Volume 24 Number 01
                       Produced: Thu May 16  6:35:15 1996

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Artscroll and Translations
         [Eli Turkel]
Traditional Talmud Translations
         [Zvi Weiss]


From: Eli Turkel <turkel@...>
Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 11:31:58 +0300 (IDT)
Subject: Artscroll and Translations

    Rabbi Karlinsky has made a strong case against the in depth
Artscroll Talmud translation and commentary. Nevertheless, I must agree
with Rabbi Bechhofer, Rabbi Broyde and Perry Zamek that there is a
difference between someone learning in a yeshiva and someone learning a
hour or two a day.  As daf yomi approaches Chulin I wonder how much most
Jews understood learning Chulin without some sort of translation (or
attending a slaughter house). There is a story of a famous rabbi (rosh
yeshiva) who was walking down the street with the dayan (judge) of the
town when a woman approached with a question about a chicken. The rabbi
looked at the chicken and said he didn't know if it was kosher. The
dayan looked at the chicken and said there was a hole in the "kurkavan"
(crop of a bird) which is explicitly not kosher. The rosh yeshiva looked
at the chicken and exclaimed, "thats the holy kurkavan?" and then
proceeded to give novella (chiddushim) of the laws of the kurkavan. I
have used the various pictures in books to learn Eruvin. I don't
understand the purpose of struggling to figure out what kind of yard the
Gemara was talking about. To my mind this is not in-depth
learning. There seems to be an assumption that in the "old days" people
understood the Gemara better. I have grave doubts how much this was
really true for the "average" Jew in Eastern Europe. I suspect that most
religious Jews joined Mishna groups or Tehillim groups and never learned
or at least understood Gemara.  It would not surprise me that there are
more people understanding Gemara these days than in Eastern Europe.
     Having attended detailed shiurs (be-iyun) in addition to daf yomi I
can state that most rabbis do not know all the commentaries brought by
the Artscroll. Once someone mentions an opinion brought by the
translation it can then be discussed by the whole group. I also don't
understand the difference between reading a translation and listening to
a tape.

     I have however, a separate complaint not against the Talmud
translations but against the Artscroll halakha series (several books on
shabbat, mourning etc.). As with Rabbi Karlinsky my complaint is not
about the quality but rather because of the top quality. There are too
many people who are using these books as there only source of
"paskening" questions. I suspect that in the near future even pulpit
rabbis will be using these as their new "Shulchan Arukh". As Melech
Press pointed out there have been eons of complaints against each new
abridged version. Nevertheless, I feel there is a basic difference
between Hebrew halakhic works and English ones.  Maimonides wrote most
of his books in Arabic. When it came to the the halakhic Mishne Torah he
decided to write it in Hebrew. The Chaye Adam, one of the more recent
abridgements, was still written in Hebrew and not Yiddish. One who can
read the Chaye Adam can read the original Shulchan Arukh with
commentaries, those who rely on the Artscroll English halakhic works
frequently cannot go beyond for more detailed studies or don't even
fully comprehend the Hebrew footnotes. Artscroll may put in a warning
about not relying on there books for actual psak but in practice these
warnings are ignored.
    I have seen too many shuls in Israel that do not want a rabbi
because they feel they can read the Hebrew texts as well as a rabbi. Now
we can bring this to America where the congregants won't need rabbis
because they can read the Artscroll books as well as the rabbi can.

   On a different topic, several people have expressed doubts about daf
yomi as not really being learning. I find this an amazing opinion. Daf
yomi was introduced early this century by some gedolim and has probably
been the most successful innovation in many years to increase
learning. It has given rise to halakha yomi, Rambam yomi (which Rav
Schach opposes) etc. I feel that it has tremendously increased knowledge
in the community. I wish I could say that I knew shas but only at the
daf yomi level. First of all daf yomi gives a psychological push to
learn every day. If one learns at one's own pace and misses a day then
that day is lost. Losing a day of daf yomi forces me to make it up the
next day or two. Furthermore, there is a tremendous feeling in learning
together with "all" the Jewish community. Since I travel I get pleasure
from coming to a community thousands of miles a way and going to a shiur
and finding that they are just were I am.

