Sunday, May 11, 2008

The half-century battle for new English translation of Jewish classics

On Shabbos I was perusing the Jewish Press and saw an ad for a new Artscroll edition of Avos De-Rabbi Nassan.* The ad noted that this classic is "now available in English."** Funny, I thought. It was also available in English a month ago, a year ago, forty years ago. There is the Soncino version in the Minor Tractates set (admittedly, hard to find now) and the Judah Goldin version. Searching on Google Books yields yet two more versions. (link)

Did Artscroll really mean to say that the work is available only now, for the first time in English? Or is the implication that the previous, existing versions are simply irrelevant? I must say, that I heard Nosson Scherman address this topic in a speech. Cognizant of criticism of the Artscroll oeuvre from the right, he attempted to demonstrate that they have the support of the gedolim at the highest level. He recounted his and Meir Zlotowitz's meeting with Moron Rov Chaim Kanievsky. They came merely to seek his blessing, but instead he (a) stood up when they walked into the room and (b) spoke to them for 15 minutes - highly unusual. He compared their Schottenstein Shas project to the projected German Talmud translation (Hebrew commentary, actually)** proposed by R. Yisrael Salanter in the 19th century. However, noted R. Kanievsky, that edition was necessary for the non-Jews to see what the Talmud was all about (so they could overcome their prejudice against it). Today - the Schottenstein Shas is necessary for Jews to see what the Talmud is all about, for the same reason. R. Scherman admitted he was surprised at such a powerful endorsement. He then noted that a lot of frum people don't realize the vast amount of classic Jewish material there is in translation, however they are faulty! Thus, Artscroll can correct this breach by presenting well translated classics to the Jewish (and non-Jewish) public.

In any case, once upon a time a book called Making of a Godol was banned and various denunciations of the book were written. Here is a piece of one missive (in translation):

As you can see, the writer of this piece is of the opinion that over the past half-century the gedolim have endeavoring to uproot foreign matter from the study of Torah.*** See above and see prior post: Soncino Talmud statistics. Now one will no longer have to read what Zunz opined, for example, when reading Avos de-rabbi Nathan in English.

* UPDATE: Well, as it turns out this isn't an Artscroll ADRN; it is by Judaica Press. In the newspaper, the full page had combined Judaica Press and Artscroll ads and to my tired eyes it looked like one ad!
** Suprisingly, the web site still does not have this book listed. It must be very new indeed. See the Pirkei Avos section.
*** There is a widespread perception that R. Yisrael Salanter intended to translate the Talmud into German. However, his vision was really for a straightforward Hebrew commentary to the entire Talmud, which would have made independent Talmud study possible for the non-learned (albeit, Hebraically literate). His vision was that 100 great Talmud scholars would pledge to write a comentary on 30 Talmud folios. He did, however, advocate the inclusion of Talmud into the curriculum of gymnasia and universities, hoping to raise the prestige of the Talmud in society in general so that Jewish youth would also become interested.
*** This doesn't only refer to printed matter, but surely it includes it.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails