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Rome’s rabbi gifts Talmud to Library of Congress

Prof. Mario Patrono, Dr. Jane McAuliffe, Prof. Clelia Piperno, and Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. Photo by Aldo Soligno

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The Library of Congress got an Italian-Jewish present, brought all the way from Rome by its chief rabbi.

Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni of the Roman Jewish community on Monday (Oct. 23) presented the library the first volume of the first Talmud to be printed in Italy in 500 years.

The Talmud, a book of Jewish law compiled from the 3rd to 6th centuries A.D., and studied by every generation of Jews around the world since, has deep Italian roots.

“Italy is the place where the Talmud was printed for the first time. … It is a very symbolic event that we wanted to share with the wider public,” Di Segni said.

The Talmud presented to the library, translated from the original Aramaic, is the product of a technology developed by Italian researchers called the Traduco system, which relies on principles of computational linguistics.

Di Segni, who chairs the Babylonian Talmud Translation Project, told librarians that he expects to produce translations of the Talmud in other languages in addition to Italian. The project’s object is to make the Babylonian Talmud, the most widely read version of the book, accessible to more people.

The project, which was supported by the Italian government and which began work on the 30-volume, Italian-language Talmud in 2011, has involved 90 researchers and translators worldwide.

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Chris Mathews

11 Comments

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  • No disrespect intended, but if a greater proportion of Jewish adherents venerated the Scriptures and applied themselves to its study to the degree that they seem to venerate the Talmud and its study, I think the spiritual benefit would be magnified immensely. I know I’m on the outside looking in, but it strikes me that the Jewish practice could be compared to a Christian preferring the commentaries of St. Augustine, Calvin, Luther, or Wesley to the New Testament itself. Christians and Jews alike are called by God to study, venerate, and practice His Word. Interpretive Commentaries are mere frills and dressing. Often attractive, sometimes useful, sometimes empty calories. As a point of order, Christians often fall into the same tendency.

  • I consider your interpretation to be a misunderstanding of the purpose of the commentaries. While firmly grounded in Torah, commentaries are meant to apply time-relevant lessons as we move forward. Judaism does not venerate less the Torah because of commentaries, but rather, opts to not be bound up in literalism alone. Scripture is beautiful in word, but much of it was written by the understandings of people of 2500-3000 years ago. While Torah itself may be the words of Hashem, it is still penned and translated by Hasehm’s Imperfect Creation known as Humanity. In my opinion, Study and interpretation does not seek to blame G-d nor set the Torah as imperfect, but rather recognize that all things occur in time. As one Rabbi once told me, our lives are like a framed painting, we exist in the bounds of the painting, as we paint our lives through our experience, and then we pass into What Is Next, the end of the frame. The wall on which it hangs goes on forever, as others in successive generations hang their paintings. Torah might be considered a groundbreaking new style of painting in the time in which it was created, and the commentaries that come after, other paintings in that style. While acknowledging the greatness of the first, that doesn’t make the successive paintings less relevant or less beautiful, for they will have different techniques and different colors. Does that make sense?

  • I appreciate your thoughtful and nuanced reply, but using your own metaphor (and I apply this to both Jewish and Christian commentaries) we sometimes have to contrast a painting painted by Da’ Vinci with one painted by Paul Jackson Pollock.

  • In that case, you’ve gone a bit outside my framework, in that I wanted to keep discussion to one genre of painting, such as Impressionism and taking a Van Gogh vs. a Monet. Monet and Manet are originators and Van Gogh its greatest spiritual successor. However, if we were to take your DaVinci vs. Pollock argument into this realm, an objectivist might indeed recognize the DaVinci for its quality, attention to detail and revolutionary brilliance of the Renaissance. I’m not a Pollock fan, as abstract art leaves me confused, but while I don’t get it, with others it might resonate for reasons I cannot possibly explain. In that same sense, the DaVinci might not resonate with others for reasons I cannot possibly understand. This is actually the purpose of the commentaries: if we take Torah as the origin of the artwork, and a commentary, perhaps several hundred years later, as a far different branch of said artwork, it becomes the art made in that time and with those influences. It may not be as deeply rooted nor as elegant as Torah (aka Da Vinci), but it will have a great many appreciators for what it is in the time it is made(Pollock), even if you and I might wind up not getting it.

  • A reasonable argument, I confess I was not thinking in terms of genre, depending on the proclivities of an art director and the needs of the moment, “a wall full of paintings” need not necessarily be confined to a single genre, but as you say that might put it outside the limits of the metaphor.

  • By the way, I greatly appreciate your thoughtful discussion. In an era where anger and a lack of discourse are all too common, your thoughtful and intelligent reminders of the importance of core scripture are relevant.

    Apropos to the article: It’s interesting, in that this is a Babylonian Talmud, which is used by Ashkenazi Jews, but Italian rite Jews, historically, use the Jerusalem Talmud.

  • Which raises the question (at least for me…I make no claims to great erudition with respect to the Talmud); What substantive differences, if any, are there between the two, and are there other versions (it would seem likely)?

  • Those are the two primary ones. To be honest, much more than that goes beyond my ken and I don’t want to talk out of my hat – or Yarmulke, as it were. 😉

    In the early writings of Talmud, as I understand it, are fairly similar in that Rabbis regularly exchanged “notes” as it were. Later on, the two diverged and more emphasis was placed on Babylonian efforts. Here’s a very short version of what is certainly a much larger discussion: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tale-of-two-talmuds/

  • I visited the webpage you linked, and the discussion of Sukkot illustrated precisely what maddens me (with all due respect) about Talmudic hairsplitting. It is a majoring in the minors; rather than emphasize the spiritual aspects of Sukkot, it descends into a discussion of such mundane things as the proper dishware to be used during the event. I find this disheartening. I acknowledge this practice and tendency is not limited to the Talmud, such incessant hairsplitting over inconsequential details among Christians is equally maddening, though they are historically less refined in their method.

  • This is perhaps the literary soul of Judaism: Constant debate. I’ve called the People / Faith a 16 million person debate society in an article for the Forward. It is not always easy to understand, but with thousands of years of literary works, we’ve made it an art form. It is this rigorous and constant, if pedantic, debate that informs Judaism and gives it both its greatest successes and perhaps its greatest misunderstandings. For what it is worth, I am not disagreeing with you. Jews will debate the meaning of everything, sometimes it seems to the point of ridiculousness. Inconsequential to one, however, isn’t to another – though I have to admit, we do split hairs.

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