Tuesday, September 18, 2007

When Rav Elyashiv says to print something, Artscroll prints it

But doesn't necessarily translate it...

This note appears at the beginning of the haskama (rabbinic approbation) section of some volumes of their Schottenstein Talmud translation (this is from Babba Metziah).

As you can see, Artscroll quotes R. Eliashiv saying that "Because of the times we live in it is a great mitzvah to proceed with this project." Indeed, from the verbatim Hebrew text of his message, which he requested be inserted, the last five words say this.

But that's five words out of thirty three. What do the other 85% of the words mean?

Well, if you can understand Hebrew, you know. So there is it. But what if you can't?

I find this interesting because it seems to sort of typify the approach one sometimes finds in Artscroll publications. The Hebrew text is the Hebrew text; they aren't going to tamper with the text. It's there for you to see, and very literally, המבין יבין. But much of the audience of these publications cannot understand much Hebrew, or any, and in that case abridgments must suffice.

Before I translate the words (noting that most of this audience doesn't need the translation and already sees what I'm getting at) I'd like to point out that Artscroll doesn't translate any of the haskamos that appear in these books. While it certainly would be useful if they did, it doesn't seem like any sort of big deal that they don't. It seems like this is common practice in English books that are accompanied by Hebrew haskamos. Surely sometimes haskamos are not as unqualified or praising as one would like, and therefore authors and publishers often would like readers to look at the names rather than the content of the approbations, and that's true across the board. So nothing funny here, or at least nothing funnier than usual.

What's interesting is that while R. Elyashiv does commend the work (Talmud translation)--"because of the times we live in it is a great mitzvah to proceed with this project"--he also explains what sort of times he is referring to.

"Since we live in a breached generation with many translations by lightweights who put their hands on the holiness of the Talmud and the Oral Law, I think there is no es la'asos le-Hashem1 greater than this, and it's a great mitzvah to proceed with this project."

In other words, the complete context of R. Eliashiv's strong suggestion that Artscroll go ahead with their project to translate the Talmud is that this is something that is necessitated by other, bad translations of the Talmud. (I am sure he had in mind the Steinsaltz edition; I am less certain if he also meant the older Soncino or academic editions like Neusner's. That would be a question of whether it was on the Rav's radar or not, and I am in no position to speculate about that.)

All in all, most interesting. As I said, it's right there, black on gray. Obviously a sizable portion of the buying public knows exactly what it said. But many don't, and won't. It's understandable why they don't translate large haskamos (R. Aharon Schechter, rosh yeshiva Yeshivas Chaim Berlin wrote a particularly long one, for example). But this is less than 35 words. I suppose that the editors didn't necessarily want to make a big deal about the fact that R. Elyashiv gave what amounts to very qualified support for their work. No big deal, but interesting, and the wise will understand.

1 The reference is to Psalm 119:126:

קכו עֵת לַעֲשׂוֹת לַיקוָק הֵפֵרוּ תּוֹרָתֶךָ 126 It is time for the LORD to work; they have made void Thy law.

Rabbinically this verse is given as justification for--at times--'making void Thy law,' that is, to violate halakhah because "It is time" to do the Lord's work, that is, to repair a breach, to safeguard the Torah, sometimes the time gives no other choice than to breach it.

In this case, R. Elyashiv is asserting that in this time a translations of the Talmud [like Artscroll's]--which normally, in other times, is undesirable at best, if not forbidden--is necessary and a great mitzvah.

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