Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Koren Talmud: A Landmark in Jewish Publishing

A while ago, in a post entitled The Publishing Renaissance, I wrote about how when Religious Zionist/ Centrist/ Modern Orthodox Jews in North America and the UK complain about the "slide to the right" in Orthodoxy, or about how their children have become charedi and expect to be financially supported for the rest of their lives, it irks me. After all, it's their own fault! They have failed to make a basic effort to perpetuate themselves, whether with regard to producing educators, or with regard to literature.

We are the People of the Book, and books form a major part of our lives. They influence us in all kinds of ways, from the role models that they choose to present, to the sources that they choose to quote, to the hashkafic outlook that they reflect - often very subtly. And yet, for many years, Religious Zionist, Centrist and Modern Orthodoxy ceded this important field almost entirely to the Charedi community.

Sure, there were always non-Charedi publishers. But they were small operations that did not present a comprehensive range of publications, and just published whatever came their way. It's ArtScroll that has been overwhelmingly dominant. Every shul in North America has ArtScroll Siddurim, Chumashim, and Gemaras. Many people like to mock or protest ArtScroll for their approach, which includes such things as censoring the non-charedi opinions of Torah scholars and altering texts. But I don't think that such criticism is entirely fair. ArtScroll had a comprehensive vision. They went ahead and exerted enormous effort to fill a huge gap, for which they deserve much credit; of course they are going to reflect the approach of their own community. Where on earth was everyone else?

The donor pages of ArtScroll publications are astonishing. Few donors are charedi - they are mostly modern Orthodox (or even non-Orthodox) Jews. Why are these people sponsoring publications which are from a different community and do not reflect their worldview? The answer is that there was no alternative. There was no YU Talmud or OU chumash to compete. Only ArtScroll was serious about publishing a full range of Jewish literature.

Well, finally, things have been changing. There is a serious alternative to ArtScroll, which finally marks a publishing renaissance for Religious Zionist, Centrist and Modern Orthodoxy: Koren. Koren is the only Jewish publisher aside from ArtScroll to have a comprehensive publishing vision. They are putting out siddurim, machzorim, chumashim, and a series of works on Tenach. And the flagship project is, of course, the Talmud.

The Noé Edition of the Koren Talmud Bavli is an outstanding accomplishment, which stands out in a number of ways. It is based upon the Steinsaltz Hebrew translation, but also includes a wealth of input from other Talmudic scholars as well as experts in various fields, under the general editorship of Rav Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. The title page notes the contribution of language scholars in the fields of Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic as well as Aramaic. When the Gemara, as it frequently does, makes reference to all kinds of objects, plants, animals, unusual words, and so on, the notes surrounding the translation explain these authoritatively and at length, and often with the aid of photographs and illustrations which not only assist with comprehension, but also with making Talmud study more interesting. Significantly, the sides of the pages also quote (in translation) the halachot that emerge from the Talmud.

From a design standpoint, the Talmud is of the high standard common to all Koren publications. There is an aspect which I think is particularly helpful in wading through Talmud study, and that is the judicious use of spacing. Koren breaks up both the original Hebrew/Aramaic text and the English translation into paragraphs that are generously spaced. By turning the Gemara in bite-sized chunks, it makes Gemara study much more digestible.

Interestingly, Koren offers several formats for their Talmud. Aside from buying the physical volumes, either in a complete set, by masechta or by subscription following the Daf Yomi cycle, one can also purchase it in PDF format!

Congratulations to Koren on completing the Talmud Bavli, and I hope that it enjoys much success!


69 comments:

  1. Steinzalts was the trail blazer and who know where we would be without his pioneering efforts. We all owe him a debt if gratitude. Having said that, not only his original daf layout was a poor choice, but his translation and brief comments are greatly inferior to the Mesivta, ושיננתם or Arscrolls. I don't like his work, while acknowledging it's significance and uniqueness.

