Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review of Koren Talmud, Berakhot

A different kind of Talmud

By Rabbi Jack Riemer (Sun-Sentinel Jewish Journal)
11:43 a.m. EDT, July 18, 2012

THE KOREN TALMUD BAVLI: BERAKHOT, COMMENTARY BY Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, Editor in Chief Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Koren Publishing Co. Jerusalem, Israel, 2012, $49.95.

It may seem presumptuous to review a volume of the Talmud because the Talmud is the central book of Jewish studies, and so who would dare to pass judgment on it? But the Koren edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud is a breathtaking achievement, both in form and in content, and so it must be called to the attention of readers.

You know that this is a different kind of a Talmud the moment you look at the cover. Every other edition of the Talmud that you have ever seen has the title of the volume on the cover, and not much else. This one has a bold picture, in bright colors, of two fruits and a plate full of pieces of fruit. Why? Because Berakhot is the first volume of the order of Zeraim — which means seeds. The cover tells you immediately that you have entered into a different kind of a volume of Talmud, one that has been designed with imagination and with skill by master typographers and book producers.

When you open the book you find more delightful surprises. The book opens from two sides. One side contains the traditional Vilna Edition of the Talmud, but now punctuated, and with vowels. The other side has the translation, which is clear, crisp and comprehensible. What makes it different from other translations is that this side also contains a thoughtful introduction to each chapter, thorough historical notes that explain the social and economic background of the text, biographical sketches of the Sages, brief summaries of the halakhic decisions that stem from the Talmudic discussions, and — most surprising of all — photographs, charts, maps and diagrams that illuminate the text.

There are other technological features that are impressive. This is the first edition of the Talmud ever to be available on an IPad app. Now, instead of schlepping a heavy volume with you, you can download the page you need and you are off to your daf yomi! And it is surely the first edition of the Talmud in Jewish history to have women involved as translators, editors, proofreaders, language consultants and designers.

The rest of the review goes over the first page of the volume. The conclusion:
Koren promises to have this entire English edition finished in just four more years, and it promises that it will contain the whole Talmud, with both its classic commentaries and these new insights, in just forty one volumes.

We wish it very well — for its sake and for ours.
Background here.