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June 18, 2012

Is The New Koren Talmud Any Good?

Rabbi_Adin_SteinsaltzIs the new English language version of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz's Hebrew language Talmud translation and commentary any good?

 

I spent some time over the past 10 days with the new (and bizarrely named) Koren Talmud.

The Koren Talmud, of course, is really the Steinsaltz Talmud – Chabad Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even Yisrael's translation of and commentary on the Talmud translated from the Hebrew to English.

(The Babylonian Talmud itself is a creole of Aramaic and Hebrew with terms and words from many other ancient Middle Eastern and Southern Europen languages mixed in, along with small, almost pure, older Hebrew sections called Mishnayot, Mishna.)

Steinsaltz is known worldwide for his translation and commentary. He won an Israel Prize for it. He's been featured over the years in leading magazines and TV news magazine worldwide, and his name is very well known as a result.

Non-Orthodox Jews involved in Jewish study usually know Steinsaltz, whose books on Jewish theology like The Thirteen Petalled Rose and The Essential Talmud have often been textbooks for the courses they took.

Steinsaltz is also very well known in Orthodoxy, and while haredim often dislike him, changing the name of his Talmud won't change that.

Koren threw away what could easily have been millions of dollars in free publicity with that name change – a point, I'm told, professionals tried in vain explain to them.

Somehow Koren felt the name of a relatively obscure Hebrew Bible publisher was more important than the name Steinsaltz, a bizarre choice that will surely cost it hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales over the years from befuddled Jews who will go in looking for Steinsaltz and come out empty-handed – or with ArtScroll.

Coupled with my shock at Koren's naming choice, I feared that Koren would repeat the same mistakes made by Random House in its failed attempt two decades ago to publish the Steinsaltz Talmud in English.

Random House's Talmud opened like English language books do, spine on the left, page edges on the right – something very off-putting for many involved Jews.

It also took many expensive Random House volumes to amount to one tractate of Talmud, meaning Random House's Berachot might have 6 or more volumes at $60 each in today's money while ArtScrolls' might have two priced significantly lower.

Koren handles both these problems well.

While the Koren Talmud also opens and reads like an English language book, it also opens and reads like a traditional Talmud. It does this by having Steinsaltz's commentary and translation, along with Koren's reset Hebrew text in the English side of the book and the traditional Vilna Shas pages in the Hebrew. Each volume has two page markers, one blue, one red, to be be used to mark your page on each side.

While Koren's type is small for a Talmud, it is very legible, largely because the columns are narrow and each block of text is very small. That's because Koren chose to break up the page into small textblocks based on an idea or halakhic concept, or by the person making a particular argument, as it notes in the video posted above.

And because of this typesetting and design. Koren is able to keep the page count much lower in its version compared to the old Random House version.

And this radically reduces the number of volumes needed to complete a tractate, which means the cost of owning a complete Koren Shas will be much lower than the cost would have been to own the Random House version – if it had ever been completed.

Koren also prints the Steinsaltz section of the full-sized volumes in color, which allows for great photographs of archaeological finds, charts and other illustrations to be printed.

Koren's version is ideally set up for those following the Daf Yomi cycle of Talmud learning (it says it will release new volumes as needed slightly ahead of that schedule) or for those who attend a weekly Talmud class. Material can be prepared ahead of time in the Steinsaltz side and then the Vilna Shas side can be used to follow along in class and to access Rashi and Tosfot.

Koren's Talmud may one day be the staple Talmud found in Modern Orthodox and Chabad synagogues, along with the libraries of non-Orthodox synagogues and university classrooms.

Of course, to do that, the new Talmuds will have to sell.

And that brings us back to Koren's bizarre naming choice and its marketing.

Time will tell us if Koren's choices in these regards are survivable.

Those who want a literate English language Talmud and commentary available – and those who, for a multitude of good reasons, loathe ArtScroll –  should be hoping (or praying, as the case may be) that they are.

Comments

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What's even more bizarre is Koren's decision to advertise here. How many FM readers will open a Talmud let alone buy a set?

