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What is wrong with ArtScroll? Review of Isaiah The Milstein Edition Later Prophets

What is wrong with ArtScroll?

Review of “The Milstein Edition Later Prophets: Isaiah” by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, Mesorah Publications (“ArtScroll”), 2013

Written by Eliezer Miller

Wrong With ArtScroll on the Seforim Blog

The latest work produced by ArtScroll in the Milstein Series is Isaiah [1]. Written by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, the general editor of ArtScroll himself, it is the inaugural volume of the interpretation of the Later Prophets.

Firstly, one could praise ArtScroll for a completely new typesetting of the Rashi, Radak, Metzuadas David and Metzudas Zion. However, if the idea was to give us a clear text, Keter has already done a clearly superior work of this kind. They, at least, edited these works by using ancient manuscripts.

Are they included to keep the tradition of Mikraos Gedolos? If so why are many other parts of Mikraos Gedolos commentators like Gr’a and Toldos Aharon missing? The space taken by these commentaries could have surely been used for a lengthier, more comprehensive, English commentary.

Secondly, one can understand why the editors ignored the extensive archaeological work that has been done in the past few years. Archaeology in the City of David and Samaria shed much light on the realia that is part of the prophecy [2].

The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has changed the whole of the study of Isaiah. The Isaiah scrolls are the only complete text of a sefer in Tanach from that time. They have revealed multiple variants and commentaries.

One understands, but does not condone, that to include these studies in the sefer would have negated the principles on which “Mesorah” publication stands. It seeks to keep strict adherence to the received traditions.

Similarly, the incredible amount that has been learnt from etymological studies by Semitic language scholars is hard to ignore. Because non-traditional scholars do this work, they are ignored by Rabbi Scherman – to his, and to his readers, loss.

Thirdly, one could also tolerate the “bowdlerization”[3] involved in the ArtScroll translation. The great poetic masterpiece that was achieved by the Revised Authorized Version has inspired myriads of readers. The majestic language offers faint echoes of Isaiah’s monumental use of imagery and metaphors. Unfortunately the translation has Christological inferences and counter-Halachic tendencies.[4] Their exclusion is understandable. On the other hand, Artscroll’s awkward phraseology, mistranslations, and incorrect insertions make one, literally, cringe. Their translation has managed to change one the worlds greatest literary work into a children’s eighth-grade reader, unworthy of the text.

Lastly, one must feel that Rabbi Scherman is forced to ignore the obvious parallels to the rebuilding of Zion in our days. The Return to Israel, the re-establishment of the State of Israel and the foretold “footsteps of the Messiah” are apparent to any reader of the prophecy. This omission is so enormous, that it is difficult for the modern reader to swallow. Has the Orthodox world been so influenced by the rejectionist in the Satmar- Neture Karta – Brisk axis, that they have accepted the absurd notion that that the State of Israel has no theological significance?

But these are not the real problems. The real problem of this work is that it contradicts the very basis of the credo of Mesorah Publications. There are a number of examples as how Mesorah publications have disregarded their own mandate.

1) The Prophecy of Isaiah was a focal point in the Talmud and Midrash. There is hardly a Pasuk that is not quoted and explicated in the classical sources. One would venture to say, that percentage wise, many more pasukim from Isaiah are mentioned in the Talmud and Medrash than are pasukim from Chumash [5]. Indeed works that cite these sources are widely available. [6] Yet these citations
are few and far between in Rabbi Sherman’s commentary [7]. When they are cited, the accompanying commentaries by the Rishonim are rarely mentioned.

This lacuna is distressing. Did Rabbi Scherman not make an effort to use them, or was he oblivious to their existence?[8]

2) There are comparatively few extant works by the Rishonim on Isaiah. One would suppose that the Christian censors either cut them severely [9] or discouraged their publication. However, a few such works have been found and
published. [10] In these sefarim are important ideas that have not found their way into ArtScroll, once again to its, and our loss. [11]

3) The truth that even a casual reader will note that there are at least two different styles of commentaries of Isaiah in this work. The first 40 or so chapters were written in one style, and the last chapters by a different commentator. (Perhaps the same author wrote them at different times of his life.)

