצלתי.

Steinsaltz is at it again.

When I was in Seventh Grade, my class learned Eilu Metziot, the second Chapter of Gemara Bava Metzia. Two beautiful new English-language editions of the Perek came on the market around that time. ArtScroll’s came with endless approbations, lengthy notes, and the classic Vilna Page facing the English pages. Steinsaltz was just out with his first offering of an English Gemara. His cream-colored page looked more scholarly, erudite, clean, and neat – all as compared to the hodge-podge of alternating bold and non-bold phrases and voluminous, technical notes cluttering up ArtScroll’s cacophonous page.

Because some of my family’s friends had teamed up and bought me all ten currently-available English Steinsaltz volumes for my recent Bar Mitzvah (there would eventually be something like twelve), this became my Gemara of choice. My friend Ariel, whose mother had purchased him the ArtScroll, became the official classroom advocate of that volume, and we went at it almost daily, each of us trying to prove the relative advantages of our own Gemara against the obvious setbacks of the other. Our Rebbe wanted nothing to do with any of this, because this was the dark ages when an English Gemara in a classroom was assumed to be an insult to the Rebbe. (I still take that stance.)

Steinsaltz has learned a few things since then: People like the Vilna page. Get it into fewer volumes – no one wants a ten-volume Bava Metzia. Add more Practical Halacha to the page. But even now, I accede to Ariel, though not for reasons that would have been understandable to either of us at the time. It turns out that ArtScroll’s chaotic and cluttered page is far closer to an accurate portrayal of what the Bavli is all about – and probably a more apt visual metaphor for the Bavli than the pretty pictures dotting the landscape of either Steinsaltz Gemara – the old one, or the new one, billed as “The New Koren Talmud,” part of that company’s odd new effort to exploit famous Anglos’ good names to gain a foothold in the lucrative American marketplace.

If you haven’t had a chance to preview Steinsaltz’s new English edition, think of it as ArtScroll’s ADHD younger brother. On the pages we are given to preview here, for example, we are supplied with glossy, high-definition pictures of bamboo shoots (necessary “background material” for understanding a Sugya which mentions that one should bow in prayer like a cane), in case we forgot what bamboo looked like since last Succot. I had a chance to spend time with the full volume in Teaneck last week, and I was amazed at how much work seems to have been invested to produce a gorgeous, high-gloss cross-section of a pomegranate, as if generations of Talmud learners had no idea how to understand the Sugya in question without this vital visual aid.

Once again, it seems as if Steinsaltz has missed the point. ArtScroll could put in pretty, full-color pictures too, and it would look just like Steinsaltz in five minutes. What distinguishes ArtScroll’s Gemara, however, is something altogether different and far more important. It is the feeling that a Rebbe is sitting right there with you, explaining the Gemara phrase by phrase, introducing each new step with a directional narrative (“The Gemara questions Rabbah’s assumption”). And yes, like a Rebbe in the middle of a class, or a bedroom in the process of being cleaned, ArtScroll’s “lecture” entails some clutter en route to building the clear, well-organized structure that emerges at the end. Steinsaltz has once again put his eggs in the basket of creating a clean, uncluttered Talmudic almanac or encyclopedia, filled with tidbits and pictures but without any evident pilot at the wheel, a Talmud void of any notion of its user being guided gently through the Talmudic jungle by an experienced guide or teacher. A quick look at the page reveals that rather than use the phrase-by-phrase concept that ArtScroll developed, such that one may at some point actually learn the meaning of a common phrase like הכא במאי עסקינן, Steinsaltz’s block-by-block translation doesn’t really allow for that possibility. Ideas and concepts may seep in, but not specific words and phrases, so we can be reasonably well-assured that its users will not become better learners and will depend on Steinsaltz forever. How odd that SteinSaltz, perhaps despite himself, has retained ArtScroll’s alternating bold/non-bold translation. What’s the point, really, if the English block corresponds so peripherally to the Aramaic?

Let’s get down to the specifics to see how Steinsaltz’s ersatz new Gemara does at elucidating the text – the following sample is copied from the free preview on Koren’s website which I linked to before.

