Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review of a new translation of Shadal's perush on Chumash

Someone emailed me this recently:
I haven't visited you blog much lately but I saw this and couldn't help but think of you,

It says it was just published, have you heard about it yet?
I hadn't heard of it. This is what "it" is: Shadal's Torah Commentary, translated into English. It is available on Amazon here: Torah Commentary, by Samuel David Luzzatto. The publisher's summary:
Luzzatto’s Torah commentary presents the reader with the work of an accomplished and highly respected Bible Commentator of the 19th century, a leading Bible scholar at the university of Padua, who tackled the well worn theories of Bible critics who deny the Divinity of the Torah, both Gentile and Jewish.

His commentary preceded, by 40 years, that of Dr. David Hoffman, head of the Berlin Rabbinical seminary, which first appeared in 1904 and also addressed Bible critics.

Luzzatto’s credentials as an expert in all the languages that could have had an influence on the text of the Torah are beyond question, including, for the first time, Syriac.

Doing all this work in a country that was thoroughly Catholic, and taking issue with ancient as well as recent critics, was an act of fearlessness and integrity, and displayed peerless scholarship. 
His highlighting the moral superiority of the Torah to any competing classic work on morality is most refreshing.

The translator, Eliyahu Munk, was born in Frankfurt on Main, where he received his education at the Samson Rafael Hirsch Realschule, and the Yeshiva of the late Rabbi Joseph Breuer, of blessed memory. He continued his education at the Yeshiva in Gateshead, England. He served in Jewish education (primarily as a teacher) for almost 30 years in Toronto, Canada. He lives in Jerusalem and has translated over a dozen classic Torah Commentaries.
On Amazon, it is selling for $112 for four volumes, which cover all five Chumashim. Pretty neat, and indeed something I would want, given how often I refer to Shadal, and use his innovative commentary as a jumping-off point. (Also available here at SeforimCenter for more money.) I would recommend it, though with caution. Buy it, read it, but don't trust it, for reasons that should become clear below.

There is, of course, the earlier translation by Daniel Klein, which only covered Bereishit, but still had a lot going for it. To cite Fred's (of On The Main Line) review:
Daniel Klein's fine translation of Samuel David Luzatto's commentary to Genesis is philologically precise. The introduction is illuminating, his notes are well researched and untangle some of the more obscure comments and personalities cited therein. Klein also did something unique, as a translator, which is that he did not neglect Luzzatto's Italian translation of the Pentateuch, and translated the translation into English! This is especially helpful as often the Italian sheds light as much light on Luzzatto's understanding of the text as his Hebrew commentary does. In addition, in selected cases the translation does not agree with the comment and one can use it to make inferences about Luzzatto's progression of thought. Finally, the original was printed only twice, in 1871, and in 1965. The 1965 edition is badly censored, omitting the names of countless scholars whom Luzzatto scrupulously cited by name. Klein restored all these names accurately.

The author's translation of Exodus is nearly complete.
I hope that the release of this competing translation (by Rabbi Eliyahu Munk) does not interfere with the release of Daniel Klein's Shadal on sefer Shemot.

Different works have different characteristics, though. Will this translation refer to the gentile scholars Shadal refers to, or does it rely on the censored version? Will there be extensive footnoting? Will religiosity get in the way of an accurate translation? How accessible is the translation, for the non-scholarly, and scholarly reader? What of the Italian translation? What of trup symbols, and an analysis of them. (I don't know if Klein's does that; I should borrow it again.)

Luckily, at SeforimCenter, there is a short excerpt from parashat Kedoshim, so we can analyze it.

Unfortunately, while in general I am somewhat impressed with the translation, the first three translations leave me somewhat underwhelmed. Let us see each in turn:

Compare with Shadal's actual commentary:

He renders hashchasas hapeah as "destruction of part of the beard". I come away not knowing whether this is a more severe or less severe act than giluach, rendered as "shaving".

Where Shadal says "hashchasas hapeah is mentioned next to a cutting for a deceased individual", he is referring to the very next pasuk, 19:28, which reads veseret lenefesh lo sitnu bivsarchem. As this translation gives it, the reader believes that Shadal was only referring to the distant pasuk, in Vayikra 21:5.