The first Chapters are basically a summary of the classical commentators. These summaries are widely available[12], albeit in Hebrew [13]. One wonders why Rabbi Scherman ignored Rav Eliezer MiBalgantzi, Rabbi Yishaya Mitrani,
Ibn Kaspi and Ayin Hamesorah (published from manuscripts in Keter).

Remarkably, the style of commentaries in the second part of the Sefer are completely different. No longer only the classical commentaries are mentioned. Mari K’ra, Orchos Chaim, Shem Shmuel, Artscroll’s own edition of Rav Schwab, and many other commentaries suddenly make an appearance. Rabinowitz masterful Daas Sofrim [14] and Hirsch’s Essays are mentioned. Rav Schwab’s, somewhat idiocentric ideas are often quoted.[15]

Strongly, Sorotzkin’s Rinat Yitchak [16] and Rav Dovid Cohen’s many works  [17] are ignored. One understands (but does not condone) the omission of Mossad Harav Kook’s Daas Mikra [18] because of its “modern” leaning, but what could be wrong with Hatorah Hatemimah [19]? Emek Hanetziv is Kosher (pg. 385) but the G’ra does not make the cut [20]! Additionally there are many commentaries of the Haftorahs, which are similarly ignored [21]

4) Perhaps the most important criticism is that this work is below Artscroll standards. In the Schottensten Talmud, (especially the Jerusalem Talmud) Artscroll has shown that they are able to do extensive research, and to explicate almost all fundamentals [22]. Rav Eisemann’s Ezekiel is a masterful work.

In the Artscroll Isaiah there is little attempt to explain the fundamental concepts of Judaism. Instead we are fed homilies, “Vortlach”, Hassidic Meiselach and childish moralisms. We miss the scholarly discussions, the Machlokes and textual variations that are so beautifully presented in the Schottenstein Talmud.

Yishayahu [Isaiah] speaks to the generations. To portray him as a medieval sermonizer is, to sat the least, disrespectful and trite. The Milstein Series could, and must, do a better job. They owe this to modern reader.

[1] The Later Prophets: Isaiah, Mesorah Publications 2013

[2] We can see the upper pool and the lower pool, etc.

[3] To modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content

[4] “Unto us a child is given.”Etc.

[5] In an unscientific count in Ayn Hamesorah, about 30% of Chumash pasukim are cited compared to 98% of Isaiah’s pasukim.

[6] Stern, Menachem: Torah SheB’al Peh, Jerusalem 2001. Neusner, Jacob: Isaiah in The Babylonian Talmud and Medrash, NY 2007.

[7] A cursory reading counts only a few dozen citations.

[8] A few random examples:

i) 42:5 ….Who gives a soul to the people upon it, and a spirit to those who walk upon it

Artscroll pg. 323: He gives a soul equally to all the people on earth (Radak)

A spirit of sanctity (or prophecy- Abarbanel) to those who walk in his ways.

Yet: Talmud Yerushalmi [8]: Rashbal in the name of Bar Kapra: The land on which I placed life first, will be the first for the coming of the Messiah. What is the reason “He gives a soul to the people upon it. Thus the Rabbis of Babylon have lost. Rabbi Simai said: The Almighty makes the land slippery in front of them and thus they slide like bottles. When they reach the land of Israel their souls are with them….

ii) 27:13 ….It shall be on that day a great shofar will be blown…

Artscroll pg. 209: On that great day of ingathering, all the exiles will be gathered together (as if –Radak) by the blast of a great shofar Abarbanel, R’ Hirsch

Yet: Talmud  [8]: The ten tribes have no place in the world to come… these are the words of Rabbi Akiva. …Rabbi Simon said: if their actions are (still) like today, they will not return. If not, they will return. Rebbi said: They will come to the world to come as it said “On that day a great shofar will be sounded”.