Steinsaltz’s translation:

It was taught in a baraita:
Rabbi Meir says that the day begins when one can distinguish between two similar animals, e.g., a wolf and a dog.
Rabbi Akiva provides a different sign, and says that the day begins when there is sufficient light to distinguish between a donkey and a wild donkey.
And Aĥerim say: When one can see another person, who is merely an acquaintance (Jerusalem Talmud) from a distance of four cubits.

Before going on, it should be noted that the bold phrases are rather haphazard, often not accounting for other Hebrew words which are also covered in the translation. Also, part of the genius of ArtScroll is that the bold phrases can be read independently of the non-bold phrases and still make sense. It doesn’t seem that Steinsaltz (or Koren? – like the Sacks Siddur, the division of labor is unclear to me) understands that. Overall, the writing here feels like a cheap ArtScroll knockoff, like buying “Niky” shoes on a New York street-corner. Notice the comma missing from the last sentence above. Is your friend merely an acquaintance when he is at a distance, until he comes closer? Is that the point? No? That kind of imprecision will hamper a clear presentation of a subject as complex as Gemara. For all of ArtScroll’s faults, and there are many, their Gemara volumes are surprisingly well-written. I am a finicky editor myself – I have trouble making it through a page of most of ArtScroll’s books – but I have found very few grammatical errors in their Gemara.

Proceeding to the “Background” notes: Steinsaltz felt that before learning this Sugya, it would be prudent to ensure that we learn all about donkeys – or sort of:

Wild donkey – ערור: The habitat of the wild donkey (Assinus onager) is in the desert, and today in the deserts of Asia. It is mentioned several times in the Bible as a symbol of freedom and wildness. The ability to distinguish between a wild and domesticated donkey can serve as an indicator for the amount of light at dusk and dawn.
(Full-color picture of donkey.)

OK, a few things. 1) I am rarely one to resist education, but of what use is it to know the Latin name of this animal right now? 2) Everybody knows that donkeys live in the desert, and most deserts “today” (?) are in Asia. I have caught my own students on such obviously phoney non-research masquerading as valuable information, and I am not letting Steinsaltz get away with it, either. So far, I have learned nothing from this note besides the Latin name, which I could give two hoots about. 3) “It is mentioned several times in the Bible …” – what does this unverified, non-referenced fact have at all to do with this Sugya? 4) “The ability to distinguish” – this line is an exact repeat of what the Gemara itself said! Steinsaltz didn’t look that up in a book or something – that’s what the freaking Gemara just told me! So I have utterly wasted my time with this note. Some points which may have been worth discussing in the notes: what exactly is the difference between these two types of donkeys? What is the compelling difference between all three of these different opinions? What is the point of departure between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva? But I seriously doubt that any of these discussions – which, mind you, might require some measure of an attention span – could have led so seamlessly to that beautiful (but useless) donkey picture gracing the cream-colored page just below all that non-informational drivel. So it comes down to this: If ArtScroll is your familiar, helpful seventh-grade Rebbe, Steinsaltz is your perpetually annoying seventh grade classmate, always quick with a brainy but irrelevant factoid that makes you want to hit him with a stick when your Rebbe turns around.

Incidentally, I have not extended myself unduly for the sake of criticizing – all of the pictures and their accompanying captions in the preview I have linked to above are equally non-helpful. Check it out. Spend some time trying to use the preview pages.

In case you didn’t find Steinsaltz’s “Background” material on the history of donkeys all that helpful, maybe we should try the “Notes.” The first Sample Page provided to us includes a Penei Yehoshua on the bottom. I’m intrigued.

From when does one recite Shema in the morning – מאמתי קורין את השמע בשחרית: There is a basic explanation for the various determinations with regard to time for reciting Shema. In Shema it states: “When you walk along the way, when you lie down, and when you arise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). The time for reciting Shema is connected with the time people set out to travel. Since the two greatest dangers at night are wild animals and thieves, they are factors in determining the time of day when Shema is recited. People travel when they can distinguish between domesticated and wild animals, between a dog and a wolf, between a donkey and a wild donkey, or between an acquaintance and a stranger (Penei Yehoshua).

