What follows is an interesting quote, requiring a correction and perhaps some clarification:
Y.H.: I imagine it was hard, initially, to get haskamos for the project. Can you tell me what was involved?The first elucidated Schottenstein Gemara was the Makkos volume, which rolled off the press in May 1990. This incident must therefore have occurred around that time or a year or two earlier. 150 years before then gives the approximate date of 1840. The Goldschmidt translation refers to the complete translation of the Talmud made by Lazarus Goldschmidt (1871-1950), between 1897 and 1935.
N.S.: We went around to gedolim and discussed it with them and showed them samples of the proposed work. Some felt it was a very good thing. Others asked some very probing questions. The result was that all of the gedolim we spoke to gave us letters of approbation. In Israel, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, and Rav Elyashiv, yb’lct, both gave us tremendous encouragement. Both said that they could not write a haskamah, but that we could use their names and that they were behind it.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, didn’t write a written haskamah because he said, “Who am I to give a haskamah when my father-in-law, Rav Elyashiv, has lent his support to it?” He did say that 150 years ago, the gedolim supported a German translation of Shas called the Goldschmidt translation in order to combat the anti-Semitic notion that the Talmud was filled with hateful remarks about others. He continued that years ago gedolim supported such a translation for goyim, but now we need it for Jews. Rav Shach did have difficulties with it. He said, “It would make learning Gemara too easy.” Privately he said that he was troubled by it. Several gedolim communicated with him, and he said, “If they are taking responsibility for it then I won’t say anything publicly against it.”
Clearly this is not the Talmud translation which was intended. Although it is possible that R. Chaim Kanievsky did say the Goldschmidt translation, which means he simply misspoke, more probably it is R. Scherman who misspoke, which is understandable because the Goldschmidt translation is quite famous. In any case, the translation referred to must be that of Moses Ephraim Pinner (1800-1880) who tried to bite off more than any one man can chew.
After publishing a an abbreviated the קיצור תלמוד ירושלמי ותלמוד בבלי, which looked something like this--
--he planned the following project: he would translate the entire Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud into German. In addition, it would include a translation of the commentaries of Rashi, the Tosaphos, Maimonides on the Mishnah and the Rosh. If that wasn't enough, the Hebrew text of the Mishnah would be fully vocalized, all commentaries would receive new punctuation, and etymological commentary in German would be appended on every page, corrections of the text and a new Hebrew commentary in addition.
In 1832 he was able to produce an impressive prospectus of what his Talmud translation would look like (see it here). He then shopped it around, looking for support from leading rabbis, scholars and European nobility. Indeed, he found a financial backer in an odd place, namely the Russian Tsar Nicholas. Evidently the Tsar felt that a German translation of the Talmud would shed light where there was darkness and help convince the Jews that Judaism and the Talmud were very awful. For his part, Pinner felt that the Tsar's money was as good as anyone's and would help this ambitious project reach fruition. In all, 28 volumes were projected (still only about 1/3rd of the size of the Schottenstein edition!).
What was the immediate cause of this translation project? As R. Kanievsky said, the Talmud was in very ill repute in Europe. Around the same time an Italian priest named Luigi Chiarini also planned to translate the entire Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds into French (see here for Berachos, 1831). I won't pretend that I know much about the nature of his translation, but I know that it was very much disliked and poorly received by Jews. The Encyclopedia Judaica (2nd ed.) writes simply: "In his Théorie du Judaïsme (1830), Chiarini slandered the Talmud and the rabbinate in the style of Johann Eisenmenger , and tried to revive the blood libel . He considered that the state should assist the Jews in liberating themselves from the influence of the Talmud. He began a French translation of the Babylonian Talmud under the auspices of Czar Nicolas I, of which two volumes were published (1831), despite protests from both Jewish and Catholic quarters. "
Here's a sample, which probably gives a hint as to the orientation of Chiarini:
But that isn't the only reason for the translation. In Pinner's words, a translation is needed because:
In any case, Pinner secured approbations from several rabbis and scholars, including his real coup, that of the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg. Apparently the Chasam Sofer saw the project as worthy, but expressed skepticism as to how it could be completed. Pinner replied that he had collaborators lined up, naming one of them, R. Nathan Marcus Adler of Hanover (who would later be the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain). Satisfied, he wrote his approbation. Unfortunately it seems that Pinner had no collaborators, especially not R. Nathan Marcus Adler, who denied that he had even been asked. As a result, the Chasam Sofer withdrew his haskamah. According to the Jewish Encylopedia, none of the rabbis from Russia gave him their approbation: "The volume contains approbations from several rabbis, none of whom lived in Russia, in which country only representatives of Haskalah, like Abraham Stern, Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Jacob Tugendhold of Warsaw, and Abraham b. Joseph Sack of Wilna, favored the undertaking. Their approval was given in signed eulogies, which follow the approbations of the non-Russian rabbis."