(One feels that these random examples, among many, are teaching fundamentals of Jewish thought. Why were they not mentioned? In their place Artscroll quotes two Chassidic Vortlach!)

[9] See Neubauer’s edition of the ‘hine yaskil avdi”

[10] Kovetz Perushim Lesefer Yishayahu, Jerusalem 5731. Tafsir Saadia Gaon, S. Ratzabi Bnei Brak 2004

[11] A few random examples;

i) On that day (people) will sing about (Israel), “A vineyard of fine wine”. I am Hashem who guards it: I water it frequently, lest it be held account against it, night and day I will guard it.

Artscroll pg.203: From the cup of punishment I shall pour on them only a little at a time, because if I were to deliver the full of retribution all at once, they would not survive it. (Rashi)

Yet: Ibn Ganach: It comes to tell us that Israel will not be included in the punishment, that is to say; I will revisit their sins on the nations, but I will not revisit (Israel’s) sin

ii) 52:2 Formerly he grew like a sapling ….

Artscroll (pg. 401): Before the redemption raises Israel to its new eminence, the nations will regard it with contempt…

Yet: Rambam: The quality of the ascent (of the Messiah) is that not that we will know at all before his ascent whether he is or not the Messiah, even if it is said of him that he is the son of so-and-so from so-and-so’s family. Rather an unknown man shall rise before his identity is revealed, with signs and miracles, which we will see that it is he that performs them. This will prove the truth of his claims and the truth of his patrimony. (Again one feels that these are basic to our beliefs, and are puzzled by their omission.)

[12] Laniado Shlomo: Keli Paz, , 1637, Reprinted Jerusalem 5731

[13] An adequate work by Rosenberg, A. J.: Mikraos Gedolos, The Judaica Press, 1992 has long been available

[14] Rabinowitz, Chaim Dov, Daas Sofrim, Jerusalem 1980

[15] Rinat Yitzchak, Yitzchak Sorotzkin, Wikliff 1998

[16] Rinat Yitzchak, Yitzchak Sorotzkin, Wikliff 1998

[17] Cohen, David: Ohel David, 1998 –

[18] Chacham, Amos: Daat Mikra, Jerusalem 1988

[19] Stern, Yechiel Michal: Hatorah Hatemimah, Jerusalem 5732

[20] Katzenelenbogen, S.. Biur Hagr’a Neviim, Jerusalem 2002

[21] A few random examples:

i) 41:2 Who inspired (the one) from the East, at whose (every) footstep righteousness attended….

Artscroll pg.311: This is a reference to Abraham, who came from Aram, which is east of Eretz Israel…

Yet Rinat Yitzchak [21] explains this verse as the dispute between Rashi and the Gr’a. In Shabbat 156a uses this verse to prove that there is no Mazal (Astrology) for Israel. Rashi explains that prayer and repentance can change the mazal. The G’ra explains that Mazal only applies to the nations, whereas Israel is above the stars and independent of Mazal.

ii) 28:7 …the kohen and the (false) prophet have erred because of liquor and corrupted by wine, they have strayed because of liquor, erred in vision.

Artscroll pg. 211: Rather than refer to the drunkenness and hedonism of the people, Isaiah refers to the drunkenness and the hedonism of the leadership, the Kohen and the prophet.

Yet: Rabinowiz [21]: To claim that this refers to the Kohanim [High priests] in the Beis HaMikdash [Temple in Jerusalem] and to the prophets, contradicts all accepted opinions. …. Nowhere does Isaiah mention false prophets, for no one would dare to call himself a prophet in the days of Isaiah…. It is unlikely that Isaiah would refer to the priests of Baal as Kohanim. It is certain that Isaiah was referring to himself. He was not able to communicate with people that were immersed in wealth and success, indulging in feasts and parties. It is unlikely that he speaks of gross drunkenness.

