Reflecting on the past five decades, he said that one of the biggest challenges has been responding to the changing needs of those who study Talmud and coming up with a translation and commentary that satisfy the modern, curious mind. “The Talmud mentions a name or an object — what is it? This question possibly for my great-grandfather wasn’t a problem — It was a vessel or it was a tree or it was an animal, and that was enough. In our times, you won’t be pleased if you are only told it’s an animal.” Providing this kind of information took him to some pretty unlikely places for a Talmudist, including a long conversation he recalled with a top Israeli expert on fowl.Background here.
His second challenge, in the course of opening up the Talmud to the uninitiated, was to explain the various expressions that form the basis of Talmudic logic. In the past, commentators assumed that people had learned at heder the hermeneutical rules around which the text is structured. Today, one cannot assume, for example, that kal v’chomer, a rabbinic rule for drawing an inference from one case to another, is a meaningful concept to a Jewish reader of the Talmud.
A third challenge for Steinsaltz was to confront some of the ethical questions regarding the Talmud and its style that are specific to modern readers. One arises from the fact that the Talmud constantly tries to harmonize apparently divergent scholarly opinions. “Is this harmonization fair? That you push two people together when they are really not in agreement? It would be much easier to say, ‘Okay, they have two different opinions and let them go as they are.’ All the Talmud is a big attempt at harmonizing. So this is a question that possibly my great-grandfather didn’t ever think about.”