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.]

26 Replies to “Holy Baba Batra!”

  1. An Israeli friend of mine who attended various yeshivas from his childhood and studied Rabbinics for years strongly urged me against getting Neusner’s translation of the Babylonian Talmud a couple of years ago when I first saw CBD offering it. He said that it was a terrible translation. It seems that you disagree. What are it’s strengths over the Soncino edition if you don’t mind my asking?

    (On a side note completely irrelevant to the issue, my friend later came to the states after converting to Christianity and earned a Master’s degree from Creighton University.)

  2. Well, I’ve heard that from others, too, and all I think one can say is that there’s a vast difference between reading a translation of the Talmud and reading the Talmud. No one’s going to use a translation for the Daf Yomi. And of course, any yeshiva-trained person is going to despise ANY translation to some degree or another. I think the biggest gripes come at Neusner’s because it’s not just he himself who translated it, but several of his students as well, so the consistency that you’ll have in a one-man translation (like the Soncino or especially the magnificent Steinsaltz, which Kevin, he doth covet, perhaps along with a new wing to stately biblicalia manor to house the volumes!) just isn’t there, and so words are translated differently by different translators (and this hasn’t been corrected by the editor). I don’t see that as such a big deal for a translation, because for that level of work one simply must go to the original Hebrew and Aramaic, period.

    The thing that’s really effective about Neusner’s translation strategy in general (and this is common to all his translations of the Rabbinic canon) is his practice of formatting the translation in outline. It’s this visual organization on the page that really helps see the structure of the argumentation much more clearly. This is something that one can only “see” through reading and hearing the text after some time of getting used to the telegraphic nature of the Talmud’s language in laying all these things out. It’s really this organization that is the added value over the Soncino.

    Also, it’s only around $80 bucks from Eisenbrauns. That’s positively a steal, as it’s usually more than twice as much.

  3. Hi Kevin —

    Thanks so much for those comments. Neusner’s work was not done solely by him, but mainly by a team of graduate students working under his direction. As you will notice when you read more of the translation, it is highly uneven (and in more than a few places, inaccurate).

    Now, of course, all English Talmud translations that I am aware of are done by teams of scholars, but Neusner’s seems more uneven (and less carefully annotated) than others.

    I do not appreciate Neusner’s structural divisions — first, he is adding something to the translation that is not present in any original language version of the Talmud I am aware of. Second, he does not seem to be especially consistent in the way he divides up the material.

    I think the biggest criticism of Neusner is that he does not clearly indicate he reliance on the traditional commentaries (Rashi and Tosafos) that are now always printed with Bavli. He makes no attempt to formally incorporate them (although you will notice that other English translations, such as the Artscroll, Steinsaltz, and even Soncino [with its footnotes] refer to them quite a bit.) Indeed, Neusner does rely heavily on Rashi (as they say, the Talmud would be a closed book without his interpretation) but in an arbitrary way.

    Having said my formal objections to Neusner, I will say that the study of Talmud is most common in observant circles of Judaism, and since Neusner is not observant, his translation is regarded as untrustworthy by some. I do not think that is a fair reason to criticize Neusner (I have other reasons, as listed above) — but that is the “truth on the ground.”

    Neusner does not help matters at all by being rather universally regarded as personally unpleasant, exploitive of graduate students, and unnecessarily pugnacious (figuratively speaking, of course — I have yet to see him don boxing gloves.)

    The criticism of the missing “tractates” is rather unfair: those are Mishna-only tractates and thus appear in Neusner’s work (published by Yale) The Mishnah (published by Yale, ISBN: 0300050224).

    Indeed, those tractates did not appear in the Soncino edition either — they appeared in a separate translation of the Mishna. In examining the link given above I noticed several things:

    (a) It is formatted quite differently than the original Soncino pages. Indeed, it appears to be generated as an automatic printout of the Davka “Soncino Library” program. I notice that copyright attribution is missing — it almost certainly an illegal copy.

    (b) Like the “Soncino Library”, it contains scanning errors not present in the printed edition.

    (c) The Gemara and Mishna were printed completely differently in the Soncino edition — and the link above gives a false impression.