    The clip was heavily dominated by women learning Gemara and while I do not find that objectionable in and by itself, it shows that the publishers quite correctly do not expect it to resonate with the learning demographic. This edition is no revolution or a breakthrough as the post claims and will not prevent MO children from going OTD or becoming charedim.

    Yakov.


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    1. This post drips with chareidi triumphalism. This video is not "dominated by women learning gemara." There's an equal amount of women and men learners, which is exactly as it should be. Why do you assume the chareidi male-dominated yeshva world is the only "learning demographic"?

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    2. "Original daf layout was a poor choice"? How do you determine that?

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    3. 'There's an equal amount of women and men learners, which is exactly as it should be.'

      Feminism is סוף כל התורה כולה. And not only Torah - it's the end of civilization.

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    4. Agreed mostly with Yaakov, but minor quibbles:

      1) Steinsaltz definitely made a mistake changing the traditional layout. It's not that there's anything "holy" about the "tzuras hadaf", as some seem to think, but it caused his work to seem much more of a break with tradition than it actually was. (Also, of course, he simply wasn't part of the litvishe/agudah club, so no matter what he did anyway it would have been declared treif.)

      2) His commentary is not nearly as extensive as Mesivta or Artscroll (I don't know ושננתם) but recognize he was basically a one-man team, with a little help. It's not such a chiddush to produce an excellent product with entire teams of employees, and filling 73 (Artscroll) or about 125 (Mesivta) volumes. In that regard, the Soncino, and I might be the last person standing who has actually read through almost all of it, remains an excellent work. It is far better than most people, who have never actually read it, give it credit for.

      3) Agreed that the clip with its heavy handed feminist message is a turn off. If that's how they're going to market it, then they have no chance at reaching the large majority of people interested in learning Talmud.

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    5. @Anonymous
      My view doesn't stem from feminism but from the modern world being a very different world, and from gedolim like Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Soloveitchik. I assume the chofetz chaim backing beis Yaakov, unprecedented female learning on a large scale, also didn't stem from feminism.

      @DF
      I think your third point is off target. This may be a turn off for you, but it's a turn on for many others. You're missing the market they're trying to reach. They aren't trying to compete with artscroll or mesivta or the myriad of other resources in the yeshivish world and for the already learning segment of the population. Instead, they're aiming to be the go to for the modern orthodox world and for the people interested in learning Talmud but aren't necessarily on the level or even have the interest for all the reyd that artscroll and mesivta gives you. This is aimed at the people interested in learning Talmud but who haven't been exposed to it yet in a yeshiva setting, like most modern orthodox women. The choice to go with women in the video was a smart one because there they have a market with no competition from artscroll or mesivta.

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    6. Benyamin Zev - understand your POV, but I don't think even the MO have any interest in feminism. Sure, they may not go for all the frumkeit of the Agudah world (real or fake), but that doesn't mean they're interested in staying home with the kids while their wives go off to the beis medrash. Even most MO women aren't interested in that.
      Putting one woman in the video would have been one thing. Putting in many, with interviews, shows they've gone much further, that they've drunk from the liberal ethos which attempts to erase the differences between the sexes. It shows quite plainly that they're promoting some sort of religious equality thing, and that's historically where movements go to die.

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    7. "Original daf layout was a poorchoice"? How do you determine that?

      This is what I'd felt using it and then going back to the original Gemarah page.

      'The choice to go with women in the video was a smart one because there they have a market with no competition from artscroll or mesivta.'

      It never stops amazing me to what degree the men in the MO world have been emasculated and made subservient to the females. This is a perfect example. Perfect!

      Yakov

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    8. @df I don't understood why chareidim are totally cool with a woman spending all her free time saying tehillim, but the minute she spends her free time with higher intellectual Torah learning like studying Talmud then that means she's going to not take care of the kids or be a good mother and wife.