Eli Turkel


From: Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>
Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 12:52:25 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Traditional Talmud Translations

> From: <twerskyd@...> (David Twersky)
> I've read with interest Rabbi Karlinsky's recent comments which I will
> call "the 3 T's and the 9 S's": Traditional Talmud Translations --
> Soncino, Steinzaltz, & Schottenstein = Shortcuts, Spoon-feeding &
> Superficiality, => Sub- Standard-Shteiging.
> I perhaps do not have Rabbi Karlinksy's first-hand experience with
> Talmud students to allow me to comment directly on the pedagogic merits
> of his arguments.  However it seems to me that looking at the phenomenon
> of the popular Talmud translations from a historical perspective would
> bring one to a more balanced conclusion about the merit of these
> particular works.
> Since the days of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, redactor of the Mishneh, Gedolei
> Yisroel have been hesitant, apologetic, or "begrudging in their
> approbations" when it came to the introduction of new forms of study of
> the "Oral Law".

 There appears to be a serious omission here.  The "problem" that R.
Yehuda HaNasi (and -- later -- Ravina and R. Ashi) faced was that there
is a prohibition formulated that proscribed redacting the "Oral Law" to
writing! This is not simply a matter of a "new mode of study" -- there
is a much more fundamental issue -- that the "Oral Law" was supposed to
"stay Oral".  It is unclear how THAT issue can be extended to a
discussion involving translations.  After all, while the Talmud -- in
general -- does NOT "like" translations of Torah (because of the
inability to convey all nuances), there does not seem to be any
proscription upon "translation" of the Oral Law (which, after all, was
supposed to remain Oral).

> Whether we look at the Mishneh itself, the Gemara which was introduced
> by Ravina and Rav Ashi a couple of centuries later, or the Commentary of
> Rashi which first appeared several hundred years after the Talmud... in
> each case the study of Oral Law was revolutionized.  It was not being
> studied the way they studied it 'in the old country' or 'in the previous
> generations'.  In each case the new introduction simplified the study of
> Torah and made it less mentally demanding for the generations that were
> the immediate recipients of these 'revolutions'.

 Again, the poster is ignoring the specific circumstances of the
redaction of Mishna and Gemara.  It is grossly misleading to refer to
this simply as an issue of "introducing new modes of study".  For the
same reason, it is arguably inaccurate to compare RASHI with these

> The same can without a doubt be said about commentaries such as those of
> the R"an and the Meiri and Codes such as those of Ramba"m and the
> Shulchan Aruch, to name just a few more examples.
> In each case, I dare say there were Roshei Yeshiva who protested that
> these innovators were making it too easy for the students, that the
> study of Torah was becoming less challenging and the methodology that
> would now be used in the study of Oral Law would be inferior to the way
> 'it had always been done'.

 While there were problems with the fact that the Rambam did not cite
*sources* for his p'sak and/or did not expalin the reasoning of his
p'sak, I would like to see CLEARLY CITED instances of "Roshei Yeshiva
who protested" against the other cited "innovations".  To state "I dare
say" without providing evidence indicates a WEAK case.  On the contrary,
it appears that RASHI (originally known as "the Kuntres") became
accepted QUICKLY.  A crucial difference being that RASHI was a
*commentary* on the Gemara but the commentary did NOT remove much of the
actual "learning"...  This is especially true when one realizes that
there were OTHER commentaries that may properly differ with each other
such that much of the "learning" could have focused upon attempting to
understand and resolve the varying commentaries, themselves.

> [I might note that even the methodology of study known as "the Brisker
> method", which is immensely popular in today's Yeshiva world, was seen
> as revolutionary when Reb Chaim Soloveichik introduced it in the
> Volozhiner Yeshiva just a century ago.  The 'pilpul' method of study was
> seen as 'the way it had always been done' and the only correct way to
> apply one's intellectual skills in pursuit of Torah mastery].

 I do not believe that these comments about Pilpul are accurate.  I have
seen anecdotal accounts (the latest in Himmelstein's Words of
Wisdom/Words of Wit [or A Touch of Wisdom A Touch of Wit]) where the
G'ra was very insistent upon appraoching the Gemara "straight" and there
is some indication that the Pilpul method was NOT always perceived as
"the only correct way to apply one's intellectual skills".  The Torah
Maayan from Silver Spring had a series on "Pilpul" in their weeekly
papers some time ago and I would urge anyone interested to contact them
(they are based in Silver Spring) to get the needed info.
 Further, the "Brisker method" was another approach to learning.  A
method that required considerable effort to exercise correctly.  A major
thrust here is that translations *weaken* the intellectual process.