Shadal said "and so too for kohanim", and only then mentions Vayikra 21:5, with a similar juxtaposition. As this translation gives it, one does not know that that pasuk refers to kohanim, while locally it is only referring to yisrealim.

Shadal tells us to look to Ibn Ezra there. This translation helps us out, by summarizing what exactly Ibn Ezra said there, namely that "he confirms Nachmanides's reference to pagan rites". However, this is absolutely not what Shadal intended by his reference. Not to pagan rites, but rather, specifically that this is an act of mourning. Here is what Ibn Ezra wrote on 21:5, on ופאת זקנם:
לא יקרחה קרחה בראשם -על המת.

ופאת זקנם -על המת כמנהג מקומות בארץ כשדים והנה התברר פירוש את פאת זקנך.
וטעם שרטת 
אפילו אחת וכבר נזהרו ישראל על אלה. 
וטעם הזהירם כי ראש מוקרח וזקן מגולח ובשר שרוט, לא ישמש לפני השם.
While Ibn Ezra indeed mentions the minhag mekomot be'eretz kasdim, the reason Ibn Ezra is relevant is that Shadal is trying to argue that in all these cases, it is a forbidden act of mourning.

Further, for the editorial note to say that Ibn Ezra confirms Ramban (Nachmanides) seems strange, given that Ibn Ezra died in 1164 and Ramban was born in 1194.

Finally, Shadal says that Israelies are forbidden to do hashchasas peas hazakan because of mourning, while Kohanim are forbidden even in giluach, which is also for a deceased. This is a major point in Shadal, that both of these prohibitions for shaving are acts of mourning. The translation, alas, gives it as "Priests are even forbidden to shave themselves, as this would be interpreted as a sign of mourning." I don't see anything in Shadal's words that would give this impression, that Shadal would prohibit (under peshat) a Kohen from shaving for a non-mourning purpose, because of impression. Shadal says just the opposite, that there it is explicitly an act of mourning.

(Giluach can mean cutting rather than shaving; are we certain as to what Shadal is referring to here?)

A reader would walk away with a thorough misimpression of Shadal's interpretation of the prohibition of shaving.

On the next pasuk, the translation is:

However, the words "both of which mean 'making holes of some kind'" is not from Shadal, but from Rabbi Munk. Maybe there is good scholarship to support this interpretation, but I would prefer that this insertion be placed in an editorial note in brackets, as it was in his translation on the previous verse. שקע can refer to a depression and תקע to thrust or stick into. Not necessarily does Shadal mean to say it has to do with making holes.

On the next pasuk:

I am fairly happy with the characterization. It is slightly reworded to make it flow more nicely. However, I am rather unhappy with the last sentence: "Our author ridicules Ibn Ezra's comment on this verse."

Is this from frumkeit that the translator refrains from letting us know what Ibn Ezra says, and just how Shadal ridicules Ibn Ezra's comment? This is milchamta shel Torah!

Here is what Shadal says, when ridiculing:

That is, Ibn Ezra had written:
[יט, כט]וטעם להזכיר אל תחלל את בתך - בעבור שרט לנפש, שלא תתגלה לעיני הכל, כי קול שבאשה ערוה ואף כי שרט.
And earlier, Ibn Ezra wrote this:
יש אומרים: 
שהוא דבק עם ושרט לנפש, כי יש מי שירשום גופו בצורה הידועה באש על המת, ויש עוד היום רושמים בנערותם בפניהם להיות נכרים. 

ומלת קעקע כפולה, כמו רוקע הארץ וצאצאיה והוא מגזרת והוקע אותם. 
ועל דעת המתרגם, גם היא מלה זרה גם הוא הנכון.
Thus, a tattoo and a seret lenefesh are possibly identical. It is making a mark on the flesh, perhaps by burning. And, so, Ibn Ezra suggests, the chillul for the maiden is not making her a harlot, but making a seret; and the reason not to make a seret in her skin is that, to display it, she would have to expose that skin. And that is simply not tznius! Kol be'isha erva, and all the more so a seret.

Yes, it is pretty funny. Ibn Ezra can suggest it, and people can take his idea seriously. And Shadal can mock it. But the reader should ideally know what Shadal is mocking; he need not be protected from such knowledge!