      @anoynymous
      Like I said, feminism is irrelevant to this discussion. The idea that Torah shebichtav is for women, while Torah sheba'al peh is for men is a silly one and not well sourced in Halakha. I'm not sure how it in any way emasculates men to study tanach too and for women to study Talmud too.

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    9. You follow your rebbeim, while I'll follow mine. Rav Soloveitchik, by no means a feminist, has this to say about this topic:

      "Not only is the teaching of Torah she-be-al peh to girls permissible but it is nowadays an absolute imperative. This policy of discrimination between the sexes as to the subject matter and method of instruction which is still advocated by certain groups within our Orthodox community has contributed to the deterioration and downfall of traditional Judaism. Boys and girls alike should be introduced to the inner halls of Torah she-be-al peh."

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    10. For any women who may be reading this and is inspired to learn Torah sheba'al peh, here's some sources to start your journey in Talmud:
      https://main.hadran.org.il/
      https://www.webyeshiva.org/course/daf-yomi-one-week-at-a-time/
      https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud

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  2. Apples and oranges. The Koren Shas is aiming at a different customer.

    After R' Aharon Feldman's scathing review in Tradition Magazine, R Moshe Sober z"l, the editor (and RNS, you e-know his alamah, Rn Ilana, from Avodah) submitted an official response in a long letter to the editor. RMS wrote:

    The Steinsaltz English Talmud is primarily a work for beginners. It does not pretend to be a comprehensive review of all the comments made by Rishonim and Aharonim, nor is it intended to be an English version of Otzar Mefarshei haTalmud. For our commentary, we select one shittah of the Rishonim (usually Rashi).We make no attempt, in the commentary itself, to portray the wealth of conflicting opinions that are such an important part of advanced Talmud study.

    (Check that URL, you get gems like, "Sometimes it is difficult to escape the impression that Rabbi Feldman is simply being tendentious." And, "We are happy, therefore, to have the Steinsaltz Talmud considered in a fair,accurate, and balanced manner, 'to the greater glory and enhancement of Torah learning,' a manner which, regrettably was lacking in Rabbi Feldman's review.")

    I do not think Artscroll believes their Schottenstein shas is "primarily a work for beginners."

    So, there are simplifying assumptions in Koren's edition that aren't in Artscroll's, like their decision to rarely if ever present multiple interpreations of the gemara. RES goes with Rashi, except when someone else's shitah is much easier for today's novice.

    That said, I am not in favor of the idea of gemara tools like this for someone who doesn't need them. But, there is no parallel. Or, if there is, it would be an implied claim that Mod-O men are less able to make a leining on a gemara than their other O counterparts.

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    1. The review of Rabbi Feldman has nothing to do with the Koren edition. That was of the Random House edition.

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    2. For the record, the Random House edition the review and response you cite are about is entirely different from the Koren.

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    3. I remember reading R. Feldman's review. I thought it was absurd. "Tendentious" was a pretty good word for it. Not that I like Steinsaltz, though (I don't.)

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    4. I just read the response helpfully posted by Micha Berger above, and now recall why I thought R. Feldman's review was so absurd: Because he focused on details of one or two sugyas, rather than on the project as a whole. Other than someone who happens to be holding - b'iyun - in the particular sugya he addresses, who on Earth will know if R. Feldman's critiques were justified or not justified? And anyway who "reviews" Talmudic argument by using more argument - does that make any sense at all? It would be like saying the entire Talmud Bavli was a waste (GF) because you disagreed with Abbaye here and Rav Papa there. Gimme a break! The whole Gemara is nothing but agreement and disagreement!

      A Talmud translation can only be reviewed by its overall methodology and presentation. Is it too simplistic or too technical? Is the layout confusing or intuitive? Do the editors insert themselves into the text? Is the translation wooden or smooth? And so on and so forth. One volume is a small sample size, but if a review was undertaken at that point, it should have been on issues like these, not by nitpicking a sugya.