You can try reading that paragraph more than once, but fair warning – it makes less sense the more times you read it. It seems like someone may have understood the Penei Yehoshua to begin with, but then was forced to hack away at it to the point of incomprehensibility so that the donkey picture could fit on the page.

Maybe if we read the actual Penei Yehoshua, we will be able to see what Steinsaltz (or someone who works for him) is trying to say:

במשנה – “מאימתי קורין שמע שחרית” כו’ –
ובברייתא, תניא, רבי מאיר אומר, “משיכיר בין זאב לכלב” כו’.
ונראה לי לתת טעם לכל הנך זמנים הללו, ובמאי קמפלגי הני תנאי:
ובטעמייהו דהנך תנאי דברייתא, נראה לי, דאסמכוה רבנן אקרא – “ובלכתך בדרך” – דממילא, שמעינן, ד”בלכתו בדרך” הוא זמן קריאת שמע.
וכיון דקיימא לן כי הא דאמר רבי יהודה אמר רב, דלעולם יצא אדם בכי טוב – והטעם מבואר, כדי שינצל מן החיות ומן הלסטים – ומשום הכי, קאמר רבי מאיר “משיכיר בין זאב לכלב;” דקודם לכן, אדם נמנע מלצאת לדרך, כיון שאין יכול להזהר מדריסת הזאבים הבאים לנגדו.
והיינו טעמא דרבי עקיבא, לפי שערוד מין חיה, המזיק את הבריות, כדכתיב, “פרא למוד מדבר,” וכמו שדרשו בפרק קמא דראש השנה [ג' ע"א], “ערוד – שדומה לערוד במדבר.”
וטעמא דאחרים, דאמרי “משיכיר את חבירו ברחוק ד’ אמות” – כדי שידע להזהר מן הליסטים. כן נראה לי.

Here’s the gist: From the Pasuk of “ובלכתך בדרך,” we know that reciting Kriyat Shema is an activity that one does while traveling, but one cannot travel (or thus say Shema) at a time when he cannot tell the difference between a dog (which would not bother him on a journey) and a wolf (which would). Thus Rabbi Meir’s opinion. Rabbi Akiva is similarly concerned that one delay his recital until he could tell the difference between his own donkey – the knowledge of which, again, would not preclude his traveling, or his reciting Shema – and a wild donkey, the presence of which would indeed preclude his traveling, and thus his saying Shema. Acheirim would have us wait to say Shema until the time that one can recognize his friend, because until that point he would avoid travel lest he be accosted by a bandit. Steinsaltz’s summary would have been more clear if he had articulated that “Item A” in each pair is something that would preclude travel (and thus Shema), while “Item B” is something that would not preclude travel (or Shema). There was no room for that, though.

I know, I know – I wasn’t supposed to look up the Penei Yehoshua, or even think for two seconds about it once I had broken the rules by reading it there on the bottom of the page. It was just there to convey the impression that you are not any worse off, from an analytical perspective, with Steinsaltz than you are with ArtScroll. Personally, I wouldn’t have been upset at all if Steinsaltz had left off the Penei Yehoshua entirely, along with any other attempt at “Iyun.” Personally, I would be happy if Steinsaltz was creating an intellectually honest “Bikiut” version of ArtScroll’s heavily “Iyun” Gemara. But once Steinsaltz decided to put the Penei Yehoshua on the page at all, for whatever reason, I wish he had done so with all the care and attention that it deserved.