Here is the text of the approbation:
And here is his retraction (which I will also include as text, albeit in small type size, so that anyone can copy it if they want to):
כבר פרסמתי חטא מפורסם ומכשלה אשר תחת ידי אשר נתתי מכתב הסכמה לדאקטער פינר על העתקת ש"ס בלשון אשכנז וכבר נדפסה אגרתי בהמבורג, שם הודיתי ולא בושתי לומר בוש אני על כי בעונותי טחו עיני מראות, כי מלבד הטעם הנאמר שם, שכחתי מעיקרא המכשלות את הרבים היוצאות מהעתק הלז הא לן והא להו, ולא רציתי לפרש ולבאר הלא כבר קדמוני רבותי ועוררוני על כל פרטי דברים אשר יש לחוש ויש בזה איסור גמור, ועל כן דברים שאמרתי טעות הם והנני חוזר ועוקר הסכמתי מעיקרא, והי' כלא הי' וכאפס ואין יחשבו דברים ההמה וישימו לאל מלתי.
אמנם זולת כל הנ"ל אשר היה בהעלם עין ממני בראשית מלאכתי הנ"ל, אזכור ברבים את אשר זכרתי ולא שכחתי אז, ואמרתי אל המעתיק הנ"ל איך אפשר לעמוד על תוכן ופירוש וכוונת כל דבר, הלא כמה פעמים על דברת רש"י המבאר נחלקו גאוני עולם בכוונתו, וכמה דיות נשתפכו וכמה ניירות וגוילים מלאים על דבור א', ואיך ימלא ידו יחיד להסכים על פי דעתו כוונת הענין, והוא השיב לי כי הוא איננו אלא המקבץ חתומים, ויש חברת גדולי עולם צדיקים ואנשי מעשה אשר יחלק להם הש"ס מסכת מסכת, ואח"כ יתקבצו ויעיינו הדק היטב, והזכיר לי אחד מהם אשר לו נמסר להעתיק מסכת עירובין ויבמות הוא הרב הגדול הצדיק מוהר"ר נתן אדלער כ"ץ אב"ד דק"ק הנובר, ולהיותי יודע כי הרב הזה מוחזק לצדיק ותלמיד חכם אמרתי החלק יעיד על הכל, ובעו"ה לפי שעה הייתי כמאמין לכל דבר, ועתה מכתב שלוח אלי מהרב המאה"ג הנ"ל כי חלילה וחלילה לו, לא עלתה על לבו מעולם, ואפילו מכתב מליצה לא נתן להנ"ל. וא"כ ממילא נתבטלו דברי הסכמתי לגמרי כי הטעוני המעתיק הנ"ל, והריני אוסר באיסור גמור להדפיס הסכמתי על ש"ס המועתק ללשון אשכנז והעובר ישכנו נחש.