      Anyway, its sort of water under the bridge now, but the post brought back an old memory, and its slow in the office this time of year, so figured I'd write.

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    5. Is the Koren edition actually "entirely different" from the prior Random House edition?

      This, from the Wikipedia entry "The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition": "Between 1989 and 1999 Random House published a small number of volumes in English, and a new printing by Koren Publishers Jerusalem began to re-release volumes in 2012". 

      Were the mesechtot (Bava Metzia, Ketubot, Ta'anit, and Sanhedrin, apparently) that were originally published in English by Random House re-done for the Koren edition or just "re-released"?

      Additionally, in light of the fact that both the Random House edition and the Koren edition are (apparently?) translations of R' Steinsaltz's Hebrew commentary/explanation/elucidation of the gemara, do the criticisms cited in reviews like R' Feldman's reflect problems with the English translation(s) or with R' Steinsaltz's original work?

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    6. @Just Curious: 1: The Koren edition is totally new. The masechtot previously done by Random House were reworked from the Hebrew Steinsaltz without any reference to the Random House edition.
      2: It is both true that the Hebrew Steinsaltz was not perfect, and that the Random House version presented some issues in an unclear manner. The Koren version attempted to get all of those things right, but I ma sure it is not perfect. Then again, I am sure that the ArtScroll version is not free of error either. Although Rabbi Feldman claimed in his review that he would also do one of the ArtScroll, he never followed up on that. I am sure that a talmid chacham of his caliber would fine what to criticize there as well.

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    7. Yehoshua, thank you, that is very helpful.

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  3. HaRav Noach Weinberg, זצ"ל (founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah) taught us, "Don't learn *about* it, learn IT." By that he meant we should learn from the original sources, rather than from translations. The reason was that one would eventually want/need to read an as-yet untranslated source, and find oneself "up the proverbial creek". So, he set learning Hebrew as our first goal, using with the vowelized version of the Rambam's "Mishna Torah" (Mossad HaRav Kook), beginning with Hilchot Talmud Torah. It was difficult (I had just turned 28, no "sponge" for foreign languages), but after a few months of hard work I was reading and understanding "real" Hebrew. I've never looked back. לפום צערא אגרא

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    1. Except the Gemara isn't written in Hebrew.

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    2. That was a motto of YU's James Striar School, the limudei qodesh program for Public School alumni, when it was set up in 1956. (R Noah would go into kiruv 10 years later.) "It, Not About It!"

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    3. Rav Besdin ztz"l one told me that if JSS had existed a few decades earlier, there wouldn't have been any need for Artscroll.

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    4. What does "arga arataz sofel mean"? ;)

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    5. Just Curious, you are reading it backwards.

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    6. * micha berger
      "(R Noah would go into kiruv 10 years later.)"
      Don't you mean 'qiruv'?

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    7. YMT: Artscroll uses "Shabbos" rather than follow their own rules for qamatz gadol and write "Shabbas".

      Or to put it a different way, I am using the Judeo-English word "kiruv", not transliterating the Rabbinic Hebrew "קירוב". And the two are significantly different in meaning, too

      But I appreciate good catch!

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  4. I have to agree with Yakov above. While I respect what Koren is doing and elements of their edition the underlying translation doesn't work for me and the layout isn't easy to read. I'll support OU publishing and Koren in other ways, but I'm not sold on their Gemara yet.

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  5. If I already have the Artscroll shas is it worth it to get the Steinsaltz as well??

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    1. No less a scholar than Marc Shapiro (who can hardly be described as Chareidi) seems to think the answer is no. From a post on the Seforim Blog (July 29, 2015):

      "Only in the last year or so have I started to examine the ArtScroll Talmud on a regular basis and I am continuously impressed. This has to be one of the most significant Torah publications of the twentieth century. Since that is the case, I don’t see why such effort is being put into producing the new Koren Talmud. While it sometimes has points that do not appear in ArtScroll, I don’t know why anyone would prefer it over ArtScroll. I have had a chance to use both ArtScroll and Koren in reviewing some sugyot in Berakhot with my son, and in my mind ArtScroll always comes out on top."

