Monday, May 21, 2007

On the Pinner Talmud: Chasam Sofer, the Czar, Shadal and little known Big Ideas.

Part of the story of the Pinner Talmud is here.

This edition, from 1842, was a translation project undertaken by Dr. Ephraim Moses Pinner (1800-1880), intending to translate the entire Talmud (both Bavli and Yerushalmi) into German. Pinner had been a student of R. Ya'akov of Lissa. He garnered some rabbinic support, and financing from Czar Nicholas I.

Only one volume appeared, Berakhot: "Talmud Babli; Babylonischer Talmud. Tractat Berachoth Segensprüche. Mit deutscher Ubersetzung und den Commentaren Raschi und Tosephoth nebst den verschiedenen Verbesserungen aller früheren Ausgaben. Hinzugefügt sind: Neue Lesarten und Parallelstellen in allen Theilen dieses Tractates und der Commentare, Vokalisation der Mischnah, Interpunktion der Mischnah und Gemara, Raschi und Tosephoth, Etymologie und Uebertragung der fremden Wörter, Erklärungen des Meharschal und Meharscha, R. Ascher mit Erläuterung der Halachah und den abweichenden Lesarten, R. Moscheh's Sohnes R. Maimon's, Commentar zur Mischnah mit Berichtigungen, Einleitung in den Talmud, enthaltend Grundprincipien der Methodologie und Exegetik des Talmud."

In the introduction to this volume he wrote:

"[Nowadays many Jews are unable to study Talmud in the original; those who know it can't teach it] Up to now no one has undertaken to translate the Talmud into the vernacular, and there are even some who have distorted the Talmud and accused the rabbis of saying things they never would have said. Therefore, I have taken upon myself to translate the Talmud into German."

That is, there are two reasons: 1) to open the Talmud to Jews and 2) to counter hostile non-Jewish mis-impressions about the Talmud.

What of the Czar's support? According to Adam Mintz (from whom much of this information was drawn) he supported the translation for two reasons: 1) at the time he was trying to Russify Russia's Jews via cultural and religious restrictions on the Jews. This included the discouragement of the use of Yiddish and the encouragement of the use of European languages, like German, which was close to Yiddish and therefore a practical replacement. 2) As a real antisemite, Nicholas commissioned a report to understand what's wrong with the Jews. The report issued found that the Talmud was the cause of the refusal of the Jews to assimilate into Russian society. Nicholas felt that exposing the Talmud would ameliorate this problem, and to do so would require translating it into European languages, and he was prepared to pay handsomely for such translations.

Thus, Pinner planned to use Nicholas and Nicholas planned to use Pinner. Nicholas purchased 100 volumes of Pinner's translation, and so when it was printed, it was dedicated to him! In addition to Nicholas, there were about a thousand subscribers, including Kings Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia, Wilhelm I of Holland, Leopold of Belgium and Frederick IV of Denmark.

At the beginning of the volume were 18 haskamot from both traditional rabbis and maskilim. The volume itself was evidently aesthetically pleasing. It included the traditional layout with German translation on the facing pages. In addition, punctuation was supplied for Rashi and Tosafos. At the bottom of each page he included a translation and etymology of selected difficult words.

When Pinner tried to acquire a haskamah from the Chasam Sofer, the latter was incredulous on the grounds that a vernacular translation is basically impossible given that the plain understanding of Rashi alone is subject to many disagreements, so how could anyone think they could manage such a translation? Pinner assured him that he didn't mean that he would do the whole thing himself, rather he would have a team and he would be the editor. One of the rabbis who would serve as translators was R. Nathan Adler (then rabbi of Hanover; later Chief Rabbi of Great Britain). Pinner claimed that he had lined up R. Adler to translate Eruvin and Yevamos. The Chasam Sofer accepted this, and wrote a haskamah.

As it turned out, Pinner had been playing loose with the truth. Pinner used R. Adler's name to receive this haskamah, and then used the Chasam Sofer's haskamah to get more. Apparently R. Adler denied any involvement at all. When the Chasam Sofer found out, he retracted his haskamah. Not only that, when it became known that Pinner continued to use the haskamah, Chasam Sofer issues a kol koreh asking rabbis to ban the printing, buying and reading of the work.

Shadal too did not offer a haskamah on similar grounds (his letter on the matter was printed in Keren Hemed 2 (1836) pp. 174-182. In addition to highlighting certain errors he felt Pinner had made he questioned whether one man could indeed translate the entire Talmud, noting that even Rashi could not complete his commentary on the Talmud.

Interestingly enough, another objection to the work arose in some quarters, best exemplified by a letter written to the Chasam Sofer by a Dutch rabbi, Tzvi Hirsch Lehrin. In it he noted that if there had been so much opposition to Mendelssohn's Bible, which was only a translation into German with Hebrew letters, how much more so must there be something faulty with a Talmud translated into German with German letters! In addition, argued R. Lehrer, although Pinner might have been motivated le-shem shamayim, to defend the honor of the Talmud before detractors, the opposite would occur once its contents were accessible: opponents would use it to denigrate the Sages, noting that a classic denigration of Talmudic Judaism by wayward Jews is the case of the egg laid on a holiday, deemed irrelevant. How much more so would non-Jewish opponents of the Talmud use this translation against it!

Interesting as well is that this was not the Chasam Sofer's objection.

Ultimately the Czar discovered his true motive and support was withdrawn, which was why only Berakhot ever appeared.

So on what basis can this post, about an aborted German Talmud be an English Hebraica post?

On this basis: I discovered a very interesting review of this edition from 1848, by one William Ayerst (1803-1883), in a book called The Jews of the Nineteenth Century: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, and Historical Notices.

Here it is:

Much of the information in this post was gleaned from "The Talmud in Translation," by Adam Mintz in "Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein" and the Encylopedia Judaica article, "Pinner, Moses Ephraim."

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