ARTSCROLL


ARTSCROLL, U.S. Judaica publishing house. Mesorah Publications, best known through its imprimatur, ArtScroll, was established in Brooklyn, New York, in 1976 by Rabbis Meir *Zlotowitz and Nosson *Scherman. It has since grown into one of the largest, most financially successful, and innovative Judaica publishing houses in the English-speaking world. It has well-established markets throughout the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, and South Africa, as well as the anglophone community in Israel, and it enjoys a growing presence in French-, Spanish-, and Russian-language Judaica markets in the Former Soviet Union, France, Argentina, Mexico, and elsewhere. ArtScroll furnishes this international market with bilingual Bibles, liturgical and talmudic texts, halakhic commentaries, and various "non"-religious genres, including popular history books, biographies and memoirs, youth literature, novels, pop-psychology and self-help books, cookbooks, and curriculum materials for primary Jewish education.

Although ArtScroll defines itself as a totally independent Torah publisher, without ties to any of the major institutions of Jewish public life, its editors and authors are intimately related to the *ḥaredi yeshivah world. ArtScroll 's primary mission is to translate (in the sense of moving both from leshon ha-kodesh to English and from erudite to popular) Jewish canonical texts, supplanting what the press and its supporters regard as inadequate, distorted, or otherwise illegitimate representations of Jewish ritual practice, historical imagination, and theoretical knowledge, and replacing these with "corrected" editions. Eschewing many of the norms of translation and commentary familiar to other English-language publishers (such as the incorporation of philological and archaeological evidence from diverse sources), the ArtScroll cadre seeks a return to what it defines as "Torah-true" interpretations of Jewish texts, the authenticity of which is secured by ArtScroll's close association with the gedolim of the yeshivah world. On these terms, ArtScroll functions as a vehicle for instilling a deeper understanding of Jewish tradition, a more intensive engagement with Jewish textual practice, and a greater observance of Jewish law, all defined from an unapologetically ḥaredi perspective.

ArtScroll has won the loyalty of a large, and apparently growing, constituency of readers and users of Jewish books – especially their Siddur, Chumash, and Talmud, which enjoy considerable appeal among both centrist (or "modern") and ḥaredi Orthodox Jews, as well as "Conservadox" Jews, who have become disaffected with the mainstream Conservative movement. Thus ArtScroll has effectively displaced many of the key liturgical works of English-speaking Orthodox Jews for the past two generations, such as the Birnbaum Siddur, the Hertz Chumash, and even the siddurim of De Sola Pool and Singer (in the U.K.). More broadly, the press has a commanding presence in Jewish libraries, bookstores, day schools, and community centers throughout the English-speaking world. In part, these successes can be attributed to ArtScroll 's distinct institutional structure (operating both as a nonprofit organization and as a business venture), the pool of authors and translators with whom the press works, and its keen marketing sense. Artscroll's prayer books, for instance, are produced in various formats, including interlinear translations and transliterated versions, in different sizes, for daily or weekly usage, as well as slightly modified editions catering to specific clienteles. These include versions of the ArtScroll Siddur for Ashkenazi, ḥasidic, and Sephardi services, as well as versions specifically designed for the Orthodox Union, and – to the surprise of many observers – an arrangement with the *Rabbinical Council of America to produce a modified version of the ArtScroll Siddur bearing the RCA imprimatur, which included the prayer for the State of Israel, omitted from the standard, haredi version. ArtScroll has also embarked on large-scale translation projects that have had little precedent (and not much success) among other English-language Judaica publishers, such as in the case of their widely acclaimed, 73-volume Schottenstein Talmud (completed in 2005), which involved a remarkable array of sponsors, translators, and talmudic authorities from both within and outside the ḥaredi world.

Despite – or perhaps, because of – its considerable market successes, ArtScroll is no stranger to controversy. The press has in fact been a key touchstone in recent struggles among ḥaredi and non-ḥaredi Jews for authority to interpret the sources of legitimate knowledge and practice in Jewish texts and in public life. On the one hand, there exists a significant population for whom ArtScroll books are narrowly "ideological" and are seen to promulgate interpretations of Jewish tradition associated with what some describe as the demagoguery of the ḥaredi yeshivah world. ArtScroll 's detractors have thus expressed considerable indignation over the way the press translates Jewish texts, as well as its method of selecting commentaries from classical sources, and even the wording of ArtScroll 's own commentaries (a famous case is the debate over the translation of Shir ha-Shirim, which presents an allegorical rendering of God's relation to Israel rather than a literal, sensual translation). Others have criticized ArtScroll for legitimating the Jewish reader's reliance upon the English language at the expense of leshon ha-kodesh, enabling one to appear well versed in Jewish knowledge without having made the requisite effort to engage with the original sources. But for a much larger constituency, ArtScroll books are praised as instructive, meaningful, authentic, and even empowering. Its enthusiasts thus claim that an "ArtScroll revolution" has facilitated an unprecedented degree of access to Jewish knowledge and confidence in ritual performance among English-speaking Jews, forming a readership that extends from the erudite to the culturally illiterate and that transcends the traditional markers of institutional affiliation or local custom. At a further remove, ArtScroll has precipitated a reaction among its competitors that one is tempted to describe as an "ArtScrollification" of the Jewish liturgical field as a whole: most notably, with the recent publication of Eitz Chaim (the new Conservative chumash, designed explicitly to "respond" to ArtScroll 's success), and Mishkan Tefillah (the new Reform siddur, which incorporates many design elements, editorial structure, and instructional material found in ArtScroll). Whatever the position taken with regard to ArtScroll 's legitimacy as a translator, interpreter, and popularizer of Jewish literature, it would be difficult to ignore the cultural impact this press has had on the modern English-language Jewish public sphere.

[Jeremy Stolow (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.