A very good Bible commentary

Koren Publishers’ “The Steinsaltz Humash: Humash Translation and Commentary” by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz is excellent.

The word “Humash” means “five” and refers to the Five Books of Moses which is in this volume in clear Hebrew text in the beautiful Koren font, with a completely new modern English translation that is faithful to the Hebrew text, and upon which the several commentaries in the book are based.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was born in Jerusalem in 1937.  He is a well-known writer, the author of many books. In 2010, he completed his monumental translation of the Talmud into Modern Hebrew, a project he began in 1965 (the Talmud is composed for the most part in Aramaic and ancient Hebrew), and added many notes explaining the text, the ideas behind the discussions, the history of the times and personalities, as well as much more relevant information. His work is one of the best commentaries on the Talmud, far better, clearer, with more relevant information, and more scientific than the ArtScroll versions. Rabbi Steinsaltz is a mystic and some of his writings reflect this inclination, but his Talmud commentary is for the most part very rational, as is this commentary on the Humash.

In addition to the traditional division of the Humash into 54 parshiyot, a division that makes it possible to read a single parashah (singular for parshiyot), the Humash is divided thematically with an informed introductory explanation of what is contained in the following section. These additional introductions make it easy to understand what the Bible is saying. But this is not the only aid. On the right-hand pages, there is a running detailed commentary of virtually every verse with the biblical text appearing in bold print to add clarity. There are pictures on many pages that illustrate the biblical text and bring it to life. Each page includes a second commentary called Discussion that delves deeper into the text and include cross-references to other parts of the Torah. In regard to the Ten Commandments, for example, this section tells us that although the command to honor parents first appears in the Bible in the Decalogue, it was already implicit in the prior parts of the Bible, and an example is given. The section also explains, among much else, that the usual translation that God is “jealous,” is erroneous for the word really means “zealous,” and it explains that the intention is to highlight divine love of humanity. The left side of the book includes the commentary of Rashi in Hebrew in easy to read Koren font.

The rabbi’s discussions are thought-provoking. For example, in his commentary on Noah, he tells us that fish were not killed in the flood. He tells us that the Hebrew word mabbul commonly translated “flood,” based on the context of the passage, may actually mean “judgment” or “sentence.” He is also unafraid to state that the common idea that Noah was ordered to take seven pairs of pure animals refers to animals that would later be considered pure, kosher according to later biblical law, may not be true. “It is possible, however, that the distinction between pure and impure animals is an ancient one, which predates the giving of the Torah” (and not be related to kosher at all). In Genesis 37:3, among other explanations, he suggests that Jacob may have loved Joseph more than his other children because he resembled his beloved wife Rachel who had recently died. In Exodus 1:5 which states that seventy descendants of Jacob arrived in Egypt, he states “perhaps the number seventy represents a rounding of the exact count of sixty-nine.”

The book also includes the weekly Haftaroth. The readings from the prophets that are read in synagogues on sabbaths and holidays after the Torah reading. Each has a clarifying introduction explaining the selection, but there is no commentary. There are also fifteen pages of notes and two pages of the sources for the images in the commentaries. The total is 1313 pages.

In short, readers will find much interesting material in this volume. It is a perfect book to take to the synagogue to study during the Torah readings and to read at home.

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