Steinsaltz Completes His Controversial Translation of Shas


adin-steinsaltzYesterday, Rabbi Adin [Even Yisrael] Steinsaltz formally concluded his Hebrew translation of Talmud Bavli, a task that occupied him for the past 45 years. He marked the conclusion with a Global Day of Jewish Learning in various modern Orthodox communities.

Steinsaltz has long been a figure of controversy. Five years ago he accepted the post of nosi, or president, of a modern-day Sanhedrin.

Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l, in a letter written two days before Rosh Hashanah 5749, wrote that “…and similarly all his other works contain heresy. It is forbidden to debate with Steinsaltz, because, as a heretic, all the debates will only cause him to degenerate more. He is not a genuine person (ein tocho kebaro) and everyone is obliged to distance themselves from him. This is the duty of the hour (mitzvah be’sha’atah).

In the summer of 1989, a group of gedolim placed a ban on all of Steinsaltz’s works.

Steinsaltz, 73, is the author of nearly 60 books and has a network of schools in Israel and the former Soviet Union.

Steinsaltz began his translation project in 1965 to make Gemara more accessible to Hebrew speakers. In addition to his straight translation of the original Gemara text, Steinsaltz added his own commentary, in Hebrew, alongside the text.

However, Steinsaltz spurred tremendous criticism in the Olam HaTorah for altering conventions by placing his commentary in the space traditionally reserved for Rashi. He also added new notes in place of certain Tosafos and changed the traditional layout and pagination in his translation.

“That may seem a mere format quibble, but it may have struck some as misguided,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudas Yisroel of America.

In the late 1980s, Steinsaltz began publishing his own English editions of the Talmud, working from his Hebrew translation.

{Yair Israel}


  1. What a shame. After a lifetime of dedicating himself to klal Yisroel, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s important achievement is noted in Matzav by dredging up old controversies and criticisms. I, for one, would not mind having a small chelek of his Olam Haba for all of the chinuch he has fostered and the Kiddush Hashem of his outreach efforts!

  2. At least one website reports things the way they are, without lying about it or sugarcoating it or ignoring what the gedolim have said.
    At least we have one voice representing Torah Jews who follow gedolim

  3. Instead of trying to Kasher a treif Keli, read Steinsaltz’s Essential Talmud, as well as the anaylsis in the Jewish Observer 1990-1991, as it contained many statements which bordered on Kefira. While I have no evidence, it is possible the reason why the Artscroll Talmud project was let through by Gedolim (despite many reservations) was the sucess of the Steinsaltz Shas, and the neccesity for a Shas written in English by people who were not only Torah Scholars, but G-d Fearing as well.

  4. You mention that the Day of Global Learning was marked in various modern orthodox communities. This is incorrect. The Siyum (conclusion) was done mostly in JCC’s (Jewish Community Centers). The one in my hometown, Montreal, had the reconstructionist “rabbi”. There were no orthodox rabbis participating. The one in Rockland County (Nywack) was presided over by a woman “rabbi.” There was a hook-up with the 92nd Street Y. Among the speakers were Dr. Ruth. Sadly, Richard Joel, President of Y.U. held a discussion with Arnold Eisen, head of J.T.S. (Conservative) and the head of the reform movement! Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Aleph Institue organized these gatherings, and he is responsible for them. Is it any wonder why the rabbonim and gedolim are against him?

  5. Correction: There was a modern orthodox rabbi who participated in the Montreal gathering as well. But the fact that non-orthodox “rabbis” participated nullifies any benefit it might have had.

  6. Yasher koach to him. Anyone commenting on him (including the author of this article) doesn’t reach the dust of R’ Shteinzalts toes in Torah.

  7. A bunch of Orthodox shuls in my community acknowledged this day of learning and I personally don’t see what the big deal is if the format of the page is different. Is there a halacha that says thou shalt not move rashi’s commentary? I mean, did he take out rashi and tosfos completely?

  8. If he is responsible for reform & reconstructionist to learn Talmud Bavli, you should not slam him for that!
    If Matzav is responsible for the frum Oilam to surf the net, this is a whole different story altogether!

  9. great appreciation and gratitude to Rabbi Steinzalts 7 his work work .. i completed my first cycle of daf yomi with the help his sefarim gave me .. even now – on my third cycle – i utilize his works

    beutiful elegant clear hebrew

  10. To number 4. You’re 100% right. In the Haskomo that Rav Elyashiv Shlit”o gives to the Artscroll Shas, he writes “There are many translations circling in the market which were written by people that don’t know the value of the Kedushas Hatalmud” (a loose translation).

