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The Talmud: A Talmud from Berlin

In 1842 in Berlin there appeared a truly extraordinary volume with title pages in Hebrew and in German, Talmud Babli, Babylonischer Talmud, Tractat Berachoth, Segenspruche. "Mit deutscher Uebersetzung und den Commentaren Raschi und Tosephoth nebst den verschiedenen Verbesserungen aller fruheren Ausgaben." The translator, Dr. E. M. Pinner, was also the publisher; the price was eight Reichsthaler. Even a quick perusal of the Library's fine copy vindicates the author's boast that his edition is an improvement over previous ones. A useful scholarly introduction precedes an original text punctuated as are the commentaries of Rashi and the tosaphists; the Mishnah text is vocalized as well. The classic form of the Talmudic page is retained. A fine German translation, as well as commentaries in German and Hebrew are provided. What may startle those acquainted with the history of the Jews in Russia is that the dedication is to His Majesty, Nicholas 1, King of Russia, who is described as a "great monarch, rich in deeds, high-minded protector of every pure aspiration." The deeds of Czar Nicholas I caused the Jews of his empire to call him "Haman II.'' Nicholas's thirty-year reign represented one of the darkest eras in Russian Jewish history. Why did Pinner, a devoted Jew, dedicate the first volume of what he hoped to be a complete edition of the Talmud to such a monarch? It is easy to understand why the Czar permitted the dedication, bent as he was on "westernizing" the Jews of his realms. Thus, translations of the Talmud into European languages (he encouraged a French translation, as well) fit into his scheme of exposing his culturally insular Jews to the world about them. Pinner, fluent in German and French, would think this a benevolent attitude, as did many Jews in Russia, and he no doubt hoped that the Czar's government might subvent his projected edition. Later the Czar's government did publish books of the Bible and selections from Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah with German translation, bearing the approbation of leading rabbis whom the government had invited to comment, an invitation the rabbis could not refuse. It did not take too long for all to learn that the Czar was interested not in the integration of the Jews but in their assimilation, and in assimilation as a first step to apostasy. When Max Lilienthal (a German Jew who had served as rabbi in Riga and then as chief promoter of a Russian government program to establish a ,'modern" Jewish school system) came to realize the government's real intentions, he fled to America, where he served with distinction in the Reform rabbinate.

Truly an extraordinary edition of the first tractate of the Talmud, Berachoth. The type is large and clear; the text and commentaries are vocalized. To the traditional commentaries Dr. E. M. Pinner adds his own, contextual and etymological. The German translation and commentary are expertly done, yet no more tractates appeared. Was 1842 too early a date for the scientific study of the Talmud, or was it, perhaps, because Pinner dedicated his work to Czar Nicholas I, "high-minded protector of every pure aspiration," who in fact was so anti-Semitic a monarch that the Jews of his realm dubbed him "Haman II"? (Hebraic Section, Library of Congress Photo).

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).