The book sold out its first edition of 20, copies within two months. ArtScroll publishes books on a variety of Jewish subjects. Other publications include works on Jewish Law , novels and factual works based on Jewish life or history, and cookbooks. Such editions are used even by American yeshivah graduates—who have had the benefit of exposure to Hebrew and Aramaic from a young age—inasmuch as it is often easier to effortlessly parse through the material in their native language in place of what may at times be a tedious endeavor of self-translation. Nosson Scherman, This work gained wide acceptance in the Orthodox Jewish community, and within a few years became a popular Hebrew-English siddur prayerbook in the United States.
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Several notes attempt to pinpoint the locations of the places mentioned in the text. These discussions and depictions breathe life into what are sometimes considered the duller parts of the Torah. Artscroll does not, for example, try to identify many of the kosher and non-kosher birds, transliterating the names instead of translating them. Unlike the ArtScroll, the Steinsaltz Humash typically distinguishes between those midrashim, or rabbinic legends, that are supported by the text and those that are not.
It explains, for example, that despite the midrashic tradition that Isaac was thirty-seven when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice him, the text indicates that Isaac was much younger. Rabbi Steinsaltz also proposes original explanations from time to time. Rabbi Steinsaltz acknowledges that people in the Bible are just people, with warts and all. It steers clear of any kind of textual criticism, never addressing variants found in other texts of the Torah such as the Samaritan Pentateuch or Greek Septuagint, or the way in which some narratives appear to be composites culled from several sources.
Although some in the Orthodox community, such as the editors of the popular website thetorah. However, the Steinsaltz Humash could have engaged with a broader range of Jewish and non-Jewish sources that bring the Torah and modern scholarship into conversation. There are several methodological essays in the Conservative Etz Hayyim Humash as well, and I wish the Steinsaltz could have followed suit.
The Steinsaltz Humash also avoids some of the interpretive debates that have animated Jewish commentators for centuries. Moreover, in the last few decades, a literary approach to reading the Torah focusing on themes, personalities, repeated words, and narrative structure has become very popular in the Modern Orthodox world. The two are clearly meant to be read together.
Yet what makes sense for the Talmud does not work as well for the Torah. The reader needs an in-line commentary to provide connective tissue—anything from missing words to elaborate logical explanations. Not so with the Torah. A good commentary is interesting and arguably essential, but the format employed by the Steinsaltz Humash blurs the line between what is in the text and what is merely interpretation.
The former is in one column, while the latter spans two. And the field is going to get more crowded. Some may decry the proliferation of synagogue chumashim as another unfortunate byproduct of the balkanization of American Jewry, where every denomination—and now sub-denomination—wants to mediate the Torah through its own ideological lenses. Before, American Jews could not pray together. Now, perhaps, they cannot learn chumash together either.
Yet there is a counter-argument. The more commentaries the better. Yosef Lindell is a lawyer, writer, and lecturer living near Washington, DC. His writing has appeared in various publications, including The Lehrhaus.
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