      What is perhaps even more extraordinary is that this quotation comes from a post by Prof. Shapiro discussing ArtScroll's use of a censored/"inauthentic" text of the Talmud!

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    2. I love the flow of ושננתם. Also חברות is nice. Steinzaltz just doesn't explain the Gemorah well, I don't know why anyone fluent in Hebrew would use it today.

      Yakov

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  6. Here's a great review of the koren talmud, compared to the Artscroll: http://www.talmudology.com/new-page-3

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    1. That review is from 7 years ago, when the project was just getting started. It was greatly improved over the course of completing the shas.

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    2. Did they go back and fix the earlier masekhtos?

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    3. Yehoshua, that review (from 7 years ago) was glowingly complimentary to the Koren Steinsaltz Talmud.

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  7. The Noé Edition of the Koren Talmud Bavli, filled with its illustrations may spark an inserts in secular Jews as well. I am looking forward to buy one.

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  8. I looked at B'rachoth 7 years ago when it started, flicked to the bit about what a c'zayit it and was suitably disgusted. Modern Orthodoxy is basically just Haredi Judaism, watered down, stripped of its good features and with added liberalism, feminism etc. to make it even more lame. Koren exemplifies that.

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  9. Your ignorance of Modern Orthodoxy / Religious Zionism is apparent. Likely, you don't understand anything about the people or the philosophy upon which it is based. More than likely the philosophy would go over your head. More than that if you have so much disdain for MO Jews what are you doing commenting on a site whose philosophy adheres to a MO viewpoint. Based on your post to disdain other Jews and stroke your own fragile ego.

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    1. Actually, Rabbi Marc Shapiro wrote that most Modern Orthodox Jews today would be surprised to hear what their rabbis think. Be it as it may, Modern Orthodoxy is still more sophisticated in the study of science and philosophy.

      Also, Haredi teach that halakha is found in the "holy" Zohar,[1] teaching them (mystical teachings) as facts. However, Rabbi Asher Mesa told me over the phone that they (mystical teachings) should be optional, not taught as facts. Thus, Haredi (extreme Orthodox) is not “Modern Orthodoxy."

      [1] Haredi designate Zohar "holy" since its authenticity was disputed (even Moses d’ Leon’s wife admitted he made it up). Interestingly, Abraham, the father of Judaism, is never called "holy" since everyone agreed that he was a prophet.

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  10. Rashi, step back. Rabbi Steinzaltz has done something that you haven't done!!!!

    Only someone that has no clue who Rashi is, could make a statement like that.

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    1. Well, in one sense at least: Rashi didn't write on the entire Bavli, R' Steinsaltz did. (Although to be fair, he had help as well.)

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    2. How do we know that Rashi did not write on the entire Tamud? Rashi wrote a number of versions of his Sefer, and we only use the final version (although we have previous versions o some masechtos).
      Anyway, the hubris of that sentence blew my mind.

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    3. We know that Rashi didn't write on the whole Talmud because there are places that actually say, "Rashi died at this point and from here on the commentary was continued by..."

      And there are whole masechtot he didn't write on.

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    4. Anyway, the hubris of that sentence blew my mind.

      I guess you blew yourself, then. The first mention of Rashi is in a previous comment, from Micha Berger, and he doesn't compare Rashi's work to Steinsaltz's.

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    5. I love this line recently posted by R' Aryeh Klapper "moderntoraleadership: Is Rashi Still Necessary? A Reflection on the Occasion of Not Finishing Shas, Again":

      Marshall McLuhan brilliantly argued that some media (“cool”) encourage and even demand imagination, while others (“hot”) suppress it. Radio and printed narratives, for example, require the audience to construct private images of the characters and scenes, while television and illustrations suppress such subjective involvements.
      ...
      Talmud with Artscroll is that kind of movie. Readers do not participate in the construction of the Talmud; they merely absorb it. Rashi is still radio, or at least low-resolution TV in black-and-white.


