Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What's Bothering Artscroll?

On my main blog, On the Main Line, there is a sidebar marked "On Artscroll," which links to many posts I made about Mesorah Publication's Artscroll series. Clearly this publishing giant is something I am interested in, and in due time I will explain why. But I felt the time has come to deal with subjects like the ones I dealt with at Main Line in a totally separate blog. And here it is, with the very unwieldy URL elucidation-not-translation.blogspot.com:

What's Bothering Artscroll?

I ask this question not in the sense of "What is their problem?" but in the sense of the well known question "What's bothering Rashi?" The premise behind the question is as follows: Rashi's commentaries on the Torah and Talmud contain deep insights. To really grasp them one should understand why Rashi said what he did. Sometimes Rashi asks a question, but sometimes he just makes a comment. When he comments, the punctilious student will want to know what question is underlying that comment. What was bothering Rashi, so to speak.

As Richard Elliott Friedman puts it:
Torah is not to be read. It is to be studied. And at various times during one's studies, one needs a teacher. Studying the Torah with Rashi's commentaries is a joy because he shows what questions one can ask of a text. Look here! Is this a contradiction? Look here! This can have two opposite meanings. Which is right? Why does the Torah not tell us this piece of information that we need to understand the text? Why does it give us this fact that seems to be of no significance at first glance?
Thus far Rashi. While the truth is the world can always use people dedicated to exploring What's Bothering Rashi, this blog will try to explore the Artscroll world by asking the question, What's Bothering Artscroll?

I hope to explore a wide range of Artscroll materials, from meforshim on Chumash to siddurim to biographies to children's books to promotional literature--even to cookbooks, although that may be pushing it!

But the emphasis will be mainly on the Stone Chumash which is unique in that since it is an anthology of comments rather than a primarily original work one can legitimately wonder why this or that comment was chosen, out of all the possible ones. It will also focus on the Schottenstein Talmud edition (which is never called a translation by Artscroll...).

In 1969 Harry Orlinsky published 'Notes on the new translation of the Torah', a fascinating book which is a "systematic account of the labors and reasoning of the committee that translated The Torah" (the 1962 JPS edition). Such a work should be required of anyone who translates (or annotates and elucidates) but as it can't be required and as Artscroll has never published such a work, we'll be exploring the Artscroll giant right here!


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