This translation is fine. There are a few liberal insertions, such as "or caste" (which arguably makes sense in context of the pasuk, but which Shadal does not say) and that whole sentence starting with "The Torah... not acceptable is inserted."

And Shadal makes a somewhat careful interpretation of kamocha, as "act with him as you would wish others to act with you, if you were a ger." It would be nice if the "if you were a ger" were more explicitly in the translation.

Next up (and in the image I juxtapose the translation with Shadal's words):
The translator, instead of giving us the words of the pasuk in Melachim, helpfully summarizes it for us, about how Eliyahu tried to revive the child by spreading his own body on top of the dead body of the boy.

Unfortunately, the reader is left wondering what the heck this has to do with מדד and the measuring of areas. Because the translator obliterated Shadal's statement that shoresh MDD moreh shetichat davar al davar, the root מדד refers to spreading of one thing on top of another thing. Instead, the translator had helpfully mis-rendered it as that the root מדד originally referred to the measuring of areas. Yes, but what does that have to do with Eliyahu spreading himself over someone else? Actually copying the pasuk in Hebrew, with the word ויתמודד would also have been incredibly helpful here. The typical reader is not going to check up the pasuk, and will walk away confused.

The translation on 19:35 continues into another paragraph:

Shadal wrote in Hebrew this:

The first (slight) problem is that the translation neglects the transition from spreading X on Y to spreading rope of cubit-rod upon the body being measured.

More critically, the translator leaves us confused as to what Rashi said, what Wessely said, and so on. We should start with Rashi:
liquid measures: Heb. וּבַמְּשׂוּרָה. This refers to liquid measures. — [see Torath Kohanim 19:85 and B.M. 61b] ובמשורה: היא מדת הלח והיבש:
Note how the Hebrew text in this version of Rashi mentions both liquid and dry measurements, while the English translation was based on some variant text which only mentioned liquid measures.

Wessely complained about Rashi, that Rashi only mentioned liquid measurements and not dry measurements. Shadal defends Rashi by saying that Wessely did not ידע, know, that Rashi actually did mention dry measures. The translator claims that "Wessely takes issue with Rashi, forgetting that Rashi also mentioned measures used to measure." Emphasis always my own. Forgetting gives the reader the false impression that this was surely the text before Wessely, and he just forgot the text before him. As well, the end of the statement "also mentioned measures used to measure" probably was originally intended as something like "also mentioned measures used to measure dry", and this typographical error makes it even more difficult to understand what is going on here.

This would be an ideal place for the translation to contain a footnote and an extensive discussion. Perhaps a citation of Rashi's words, Wessely's words, the gemara in Bava Metzia, and so on.

The sample goes on into Vayikra perek 20. Maybe I'll consider those translations in a follow-up post. Maybe I will like some of those translation a bit better.

Having this accessible English translation, to read alongside the Hebrew of Shadal, is a good thing. It is a good start, and makes Shadal in Hebrew more accessible to an active reader who might otherwise have difficulties with the nuace of some of the Hebrew. However, if the reader will not consult Shadal in the original, and take pains to carefully compare, then I fear that the reader of this translation will misunderstand a good portion of Shadal's meaning.


Anonymous said...

You might not have known this about the author, but he rarely gives editorial comments (as I've seen in his translation on Ohr Ha-Chayim; he also wrote a few other translations), and certainly no footnotes (he tends to include them in the text). This may take away one of your criticisms.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i guess it does, and doesn't. it does take it away, since readers would be used to his style. it doesn't, because it would be appropriate to have footnotes or a greater extent.

Dan Klein said...

Thank you, Josh, for your reference to my book and to "Fred's" review of it. Let me assure you that my translating work will continue. I have no way of knowing yet what impact the "competition" may have on the publishability of my future volumes, but your comments may help in that regard.*
*Note: I've got footnotes and I'm not afraid to use them!

S. said...

I also wanted to add, because Dan is too modest apparently, that he does include the trop and explains it all very carefully. I would go so far as to say that his translation was entirely faithful to the original to the extent that it could be, i.e., in any translation and interpretation someone could, I'm sure, find some things to disagree with or dispute. But as far as I can tell not one word in the perush was ignored by Dan and each and every issue was dealt with seriously and quite well by him.