[22] See however: Our Torah, your Torah and their Torah: An evaluation of the Artscroll phenomenon by B. Barry Levy and Tradition 19(1) (Spring 1981): 89-95 and an exchange of letters in Tradition 1982; 20:370-375.

The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem

In “The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem”, Professor Avi Sagi deals with the extensive Jewish literature on this subject. The article appeared in the Harvard Theological Review Vol.87, No.3 (1994) p.323-46. Avi Sagi is associated with Bar Ilan University and the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem, Israel.

Avi Sagi, Shalom Hartman Institute

A summary follows:

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

No less an authoritative text than Talmud Bavli, in Yoma 22b, notes that punishing children for the sins of their parents is wrong. In this gemara, on the basis of a ritual pointing to the sanctity of an individual life in biblical tradition, the Talmud derives a fortiori that inflicting grievous harm on many human beings must certainly be forbidden. Some might point out that there is another place in the Talmud, where the Talmud does seem to obligate Jews to kill Amalekites. Sanhedrin 20b states that the obligation to destroy Amalek os one of the three duties incumbent on Israel after conquering the land of Canaan. However, there are a number of fatal problems for this view:

(A) Not every statement in the Talmud is meant to be taken literally.

(B) Not every statement in the Talmud is codified as law. In fact, most statements in the Talmud are not halakha.

(C) This part of the Talmud contradicts Yoma 22b.

(D) Sanhedrin 20b is further contradicted by another place in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b. The Talmud notes that Haman is a descendent of Amalek. (Whether this is a historical fact or not is irrelevant to questions of Jewish law). And contrary to Sanhedrin 20b, it is clear that Jews are not obligated to “cut off the seed of Amalek”. Rather, Sanhedrin 96b, reads “The descendants of Haman studied Torah in Bnei Brak [and they included Rabbi Samuel ben Shilath]! So the Talmud flat out states that we know who some of the Amalekite descendants are, yet we not only not kill them, we accept them as converts, and rabbis! [Some editions of the Talmud have the section in parenthesis about R. Samuel b. Shilath, some do not]
Several nineteenth century Orthodox halakhists assumed that despite the enormous problems that exist with this imperative, one should theoretically consider Exodus 17:14 as a literal commandment to wipe out Amalekites, thus precluding their acceptance as converts. However, in their writings they are troubled by the unethical implications of this, so they creatively pasken that this rule is one that can never be carried out. They relied on a principle dating from Tannaitic times in order to justify their innovation. For instance, Rabbi Hayim Falaggi (1788-1896) wrote that descendants of Amalek were not to be killed. In fact, Amalekites could convert to Judaism, because we can rely on the maxim that in ancient times, Senaherib confused the lineage of many nations. [Eynei Kol Hai, 73, on Sanhedrin 96b]

This approach was also supported by other halakhists. Yosef ben Moshe Babad (1800-1875) explicitly stated that we are not commanded any longer to blot out Amalek, for the same reasons as stated by Rabbi Falaggi. [Minhat Hinukh, 2.213, commandment 604]. Other Orthodox rabbis supported this view as well, for instance Haim Hirschensohn, in Malki ba-Kodesh 1.33, and Avraham Karelitz in his Hazon Ish al ha-Rambam, 842]

Avraham Bornstein (1839-1910), one of the best known Orthodox halakhists of his generation, writes:

I believe they teach that the seven nations have themselves sinner and committed all iniquities and become liable to die. And we would think that this means that repentance will not help…. But Amalek is punished for the sins of their fathers. Yet it is also written [in the Torah] ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, neither shall children be put to death for their fathers.’ “…If they have repented and accepted the seven Noachide commandments, this means that they do not persist in their ancestor’s deeds, and should not be punished for their iniquities.
[Avnei Netzer, part 1: Orah Hayim, 2.508]
The Netzer goes further. He not only states that Jews are forbidden from harming descendants of Amalek, but that even the gentile nations of the world are similarly forbidden from doing so. [Ibid, Unnumbered footnote to 2.508]

