Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Schottenstein edition of the Talmud

Note: The following question is a follow up to the one addressed in my blog-posting of Tuesday, September 29, 2009 entitled: "RaMBaN's commentary on the Pentateuch - a comparison of two English translations"

How does the English translation of the Talmud, published by Artscroll – Mesorah and known as the Schottenstein edition, compare to other English translations of the Talmud? Does Artscroll’s status as a publishing company aligned with Haredi Orthodox Judaism effect their translation?

In my opinion the Artscroll English translation of the Talmud is excellent for helping someone gain a basic understanding of the Talmud. Other translations (e.g. Soncino, Neusner) merely translate the Talmud – little in the way of explanation is given. The Talmud’s style is very terse and idiomatic. The myriad later commentaries on the Talmud often explain the same piece in variant ways. Also, the Talmud assumes that you are already familiar with many of the topics it discusses. Without extensive comments and notes, someone without prior experience who can not read the later commentaries, would be completely lost. The Artscroll edition is more than a translation – it is, as I believe they themselves call it, an “elucidation” that takes you step by step through the Talmud and explains the meaning of each line and how it fits into the discussion as a whole. The notes tell you critical information found in other parts of Rabbinic literature that you need in order to understand the topic at hand. The notes also summarize what the later commentaries say and explain some of the variant ways to understand each subject. No other English translation at present does anything like that (except perhaps for Steinsaltz’s English translation – but that is only available on a handful of tractates).
Of course any work that does what Artscroll does is going to inevitably leave the reader with the impression that their way of translating and interpreting a particular piece of Talmud is the only way. They try to alleviate this by, as I mentioned before, giving a few alternate approaches in their notes. However, they can not possibly give all possible approaches and even what they do give might confuse beginners. Furthermore, they only draw on traditional sources and do not take into account more modern approaches that might use textual and source criticism to facilitate understanding the text.
What I have said about the Talmud translation also applies to Artscroll’s RaSHI on Humash translation (and to their RaMBaN on Humash translation). As long as one keeps in mind the necessary limitations of such works (as mentioned above) they are excellent and unique resources.

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