    (d) The Soncino editions included extensive discussions and introductions that are not reprinted above. It appears they have been arbitrarily excised out of the links you mention.

    Regarding the Soncino, I think it is better than you suggest. However, it has deeply fallen out of fashion in religious circles. Instead, in English-speaking circles, an elaborately annotated edition published by Artscroll has become dominant, especially for daf yomi study. While this version is controversial (if only because it is a translation, and thus does not build skills in decoding Talmudic Aramaic), it is regarded as the best version. I also have seen more than a few rabbis rely on it. Indeed, I would say that even in Orthodox circles, more rabbis in America use the Artscroll than do not use it (although, of course, that is based purely on anecdotal evidence, and I have made no attempt to gather accurate statistics.) Nonetheless, I note that at the Yeshiva University museum exhibition three years ago (and I have just confirmed this in the catalog) that similar comments appear about the Artscroll!

    Of course, I am glad you are enjoying the Neusner. Even if my claims are correct that it is the least reliable of modern English translations, it is mostly good — and certainly it is much better to read Neusner than not to read any rabbinic works. However, whenever I see it, I feel as if I am seeing a textile from a sweatshop — peformed by underpaid (and unattributed) labor.

  4. Thanks very much for your clarifications Professor Neusner!

    I think the CD edition of your Bavli is missing its front matter, in which you must surely have explained all the attributions, just as you did in your printed Mishnah, which I own.

    Although I see there are many who disagree about the quality of this translation in particular, there is great value in its having been done at all, and I’ve always appreciated your work.

  5. Besidews the Bavli, I translated the Yerushalmi, and others, some former
    students of mine and some not, translated tractates.

    The Talmud of the Land of Israel. A Preliminary Translation and
    Chicago: The University of Chicago Press: 1982-1993. IX-XII, XIV-XV,

    IX. Hallah. 1991
    X. Orlah. Bikkurim. 1991.
    XI. Shabbat. 1991.
    XII. Erubin. 1990.
    XIV. Yoma. 1990.
    XV. Sheqalim. 1990.
    XVII. Sukkah. 1988.
    XVIII. Besah. Taanit. 1987.
    XIX. Megillah. 1987.
    XX. Hagigah. Moed Qatan. 1986.
    XXI. Yebamot. 1986.
    XXII. Ketubot. 1985.
    XXIII. Nedarim 1985.
    XXIV. Nazir. 1985.
    XXV. Gittin. 1985
    XXVI. Qiddushin. 1984.
    XXVII. Sotah. 1984.
    XXVIII Baba Qamma. 1984.
    XXIX. Baba Mesia. 1984.
    XXX. Baba Batra. 1984.
    XXXI. Sanhedrin. Makkot. 1984.
    XXXII. Shebuot. 1983.
    XXXIII Abodah Zarah. 1982.
    XXXIV Horayot. Niddah. 1982
    XXXV. Introduction. Taxonomy.

    Translations contributed by others:

    I.Berakhot Alan Avery-Peck with Tzvee Zahavy
    II. Peah Roger Brooks
    III. Demai Richard S. Sarason
    IV. Kilayim Irving Mandelbaum
    V. Shebiit Alan Avery-Peck
    VI. Terumot Alan Avery-Peck
    VII. Maaserot Martin Jaffee
    VIII. Maaser Sheni Alan Avery-Peck
    XIII. Pesahim Baruch M. Bokser and Lwrence H. Schiffman
    XVI. Rosh Hashanah Edward Goldman

    All tractates are attributed to those who did the work. The accusation that this is “unattributed” is false.

    I have just now completed the second translation of Yerushalmi Zeraim, which will be published by Hendrickson together with my initial translations of Yerushalmi Moed, Nashim, and Neziqin.