What's even more bizarre is Koren's decision to advertise here. How many FM readers will open a Talmud let alone buy a set?

Posted by: Dirty old man | June 18, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Why are you here? If you either work or study, why do you have time to post your dimwitted barbs?

If there is any semblance of the Modern Orthodox Torah left, it is coming from Koren. They revel in being a 21st century, in-tune with society individual while still being a halachically observant Jew. Their kinot with commentary from Rav Soloveitchik were great and now this is very enticing. Hope this becomes a staple in the local shuls, but in Monsey, that's real wishful thinking.


How many FM readers will open a Talmud let alone buy a set?

Posted by: Dirty old man |


i refer to my set of shas quite often in my richuk work. i use it to show clueless yeshiva guys some of the funny and bizarre contents of which theyre usually unaware. many think im lying to them until we learn the sugyeh from the actual gemara.

When they come out with an English Talmud that has straight, unadulterated translations of Rashi and Tosfos, I'll buy it. Until then, my little set of Soncino English-only version has the very best translation done so far without the bullshit opinions of the "gedolim".

Somehow Koren felt the name of a relative obscure Hebrew Bible publisher...

Hardly an obscure publisher.
They are very well known for their excellent, precise Chumash, Tenach and Siddur (which btw shows their original and beautiful typesetting to perfection - sentences and paragraphs arranged and divided by subject matter, unlike many contemporary Siddurim which seem to have been created by a monkey with a typewriter

In recent years Koren has been trying to transition from an obscure Bible publisher into a mainstream Jewish publisher aiming at the MO and Dati Leumi crowd.
Before this Talmud, for example, they published the Koren Steinsaltz Talmud all in Hebrew with the daf on one side and Rav Steinsaltz's interpolative translation and notes on the other side, a la Artscroll but with only one page of Steinsaltz for each daf, not Artscroll's 3-6. They also have a range of siddurim in both English-Hebrew and Hebrew that is exanding yearly and they promote an all-Hebrew Steinsaltz-like Talmud Yerushalmi.
But why they wouldn't call it the Koren Steinsaltz Talmud is a mystery.

Every Modern Orthodox shul today has an equal amount of Koran siddurim as it does Artscroll. It used to be only Artscroll English plus some Artscoll 'hebrew only'.
I'll bet that by the next Siyum Hashas each and every MO shul will have many sets of the Koran Shas and few, if any, Artscoll Shasim.

What's even more bizarre is Koren's decision to advertise here. How many FM readers will open a Talmud let alone buy a set?

Well, here's one for a start!

I like Steinsalz's approach of incorporating philology and archaeology into the study of Shas. It's far more intelligent than gedolim worship.

I'm still waiting for a line-by-line comparison of a sugya between the ArtScroll and the Koren (not to mention the Soncino and the Neusner)

Two words: iPad app.

Most students of the Daf Yomi are either Charedim or right wing Modern orthodox peolel who IMO will not switch to the Koren edition.Daf Yomi is seriously strong only in Charedi shuls.
Most MO(left wing) Conservative and Reform Jews do not study Talmud. At least not more than once a year.
Steinsaltz may hve a small Chabad market and some Conservative rabbis and synsagogues may purchase this. Since most academic librraies already have 2 English talmuds I doubt in our age of tight money they will go for another English translation.

Does anyone know when the iPad app will come out and how much will it cost?

I think that Koren is a good brand to use for any classic Tanakh, Chumash, Siddur anything classic sifrei kodesh.
It has highest respect for quality and esthetics.
It has always been recognised as such in Israel & is making strong inroads in the English speaking world particularly since the publication of Rabbi Sachs's siddur.
Many Orthodox (Centrist & MO) people would buy it when they don't want artscroll.
As to the Steinzalts BT, it wouldn't be the first time a talmud is labeled after the name of a publisher. Of course the classic greatest of all talmuds in circulation is the Rohm's edition named after the 'Widow Rohm and her Children'. Those who will buy the Koren's edition will know it's Steinsaltz. As the name will no doubt be on the cover too.
I don't know about the quality of the English Talmud. The Hebrew Even Yisrael edition is excellent in the sense that it is clear and accessible to all.
I do not think it's a genius work of one person as some would say.
I am sure R' A.S had a team of helpers/ghost writers, call them whatever you please.
But so does Artscroll and anybody undertaking a work of this scope would.
I wish the Koren Talmud all the best.