      I thnk that sums up what's new with Steinsaltz, Artscroll and Mesivta shasin that we don't have with Rashi.

      By the way, speaking of peirushim... The Meiri also explains the gemara on the page, but not in a phrase-wise manner. I think one could actually learn Meiri without the gemara, and still leave knowing most of the gemara.

      Personally, I would put Meiri on the page. It's Tosafos that I am not sure why they're your #2 rishon(im) when learning gemara. All that cross analysis. And yet Gefe"s (Gemara, Peirush [Rashi] and Tosafos) is an old tradition I wouldn't want to take the responsibility for bucking.

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    6. Rashi didn't finish his final version on all of SHas. That does not mean he didn't write his earlier, lengthier, mahduros.

      Avi - Listen to the video at the end of the post. THey mention Rashi there.

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    7. @Micha Berger: Kol haKavod! I hadn't thought of McLuhan's "hot" and "cold" media concepts for several decades. Baseball is perfect for radio... boxing, too... basketball is "iffy"; but football? no way... only on TV. Of course, so much depends on the announcers... just like the gemara and meforshim.

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  11. I am actually a little surprised to see such a glowing approbation of Koren's Steinsaltz Talmud from R' Slifkin. I have never used Steinsaltz's gemara, but effectively everything I have read about it seems to indicate that it is, at best, a distant second behind ArtScroll's towering Schottenstein achievement in the race of modern talmud translations/elucidations.

    The fact is, for all ArtScroll's faults (and they are many) they still do it better than anyone else and, despite Koren's admirable attempts in recent years to mount a Modern(-ish) Orthodox challenge in publishing, ArtScroll beat them to market not just by years but by decades and will remain the standard for decades to come in the English-speaking Orthodox world.

    My general feeling about Koren's products (including, for example, the Koren Sacks siddur that is being shoehorned into Modern Orthodox shuls--including mine--across the US) is that they are typically pale imitations of the ArtScroll formula (minus the ArtScroll hashkafah) that add little real value of their own. Their chief virtue seems to be no more than that they are "not ArtScroll".

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    1. Agreed about the Talmud. You're wrong about the Siddur. R. Sacks's translation is infinitely better than Atscroll. I mean, way better. With him you actually get a feeling for the original poetry of the Tehillim which comprises most of the siddur. Even the old Birnbaum siddur did a better job, tho Artscroll is more comprehensive.

      Of course, Artsroll siddur - which I've used myself for more than 30 years, diff varieties - will still remain popular, because its more "frum" than Koren, and many of its customers think that's the most important element of publishing. Also inertia.

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    2. @ JustCurious
      Apparently, you are not very curious.
      How about you use one for a few dappim, and then form an opinion?

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    3. DF, I seriously doubt that most frum folks (Modern or otherwise), let alone congregations, choose a siddur based upon its translation of... tehillim.

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    4. Yehoshua, I probably will at some point.

      But I find it rather telling that the glowing reviews (like this one) of the Koren Talmud tend to come from prominent Modern folks (full disclosure: I consider myself proudly Modern/centrist/dati le'umi Orthodox) actively trying to set themselves in contradistinction to Chareidism (and thus ArtScroll).

      Now, you might retort, "well, of course it's going to be Modern folks reviewing a Modern edition of the Talmud favorably; the Chareidim certainly won't." But the fact is, we know the Chareidim will be constrained by their ideological biases (that's kind of their thing, after all); I would like to think/hope we could expect more intellectual honesty from the Modern crowd.

