Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz of Israel, a world-renowned Talmudic scholar who amazed the scholarly and religious world by translating the Babylonian Talmud into modern Hebrew and English, is again in the limelight with his translation of the first volume of the Jerusalem Talmud into Russian.
The undertaking is unprecedented and allows access now to a people who have been cut off from their Jewish religious roots for most of this century.
On Nov. 22, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a sponsor of the Steinsaltz Yeshiva in Moscow — officially known as the Judaic Studies Center — and a major funder of Jewish education in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world, hosted a reception at the United Nations in recognition of Steinsaltz’s accomplishment.
Ambassador Milton Wolf, president of the JDC, presented ambassadors Yuli Vorontsov of Russia and Gad Yaacobi of Israel with copies of the first volume of the work.
The ambassador of Italy, Francesco Paulo Fulci, an honored invitee, was unable to attend.
One of Steinsaltz’s friends and disciples is a former Italian prime minister and foreign minister, Giulio Andreotti, who pushed legislation through the Italian Parliament to help fund the Russian translation of the Talmud.
“Let my people know,” Steinsaltz’s favorite phrase, was repeated throughout the evening. It is his personal take of Moses’ call to Pharaoh to “let my people go.”
‘TO LEAVE TO OTHERS WHAT WE HAVE’
In this modern instance, says Steinsaltz, it refers to the delivery of the Russian Jews from religious oblivion. It also expresses his desire to educate all Jewish people.
Steinsaltz helped establish Jewish universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, both degree-granting institutions funded by the JDC.
As Steinsaltz told the guests at the reception, “We have to try to share, receive and leave to others what we have.”
Steinsaltz, born a secular Jew to socialist parents, has been working about 25 of his 56 years on the Talmud. The head of the Israel Institute of Talmudic Publications in Jerusalem, he talks about his yearning for the unity of the Jewish people.
It is in this vein that he has shared his knowledge by bringing the Talmud to Russian Jews.
The Babylonian Talmud, a 2.5 million-word compilation of oral law, history, philosophy and legends, is the dominant Talmud in Jewish religious life, written in the Diaspora and spread to Jewish communities worldwide.
The Jerusalem Talmud — older and shorter and compiled in Jerusalem in the fifth century –has been largely ignored.
Steinsaltz finished the first modern Hebrew volume of the Babylonian Talmud in 1966. More than a million copies of this have been sold.
Eight volumes of his translation of the Babylonian Talmud have been published in English by Random House. Steinsaltz has also translated the Jerusalem Talmud into modern Hebrew. Its first 10,000 copies sold out in a week.