Any chance they'd offer a nice discount for FM readers?
Seriously asking...

Eli - Amazon have it for $30 inc. shipping vs. the Koren site of $50 plus shipping!

Talmud is antagonistic to the Torah (Pentateuch) so who really cares if its good or not.

Besides, Soncino version is free and available online, and its pretty good too.

http://www.come-and-hear.com/talmud/

or

http://halakhah.com/

or

here http://www.e-daf.com/

I've haven't heard any of the serious Jewish scholars around here complain about the page direction or formatting of the Random House editions, and that group includes top university folks that have been involved in authoring and editing major Jewish publications. They universally adore the content. The complaints I do often hear are about the price of the later volumes - and (ironically) about how hard it can be to find them at any price.

I've already received my copy of the new work, and although it takes awhile to get used to the format, I can see how it will would be very attractive to "average folks" that can't read the original text. I think the iPad version will be a huge success.

The "Koren Steinsaltz Talmud" name suggested in another comment for the new work would have made perfect sense. They had no issue with "The Koren Sacks Siddur" or the "Mesorat HaRav Siddur". It's fair to note that Koren, however, has huge name recognition with the twenty-something MO crowd, especially people that have been to Israel for a gap year. I frequently see those folks using the various editions of the excellent siddur (except for the too thin paper) and no longer risking tamei yadayim with the books from Artscroll. The siddurim feature additions for modern Israeli holidays that make Zionist MO Jews swoon.

@ Yochanan Lavie:

That's another reason I love it too- Steinsaltz, in particualr, stresses the need for intellectual growth and how nobody- man or woman- should spend their lives in a bubble of ignorance, and he does this by incorporating different fields of study. He is one rabbi I look up to very much.

Love the Koren Siddur. Maybe Rabbi Even Yisrael can donate some of his used beard hairs as personalized bookmarks for a small fee.

> Is The New Koren Talmud Any Good?

Rabbi Aharon Feldman already addressed that question in 1991. He wrote an extensive review in Tradition that's freely available here:

http://www.traditiononline.org/news/article.cfm?id=104514

'Talmud is antagonistic to the Torah (Pentateuch)'
AS, your comment is simplistic.
Judaism today of all branches is defined by the Talmud.
Including reform, conservative and reconstructionists. (excluding samaritans, who by their own definition are israelites, not jews & karaites ).

'so who really cares if its good or not.'
Most muzhiks in dirty galoches, probably don't care.
Many others care however!
Soncino, is a straight translation.
Steinsaltz (and schotenstein) offers commentary in modern hebrew/english.
reading soncino alone will leave outsiders totally in the dark.
Soncino as 'available' on 'come-and-hear' is far from being complete.
Come and hear - as a web site, is not too fond of judaism.
There is actually, a big difference between disagreeing with some aspects of Orthodoxy (legitimate) and being anti-jewish (reprehensible) !

i have the hebrew, daf yomi size and like it a lot although the Iyuning at the bottom are harder to read with small type face. agree that Steinsaltz' name should be part of the title... that said, i love the typography that Koren delivers on all its products ..
an aside-- very impressed to see Koren publish in hebrew David Weiss Halivni's Broken Tablets, which first ran through Yad VaShem and was reproduced as a freestanding English book and now in hebrew.. it centers, in large part, around R Halivni's basic belief that today's 5 Books of Moses is the byproduct of Ezra's final edits.. it's a fascinating theory whether one accepts it or not.. and R Halivni is among the greatest scholars from the religious world over the last century.

It's immoral, and perhaps even illegal, that you don't mention in the article that the Koren Talmud is one of your sponsors.

Dirty old man -GO and vishdem tohes ois and clean youre act up di shoite.

It's immoral, and perhaps even illegal, that you don't mention in the article that the Koren Talmud is one of your sponsors.