See, here’s what I find confusing and kind of saddening about this whole endeavor. Rabbi Steinsaltz’s bio on Koren’s website refers to him as “the greatest Talmud teacher of our time,” which is similar to epithets I have seen thrown around about Rabbi Steinsaltz for many years. These descriptions really might be true. But looking at these pages, I am left wondering what this Master Educator’s methodology might be, or how his status as such a scholar or educator of any repute might be confirmed by his presentation on the page. Am I supposed to gain some sort of methodology by using this Gemara? Revadim? DCC? Gemara Berura? It looks to me like he’s pasting in blocks of Hebrew text, spoon-feeding me the translation, and filling me up with pretty pictures and useless botanical and zoological information. Am I missing something here, pedagogically-speaking? A great teacher might show us how the Talmud page distinguishes between Tannaic material and Meimra, or how the flow of a Sugya reveals the order of generations at work in the Bavli, or at least how each step of a Sugya contributes to the whole. A great teacher wants to make his students better learners, not feed them information. I would love to see Rabbi Steinsaltz as Master Educator appear somewhere on this page, but he seems nowhere to be found. Pedagogically, this volume looks rather like the effort of a first-year teacher, and not an altogether good one. What a shame. What a wasted opportunity.

Apparently this video is supposed to somehow convince me. (The one on the top right; the others were added later.) Enter mid-20′s Dati Le’umi American transplant in a Kippah Serugah. Subtle. Great work on the conspicuously-Israeli-but-comfortably-American accent, by the way. But as if I am already so totally sold by the imagery that I am halfway to the store before this man begins speaking, the rest of the video is a pedestrian and shockingly disrespectful rant against a philosophically challenging Sugya which we are not told how Steinsaltz would explain. Now compare that snarky video with this one, put out recently by ArtScroll to advertise their new IPad App. Notice the majesty you feel, the grandeur? That’s because ArtScroll wants to inspire you while they inform you. Steinsaltz wants to amuse you while he entertains you. Take your pick, but I’ll take Aseh Lecha Rav over Kenei Lecha Chaver in my choice of English Talmud.

It could be that the folks at ArtScroll will respond, if indeed they need to at all, by putting a few more pictures in their Gemara in the next go-round of Daf Yomi. Maybe they should; it’s a little dry sometimes, a bit tedious. But they really don’t need to respond in any major way, because the kind of learner who will be attracted by the non-substantive superficiality and eye-candy that Steinsaltz has to offer will probably stick with learning as long as that choice would imply. That, after all, was Steinsaltz’s mistake the first time – to believe that the easy sell will be the committed one. Call it teacher’s instinct or label me a cynic, but I imagine that very few shoppers who choose the full-color, hyperactive version over the one with foreboding notes on the bottom of the page will be sitting in Madison Square Garden in seven years.

As to ArtScroll itself, what makes the overall approach a winning one is that ArtScroll has created a formula in which the Beit Midrash experience is transplanted almost entirely intact to the printed page. Where pictures are necessary, they are provided. Where charts are needed, they are given. Without oversimplification or undue complexity, ArtScroll and its iconic gray bar escort you through the Talmud with the breezy-but-serious veneer of a non-defensive Rebbe whom you look up to with pride and admiration as he brings you along for the journey, the kind that starts with a contended sigh, a knowing nod, and an “OK, let’s see what the Gemara has to tell us today.” Steinsaltz is the well-meaning but pedagogically-bankrupt camp teacher who prints off pictures of donkeys to “explain” the Sugya to you, and whom you find uncomfortably, unsatisfyingly easy to divert to a discussion of sports or comics. When he bangs halfheartedly on the picnic table and says through his laughter, “OK, guys, let’s get back into it,” you know he doesn’t really mean it, because he seemed to enjoy that tangent a bit too much to ever teach you anything real about Gemara. And you’re kind of OK with that, because you know that if you ever do decide to really learn, the picnic table across the field has one seat open and a Rebbe just waiting to put his arm around you and invite you along for the ride.

“The New Koren Talmud Bavli, with Commentary (commentary? what commentary? I don’t see any commentary) by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.” $49.99 for all of Masechet Berachot (half the total price of ArtScroll’s two-volume Berachot – that’s a plus). Available at all Jewish bookstores and at KorenPub.com. Or if you want the few fragmented pieces of Steinsaltz’s original attempt that actually saw the light of day, I’ll sell you the ones gathering dust in my parent’s house for $20.

