Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Arabic translation of Babylonian Talmud is accused of containing anti-Israel messages

The Talmud, the record of rabbinical discussions of Jewish law and philosophy, consists of the Mishnah--the compendium of the oral law--and the Gemara--more detailed rabbinical commentary. The Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) was compiled in Mesopotamia from the 3rd to the 5th centuries A.D. As reported by Itamar Marlios of Ynet News, May 19, 2012:

...A group of some 90 Jordanian researchers has spent six long years translating the entire Talmud into Arabic – an echo of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who labored 45 years translating the Babylonian Talmud from Aramaic into Hebrew.

The project is the brainchild of Jordan's Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) an academic group that aims to make the Talmud accessible to the Arab population. Are Arabs taking advantage of that access? Certainly – the 20-volume set, which sells for $750, is in demand throughout the Arab world. According to the Ultra-Orthodox website Kikar Shabbat, the translated Talmud is being sold in markets and at book fairs.

Israel's National Library has also acquired a copy. Dr. Raquel Ukeles, curator of the library's Arabic collection, says: "We learned about the project to translate the Talmud into Arabic by chance, through reports of the storm it was causing among religious leaders in Riyyad, probably because it makes available a text considered so central to Judaism."

Ukeles says that contact was made with the CMES after an Israeli Talmud researcher expressed interest in the translation. "This is the first time in history that the entire Talmud has been translated into Arabic," she notes.

According to Ukeles, the Center for Middle East Studies actually focuses on political science, and the group's decision to translate the Gemara was a surprising one. Ukeles explains that the project began with a small number of researchers, who apparently didn't know how long the Talmud was and how difficult it was to understand. After those aspects of the project became clear, the center decided to increase the number of translators to 90 – both Christians and Muslims, some of whom research the Aramaic language.

Ukeles also expressed surprise that it was Jordanian academics who tackled the mission. "I would have expected that a project like this would take place in a country like Egypt, which has a Jewish community and a more extensive tradition of translating books from Hebrew to Arabic. Between 2007 and 2009 Egyptian researchers translated the entire Mishneh Torah into Arabic, and the Kuzari has also been translated (into Arabic) in Egypt," she observes.

The curator, who only recently received a copy of the translated Talmud, notes that the introduction to the text provides an interesting explanation of the motive behind the project: "They say that in Israel, religion is taking a bigger place in the public dialogue, and the importance of Judaism in Israel is growing."

The translators also noted, she says, that they had tried to buy a copy of the Talmud to translate, but rabbis had refused to sell them one.

The Talmud translation has not maintained the classic look of the Gemara page, and commentary, such as Rashi, is missing. However, it features a glossary and discussion of terms that pose a translation quandary. The translators say they hope that the work will enable new research into Judaism, as well as allowing comparison between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian law.

Ukeles says that the desire to translate such a work and the interest in Judaism were indicative of internal developments in Arab nations and expressed hope that the new translation will "allow us to study how we are perceived."

In the future, Ukeles says, she hopes to found a research group that will examine how the Talmud's "problematic" texts were translated.
The Jordanian scholars don't seem to like what they've seen in the Talmud, and the Israeli scholars aren't pleased with the comments of the Jordanians that accompany the text, as reported by Mr. Marlios on June 4, 2012:

It was just a few weeks ago that the first copy of the Talmud Bavli in Arabic landed in Israel and it seemed like this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Yet it has become apparent that the translation which was carried out by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) in Jordan includes more than a few anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist political messages.

Dr. Raquel Ukeles, curator of the Israel's National Library Arabic collection, who read the introduction in Arabic said that in the text, the Talmud is "very clearly accused of racism." In fact, it is so clearly stated that one section of the introduction is simply titled "racism in the Talmud."

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) website presents quotes from the introduction to the text: "These texts confirm the racist and hostile perception toward the non-Jews, especially those who threaten the ‘chosen nation’ and stand in the way of its ambitions and hopes.

"There is no doubt that Israel is the best example of this racist position, both in the level of its daily crimes against the Palestinians and the level of its rejection and contempt for international resolutions and laws.

Anti Israeli message? The new Talmud

"For what applies to other countries in the world does not apply to contemporary Israel, as it is unique...Jews, according to this racist position (of the Talmud), are permitted to do what is not permitted for non-Jews.”

The conclusion states that: “The Talmudic heritage has a significant impact on the formulation of Jewish identity based on holy (principles of) racial isolation…It (the Talmud) also established the extreme positions that advocate hatred toward non-Jews, the violation of their rights and looting of their lands and property.”

The curator explains that what is especially intriguing about the introduction is the attempt to link Zionism and Judaism. "Up to now the Muslim approach was that Zionism
is a variation on European nationality that made its way to the provinces of the Middle East," she noted.

"In contrast, the introduction states that the deciphering of the Talmud will also help to better understand Zionism. Linking the two is a rather abnormal occurrence in the internal-Muslim debate."

Yet in spite of the racist tone of the introduction Ukeles is not rushing to judge the translation on the basis of its introduction alone. "The translation itself is not bad, and when you take into consideration that the team of researchers who wrote it are not Talmud experts, then their work is not bad at all.

"Apparently the version they had before them was a copy of the Talmud in Aramaic but they often used the English Schottenstein translation to better understand the text. I believe there is a certain gap between the relative fairness of the translation itself and the problematic introduction.

"I believe the introduction is a kind of lip service meant to appease the Arab reader who has a set agenda on Israel. I believe that eventually after all the reservations, it seems that the results of the project will be positive as the translation itself is useful and will allow Arab speakers to become familiar with Judaism from a perspective disconnected of the Israel-Arab conflict.

"Today's knowledge of Judaism in the Arab world is meager and filled with stereotypes. I believe these stereotypes will fade away for the reader who goes beyond the introduction."

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