Holy Baba Batra!

[UPDATE: See the comments below for welcome attribution information from Professor Neusner, and information on forthcoming electronic editions of his translations of the Rabbinic canon. The attribution information is lacking in the electronic edition of the Talmud Bavli translation.]

I just yesterday received a copy of Jacob Neusner’s The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary on CD (Thanks, Eisenbrauns!). Hendrickson Publishers used Ages Software to create the program, which is essentially just pdf files of all the chapters (of Neusner’s devising) of the tractates. Neusner’s work in outlining the entire Babylonian Talmud is a truly breathtaking labor of great erudition. The precision of language and the patterns observable in the original are conveyed very well indeed in this translation, which fortunately doesn’t skimp on the explanatory parentheses necessary to make the extremely telegraphic nature of the Talmud’s language intelligible to those not very familiar with it. A general introduction to the Babylonian Talmud is included, as well as an introduction for and a treatise on the structure of each tractate. Very interesting.

There are, however two drawbacks. The first is the lack of facility in searching by the traditional folio numbers. Neusner’s outline organization of the tractates breaks them down into chapters, which the files are also broken into, but this means each tractate then has a number of files, and one needs to open several before finding the proper one with the correct folio numbers in it. The “Talmud Librarian” page doesn’t list the folios at all, and you’ll only find the folios included in the chapter headings. Oh, hold on a minute . . . . After a bit of work, I’ve come up with a basic html file that includes links to all the files, with the titles, transliterations, and descriptions given by Neusner in the general introduction, and including the folio numbers next to each link, a vast improvement I think. To get it to work, you’ll of course need to have purchased this Neusner Talmud CD, and having installed that, you’ll simply save this page (or this color-coded one) to the same directory in which all the files are installed. The pages will open in your web browser when you click the links, if you’ve got Adobe Acrobat (or its Reader) installed. (Note that it must be saved in the same directory that the files reside in for the file to work as is. If you’re comfortable with html editing, you can change that if you like.)

[UPDATE: The following paragraph/drawback is incorrect. Neusner’s is a complete translation of the Babylonian Talmud, which itself only comments on 37 of the Mishnah’s tractates. The presumption of forgetfulness is a wretched thing!]

The second drawback, which you’ll notice upon looking at that file, is that only 37 of the Babylonian Talmud’s 63 tractates are actually included in Neusner’s translation. This was quite a disappointment. Perhaps he’ll complete it in the future. If that’s the case, I’ll make a note of it here. It’s a fine translation, and the outline format is extraordinarily useful, helping to clarify the text, so I certainly hope Newusner’s Babylonian Talmud translation will be completed in the same format, and likewise made available on CD to complete this collection seamlessly. In the meantime, the (older, and thus somewhat inferior) Soncino translation of the complete Babylonian Talmud is available online, also in pdf format.

[UPDATE: Note that I have removed the link, as the pdfs of the Soncino Talmud to which I linked are clearly both a poor presentation of the Soncino Talmud, and in copyright infringement.]

God of all who rejoice forever

Of the Instructor
Song of the sacrifice of the seventh Sabbath on the sixteenth of the month.

Praise the God of heights,
exalted ones among all the potentates of knowledge!
May the holy ones of God magnify the King of Glory,
Who makes holy in holiness every holy one.
The chiefs of praises of all the mighty ones,
praise the God of praises of majesty,
for in the splendor of the praises
     is the glory of His majesty.
In it are the praises of all the mighty ones,
with the splendor of all His majesty.
And exalt his exaltation to the height,
mighty ones of the potentates of exaltation,
and the Divinity of His glory
     above all heights of exaltation.
For He is God of gods of all the chiefs of the heights,
and King of kings of all the councils of the ages.
At the words of His mouth,
     the potentates of exaltation are,
at what leaves His lips, all the spirits of the ages,
by the will of His knowledge,
     all His works in their missions.
Sing with joy, you joyful of His knowledge,
with rejoicing among the mighty ones of wonder.
And proclaim His glory with the tongue of
     all who proclaim knowledge,
joyful songs of His wonder
     in the mouth of all proclaiming Him.
For He is God of all who rejoice forever,
and Judge in His might of
     all the spirits of understanding.
Give thanks, all you potentates of majesty,
     to the King of Majesty,
for to His glory all the potentates of knowledge
     give thanks,
and all the spirits of righteousness give thanks
     in His truth.
And they make their knowledge pleasing
     with the judgments of His mouth,
and their thanksgivings with the return
     of the arm of His might,
for judgments of salvation.
Sing to the God of strength
     with the portion of the chief spirit,
for a song in the joy of God,
and a rejoicing among all the holy ones,
for a song of wonder in the joy of ages.
With these praise all the foundations
     of the Holy of Holies,
the columns bearing up the palace,
     Exalted of Exalteds,
and all the corners of His building.
Sing to God, terrifying of strength,
     all spirits of knowledge and light,
to exalt together the firmament Pure of Pures,
of the holy place of His holiness.
And praise Him, spirits of the mighty ones,
to praise for ages of ages
     the chief firmament of the heights,
all its beams and its walls,
His building, the work of His construction.
The spirits of the Holy of Holies,
     the living mighty ones,
the spirits of holiness of the ages,
above all the holy ones
     of the firmament of wonder,
the wonder of majesty and splendor,
and wonderful is the glory in the light
     of their brightness of knowledge.
…in all the holy places of wonder.
The spirits of the mighty ones are around the dwelling
     of the King of Truth and Righteousness.
All its walls….

This is one of the Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice, 4Q403, 4QShirShabbd, Fragment 1, column 1, lines 30-46. It appears to be the most completely preserved, though even it is incomplete. One note on the translation is that where I’ve used “mighty ones,” the Hebrew has אלהים, and where I’ve used “potentates” the Hebrew has אלים. Rather than confusing readers into thinking this a polytheistic text, when it’s really all about the angelic orders praising God, I avoided translation in those instances as “gods” while maintaining the above-mentioned alternatives consistently.

The Qumran community of Essenes celebrated these Sabbaths with various different songs of praise in which they find themselves sharing in the angelic heavenly praise of God, a situation familiar to those of us belonging to those churches which have maintained ancient mystical liturgical traditions. The worship is twofold: as we praise and offer on earth, the same is occurring in heaven, and eternity and incorruptibility are for a time overlapping with the timebound and corruptible. No doubt the Essenes considered something of the same to be occurring, with swarms of angels careening about them, but also themselves being to a degree transported to the heights of heaven.

This translation is also due to the suggestion of Mike Aquilina, as today is the Feast of the Archangels on the Western Calendar, and one of these songs is thus entirely appropriate!

The reason for the season!

Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence.

When they had done this, they fell prostrate and implored the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev. They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.

(2 Maccabees 10:1-8 NRSV)

חנכה שמח