Coda: Weeks after I’d finished the above review, I was alerted to a review of Steinsaltz’s original English Talmud written by the incomparable Rabbi Aharon Feldman and published in Tradition in 1990. That review is available here and is well worth a read. I would like to add to my review an excerpt from his:

Specifically, the work is marred by an extraordinary number of inaccuracies stemming primarily from misreadings of the sources; it fails to explain those difficult passages which the reader would expect it to explain; and it confuses him with notes which are often irrelevant, incomprehensible and contradictory. The major criticism so far registered against the Steinsaltz English Talmud has been that of Leon Wieseltier in The New York Times Book Review: it fails to transmit the true flavor of “learning” Gemara. This can be explained only by the fact that few if any of the reviewers to date have attempted to probe beneath the external aspects of the translation – the merit of translating the Talmud, the format and the graphics. They have not dealt with the actual “learning” of the Talmudic text, and it is in this cardinal aspect that this work is deficient.

Touche. And how timely, because perusing other reviews for this new edition online, I am saddened and more than just a little bit shocked by the shallowness and superficiality that pervades at least the ones that I have seen. One typical review, which I read just today, has a sponsored ad for this Talmud at the top of the page, but amazingly still prides itself on “objectivity” because it spends an inane amount of time criticizing the fact that it is named the Koren Edition rather than the Steinsaltz Edition (simmer down – Steinsaltz is credited with the “Commentary” right there on the cover, and he had nothing to do with the translation). Another “review” that I read last week takes great pains to showcase screenshots of the new Talmud, then compares the different sizes of various English editions like this is a new smartphone or something, but again never takes the time to really read the words. Remarkably, that review ends with these chilling words:

I look forward to getting my own copy so I can learn from it. When I do, I’ll update this review. My understanding is that Koren Publishers plans to release the entire set over the course of the next four years, faster than the Daf Yomi schedule. I wish them the financial success they deserve; this edition merits to become the new standard for English-language Talmud study.

Wait – you admit that you haven’t even tried to learn from this Talmud, and yet you have already decided that it “merits to become the new standard for English-language Talmud study?” Why?! Because it is slightly smaller than Soncino? Or because it is bigger than the smaller size of the original Hebrew edition? Dude, are you insane? חכמים, הזהרו בדבריכם – bloggers, please, people read you and trust you. Take the time to do a responsible job.

Reviewing the reviews could make a fascinating study in the superficiality and banality of our time, but apparently this is all something that was true a generation ago as well. All the new “reviews” that I have seen, like the ones that Rabbi Feldman had to contend with, “probe beneath the external aspects of the translation” but “have not dealt with the actual ‘learning’ of the Talmudic text.” A pity, perhaps, or maybe the best indication that Steinsaltz is on to something. After all, if all people want is candy, why force-feed them vegetables?

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13 Responses to Still Lazy After All These Years: A Critical Review of The New Koren (Steinsaltz) Talmud

  1. Dani Quartz says:

    Your comments add no value to a review. It is just a personal taste against the Koren publication, limited in scope.

    • rebleib1 says:

      Thank you, Mr. Quartz. Koren put up three sample pages from throughout their Gemara that they obviously felt were particularly representative of their work and worthy of our sampling, so I sampled them. I assumed that their sample gave enough information to form an evaluation, because what else would be the point of the sample? If you are implying that on other pages, the writing is sharper, the pictures more useful, the background more substantive, and the notes more accurate and clear, I appreciate your optimism but wonder why these three sample pages were specifically chosen by Koren for us to sample. Anyway, thank you truly for your comment. Reviews are always subjective, and you are of course fully entitled to whatever objective, intellectually honest evaluation of this new Talmud you would like.

  2. Thank you for such an excellent review! Like you, I am tremendously disappointed with the new Koren Talmud, but my disappointment has less to do with the commentary (some of which, like the occasional “Personalities”, is quite interesting), and more to do with the layout. I enjoy his translation, and I find it a useful pedagogical tool, but I would like it better were it easier to alternate between that and the actual text of the gemara itself, presented in its “traditional” layout.