Posted by: abcdef | June 18, 2012 at 02:05 PM

Idiot.

Do you think people are too stupid to notice the ad on the top of the page?

Even if the ad weren't there there is no law that says I have to disclose that Koren advertised.

And while you're clearly not a bright man (or a mature man, as time has shown), the review itself is critical of Koren.

But I'll tell you this – you have spent a lot of ink criticizing Hebrew National, and you're doing so as an anonymous commenter on a blog who may very well have ties to HN competitors or be someone who lost a bet din before Ralbag.

That is most definitely immoral, even if you're telling the truth about him.

You're a cowardly little man hiding behind anonymity to attack people you don't like.

And that is most definitely immoral.

But with mental midgets like yourself, morality is a one way street..

Every Modern Orthodox shul today has an equal amount of Koran siddurim as it does Artscroll. It used to be only Artscroll English plus some Artscoll 'hebrew only'.
I'll bet that by the next Siyum Hashas each and every MO shul will have many sets of the Koran Shas and few, if any, Artscoll Shasim.

Posted by: Betting Man | June 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM

I live in Teaneck, and I'm not seeing it. Most shuls I go to still use the Artscroll Siddurim they've been using for the last 20 years. Sure, there are a few Koren Siddurim around, but not more than two or three dozen, compared to the hundred or so Artscrolls. I think it's a particular type of Shul that would have switched to Koren once it came out. You need a certain combinnation of liberal Modern Orthodoxy and monied (and willing to donate someo f that money) Modern Orthodoxy to get a Shul to buy a whole new set of Siddurim.

As to the Gemaros, the way I see the breakdown is that the Daf Yomi and MO Yeshiva student crowd will keep using Artscroll, because it's become an institution and it speaks their language. I figure academics and intellectuals will keep using Soncino when they want to translate something. Meanwhile, the Koren Steinsaltz will be used by academic Jewish studies students, for whom Soncino is too dry, but Artscroll too Lomdish, and for whom the historical and linguistic information in Steinsaltz would be quite handy. I think it'll also carve out a niche with the more intellecually-minded MO, who want to learn Gemara from a historical-cultural perspective as well as a Halachic one. And I guess for some of the hipper intellectuals also, the ones who stick their heads outside the ivory tower occasionally and want a translation that's more readable to a lay-audience.

Eli - Amazon have it for $30 inc. shipping vs. the Koren site of $50 plus shipping!
Posted by: David | June 18, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Thanks, David! Maybe Koren could match the price on FM too. That's a huge difference.

In recent years Koren has been trying to transition from an obscure Bible publisher into a mainstream Jewish publisher aiming at the MO and Dati Leumi crowd.

It was never 'obscure' to the Israelis. I own a Sabbath prayer book including Chumash, an all week pocket size prayer book, a tanach, a tiqqun qoreem and the bilingual Rabbi Sacks Siddur. All acquired over several years, prior to and without the necessity or permission of the MO American enlightenment.
Their Hebrew prayer books are available for Sefardis and Ashkenazi + Sefard versions all with haskamot from leading Rabbis. The books are widely distributed in Israel among all types knit or velvet yarmulkes.
Obscures could possibly be anglos sporting crusaders royalty like names!
I think that R' Steinsaltz made a good choice to replace the Random House with Koren.

Koren is hardly obscure to the cognoscenti. We recognize the precision and clarity of the Tanakh, as compared to so many other editions which are just offset plates of older offset plates. The Tikkun is beautiful.

ALSO (DAVAR AHER)
Idiot.
Do you think people are too stupid to notice the ad on the top of the page?

That may be true if someone is reading the post on the original page. But perhaps
someone will choose to cut and paste your comments, Shmarya. I think it would have been proper to include a full disclosure of this in your review itself.

Artscroll is also coming out with an ipad app. supposedly they threw millions of dollars at it
unfortunately the ipad with its easy internet access is now verboten - what a waste of money!

Artscroll should sell ipads preloaded with their app (so C'V you shouldn't have to access the apple app store) at a mark-up with explicit directions on how to disable wifi --or with a filter -- now that's a money-maker!