Rabbi Moshe Amiel (1883-1946), ruled that we should not understand Amalek as being a particular ethnic group. Rather, he viewed Amalek as the symbol of armed might. In Rabbi Amiel’s view, a permanent war prevails between the sword and the book, and “one can only be built on the ruins of the other”. [Derashot el Ami, 3.132, 3 volume set, Tel-Aviv, 1964]

Rabbi Amiel directly confronts the moral problem that exists from the excessive view, which states that descendants of Amalek must die, which of course is a contradiction to the Torah’s injunction that a child may not be punished for the sins of its parents. Rabbi Amiel concludes that Jews must not harm Amalekites, and writes “the view of Judaism is that the prosecution cannot turn into the defense, evil cannot be extirpated by evil means, terror cannot be eliminated from the world through the use of counter-terror”. [Ibid, 3.132] Rather, Jews wage “war” against Amalek with the book – “Write this for a memorial in a Book” Exodus 17:14. Thus, Rabbi Amiel states that the blotting out of Amalek is not meant as physical destruction.

In Talmud Bavli, Berachot 10a, Beruriah states that it is only the sins of Amalek that must be removed, not Amalekites themselves. No less an Orthodox authority than Rabbi Amiel relies on this as a source for normative halakha. He quotes this to show that the obligation to blot out the memory of Amalek should not be understood literally:

Because it is written [in Psalms 104:35] “let sins be consumed out of the Earth, and not “let the sinners”. And as for Amalek too, the Torah stresses mainly the
“remembrance of Amalek”, when Amalek turns into a memory, a culture, a lofty ideal, a sublime notion….It is this remembrance of Amalek that we are commanded to blot out. [Derashot el Ami, 143]

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1880), the founder of Neo-Orthodoxy, progenitor of Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy, holds a view similar to that of Rabbi Amiel. Hirsch notes that Jews do not kill Amalekites, rather Jews only remove the remembrance and glory that Amalek desired. He elaborates on this in his exegesis of the verse ” ‘I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek’ – not Amalek, but rather its remembrance and glory.” [Commentary on Exodus, 171, Exodus 17:14]

SomeOrthodox authorities claim that no Amalekite can ever convert to Judaism. [For instance, Avraham Danzig, Hayei Adam, Hilkhot Megillah, 155a] They state this as a plain fact, so plain that they see no need to present any proof for their claim. However it is hard to understand why they have done so, as the Mishneh Torah is quite clear on this issue: Amalekites may indeed convert to Judaism. [details below].

Maimonides approach to this subject provides a broad and comprehensive approach. He states that “all heathens, without exception, once they become converts…are regarded as Israelites in every respect…and they may enter the congregation of the Lord immediately…excepting the four nations”.

[Mishneh Torah, Laws concerning forbidden intercourse 12.17, in “The Code of Maimonides”, volume 5, The Book of Holiness, Yale Judaica Series]

However, this in only a general guideline: Maimonides then cites the Tannaitic principle of commingled nations, and rules that members of even the four nations may enter the congregation of the Lord, i.e. become Jews. [Ibid. 12.15] When specifically considering Amalekites, he notes that neither their conversion nor inclusion in the community poses any problem. Maimonides approach regarding 2 Samuel 1:13-16 and the slaying of the Amalekite stranger differs from that adopted in the Mekhilta (a midrash collection):

It is a scriptural decree that the court shall not put a man to death or flog him on his own admission [of guilt]. This is done only on the evidence of two witnesses. It is true that Joshua condemned Achan to death on the latter’s admission, and that David ordered the execution of the Amalekite stranger on the latter’s admission. But those were emergency cases, or the death sentences pronounced in those instances were prescribed by the state law.
[The Book of Judges, Laws concerning Sanhedrin 18.6]
Maimonides thus assumes that the only grounds for slaying the stranger were the fact that it was either an immediate emergency, or a penalty prescribed by state law, and not that he was an Amalekite. Whereas the Mekhilta assumes that slaying the Amalekite stranger complies with the biblical injunction to destroy Amalek, Maimonides assumed this killing, unless justified in terms of another legitimate principle, would be unacceptable.