    Hendrickson also plans to publish my translations of the Midrash-compilations of the formative age of normative Judaism, which are as follows:

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. I. Sifra. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    Part i. Introduction. And Parts One through Three, Chapters One through Ninety-Eight
    Part ii. Parts Four through Nine. Chapters Ninety-Nine through One Hundred Ninety-Four
    Part iii. Parts Ten through Thirteen. Chapters One Hundred Ninety-Five through Two Hundred Seventy-Seven
    Part iv. A Topical and Methodical Outline of Sifra

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. II. Esther Rabbah I. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. III. Ruth Rabbah. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. IV. Lamentations Rabbati. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. V. Song of Songs Rabbah. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    Part i. Introduction. And Parashiyyot One through Four
    Part ii. Parashiyyot Five through Eight. And a Topical and Methodical Outline of Song of Songs Rabbah

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. VI. The Fathers Attributed to Rabbi Nathan. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. VII. Sifré to Deuteronomy. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    Part i. Introduction. And Parts One through Four
    Part ii. Parts Five through Ten
    Part iii. A Topical and Methodical Outline of Sifré to Deuteronomy

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. VIII. Mekhilta Attributed to R. Ishmael. Atlanta, 1997: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series

    Part i. Introduction. Pisha, Beshallah and Shirata
    Part ii Vayassa, Amalek, Bahodesh, Neziqin, Kaspa and Shabbata
    Part iii. A Topical and Methodical Outline of Mekhilta Attributed to R. Ishmael.

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. IX. Atlanta, 1998: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series. Now: Lanham, University Press of America.

    Part i. Introduction. Genesis Rabbah Chapters One through Twenty-One
    Part ii. Genesis Rabbah Chapters Twenty-Two through Forty-Eight
    Part iii. Genesis Rabbah Chapters Forty-Nine through Seventy-Three
    Part iv. Genesis Rabbah Chapters Seventy-Four through One Hundred
    Part v. A Topical and Methodical Outline of Genesis Rabbah. Bereshit through Vaere, Chapters One through Fifty-Seven
    Part vi. A Topical and Methodical Outline of Genesis Rabbah. Hayye Sarah through Miqqes. Chapters Fifty-Eight through One Hundred

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. X. Leviticus Rabbah. Atlanta, 1998: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    Part i. Introduction. Leviticus Rabbah Parashiyyot One through Seventeen
    Part ii. Leviticus Rabbah Parashiyyot Eighteen through Thirty-Seven
    Part iii. Leviticus Rabbah. A Topical and Methodical Outline

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. XI. Pesiqta deRab Kahana. Atlanta, 1998: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    Part i. Introduction. Pesiqta deRab Kahana Pisqaot One through Eleven
    Part ii. Pesiqta deRab Kahana Pisqaot Twelve through Twenty-Eight
    Part iii. Pesiqta deRab Kahana. A Topical and Methodical Outline

    The Components of the Rabbinic Documents: From the Whole to the Parts. XII. Sifré to Numbers. Atlanta, 1998: Scholars Press for USF Academic Commentary Series.

    Part i. Introduction. Pisqaot One through Eighty-Four
    Part ii Pisqaot Eighty-Five through One Hundred Twenty-Two
    Part iii Pisqaot One Hundred Twenty-Three through One Hundred Sixty-One
    Part iv Sifré to Numbers. A Topical and Methodical Outline

    All of this is my own work except as indicated, and none of it is the work of “underpaid and unattributed labor.”

    Jacob Neusner

  6. (I just somehow managed to lose a comment!)

    Thanks for those details, Iyov. I can only call it a brain fart that I forgot the Talmud doesn’t cover all the Mishnaic tractates. Mea maxima culpa. I’ll put in notes to that effect in the post.

    I know, of course, that the Artscroll Talmud is the most popular from friends, but it’s just so expensive, and not as accessible, likewise the Steinsaltz (still incomplete). Both also have their detractors, as you mention. Neusner’s, for my needs right now (which is having to verify citations in the margins, etc, of Charlesworth’s OTP volumes) is perfect, as I think it would be for anyone wanting just a quick peek at content as opposed to philological or faithful interests. For those, one would simply have to go to, I would say, that row of gigantic oversize volumes in the BM section down at the library. Those are what I think of when I think of the Talmud, with all the Rashi script and everything. (Like this, in case any reader is unfamiliar with it.) And unless someone is going to translate all of that, and provide the original on the facing page, we’ll just have to make do with what we can.

