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Anyone who opens a Jewish prayer book must confront theological issues ranging from gender roles to the nature of God.
No siddur can cross the denominational divide. Yet, from to , there was one book that united Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogue goers: the Hertz Pentateuch. Still, because it rejected biblical criticism, its broad cross-denominational acceptance could not last. And in time, it was also showing its age. Among the varied streams of Orthodoxy, there have also been several new Hebrew-English chumashim [pentateuchs] in recent decades.
Another is geared toward adherents of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. It has an extensive commentary culled from classical Jewish interpreters, as well as other explanatory features like genealogical charts for all the name lists in Genesis and pictures of the Tabernacle erected in the desert.
Still, because of its user-friendliness—and despite some of its other features—the Stone Chumash is ubiquitous in a wide spectrum of Orthodox synagogues, from the right to the left. Rabbi Steinsaltz has spent a lifetime making core Jewish texts accessible to all Jews regardless of their background. Yet Rabbi Steinsaltz has not confined himself to the Talmud; his prolific oeuvre includes many works on Jewish thought, including a popular one on Kabbalah. The new chumash, according to Rabbi Even-Israel, is designed for synagogue use.
In , Koren released a siddur with the commentary of former English Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, which competes with the popular ArtScroll siddur for shelf space in many Modern Orthodox synagogues. Schacter, a noted Modern Orthodox educator who holds senior positions at Yeshiva University. So what makes the Steinsaltz Humash distinctive? What about it might appeal to synagogue-goers? Are there features that highlight an engagement with modernity? The fonts are crisp and clear, and there are color images throughout.
Further, each section of the text is preceded by a helpful thematic introduction that describes what the section is about and connects it to prior sections. The chumash also includes the classic commentary by the medieval sage Rashi, but in Hebrew only. 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.
Is this recent uptick in chumash publication a good thing? 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. Home Share Search. Email Facebook Twitter. Give Advertise Subscribe. Shira Hecht-Koller. American Jews have long been unable to pray together. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Share. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email. Koren Publishers Screenshot of the Steinsaltz Humash layout. Author Yosef Lindell. J Goldberg. Send to. Add a message. Send me a copy. Thank you! This article has been sent!
The Stone Edition Chumash - Full Size
The prayer of thousands has already been enhanced by the revolutionary Schottenstein Edition Interlinear prayer books - Now announcing, by popular demand the chumash everyone has been waiting for! It features the same easy-to-follow word flow you've enjoyed in all ArtScroll Interlinear volumes. The entire Chumash, newly reset, in one beautiful volume with a new, contemporary English translation of the Torah, faithful to Rashi and the classic Rabbinic commentators, and an anthologized commentary by a team of scholars, under the editorship of Rabbi Nosson Scherman. This commentary draws on the spectrum of biblical commentaries, from the Talmud, Midrash, and the classic Rabbinic commentators, and includes insights of contemporary greats. A classic in its own time The original Stone edition of the Chumash has become the most widely used Chumash in the world by far.
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