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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!