      To his credit, R' Gil Student makes explicit his own biases/"conflicts of interest" in the introduction to his very favorable review of the Koren edition: "Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the General Editor, is a man whom I know personally, respect tremendously and occasionally turn to for advice. The Content Editor, R. Shalom Z. Berger, was my ninth grade Talmud instructor. And I worked closely with the leaders of the Koren team on a number of projects, particularly the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, for which I am credited as Senior Editor. Yes, plenty of bias here so proceed with caution."

      Refreshingly honest, but hardly the recipe for an impartial/dispassionate review of the text.

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    5. @Just Curious: Nothing is stopping you from trying it out for yourself, instead of recycling other people's opinions about it.

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    6. Just Curious, why do you "seriously doubt that most frum folks ("choose a siddur based upon its translation of... tehillim"? KNowing how to handle the poetry of Tehillim is what makes or breaks Pesuqei deZimra or Qabbalas Shabbos, not to mention the various chapters scattered everywhere else.

      People might look at the Amidah and Shema first, but many of those pages they're buying are indeed covered in Tehillim.

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    7. Just curious, you misunderstand. The great bulk of the Siddur consists of Tehillim.

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    8. Rav Steinsaltz began his translation over twenty years before Artscroll did. Artscroll didn't "beat him to the market."

      Artscroll is giving you a shiur on paper. Steinsaltz is doing something very different. Each has its advantages.

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  12. Anyone else notice how the promotional video, aside from being laden with fluff and extraneous imagery, actually pictures people pulling out a Koren Talmud volume from their bookcase with several Schottenstein volumes! Can't fault Koren with being dishonest, that's a big positive.

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    1. There's an old photo of R. Nosson Scherman in an interview about Artscroll, and you can clearly see a Steinsaltz on his desk.

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  13. Let's clear up the whole layout slander. At the time, the current printing technology did not allow for a more conventional layout. R Steinsaltz didn't have a choice- it was contemporary printing standards that imposed the choice. Any further discussion is fakery & fetishizing.
    I suspect the controversy was based on (1) litvish outrage at a chasid ת"ח (and ר"ל a chabadnick!) who trampled on their sacred territory.
    (2)Plus, the charedi world has often lacked concern for those outside their crowd. So if translations are unnecessary & counter-productive for a ponevezher prodigy, they can be banned- they don't care that the rest of the community needs such tools. Chabad was attacked for going beyond the בית מדרש and engaging the rest of the community. The attacks against Slifkin were also often predicated on not giving a damn about those grappling with certain issues of faith.

    Of course, R Steinsalz lost the battle but won the war. 100+ years after R' Salanter called for a translation of gemara, the amount of translations & other tools have proliferated. I've even seen ראשי ישיבות use the Artscroll.
    I doubt Artscroll & the rest would have initiated the project had it not been for R Steinsalz who they could not tolerate.

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    1. The "outrage" or disdain for Steinsaltz was partially justified and partially fakerai. The change of layout was a serious blunder. Frum Jews are conservative, and the change of layout from hundreds of years (well before Romm) precedent wasn't wise. It also didn't make it any easier to learn. It actually made it harder. And I wouldn't say he "won" anything, as translations were around before him.

      But the charges that Steinsaltz "humanized" chazal (ie, said that this tanna's statement was based on that character trait, etc.) was all either ignorance or silly frumkeit and probably both. He said nothing that hasn't been said by standard rishonim and achronim. Very similar to Natan Slifkin's battles, actually, in that regard.

      Bottom line is that the Agudah/Charedi world thinks of itself as THE sole repository of Torah, and therefore ANY religious initiative not sponsored by them will be viewed or cynically declared false, even if they do literally the same thing themselves later. Thus everything from the state of Israel, to speaking Hebrew, to wearing techeles, to translated shas and chumash, to college, etc etc, was always going to be claimed by them as krum until they do it themselves. And their leadership knows much of their masses will just believe what they say, so its easy.