...and no longer risking tamei yadayim with the books from Artscroll.

Posted by: neo-conservaguy | June 18, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Well said. My husband came back from shul one morning and told me he had dovened from an artscroll siddur. I made him go to the mikvah before I let him touch me.

Stein is not worth his Zaltz. He is very middlebrow compared to the Artscroll Talmud team. There is also something very lacking when he tampers with the daf format. But what does he know? With all the knowledge he has amassed he is still a product of the atheist, Communist kibbutz Shomer Hatzair and never had a rebbe to teach him tradition

i refer to my set of shas quite often in my richuk work. i use it to show clueless yeshiva guys some of the funny and bizarre contents of which theyre usually unaware. many think im lying
--------------------------------

Ahpikorus: I like your style! It is hard for me to read transliterated words, but by richuk I presume you mean something about "distancing", perhaps the opposite of "kiruv"?

A blog of all these passages you go over with the bucherim would be useful.

Um, the word "Steinsaltz" is right there on the cover.

I somehow doubt it'll be a hit among Chabad. (Is the Hebrew version?) Hope I'm proven wrong.

Yoel B.: There is an IPad ap.

"relative obscure Hebrew Bible publisher"

It's just about the prominent Hebrew Bible out there.

Posted by: Get a clue | June 18, 2012 at 11:20 PM

And, once again - no sense of irony.

Neo: Nice to hear from you again!

There is certainly room for both Artscroll and Steinsalz. They have different approaches. I am not a fan of Artscroll in general, but they do okay with gemara and mishna. Why the either/or approach?

What is bizarre about the Koren name? They are a respected brand. You prefer ArtScroll's novel(in Jewish history) choice of naming books after people with money?

It is Artscroll's policy is fine. If it encourages rich people to give more that is great! Besides we are always hearing how those who support Torah scholars are even greater. Finally Artscroll is putting their mouth where the money is.

It is Artscroll's policy is fine. If it encourages rich people to give more that is great!

I agree with you, YM.
However, this is not too successful at making the books any cheaper!

Thank you for writing about our new edition of the Talmud. The complete title of this new edition is the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. This title appears on the cover and dust jacket of each volume. Similarly, our Hebrew/English Siddur is entitled the Koren Siddur with Commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Popularly, the new Talmud may become known as the Koren Steinsaltz Talmud, just as our Siddur is popularly referred to as the Koren Sacks Siddur. We welcome this "nicknaming," which shows that people recognize that these works are the result of close working relationships between Koren, the publisher, and today's leading Jewish thinkers. We are proud of our partnership with Rabbi Steinsaltz in producing this new Talmud--a fact that can be seen in the Official Koren Talmud Video embedded on your site.
--Koren Publishers Jerusalem

Looks like a splendid piece of work. It will adorn many bookshelves I'm sure, as long as people don't descend to an infantile state of mocking and rejecting good teachers in their midst. Paying for instruction seems anathema to many people lost in a neo-pagan, materialist, narcissistic, hedonistic lifestyle however.

Well done to Rabbi Steinsaltz !

I started teaching a new Gemora class with the Koren Steinsaltz Berachot as our text. We looked at the explanations of the Hebrew Artscroll (which I think is much better than the silly Ashkenazic laden English edition) and Steinsaltz's explanations were more lucid and clear. I personally still prefer the Hebrew Steinsaltz but it's nice to have all of Berachot in one volume.

Silly Ashkenazic? The only thing that's silly are the fools of Ashkenazi origin who adopt Sephardic pronunciations

Its a free country, man, so do what you want but this is the first time I see one of these Avi Weiss types which Sam obviously is actually criticize everyone else for not abandoning their heritage

Your axe must be in need of extra extra grinding

I have used the artscroll talmud for 20 years and bought the Steinsalz talmud. I must say that artscroll does a better job explaining the sugyas and goes deeper into the matter. I like learning with Steinsalz but I am still confused over the pshat. I am disappointed that there is not enough elaboration with Steinsalz. I guess I am still going to go along with artscroll.

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