Finchley event marks publishing milestone - English translation of entire Babylonian Talmud

New edition includes the commentary of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, 'one of the real spiritual masterworks of our age'


A large audience gathered at Finchley Synagogue to celebrate a milestone in Jewish publishing - the completion of a new English translation of the entire Babylonian Talmud.

The Noé Edition of the Koren Talmud Bavli incorporates the commentary of the legendary Israeli scholar Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, who has laboured for more than half a century to make the core rabbinic text more accessible.

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s commentary is “one of the real spiritual masterworks of our age, indeed of any age,” said Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks at the UK launch last Thursday.
The 42-volume set has been sponsored by the London-based philanthropist Leo Noė and his wife Susan.

Describing their investment in this and other charitable enterprises as “philanthropy on an epic scale”, Lord Sacks said:“You have made study possible for hundreds of thousands of people who could not have done it otherwise.”

One of the special features of the edition is that it prints the Aramaic text with vowels and punctuation, making it far easier to read for those who have not had a yeshivah education.

The English translation is accompanied by extensive commentary and explanation on the debates of the sages which include colour illustrations, maps and diagrams.
It provides background on the personalities of the sages, the societies in which they lived and how practical Jewish law is derived from their discussions.

Rabbi Steinsaltz embarked on his historic mission to spread knowledge of the Talmud in 1965, when he began his translation of it into modern Hebrew. It took him 45 years to complete.

Not even the great medieval exegete Rashi, whose commentary is traditionally printed with texts of the Talmud, produced a commentary on every section.

While a few parallel volumes appeared in English over the years, that spin-off appeared to have hit the buffers.

But in 2011, a team from the Jerusalem-based publishers Koren - famed for their elegant religious publications which include Lord Sacks’s editions of the siddur and festival machzorim-  revived the project.

That they completed the Talmud in just eight years was an “extraordinary achievement”, Lord Sacks said.

While the full hardback set retails at around £775, or £1,250, depending on the size of the volumes, Koren are shortly to bring out a paperback edition at £7.99 per volume.
Praising the format of the new edition, Finchley Synagogue’s Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence described it as “a work of beauty”.

To mark the occasion, Rabbi Sacks gave one of a trio of short Talmud talks.

Dayan Ivan Binstock of the London Beth Din stepped in at the last minute for Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who had to fly to South Africa because his father is unwell.
Also speaking was Lauren Levin, associate rebbetzen at South Hampstead Synagogue.

A woman delivering a Talmud talk to a mixed audience at an Orthodox synagogue might have once seemed a radical innovation.

Noting that Koren’s edition of the Tanach in the 1960s had helped to spur Bible study, she said: “That revival has now extended in a magical way to Talmud study.”

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