Why The World Needed Yet Another English Translation Of The Torah
Chances are, you have a translation of the Five Books of Moses on your bookshelf. You may even know that, in Hebrew, it’s called a Chumash, which comes from chamesh, the Hebrew word for five.
The Artscroll Stone Chumash was first released in 1993 and is a perennial favorite. Twenty-five years later, an editorial team working for the Steinsaltz Center in Jerusalem just released a brand new translation and commentary of the most important book ever published. They call it The Steinsaltz Humash.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was born into a secular home in Jerusalem in 1937. In 1988, writing for Time magazine, journalist Richard N. Ostling called Rabbi Steinsaltz a "once-in-a-millennium scholar". Rabbi Steinsaltz is best known for opening up Talmud study to people outside the walls of a traditional yeshiva. He’s spent a good part of his life making the Talmud accessible to the non-Hebrew-speaking world.
With this new volume, he’s turned his attention to the Five Books of Moses.
Copy editor Ilana Sobel explained that The Steinsaltz Humash is for, “Anyone who wants to understand Humash better.” According to Sobel, that includes, “People who are familiar with the stories but want to go deeper, people looking to mine the Torah for meaning, people searching for an overview of traditional commentaries, people seeking ideas for a dvar Torah (a short speech about a Torah topic) or for discussion at their Shabbat table and people who are curious about modern findings in geology and archaeology that fit a traditional understanding of the Torah.”
Editor and Content Curator Aryeh Sklar thinks the new volume has the potential to “[appeal] to the entire Jewish spectrum, and people from all backgrounds can gain intellectual and spiritual edification from it.” Sklar emphasized that it “represents a particularly Modern Orthodox ideology.
“This means that while Rav Steinsaltz’s interpretations and commentary are based on traditional sources, such as the Talmud, Midrash, Rashi, and others, it also provides a scientific view, determined to identify plants, animals, and geography, which is decidedly lacking from standard traditional commentaries.”
In many translations of classic Jewish texts, the commentary generally appears in footnotes, which makes the experience of reading the text and getting the full understanding from the commentary kind of disjointed. What Rabbi Steinsaltz has done with this volume is to integrate the commentary in with the text, making for a smooth and pleasurable reading experience.
The translation appears in bolded text and the commentary is in a different typeface. To demonstrate, here’s how Rabbi Steinsaltz handles the translation of Bereshit (Genesis) 3:23 which is all about the creation of woman.
As Sobel described it, “The commentary is right there when you read the verse translation, no need to search somewhere else on the page, or lose your place. Rabbi Steinsaltz’s system of bolding the words that are translated from the verse while leaving the commentary in lightface gives you a two-in-one experience.”
If you’re accustomed to thinking of the Bible as a mass of Thou, Thee and Thine, the modern translation and flowing commentary of The Steinsaltz Humash will make reading the Torah a pleasure.
Asked why the world needs another English translation and commentary of the Five Books of Moses, Sklar explained some of Rabbi Steinsaltz’s thinking. “In his introduction to the Humash, Rav Steinsaltz questions what right he has to tread the path of so many great Jewish scholars of the past. His answer is that he believes every generation has new perspectives to share, new questions to answer as they relate to the text, and therefore every generation requires a ‘fresh light’ of Biblical interpretation.”
Visual aids are another unique feature. “Where was Abraham born? “ Sobel asked. “Where was the land of Edom, and how far out of their way did the Israelites have to walk, to avoid traversing Edom? What did the Nile’s irrigation system look like before it was turned to blood? What plants were used to make the special incense used in the Tabernacle?”
Questions like these are addressed through the use of “maps, images and background notes” prepared especially for this volume. Sklar emphasized that this translation includes “dozens of images displaying archeological findings, even from very recent digs.”
Sobel summarized Rabbi Steinsaltz’s philosophy, which is so well-represented in this new translation: “to help us understand, without spoon-feeding us.
“The commentary invites every one of us to share in Rabbi Steinsaltz’s love of Torah. He never dumbs down the text. Instead, we are challenged to rise higher, learn more, and broaden our own understanding of the Torah,” she explained.
The Steinsaltz Humash was published by, and is available from, Koren Publishers.
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