    In brief, I’ll say that Neusner’s Talmud is two things: 1.) a good enough translation for those who don’t intend to actually go any deeper into the Talmud itself (and this is no doubt the majority of Hendrickson’s customer base); 2.) a good translation because a controversial translation brings attention to the original text and stimulates further (and perhaps better) translation efforts.

    As always, however, I appreciate your comments.

  7. I apologize to Dr. Jacob Neusner for suggesting that attribution information was missing from his version. The versions I consulted did not contain the authorship information he mentions above (or I did not find it in those vesions), and it also appears that I received exaggerated (mis)information about the extent of graduate students contributions to those translations.

    I am glad Dr. Neusner had a chance to clarify matters for the record here.

  8. Iyov, yes, I too ran across some misinformation. I think it’s like that old game of “Telephone.” A quibble is morphed into a complaint and then is blown out of proportion and is spread like a rumour over the myriad fences of les internets, or as the Germans may call it, die Informationendatensendungsrohre, or whatever.

    I’ve been in contact, thanks to James Spinti, with someone from Hendricksons, so hopefully the lack of attributions in the electronic files of Neusner’s Babylonian Talmud translation will be addressed, hopefully by including the preface or whatever included that information in the printed edition. There is an update feature which will no doubt prove useful in this.

    Did you mean to say, though, that the printed edition is likewise lacking obvious attribution in the preface or somesuch? Perhaps the whole preface itself is missing? That would explain why it’s not in the electronic edition!

  9. For what it’s worth, OaKTree Software offers Neusner’s translation for Accordance. Unlike the PDF version you mention, it is searchable by word, etc.

    Accordance is a Mac program but will run well on PCs with a free Mac emulator.

    I’m hoping they will have the Aramaic/Hebrew text at some point but it might be quite a wait. (They do offer the tagged and untagged Mishnah as well as Neusner’s translation.)

    There are scans of the Talmud at http://e-daf.com/. On the left side of the screen, one can choose a daf.

  10. It turns out that, though unmentioned in the packaging or the help files, the Hendrickson’s CD edition of Neunsner’s Talmud Bavli is actually searchable. There’s a complete index file.

    One must open the files normally, in Adobe Acrobat (or Acrobat Reader) and then use the Search feature (Shift + Ctrl + F, or Edit: Search). Make sure “In the index named Talmud_idx.idx” is checked, beneath the entry box. This will search the index of all the files, and produce a result set of links.

    So, that’s not really an issue, either.

    I’ve always been tempted to get a Mac just so I could have the Accordance program. It’s unreal how cool it is. I may yet do that. It’s great that they have an emulator, though.

    E-daf is pretty neat, isn’t it? I linked to it up there somewhere too, I think. I could like it a bit more if the scans were of a bit higher resolution. The large images are kind of fuzzy, which makes reading the smaller Rashi script really difficult.

    Thanks for writing!

  11. Kevin wrote, “I’ve always been tempted to get a Mac just so I could have the Accordance program.”

    The current Macs use an Intel processor. One can now run Windows on Macs at near native speed with VMware (http://vmware.com/products/fusion/) or with Parallels Desktop (http://www.parallels.com/en/products/desktop/). (You can also boot up the computer in Windows in Boot Camp but then you can’t go between Windows and the Mac operating systems.)

    In 2007, the “PC Magazine” mentioned that the fastest notebook running Windows Vista was the Apple MacBook Pro.

    I don’t want to get into a Mac vs. PC war. But the valley between them has been narrowing.

    One reason why I got a Mac when I started using a computer in 1995 was because of Accordance.

  12. I think it’s time that this slander against Neusner, that Neusner’s graduate students have written the bulk of his books, be exposed. I’ve heard it made too many times without a shred of evidence offered (other than his amazing output).

    Looking at the descriptions of the positions Neusner has held the past twenty years, I don’t see any indication that he has even supervised many graduate students. If these had done the work credited to Neusner (while taking classes and writing their dissertations), THEIR output would be utterly astounding.

    BTW, I have also spoken with a well-known former student of Neusner who totally denies this accusation.