    I disagree very much with the praise that you bestow on ArtScroll’s translation of the Talmud, which I still think is unnecessarily cluttered and intellectually insincere. ArtScroll wants you to believe that any question you can possibly have has been answered by the Rishonim, while Steinsaltz knows that nobody dies of a qashya. When I learn gemara these days (which, like you, I am thankfully able to do without somebody holding my hand), I much prefer the bekiyus approach of Rav Steinsaltz to the faux-b’iyyun approach of ArtScroll. If I wanted b’iyyun, I’d reopen my Oz VeHadar, and when I do I find that ArtScroll also cherry-picks and mistranslates in order to suit their purposes.

    Otherwise, your condemnation of Steinsaltz (the gemara – not Rav Steinsaltz) is absolutely spot-on. I particularly appreciated the analogies that you employed, relating it to various types of teachers or classmates who are somewhat less than rigorous, and your analysis of that ridiculous video that shows somebody scoffing at a superficial reading of aggadah.

    For so long I’ve recommended the Steinsaltz (Hebrew) translation to people for its clarity and its erudition, but I cannot do the same with the English. While the ArtScroll version is clearly geared towards somebody who doesn’t know how to learn a blatt gemara, the new Koren version is geared towards somebody who doesn’t want to know how. Don’t show me how to learn Shas, I can almost hear them saying. Just tell me what it says.

    • rebleib1 says:

      Thank you for your comment! I love your last paragraph – I think you really hit the nail on the head there. I am intrigued by your comment that you “prefer the bekiyus approach of Rav Steinsaltz to the faux-b’iyyun approach of ArtScroll.” If that were what Steinsaltz was creating, I’d be thrilled, but then he goes ahead and puts in the Pnei Yehoshua and makes other attempts at Iyun that I would label “faux.” ArtScroll makes, in my opinion, a good-faith attempt to cover the major issues in the Sugya that are dealt with by the Rishonim and Acharonim, and I have found that they get it right at least a lot of the time. I am less sure how Steinsaltz chose that Pnei Yehoshua.

      Everyone gets on ArtScroll for their Gemara being, as you put it, “intellectually insincere,” but I have not seen too many (if any) examples of that personally or had them cited to me by others. Believe me – I’m right on that bandwagon about their “history” books, some of their works of practical Halacha (but even there, I think people take the criticism too far), and even their Siddur commentary. Because their Gemara is produced by the same publishing arm that has never been ashamed to serve as a tool of the Agudah, it’s an easy arrow to sling, but again – I need more proof of any actual Hashkafic cherry-picking in their Gemara before I sign on to that criticism. Feel free to pass some on.

      Thank you for your “Gemara – not Rabbi Steinsaltz” comment. I may have regrettably sounded as if I meant to equate the person with his edition, but let me clarify that I do not really believe that the person had much to do with this edition at all. It’s been decades since he finished his original Hebrew edition, and since then I don’t think he’s had much to do with his “commentary” being reprinted, sold, reworked, spliced, and hacked at. What we have now probably no longer represents his handiwork much anyway – it’s like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. (It’s not even called the Steinsaltz Edition anymore – you have to assume the folks at Koren wish they could used the name if it made any sense, but it’s so divorced from him at this point. In 20 more years we’ll have “with a commentary inspired by …”)

      Thanks again!

  3. aaron says:

    I saw your comments on hirhurim. I cant comment on the Steinsaltz since I have not seen it. But again that artscroll makes mistakes is something I cant fathom. I dont seem to notice them or at least very rarely.
    From what you write about Steinsaltz it seems to me that he was most likely self taught and never had a rebbi. Torah cannot be learned like that, and that accounts for his mistakes.

    • rebleib1 says:

      Other people have made that point, and that may be true – I don’t know Steinsaltz’s personal history well, and I don’t think he has much to do with this edition anyway. Watching their latest video and reading that they want to finish this edition in four years, it has occurred to me that perhaps the larger problem here is that the production team is under undue pressure to complete the job too quickly, resulting in a product of superficial and perhaps artistic but not ephemeral value. The Amoraim took 300 years to produce the Bavli. ArtSroll took 15 years to produce their set. That’s probably about the least time it should take. Four years makes me nervous.