> Invariably the answer has been that "It is a Time to Act for Hashem, the
> Torah has been nullified" [Tehillim 119:126].  If the generation
> requires it, then even if it is not the way it's always been done --
> even if, perhaps, it is halachically prohibited, it is a time to act!
> [Gittin 60a].

 What do you mean "invariably"?  The reason for applying it to the
redaction of the Talmud was because that involved a specific Issur
(prohibition).  That is NOT the point of these posts which do NOT argue
that translaitons are "prohibited" -- only that they can cause great

> Certainly there were contemporaries of Rash"i that felt they did not
> need or want Rash"i and there were contemporaries of the Ramba"m who
> felt that they did not need or want the Ramba"m.  And so on for the
> other examples I cited above.

 "Certainly"???  I would like a clear citation of a "contemporary" that
felt that "they did no need or want RASHI"...  Imho, this statement
represents a total misunderstanding of Rashi and borders upon being most
insulting to one of our greatest Rishonim.  On the contrary, it was
(imho) ESPECIALLY the "contemporaries" who "needed" Rashi as they
discussed his commentary and compared it to how THEY understood the

> Likewise today, Steinzaltz is not used in Ponnevitch and Schottenstein
> is not used in Lakewood.  No one is suggesting they should be.

 Actually, given the fact that the *Hebrew* Steinsaltz is not really a
"translation", it is not at all obvious why the above statement is true.
If I want to know what a "caper" bush is (referenced in 6th chapter
B'rachot) or if I want to better understand how the wine press was set
up in the time of the Gemara (referenced in portions of Avodah Zara,
among other places), why shouldn't people in Ponnevitch use a Steinsaltz
to see what the press looks like or what a "caper bush" is?  These are
items of useful data that are important in understanding the Gemara --
but are not the actually a part of the Talmud, itself.  I.e., the Talmud
*references* items that one needs to find out about in order to best
understand the Gemara -- but those items are not themselves "talmudic
commentary".  I would compare using a Steinsaltz to see what a wine
press looks like to using a Jastrow to look up a specific word.

> However given the great loss of Torah learners and Torah learning that
> our century has witnessed and given the great thirst for Torah learning
> that has begun, with the help of G-d, to develop in this country and
> elsewhere, I view the availability of Talmud translations such as
> Steinzaltz and Art Scroll (and even Soncino which today -- and no doubt
> for a number of years to come -- remains the only translation on the
> entire Talmud, including such tractates as Menochos, which is currently
> being studied by thousands of Daf Yomi participants throughout the
> English speaking world) as a very positive phenomenon.

 It is unfortunately true that we *have* lost Torah learners.  What
remains to be answered is whether these translations really help us
"make up the loss".  Rabbi Broyde's insightful comments appear (to me)
to imply that the translations serve a good purpose but they DO NOT make
up for the loss of "Torah Learners".

> The generation needs it, our network of educational institutions need
> it, even some of our teachers need it.

 Why does "our network of educational institutions" need such works?
More important, why should "some of our teachers" need it?  At the very
least, I think that it is reasonable to expect that (a) Yeshivot
("educational institutions") should produce people who *learn* and do so
without the pre-chewed pablum of these translations and (b) that our
*teachers* should certainly be able to learn without the need for an Art
Scroll translation.

> May G-d in the Zechus Harabim (the merit of the Community) of this
> generation and all future generations, grant Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz the
> health and the strength and the length of days to complete his
> monumental translation of the Talmud which now includes all tractates of
> in the Orders of Zeraim, Moed, and Nashim, as well as Bava Kama, Bava
> Metzia, and Sanhedrin in Nezikin.

 If referring to *English Translations*, how about including the Art
Scroll series.  If referring to the Hebrew Steinsaltz material, one can
argue that that is not a "translation".

> May G-d speedily bring Moshiach who will take us all to Israel where we
> will not need English translations of the Talmud.  But until then, may
> Art Scroll (and Random House) go from strength to strength and from
> tractate to tractate... ad bias Goel (until the Redeemer comes).

 Indeed, the Art Scroll may be useful and needed (ditto for the efforts
of Random House) but does the poster really mean that the reason for
"needing" English translations is because we are not in Israel?  People
were able to learn Gemara for many many years even though we were not in

In short, these translations may indeed be needed right now.  But let us
indeed keep this in perspective and NOT try to elevate this stuff to the
level of RASHI.



End of Volume 24 Issue 1