Thanks to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, You Don't Have to Be a Hebrew Scholar to Enjoy the Talmud
updated 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST
All that has changed in the past decade. The Talmud is now a best-seller in Israel, thanks to a Jerusalem rabbi, Adin Steinsaltz, 52. Since 1964 he has devoted himself to interpreting and translating the 2.5 million words of the Talmud into modern Hebrew. With 22 of a projected 36 volumes now completed, his Hebrew edition has already sold 1 million copies.
This month, Steinsaltz brings the Talmud to the nearly 8 million Jews who don't speak Hebrew, when the first two volumes of his English edition arrive in U.S. bookstores. Two more installments of The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition are planned each year until the series is completed. The dual translations are an astounding intellectual accomplishment. "Rabbi Steinsaltz has the kind of mind that comes around only once every couple of thousand years," says professor Dan Segre of the University of Haifa.
Ironically, Steinsaltz read Karl Marx's Das Kapital before the Bible. His father was a socialist who eked out a living in Jerusalem doing odd jobs; his dressmaker mother was not religious. Yet their only son decided to become a rabbi. By age 23, he was director of a religious school; at 27, he began his translations. "To do this," he explains, "required a combination of hubris and self-effacement."
Today, Steinsaltz supports a staff of 20 on the project's revenues. He draws only a small salary and lives modestly in a tiny apartment with his psychologist wife, Sarah, and their three children, ages 7 to 18. "What I'm doing just had to be done," he says. "I had the feeling that people are blind, while I see, and that it's my duty to lend my sight to them."