  13. Yes, Carl, we’re totally agreed on that point. Everything is there in the open, and Prof Neusner supplies attribution in every case, as he himself noted above. I don’t know where that rumor began, except perhaps as an inflated misunderstanding of what he did in his Mishnah translation, as described above, the only one of them all to involve graduate students. He’s certainly had a number of students in the past, many of whom are established professors, deans, and so on currently. I don’t know about currently, though, as I think he’s doing research exclusively now. His ability to produce such a plethora of material is undoubtedly due to both the extremely beneficial nature of his Professorship, accomodating his research, but also is due to his recognized erudition which has led others to ask him to write various books (he often describes the genesis of a number of books in his prefaces as having been sought out by others, as in the case of his Introduction to Rabbinic Literature). My impression of Prof Neusner is of an intensely curious, exceedingly well-read person with both broad and deep knowledge of his subject matter, and particularly with an innately logical mind, who is able to organize entire depots of trains of thought mentally before ever putting them to paper. That in itself is obviously a gift that speeds up the process of writing immensely. It’s also a practice that improves with time, it appears. His ability to recognize order/system and his practice of outlining materials, e.g. particularly in his translations, is expressed throughout his work. I’m sure that part of this is likewise to be attributed to his subject matter, so that his natural talent in this respect has been magnified through contact with the highly structure Rabbinic material. It’s a lucky combination for us all.

    Most of the complaints I hear seem to originate in people who simply haven’t read Neusner at all. And if they have, they certainly haven’t been reading him properly. As I said, too, either above or elsewhere, I think the rumours originate in jealousy and/or laziness. He calls bad thinking onto the carpet, deservedly so. Others don’t like that, to be sure. But when the subject matter is of such import, the theology of Judaism, for heaven’s sake, a bit of backbone is required in advocating hewing as closely to a proper handling of the material as possible.

    Anyhow, rumours are rumours, and should die a swift death when confronted with evidence, as above. To have even the slightest role in helping that to happen, through this blog and hosting the comments here, is a pleasure.

  14. Charles, those are mere opinions. A substantive review will actually provide some detail on what is wrong, how it is wrong according to the scholarly canons of research and/or consensus, and then perhaps we could talk about “serious problems.” Quoting Wikipedia as an authority is hardly evidence of anything. You may as well quote the local gossip column. And the New York Times, “Hell’s Bible”? Puh-lease!

    In every case when Professor Neusner is slandered by such fulminations, they’re without evidence, without real substance, and appear to me to be differences of opinion blown all out of proportion, due to emotional attachment to the subject matter. Yes, people have issues with his translations. To say so is utterly banal. Part of the magnificence of the Rabbinic canon lies in the language itself. Purists will despise any translation, and first translations (an entirely disproportionate number of those first and complete into English being from the pen of Neusner!) will bear the brunt of the blast. Academics themselves will work in the languages involved directly. But translations are necessary for the non-specialist. Something familiar is happening here. You might recall the furor in the early modern period concerning Bible translations into the contemporary vernacular of several languages? This is precisely the same situation. If such people despise (or so it seems–how academic is that?) Neusner’s translation work, let them do better. If those are ever published, and if they’re any good, I’ll give them credit. Until then, they should learn to do something other than complain.

  15. The painstaking work that Steinzalts, Artscroll, or even Soncino is far better then Neusner’s error laden work. I suggest you check out Lieberman critique.

    I recall in one place (in the Yerushalmi but can’t recall where) in which he translates “Amar Rebbe Lo” as Rebbe said – “No”. When even a beginner student of the Yerushalmi (aka Palestinian Talmud) knows that R’ Lo is the shortened (Syriac?) version of R’ Ilui.

    Or take this- from the wiki:”One methodological and historical critique of Neusner is by E. P. Sanders. In his earliest work, Neusner had argued that the most credible evidence showed that the Second Commonwealth Pharisees were a sectarian group centered on “table fellowship” and ritual food purity practices, and less interested in wider Jewish values or social issues. Zeitlin and Maccoby challenged this account. Sanders proposed that many of Neusner’s interpretations of Pharisaic discussions and rulings were questionable (e.g., Neusner concludes that 67% of the debates between Pharisaic “houses” dealt with ritual food purity; Sanders concludes that less than 1% do — see Sanders, below, p. 177).”

    precisely because Neusner is considered “reputable” such errors are repeated over an over thus disfiguring the legacy of Pharisaic Judaism. This type of mistake is unconscionable. It would be preferable for Neusner to be more accurate and less prolific.