      I personally believe its only a matter of time before some smart Agudah guy realizes the money to be made by techeles, makes some negligible change to the Ptil method so as to enable a claim its a different product, gets someone from the club to bench it, and boom, you'll be seeing "Psil Mehadrin" flying out of Lakewood Judaica Plaza before you know it.

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    2. I think you've hit the nail on the head.

      I imagine the phrase "tzurat hadaf" didn't even exist before being used to attack the Steinsaltz.

      As to your second point, I find it very telling that R' Steinsaltz's Guide to the Talmud includes a chart of how to read Rashi letters. That's something only people who didn't grow up learning (e.g., secular Israelis) need. The charedi world clearly didn't appreciate the implication of that.

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    3. Speaking from memory, there was deprecation of shasin without the usual tzuras hadaf before R Steinsaltz's edition.

      However...

      Be clear that there are two meanings to the term. The Bomberg Shas (1519-1523) was the first with the currently most common division of text into dafim and amudim, Rashi on the inside, Tosafos on the outside. The typical shas today is a computer enhanced version of the Vilna edition, printed by The Widow and Brothers Romm (1870s - 1880s). It follows the Bomberg bagination.

      You can also find Warsaw edition (early 1900s) talmuds, which also follows Bomberg's precedent. They're the pre-computer talmuds that have Rashi's s.v. in regaulr square font. When I was a kid in the 1970s, camp gemaras were Warsaw edition on really cheap paper.

      The original Steinsaltz edition defies Bomberg, which is already a tradition of some age.

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    4. DF: R Steinsalt's Biblical Images became the topic of a lot of conversation after being unnoticed for 6 years (1994-1990, when AS's Makkos came out). More so than his humanizing chazal -- Talmudic Images published in 1997, came out too late for the initial fights.

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  14. I love Koren for their Siddurim and for the Maggid imprint, but I really can't understand the need for this Shas, when (as others have remarked) Artscroll and Oz Vehodor Mesivta both present far better alternatives.

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    Replies
    1. If Koren faithfully reproduces Steinsaltz, then it features things that the others do not. Mini-biographies, illustrations of realia, sections on word derivations, etc. You may say, and I'd agree, that the overall product of Artscroll or Mesivta is better, but there are more than enough reasons to justify a different shas. The same reasons, in fact, that Artscroll and Mesivata used themselves when Soncino and Steinsaltz were already available.

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  15. I've been using the Steinsaltz Hebrew / Tzuras Hadaf version for years. For my somewhat unique background (no formal yeshiva training, but picked up rabbinic Hebrew along the way), R. Steinsaltz explains the gemara very clearly, while I can refer to the tzuras hadaf as well (though I wish that version had punctuation in Tosafot). And the scientific / historical notes (which are the core "Modern" element of the series) are always illuminating, much more than Artscroll.

    The Steinsaltz translation is "traditional", in that it doesn't feel any need to apologize for traditional gender roles or talumdic science (e.g. on Brachot 3, he takes the existence of mazikin at face value), nor does it quote any halacha more recent that the Rema (maybe an occasional Magen Avraham). In addition, he never engages in any "critical" analysis, except where he quotes much earlier commentaries, such as the beginning of Kiddushin. So while the series may appear to be modern, R. Steinsaltz appears to consciously want to stay within the mesorah as much as possible.

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  16. I use both Art Scroll and Steinsaltz as aids in class preparation, although I start from the standard page untranslated. I find Art Scroll helpful for the footnotes, pointing me to other ideas in classical commentaries. I find Steinsaltz is usually more useful for suggesting language with which to present a difficult passage, and for his notes on language and realia.

    One bone I have with both is that when they present halacha over which Sephardic and Ashkenazi practice differ, they both tend to present Ashkenazi practice and ignore that of the Sefaradim.

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  17. This post has been sponsored by Koren

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  18. This blog post has been included in First Blog "Carnival," Roundup of 2020, Tevet 5780. Visit and meet the rest of the blogs.

    You're in good company for sure.

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