  4. Rav Steinsaltz made mistakes in his commentary? I have never seen one. And for the record, it took him forty years to produce it, which is almost three times the length of time taken by ArtScroll. I fear that my comment above might have conveyed the impression that I was willing to denigrate his contribution to Torah scholarship, and nothing could have been further from the truth. What I dislike is the layout of the new Koren Talmud – not the substance of its commentary.

    As for the makeup of the translation team, I cannot comment on the individuals within it, but isn’t the ArtScroll team also a group of disparate people? Originally, their criticism of the Steinsaltz edition was that it was produced by a single individual and not by a team. I suspect that, were you inclined to do so, you might level the same criticisms against them that you level against the team at Koren. Don’t look at the colour of their kippot or at the colour of their illustrations: consider their choice of language only, and how clearly (additional halakhic notations aside) they have conveyed the sense of each sugya. I would rather we disagree about that than whether or not they seem sufficiently frum.

    Finally – and this is in response to Aaron – I think it is incredibly disrespectful to speculate about whether or not Rav Steinsaltz had a rebbe, and to criticise him on the invented allegation that he didn’t. Let’s say, for the sake of an argument then, that he didn’t. That bothers you?? The man has devoted forty years of his life to translating, annotating and vocalising the entire Babylonian Talmud. How somebody could turn their nose up at that just because they think he didn’t have a masorah is beyond my comprehension.

    • rebleib1 says:

      I didn’t say that they make “mistakes” in the technical sense, but rather that they fill up a lot of the space with silliness. I spent more time with it this past Shabbat at a friend’s house and still came away empty. The “dream chapter,” for example, discusses what to do if you see a lion in a dream. Rather than discuss the Maharsha about this topic or give a deep existential reading, they taught us all about lions – seriously, a really long entry on the side about lions’ characteristics, and of course the trademark full-color lion picture. Also in that chapter – pictures of snakes, tigers, bears. Why? These pictures give no enlightenment to the Sugya. But he’s “the greatest Talmud teacher of our generation,” so good.
      As to whether there are technically “mistakes” in the new edition, I have not done the research necessary to make that determination. But it may be relevant to point to Rabbi Feldman’s point in 1990 that criticism of the English edition is per force criticism of the Hebrew edtion because the English commentary is supposedly based on Steinaltz’s decades-old Hebrew commentary. The same can probably be said of the new English commentary, which is still based on the original Hebrew commentary.
      Who said anything about “sufficiently frum” or “the color of their kippot?” I would never have let any comment of that nature through on my blog, so don’t worry. I am not concerned about that, and I don’t believe any of us here are. On this blog we discuss real issues, not personal or superficial ones. And I don’t recall ever criticizing Steinsaltz for working alone, or as a team, or ArtScroll for working alone or as a team. That is not a factor that I am terribly concerned about – it is, as you say, whether “they have conveyed the sense of each sugya.” So far, I have found that Steinsaltz’s team does not, so I depicted them negatively in my comment.
      Thank you for your comment!

  5. On the contrary, Aaron made a reference to mistakes in the Steinsaltz edition, and it was to that that I was responding. Subsequently, I responded to your assertion that the translation team was a “non-cohesive group of little-qualified yes-men being paid Israeli wages”. I don’t know how you know that they are non-cohesive, that they are unqualified or that they are yes-men, and I don’t know why the currency in which they are paid is relevant. The only thing I know about the team is from that video, which is pretty superficial. I believe you if you tell me that their physical appearance was not what gave you the information that you shared about them, and I apologise if I conveyed the impression that you were being so shallow.

    Concerning the passage in 56b, I agree that the picture of the lion and the information attached to it are both utterly irrelevant, and even foolish. I cannot stand the layout of this gemara, and cannot understand why the design team thought that adding such trivialities was a good idea. Unlike you, however, I am pleased that they didn’t include the Maharsha, and am happy to forgo other existential explanations as well. I just want the translation, and I want it for the same reasons you do. As far as that translation is concerned, however, I think it is excellent. The passage you quote would not be a good example of that, since it’s so straightforward in the original Hebrew, but I’ve looked through the text for more complex passages and have been pleased with how they’ve been rendered.