  11. torahis1, Yoshke, Shabtai Tzvi, Acher ( in the Gemorah ) were all very knowledgable in Torah, yet they were Apikorsim of the first degree and needed to be shunned. Rav Shach knew what he was talking about and for you to stick up for this fellow, puts you in that very same bracket.

  12. I admit I have never read any of Steinsaltz’s “seforim,” nor will I EVER. The word of Maran Rav Schach that these writings are full of kefiros is enough for me. If the word of this one gadol is not enough for you, you should note that he was joined by many other gedolim: R’ Chaim Kanievsky, R’ Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, R’ Nissim Karelitz, R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman, R’ Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, R’ Chaim Kreiswirth, R’ Eliezer Waldenberg, R’ Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, R’ Shmuel Wosner, and R’ Meir Brandsdorfer all agreed with Rav Schach in condemning Steinsaltz’s works as kefiros.

    Oy what trouble we are in when so many ignore the gedolim and give praise to a kofer

  13. the xtians and muslims are also doing kiruv does that make their writtings Truth…no. If tradition states this is where Rashi has his comments then no one has the right to change that unless he’s Mashiach! Is he… no.

  14. Reply to #9

    Regardless of how you personally feel, there is a concept that is central to Orthodox Judaism, and that is fealty to Gedolai Yisrael and Talmidei Chachamim.

    Once that is gone, we are left with a few million people that deal with halachically and hashkafically sensitive issues exactly the way you do: based on “how you feel”.

    That is a recipe for disaster for Judaism in general.

  15. To All of you Anti Rav Steinsaltz,

    You all need to ask your Rabbonim a major Shayloh.
    Whether or not you read or learn from Rav Steinsaltz’s works, you need to ask your Poskim how to relate to a person of such caliber. Do you really think your Poskim would be proud of your postings or would they be embarrassed by the the CHUTZPAH, STUPIDITY AND BIZAYON that emanates from your thoughts?

  16. “If he is responsible for reform & reconstructionist to learn Talmud Bavli, you should not slam him for that!
    If Matzav is responsible for the frum Oilam to surf the net, this is a whole different story altogether!”

    Thank you Yiddle for that beautiful analysis, sums up the situation perfectly. I never used R’ Steinzalts’s works personally, but I don’t doubt that his motives are sincere.

  17. Please let’s leave the kanoas to the Gedolai Olam!

    Rav Shech ZT”L ZYU”U said this chairim with tears, crying for him.

    Can we do the same?

  18. Moshe zev
    You can believe what you want to, however, don’t make up halachis, or classify people as koifrim. Since when does sticking up for steinzaltz make me a koifer? at most, I would be misguided.

  19. Wow, the rest of the world can report this as an achievement. only in the biased media that is this matzvi blog, can it be called controversial in the headline.
    shame on you matzav

  20. my grandfather was brought up before the age when people went to yeshivos. He was uneducated in gemara style learning. Yet he was able to finish shas numerous (20+) times using these Gemaros. And based on that he sent his kids to yeshivos and has a large family that is thriving and growing Bederech Hatorah.
    I’m forever indebted to him.

  21. Regarding comment #16

    (“he was joined by many other gedolim: R’ Chaim Kanievsky, R’ Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, R’ Nissim Karelitz, R’ Aharon Leib Shteinman, R’ Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, R’ Chaim Kreiswirth, R’ Eliezer Waldenberg, R’ Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, R’ Shmuel Wosner, and R’ Meir Brandsdorfer…)

    here’s the source:

  22. Also, check out R’ Aron Feldman’s critique of R’ Steinsaltz’s commentary on the Gemarah:

    “The Steinsaltz English Talmud” (in the book “The Eye of the Storm – A Calm View of Raging Issues”)

  23. To #1

    This ‘Rabbi’ has no chelek in Olam Haba. If the Godol Hador Moran Harosh hayeshiva ZT”L said he is a Kofer, that is what the torah says and we have to follow that. Boruch hashem we have a mesorah howa blatt gemorah should look anybody changing that and relacing Eahi Hakodosh with his’ptush’ is a pur apikores.

  24. #5 Really?? You are complaining that non-orthodox Jews are spending the day learning Torah? Personally I think that is beautiful as it may bring them closer to Orthodoxy.

