Today, for a change, “the Bible Guy” becomes a Talmud guy.
This is my first post in what may become an occasional series, “A Biblicist Reads the Talmud.”
Last August I completed the 12th cycle of the page-a-day “Daf Yomi” program for learning Talmud. (I hope to write more — much more — about this elsewhere.) I resolved that I’d continue at a much slower pace. As of today I’m about 140 pages behind the page-a-day pace; I’m still working through the page they were on last August 14th.
For my first go-round, though I read every word of the Mishnah and Gemara in Hebrew and Aramaic, I relied heavily on the Artscroll edition. It’s excellent as a pony, but takes an ultra-Orthodox perspective on things.
The Koren edition is an English reworking of the highly-regarded Modern Hebrew “Steinsaltz” edition. It is aimed at a Modern Orthodox, rather than ultra-Orthodox, market, though when I heard R. Steinsaltz speak at Penn a few years ago it seemed to me that he too falls into the latter category rather than the former. In today’s post, I’m going to point out some problems demonstrating that this edition needs a careful going-over by an editor who can question R. Steinsaltz. I’m leaving aside some infelicitous English, which can be corrected rather easily in the next printing if Koren will take the trouble to do so.
My examples are coming from the page I’m currently on, vol. 1, p. 94 (a section of Ber.13b).
The Hebrew word perakdan (פרקדן) is translated as “one who is lying on his back.” This, I discovered on turning back to 13b in the Vilna-edition section at the other end of the book, follows the commentary of Rashi. But the language note on p. 94, to which readers are pointed by a superscript “L” in the English translation, says that it can mean “either lying on one’s back, or on one’s stomach.”
The note adds an explanation “in addition to Rashi’s,” which (however) the English reader is never given. (The “additional” explanation is that this position “may lead to inappropriate sexual thoughts”; Rashi says merely that if someone in this position has an erection while sleeping, it would be publicly visible and he would be embarrassed.)
In addition to the discrepancy between the note and the translation, what I want from a language note is to tell me why the unusual word means what it does. What’s the origin of this word? It seems to have 4 significant consonants, not the normal three. A linguistic note in a commentary on a biblical book would try to explain the form and derivation of the word, but that’s not part of this commentary.
Secondly, there’s a verb גנא (or perhaps גני) in this passage which seems to be used here in two different meanings: (1) to sleep; (2) to lie on one’s side. This ambiguity seems to be integral to the text rather than an artifact of the translation, but there’s no discussion of it. The Talmud translation I’m looking for would help me through this difficulty in the text.
I’ve been told that some years back the Jewish Publication Society received a suggestion to issue a modern English commentary on the Talmud that would be comparable to their excellent Bible commentary series (so far encompassing only the Torah, the Megillot, and Jonah). The reply was that there was no (non-Orthodox) market for such a thing.
Call me a dreamer, but I am ready for one — from JPS or anyone else — and I think others will join me. The Artscroll Talmud paved the way for the Koren edition; now the Koren edition is paving the way for a third version, even if this is merely an updated second edition of itself. One way or another, we moderns are going to bring the Talmud into our orbit.