    I would be very interested to see whether the suggestions of Rav Feldman will have been taken on board once they get around to translating Bava Metzia. Most of his criticisms pertained to the notes in the Steinsaltz gemara, rather than to the Hebrew translation, but some of his translational criticisms are substantive.

    • rebleib1 says:

      You are correct – although I never meant to criticize their appearance in any way, my comments about the production team were nonetheless trite and unfair. I have revised my comment above to reflect my main concern, that they are under undue pressure to complete the job in four years (why?) and are producing something that could be better, more accurate, and not filled with as much fluff if they had more time.
      I agree – no Maharsha would be better. As I’ve said before, I’d prefer this be a good Bikiut edition rather than a sloppy, haphazard B’iyun edition. I just meant I’d take that Maharsha over the lion. You’re right about that though – to be consistent, I want no Iyun of any kind here. Agreed.

  6. Jacob says:

    Reb Gil deleted my post because the truth Hurts

    Hilchesa Lemeshica are not to be found in Laymen’s Tur Beis Yosef or in Shilchen Urich

    1) It is important to remember that Jewish Autonomy over Eretz Yisroel is CONDITIONAL!!!!

    2) It so happened that at the covenant of Hashem with our father Abraham it was agreed that Exile/Gules would be the punishment for violating the Jewish faith, we are titleholders and can be inhabitants of Erets Yisroel, but without sovereignty .

    3) Hashem told us thru our NeVeim that the redemption of the Jewish people will be by Mesihach.

    4) The words of the Amoira Shmuel the biggest poisek in his Generation is mentioned 5 times in bavli, That Mesihachs SOLE ACTION will be: to Restore Jewish Sovereignty and to reestablish a government ,all OTHER attributes to Meshiach can be (and are)disputed,

    5) The Rambam brings down LeHalucha the words of Shmuel as impartial Umri Chacumim, that Meshiacs job is to reestablish a Jewish government , and our job is to wait for Meshiach to do it, and states that who ever does not WAIT for Mushiach (as described by Shmuel) is an Apikoires.

    6) So anyone who is ONLY in the OPINION that Meshiachs JOB may be achieved without him, is JUST not waiting for him and is an Apikoires

    7)The current government in Eretz Yisroel is a Nisoiyen (Test) for the Jewish people and the punishment for those who fail the test can be very severe, Hashem Yerachem,

    The Ari zl says that punishment for Moishe Rabinu for killing the mitzri BEFORE The TIME was 40 years of exile

    • rebleib1 says:

      I totally disagree with you, your Hashkafah on this issue, and your selective and tortured use of obscure sources as a means of “Halachic problem-solving,” but as long as you speak respectfully and as rationally as can be expected given your particular argument you will be allowed to express yourself on this blog.
      As I said to you on Hirhurim, you can’t call something “Hilchesa Lemishecha” while you also claim that it has been binding for 2000 years. In that case it should have been mentioned in more mainstream sources than the ones you are quoting. Also, the criteria for “choma” is unclear, as is at what point in the Geula process we may begin to exert our own effort. Many rational Gedolim felt that the Holocaust, the UN Declaration, and the Six Day War were all potential steps in that process which might indicate to us that we may begin to put in some of our own effort. In any event, eilu v’eilu, good luck with your Hashkafah.

  7. GDS says:

    Not everything is for everyone. Even though the universal nature of the mitzvoth apply to all jews, we all do and understand in ways conditioned by our unique histories as individuals. There is a warm sense of security in feeling a group of educated people share your beliefs, but your decision to join is yours, and the logic and rationality used in making such decisions is more subjective than anything else. That is not to say it is not real, or true, it just means that subjective truths are indeed truths of a different oder. The need to objectify one’s subjective truths, universalizing them for all mankind is more a reflection of the neshama and disposition of the person judging, the whatever is in fact the case. This is not to imply relativism in general sense. It just means what ever one individual thinks about anything is more a reflection of the person thinking them then being about the thing itself. Steinsaltz is a political figure and economic threat to some. He evoke adoration and disgust. Evaluating his work is less a matter of finding an objective criteria by which measure his work, then it is a matter of asking the kind of questions which bring fruitful growth in Torah learning.

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