Dan Klein said...

Oh, please, S., my failure to mention the trop wasn't modesty, just an oversight on my part that I was about to remedy (but thanks anyway). I don't know how the Munk version deals with the trop issues, but Shadal was very sharp on this subject and any translator would be obligated to try to do it justice.

Anonymous said...

The Munk books are available in the YU library. I found them unreadable. First, translations are many times incorrect. Also, he inserts his own comments into the text, sometimes forgetting to tell you. He puts parenthetical comments from Shadal as bracketed comments, and vice versa, and many times forgets to close the parenthesis or bracket. He is obviously basing himself off of the 1970's published version, one that is very censored. He doesn't spell out the whole verse. He doesn't break paragraphs up, instead leaving entire blocks of text that make it very hard to read. He inserts various commentaries related that he likes in brackets. He translates Mendelssohn as Rabbi Moshe ben Menachem. He removes references to Arabic, but other times does not. Here's a comparison on the first comments on this week's parsha, between Klein (you're awesome) and Munk:

Anonymous said...

Also, if you're interested, this is a comparison of how they deal with troup.

Anonymous said...

I also noticed Rabbi Munk left out all of the commentary of chapter 7 of Genesis, except one verse. I cannot fathom why, except error.

Josh Fan said...

Regarding what shadal meant in his peshat in using a razor to shave
he has a letter about it regarding his personal custom which sheds light on his understanding of the peshat and following that over chazals derush and the accepted halacha

Anonymous said...

Where can one find the Hebrew original upon which this translation is based?

joshwaxman said...

here is the Hebrew original:

Anonymous said...

I see the link you have posted provides Shadal's text, and it says it's in memory of Dr. Nachon. I recently bought Shadal's perush in one volume, published by Chorev. This edition has a forward - and seems to have been first put out by this Dr. Nachon.

1. However, in his introduction he admits to having taken out some sections which he claims weren't important or those that dealt with Samaritan and other stuff like that. Are these sections included in the translation? If I'm planning on learning it in hebrew should I use a different version, or is it really not a big deal?

2. Also he also mentions that as opposed to Shadal actually having written a full perush - this is a compilation of notes from his classes given in the Padua seminary. If this is the case, who compiled it?

Thank you

joshwaxman said...

I don't know; I'd have to look at the sefer to do a comparison. My inclination is that what one writer deems unimportant (for himself, for his intended audience) might be considered quite important by others. But it might well be a fine work despite the omissions.

If I had to guess, he is giving a translation of Mishtadel -- available here on Google Books (note that the book was scanned backwards, so start at the bottom and scroll to the top). Mishtadel is Shadal's shorter work.

Shadal says in the introduction that he was asked by the printers to write a few pages to add to the Chumash Netivot Hashalom, which they wanted to print once again. And so he turned his attention to the commentaries which he had written for his students over the span of 18 years that he taught in Padua in the Bet Midrash Harabbanim, and selected from there a few commentaries whose truth and purpose were more clear, and which didn't duplicate things already in Netivot Hashalom. And he added new ideas to what he had written previously, and in certain places changed his mind, and gave a different explanation in its place. And he [Shadal] gathered all this in the small sefer which he places before you today, and its name is called in Israel "HaMishtadel".

So if I got the sefer right, it is Shadal's own notes, and Shadal who was collecting and presenting them.

Dan Klein said...

The Munk translation, as far as I know, was indeed based on the one-volume Chorev edition (1965), not on Hamishtadel, which was a much shorter earlier work by Shadal. The Chorev editor, Pinhas Schlesinger, omitted or abridged many of Shadal's references to "outside" sources. My translation of Shadal's Bereshit commentary, on the other hand, was based on the complete original (Padua, 1871). Although the 1871 edition was published posthumously and was in fact based at least in part on notes by Shadal's students, it reads like a seamless whole. I suspect that Shadal himself at least began the compilation, but whoever completed it -- perhaps his son Isaia and/or some of his leading students -- did a skillful job.
BTW, it looks like I now have a publisher for my translation of Shadal's Shemot, and that Bereshit may be reissued with it. Stay tuned.


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