    As it is, we are stuck with a repetitive cycle of errors that will become worse when the next generation of scholars starts using his translations without checking the primary texts.

    And the list of articles in the wiki criticising Neusner are by very reputable scholars.

  16. Charles, I think you’re misunderstanding completely the purpose of Neusner’s translations. Any who rely upon these translations as replacements for the original Hebrew/Aramaic texts would be no means qualify as “scholars.” Neusner’s translations are part of his project of a systematic investigation of the form and logic of the texts, and incidental to that project. It’s a very great service that he’s done in producing them, for those who don’t know the original languages. But his focus is not primarily philological. All users are referred to the originals, which the translations will help them to understand better, if used properly. I’ll say it again: a few mistakes do not drag down the entire set of translations and their value. Some of his translations are the first into English, which means that they could very likely be improved upon. If anyone thinks or knows they can produce better, then they should, and I’m sure they’d receive good marks from Neusner on improving on his own work.

    Neusner is not just “reputable.” There is no other scholar of Rabbinic literature who has received as many honors, rightfully bestowed for his work. That’s a simple fact that apparently sticks in the craw of many. And that’s too bad.

    The articles cited in a Wikipedia entry are by no means indicative of the quality of the article itself. Whatever may be popularly touted about Wikipedia in internet circles, it is not a work of scholarship, and not a valid reference tool for serious scholars.

    Neusner is a very dedicated and hard worker at his craft, honored by numerous awards and honorary doctorates beyond all his peers. He deserves much more respect than the rumour mill would grant him.

    Likewise, if you’re going to have your opinions respected on such a subject, you might want to make sure you can spell the names correctly.

    Further comments of a similar nature will not be permitted here.

  17. I will say just say one last thing and leave.

    You obviously admire Neusner’s work and that is certainly your perogative. But, you forget that Neusner is not working in a vacuum. He is dealing with subjects that involve very sensitive religious issues.

    Most Orthodox Jews (including myself) identify very strongly with the Pharisees, the founders of Rabbinic Judaism. My opinion (and again it is backed up by some leading “names” in the field) is that Neusner’s work on the Pharisees is not “up to par” and he misrepresents their role in Second Temple Judaism, something that bother me deeply.

    I suppose I was mistaken by bringing in his translations (which I have no need for, thank God) when my real intent was to criticise his view of the Pharisees.

    I was not referring to Wikipedia as a authoritave source, in and of itself, but the articles cited there certainly are.

    You can read them yourself and decide who has the right of it.

  18. Incidentally , I mispelled Steinsaltz (I assume that is what you refer to) because I use the Hebrew and that is what it looks like it transliterates as.

  19. Charles, you don’t need to “leave” but I would just appreciate people not leaving comments here that border on insulting the work of other commenters.

    Yes, you should certainly have stated that your issues are with Neusner’s work on what we can know of the Pharisees, rather than with his translations. I can see how this would be clearly upsetting. Have you read his latest on the subject, In Quest of the Historical Pharisees (Baylor Univ Press, 2007)? Neusner and Bruce Chilton are the editors of this collection of seventeen chapters, five of which are by Neusner. I haven’t read more than the preface (due to lack of time), but the collection is a good one, judging by the other contributors.

    But issues of academically valid history and faith-validated history are always a problem these days, whether for an Orthodox Jew like yourself or an Orthodox Christian like myself. Neusner is working in the realms of academically valid historiography in this case, not in faith-validated history. This situation in historiography has been acutely aggravating for many for quite some time, and not just in regards to the Pharisees. Yet he is quite right, in the context he works in and in the evidence (in other presentations I’ve read) to call into question some of the commonplaces bandied about regarding the Pharisees and in particular the trustworthiness of the Rabbinic sources as objective historical sources. It’s pretty clear that the Rabbinic sources do not by default equate to untampered-with first century sources. The Qumran literature certainly is such a source, but we have nothing like that from the Pharisees, despite what their religious descendants, the Rabbis, have preserved.

