Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Russian Version of Talmud Released by Rabbi Steinsaltz


The first volume of the Babylonian Talmud to be translated into Russian has been released here.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, an Israeli known for translations of the Talmud into modern Hebrew, English and French, presented the Russian-language edition at a ceremony last week at the office of the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov.

The Babylonian Talmud – which contains 63 sections, or tractates, and which was written in Aramaic and ancient Hebrew when it was compiled some 1,700 years ago – has never before been available to Russian Jews in their native language.

During the atheist Soviet era, when Communist authorities suppressed all expressions of religious activity, Russian Jews had little access to the Talmud, copies of which were sometimes in the country’s few functioning synagogues or were smuggled in by foreigners.

The 59-year-old Steinsaltz, who is the founder and the head of the Jerusalem- based Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications, has already published 27 volumes of the Talmud in modern Hebrew, as well as in English and French.

The Russian Talmud is being published under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Steinsaltz first became widely known to Russian Jews in 1990, when his book, “The Thirteen Petalled Rose,” a personal exposition of Jewish mysticism, was translated into Russian.

The first book on Judaism published in the then-Soviet Union in the new era of openness under leader Mikhail Gorbachev, it led many Russian Jews to re- establish links to the Jewish religion.

In 1995, Steinsaltz was invited by the chief rabbi of Russia, Adolph Shayevich, to take on the title of Duchovny Ravin – the spiritual leader of Russian Jewry.

Since that time, Steinsaltz spends a week every month in Russia giving lectures and visiting Jewish communities throughout the former Soviet Union.

“I see my attempt to be in Russia today as a big chance, a big effort and a big gamble,” Steinsaltz said in an interview. “Many have asked me why to go to Russia, where any chances to revive Jewish spiritual continuity are so weak.”

Russia’s Jews number an estimated 600,000, but Steinsaltz fears that a high rate of assimilation is threatening the community with extinction.

But the risks of assimilation, he added, are not only to be found among Russian Jewry.

“Where Russian Jewry is now, European Jewry will be in 15 years, American Jewry in 30 years, and even possibly, Israeli Jewry in 50 years,” he said.

“Any attempt to do something in the former Soviet Union is an attempt to see if there is any way of changing the situation elsewhere. If there is any possibility, it means that Jews as a people have hope,” he said.

Steinsaltz added that the project of translating the Talmud into Russian will continue with the publication of other volumes only if the first volume has a discernable impact on Russian Jews.

“This translation may be a great scientific achievement, but that is not what I’m interested in,” he said. “The project would be a success if you see groups of people that want to study, want to practice, want to go on.”

Recommended from JTA