    The more I read of the article & comments here the more I realize our wait for Moshiach will be a long one

  25. Bottom line is we listen to our gedolim.

    We don’t listen to those on the left who seem to cling to every person who is criticized by our gedolim.

    Every notice how those outside of the Torah world always suddenly embrace those who have deviated from the Torah way? Amazing.

  26. The amount of misinformation here, both in the article and in the comments, is astounding. I’ll address only a few of them.

    1)Rashi’s commentary in the Steinsaltz edition is right where it has traditionally been, in the inside column. The Steinsaltz commentary is on the outside.

    2)Many people remember the JA article, but don’t remember the follow-up, which was written by a talmid of Rav Hutner and challenged the author of that article to cite examples of the “kefira’ contained within that work. The follow-up was not printed until six months had passed, during which time the author of the otiginal article, assisted by others (including his son) searched through the 20 volumes of commentary, looking for the kefira. They were not able to find any, hence they changed their tune in their response and made a different claim.
    In fact, two teams of yungerleit in EY had been doing the same thing, searching the Steinsaltz Talmud for kefira, and came up empty.
    Rabbi Feldman wrote an article criticizing the English edition, but his argument was that it was not clear, not that it was kefira.
    3)The Day of Learning was organized by each community on its own and each community hired its own speakers. Contrary to what was said about the Rockland County program, it was not “headed” by a woman Rabbi and more than half the speakers were Orthodox. People could attend whichever class they wished and anyone who wanted to hear only Orthodox speakers could do so.

  27. Lets get somethings straight:

    Non religious Jews are NOT exempted of ANY mitzvos, including Talmud Torah.
    Rav Schach was agaisnt R.Shteinzaltz.
    Rav Schach was also against Artscroll Talmud (believe it or not).
    The reasons were different, but he was against both.
    We have NO right to criticize any jew. That is for gedolim only and they do it with seious ‘Kovad Rosh’, and even then only on occasion.
    The Criticism of Gedolim does not flow out of their sleeves.

  28. Thank you Yoni, #28, for the link. So many different truly great Rabbonim all wrote specifically, in different letters, that all of steinsaltz’ works contain- and shall be considered as- heresy as well as disbelief in Hashem and His Torah.

  29. This is not about criticising s Jew.
    It is about keeping the Mesorah as was given to us at Mount Sinai.
    If only one concept, law or idea was changed in each generation, after thousands of years we would end up with a different religion!!!!

  30. I remember very well the summer of 1989 when virtually all the gedolei Torah came out against shteinzaltz. Several of his books [not gemara] were severely criticized for the way in which he portrayed the avos and imahos. Also the gemaras came under fire. This was not done by a handful of rabbonim, but rather by the vast majority of gedolim.
    I’m glad to finally see someone remind the tzibbur. Maybe matzav can get hold of those letters of gedolim and translate them into english. It was back in chodesh Av 1989.

  31. # 31
    oy vey, this is realy drving me nuts. this is illogical dogma.
    1 rashi isn’t taken out of his gemara
    2 even if it was, how in the world would that be “kfira’?
    3 how does changing the tsuras hadaf have anything to do with kfira, or anything to do with yiddishkeit for that matter? people

  32. #4 A careful reading of the Haskamos printed in the Artscroll gemaras will reveal that you are correct. About half of them make veiled references to the fact that now people won’t use the “other” translations.

  33. Not only is the Rashi to be found in the Steinsaltz Talmud where itha salways been, but so is every single Tosafot to be found there, underneath the Rashi.

    That said, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s own Hebrew commentary is rather thin.

  34. Who said the big problems with the Steinsaltz Talmud has anything to do with the placement of Rashi or Tosfos? That is the least of the problems.

  35. I am a semi-retired attorney.
    During the controversy over the Shteinzaltz talmud, part of my practice was divorce law. On one occasion, some months after the controversy had died down, I attended the giving of a “get” in Yeshivah Tiferes Yirushalyaim. Rav Moshe had passed away some years earlier.
    Rav Bluth, the “misader get” used Rav Moshe’s old office off the Bais Medrash for the proceedings. Low and behold, on one of the shelves were some eight to ten volumes of the Shteinzaltz shas. Needless to say, I am in no way implying that our Gadol and Posek Hador had any need for these siphorim, however, there they were.
    I doubt if Rav Moshe kept what he considered kephira in his office.
    As to the posting itself. If Matsav views the work as kephira, there was no reason to even mention the milestone.