ועתה כלפי דאקטר פינר אני אומר, כי באמת לולי הנ"ל לא מצאתי בו עול בכל התנהגותו ימי היותו פה בגבולינו וכן מעידים עליו שאר גדולים, ע"כ ישכיל ויבין, כי לו יהא שכוונתו זאת כלו לשם שמים כאשר טעיתי גם אנכי, הנה הוא רואה כי כל חכמי ישראל ממקומות מושבותיהם קוראים מלא ואין מעשיו רצוים בעיניהם, הלא מחויב לחזור בו מדעתו ולא עדיף מר"א הגדול שלא רצה להודות לרוב החולקים עליו וברכוהו, וכן אם ח"ו לא יחזור מדעתו ולא ישוב ידו, הרי הי' ראוי אלו הי' רשות מהמלכים, לנדותו לאררו ולקללו, אך באשר אין רשות נתונה לעשות כן עכ"פ ידע כי החטא כרוך בעקבו והאלוקי' יביא במשפט, ואם יחזור וישוב ידו יתברך ויתרומם ויתקדש שם שמים על ידו, ויתברך ויתעלה ויקבל שכר על הפרישה והי"ת יקדש שמו על מקדישי שמו, ואשר לא אקוה שלא ישמע ולא יחזור ולא יחוש לנדוי שמתא וחרם הנ"ל, אנו מקוים להי"ת המרחם עמו ודתו ותורתו, יהרוס בנינו ממקום אחר ולא יעשו ידיו תושי' ולא יחרוך צידו, או אם אולי יצליח מעשה שטן ה' יצילנו, לזה אני מבקש מגאוני הזמן להטיל גודא רבא על היושבים תחת דגלם שלא ידפיסו ולא יקנו הספרים ההמה ולא יקראו בהם כלל וכלל ויהי' כספר החתום לא יזכר ולא יפקד ולא יעלה אל בית ישראל כלל, והנותן תורה לעמו ישראל בקדושתו יברך וירומם ויעזור שומרי תורתו ויגביהם לנצח ויושיבם.
הכ"ד ק"ק פרעשבורג, יום ה' כ"א טבת תקצ"ה לפ"ק
משה"ק סופר מפ"פ דמיין
Here's a general problem:
And here's the entire letter, for your interest and pleasure:
Interestingly, I myself recall hearing Scherman speak just after the entire 73-volume Artscroll translation was completed (which would have been about 5 years ago?). I remember him recounting R. Chaim Kanievsky's reaction, which was along the lines of how he presented it in his 5TJT interview. However, somehow I remember him stating or connecting it with a Talmud translation projected by R. Yisrael Salanter. I can't be 100% certain, but I am certain enough that I have a hard time doubting myself about it. I really am pretty sure it's what I remember. Now, it's possible that R. Chaim Kanievsky somehow thought that a Talmud translation supported by R. Yisrael Salanter was connected with the Pinner or Goldscmidt; alternatively, R. Yisrael Salanter's name came up, and R. Scherman somehow combined it into what I remember hearing. Alternatively, R. Scherman's memory may have failed him then. Or now. Or mine may have. Either way, the "facts" of the Salanter translation seems to be something like the following (from Rabbi Adam Mintz's version of an article on Talmud translations which can be found here):
The Scherman interview also contains a sort of bizarre statement:
It's either the Vilna Shas or the Schottenstein? You can still buy a Soncino Talmud (which the late Saul Lieberman referred to when he wrote of "responsible translations of rabbinic texts (like those of Soncino Press)". I assume you can buy a Neusner Talmud. Rabbi Scherman knows all about Steinsaltz:
Y.H.: Do the Judaic Studies departments in the major universities order from you?
N.S.: Yes, many of them do. If they want to instruct their students in the Talmud, they really have no choice-the students are not equipped to use the Vilna Shas.
However, as it happens to be I have personally seen many a student/ researcher using the Schottenstein Talmud. It certainly is more user-friendly than Soncino. It is certainly more available these days than other alternatives.
Here's a good quote I quite agree with:
Please see my two earlier posts on the Pinner Talmud (here, and here). See as well Dan's post, which has copies of the original prospectus, as well as the Chasam Sofer's retraction of his haskamah, and Dr. S. Leiman's notes to that post.
Y.H.: I have encountered a number of choshuva maggidei shiurim, roshei yeshiva, and rabbanim who use the ArtScroll Gemaras. Yet it is kept out of sight-in an upstairs bookcase, in an inner shelf. Do you have any thoughts or comments on this?
N.S.: There are plenty of roshei yeshiva who say it out in the open that they do use the ArtScroll Gemara. There is one rosh yeshiva who says, “I have very limited time to do the daf hayomi, and I do use it. I also look at it to help prepare my shiurim.” He says it quite openly.
Rav Elyashiv goes through the ha’aros in the Hebrew edition when he is learning on his own to see if he missed anything and to jog his memory. He is not ashamed of it. He even keeps it on his desk. Rav Shteinman says a shiur in the Yerushalmi. He is saying his shiur on Yerushalmi from the ArtScroll Gemara itself. Big people are not ashamed to say that they rely on something. Small people hide it. It is like women ask for directions; men are too proud to ask sometimes.
My thanks to Avrohom, who inadvertantely prompted this post.