Thursday, June 14, 2012

Talmud news

NEWS ON THE TALMUD, some good, some bad:

The good news is that the English translation of the Steinsaltz Talmud continues apace: A colourful Talmud for our times (Simon Rocker, Jewish Chronicle):
The full 38-volume set of his monumental modern Hebrew edition of the Babylonian Talmud is now available at £790. It has been designed not only for print but for the screen with an iPad app version due to launch in July.

Also, the first three volumes of Steinsaltz’s as yet unfinished English translation are being published at £39.99 apiece (or £29.99 in a smaller edition). Koren project that the English edition will take four years to complete in 41 volumes.

Significantly, the Talmud text (as well as Rashi’s commentary) is printed with vowels and punctuated, making it far easier for students to follow. The translation is clearly laid out in paragraphs rather than dense columns of print and amplified with explanations, while the extensive English commentary has separate sections summarising points of Jewish law, examining the language and giving historical and other background.
Background here.

The bad news is further confirmation that the introduction to the new Arabic translation of the Talmud confirms some of the worst fears about it: Reading the Talmud in Amman (Aryeh Tuchman, Jerusalem Post):
What are we to make of this effort? Unfortunately, the center’s director, Jawad Ahmad, refuses to talk to the Israeli press, so all we have to go on is the printed introduction and the posts on the center’s website.

That is where the trouble begins. The project features a very lengthy introduction to the Talmud by Dr. Amir al Hafi, a professor of religious studies at the University of Al al-Bayt, Jordan. Dr. Al Hafi’s introduction draws heavily on the writings of three notorious anti-Semites: Rev. I.B. Pranaitis, Israel Shahak and Hasan Zaza; and repeats many classic anti-Semitic allegations made in connection with the Talmud and other Jewish texts.

IF HIS essay is characteristic of the mindset of the Arabic Talmud’s translators or intended users, as I believe it is, this new translation can only harm Jews and set back any efforts to promote interfaith understanding.

Although Dr. Al Hafi cites a handful of humanistic passages in the Talmud, the vast majority of his introduction describes the Talmud as a racist document that encapsulates a Jewish spirit of ethnic supremacism. He claims that Jews desire “superiority and domination of all peoples”; that modern Jews have a Talmudic mindset of racism and contempt toward non-Jews; and that the Talmud encourages Jews to lie to and steal from others.

He explicitly links these Talmudic attitudes to the State of Israel.

In his view, the Talmud has created Jewish hatred toward Palestinians, and has led Jews to violate Palestinians’ rights and dispossess them of their property. Dr. Al Hafi alleges that when Jews in the Diaspora give support to Israel, they do so as a result of these same Talmudic influences. He also alleges that the Talmud issues a “clear prohibition on withdrawing from the West Bank,” and prohibits Jews from adhering to peace agreements.

He concludes his essay with the hope that this newly translated Talmud will allow students in Arab and Muslim universities to begin their studies and understand the “Jewish spirit” and Jewish national identity.

How important is Dr. Al Hafi’s essay? Even if it does not achieve broad distribution or a significant number of readers, it tells you about the cultural environment in which this new field of academic Talmud studies in the Muslim world will take place: one in which a Professor of Religious Studies in Jordan accepts the claims of avowed anti-Semites about Jewish civilization, and feels no shame in citing them in his writing; in which Jews are believed to be racist, supremacist, deceitful and hateful people; and in which the actions of the Israeli government are thought to be motivated by an ideological or religious hatred of Arabs rather than geopolitical and security concerns.
Background here.