Tablet Magazine has an interview with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, translator of the Babylonian Talmud, author of many books, head of right wing extremists attempt to revive the Sanhedrin, and Chabad hasid.
Here is an excerpt:
Do you have any regrets about translating the Talmud? Has anything been lost?
Most things are lost, most things are changed. It’s a matter of making some kind of judgment of weighing different things. Teaching it in its original form means that a very small number of people will get to it, which means you create a very big population of ignorant people. It’s a matter of what’s more important. There are many areas where you have this kind of discussion. It’s a choice. I thought that the decision should be about giving people access. We don’t have a small closed group of people that are in the know. From Mt. Sinai on, we wanted everybody to participate. If you want it this way, you have to pay for it.
My understanding is there was much less resistance to Artscroll’s subsequent translation of the Gemara then there was to yours. Why is that?
The first effort is always more controversial. I don’t want to speak about lashon hara but part of the controversy was manufactured, and some people—there were interested parties—were doing it purposefully, so it was kind of an unpleasant time.…
In the 1990s, you spoke very critically about TV, calling it a force that undercut the culture of reading. I am wondering if you feel the same way about the Internet.
TV is worse because with TV you forget to read entirely. What I said in that speech is that TV—having things done in pictures—is a regressive move for human progress. The Internet, not as much. It has potential.
With the Internet, where you have all kinds of writing and other things, we are getting the malady of our age, which is too much information. It’s a different problem than TV: Too much information means you have to go into a whole new direction in order to find out what is meaningful and what is not meaningful, what is a complete lie and what has an existence.
You are writing a book about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Can you tell me about your connection to him?
I was very connected—I visited him almost every time when I was in America. It’s a very special connection.
Why did you want to write about him?
We haven’t had many great leaders. I meet lots of people, famous people, but I’ve met very few great people—even people I respected. They had some part of greatness in them, like a peacock. They have a wonderful, beautiful tail but if they didn’t have that tail, really, what would they look like? If they had not been, for instance, a great mathematician, they would have been nothing. There are so many nothings all over the world; they have something great about them, but they were not great.
But to have a great man! So, I wanted to not to share gossip but to deal with more important subjects about him. There are already several books about the subject, but many are either hagiographic or they are just plain dirty gossip.
What do you think about the movement within Lubavitch where some people say the Rebbe is a semi-deity or is still alive?
It’s like the stories people tell about Elvis Presley. Maybe they play cards together. If they are alive, they are alive in the same realm, I am afraid.
You can read the entire interview here.