    Relatedly, he’s not saying “my way or the highway.” There’s still discussion going on, and his own position has certainly altered over the past thirty years. People disagreeing in academia is no more shocking than the sun rising daily. Rational critiques of Neusner’s highly rational and well-argued positions certainly exist. His ideas are known to be controversial at times, and quite inconvenient for those dabbling in first century history. Yet taking such critiques as indicating reason to dismiss all his work is simply a non sequitur, and yet this is quite commonplace. That’s simply not right. There are degrees of “wrong” and he is by no means so wrong that he should be dismissed.

    Also, please accept my apologies. It’s hard to tell from written comments how serious a commenter is about what he or she is writing, and how much thought they’ve put into it. I misjudged you from your initial comments, for which I sincerely apologize. The spelling dig was especially cheap. I can only ask your forgiveness.

  20. Just came across this discussion, though it seems I am several months (almost a year, actually) too late. But it’s fascinating. I recall reading Neusner’s translation of the Talmud Yerushalmi quite some years ago, and I was very impressed. Professor Neusner seems to have the facility of making the Talmud “run” in a way that no other translation I had read could do, (with the possible exception of the Talmud La’Am project that was begun in the seventies and which never got beyond a few tractates). Neusner’s brilliance lies in the way he manages to attain a discursive fluency that is only occasionally reached by Steinzaltz and rarely if ever by Artscroll. But with all that said, if I need to consult the translation of a difficult piece of Aggadta, I invariably go the Soncino, which I think has never been bettered in clarity and style despite the decades of scholarship since the 1930s (despite the old joke in yeshivas that the English in the Soncino is sometimes more difficult than the Aramaic!).
    However, I have some serious problems with Professor Neusner’s translation of the Mishnah, which could have benefited from a critical commentary explaining his choices to define certain ambiguous terms in certain ways, and the reasons behind his choices of alternative textual versions offered throughout the complex evolution of the printed Mishnaic text itself.
    Lastly, whilst there are many impressions one gains about the reputation of Professor Neusner’s personality, both through hearsay and print, I believe strongly that this has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of a scholar’s intellectual product.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Maya. Yes, it’s been a while, but that’s fine. He’s started on a new translation of the Yerushalmi, you’ll be pleased to know. I would think that in any work of such an extent as his Mishnah (or Bavli, etc), there are going to be a few issues that come up, different ones for different readers. I do much prefer Neusner’s Mishnah to the Danby, which was no mean feat in its day. He also has only good things to say of the Soncino. Much of Neusner’s talent in translation is related to his form critical approach to working with the text, parallels and digressions and their dependent links all become clear when that’s understood. Of course, you get all that in the Hebrew/Aramaic, but not laid out visually, which is quite nice.

      Personality issues are easily ignored in the case of Professor Neusner’s work. I find him to be extremely generous, and surprisingly accessible for a professor of his stature and accomplishments. I’ve always thought well of him, which I cannot say of some of his detractors, some of whom were, as they say, “asking for it”!

  21. Well, never too late to add my tuppence, eh? I think the Soncino is just fine, and I spent many years in some of the greatest yeshivas in America and Israel. The English is not difficult at all. Occasionally one runs across a word not commonly used, but that is generally because it is an English word not common in America, or because it is a legal term not common anywhere. The commentary aims for brevity, but it is emminently understandable. And there is excellent information in the footnotes, including (this will be a surprise to some) many citations to Tosfos.

    in my view, the difference between the Soncino and Artscroll is this: If you absolutley nothing at all, the Artscroll translation will spoon-feed you both the Talmud and its [Artscroll’s] political slant. But if one can already read the Talmud on his own and just wishes to use a translation out of laziness, time contraints, or simply to help with a particularly difficult passage, Soncino is the way to go.

  22. DF, thank you very much for your input. From all that I’ve seen of the Soncino (I don’t have a copy myself), it’s a quality translation. I plan to pick up a nice copy one day (one of those beautiful leather-bound gilt-edged confections!).

    I thoroughly enjoyed your comment! That last paragraph had me laughing.

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