How then did Maimonides understand the injunction to blot out the memory of Amalek? He took a different and severely restricted view of this phrase. An analysis of several other of his rulings allows us to understand the extent of his restrictions. Maimonides writes “No war is declared against any nation before peace offers are made to it. This obtains both in an optional war and a war for a religious cause, as it is said: ‘When you draw near to a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it’. (Deut.20:10) If the inhabitants make peace and accept the seven [Noachide] commandments enjoined upon the descendants of Noah, none of them is slain, but they become tributary.
[Mishneh Torah, The Book of Judges, Laws concerning Kings and Wars 6.1]

Before declaring an optional war – one not commanded by the Torah – as well as before declaring a war for a religious cause, such as “the war against the seven nations, and against Amalek”, a peace offer must be made [Ibid. 5.1] This peace offer should propose to renounce war if the enemy agrees to three conditions (1) to accept the Noachide commandments (2) pay tribute, and (3) submit to servitude. [Ibid. 6.1]

The requirement that a peace offer be made even prior to waging a war for a religious cause would appear to deviate from the biblical command to blot out the memory of Amalek. Deuteronomy 20:10, which Maimonides quoted, concerns only optional wars, as it is made clear further on: “Thus shalt thou do to all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of these peoples, which the Lord thy God gives thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breathes” (Deut. 20:15,16). The Sifre commentary on this explicitly states “When you draw nigh unto a city – Scripture speaks here of a non-obligatory war”.

In fact, Maimonides could well have noted even more biblical support. Among other examples, Deut. 2:24-26 suggests that a declaration of war must be preceded by a peace offer, and Moses offers peace and doesn’t slay Sihon King of the Amorites, although Sihon is a king of a nation condemned to destruction. In accordance with such biblical examples, Talmud Yerushalmi notes that before embarking on the conquest of the land of Canaan, Joshua offered the Canaanite nations three options: to make peace, leave the land, or go to war. [Yerushalmi Shevi’it 6.5; also see Nachmanides commentary on the Torah to Deut. 20:10]

All these biblical and Talmudic sources can be relied upon to support the lenient view, but these apparently only refer to the Canaanite nations. Maimonides understanding of the situation was innovative: Maimonides explicitly includes Amalek in the lenient policy, equating them with the seven nations.

“In a war waged against the seven nations, or against Amalek, if they refuse to accept the terms of peace, none of them is spared, as it is said ‘But of the cities of these peoples…you shall save nothing alive that breathes’. So too with respect to Amalek, it is said ‘blot out the remembrance of Amalek’ “. [Laws concerning Kings and Wars 6.4]

Relying in rabbinic exegesis which made the destruction of the seven nations contingent upon their behavior, Maimonides concluded that the command to blot out Amalek should also be considered contingent, and restricted to specific circumstances in which Amalek refused to accept a peace offer.

Why does Maimonides do all this? Because he understood that Judaism and Torah stand for the highest expression on ethics, as he writes “There is no vengeance in the commandments of the Torah, but compassion, mercy and peace in the world.” [Laws concerning the Sabbath 2.3]

As Avi Sagy notes: “Maimonides moral interpretation is in accordance with the spirit of the Torah and its fundamental premises regarding human justice, premises that should come into play in our behavior toward all human beings. It is on this basis that Maimonides radically restricted the ruling to destroy Amalek, “seeing neither obligation (nor merit) in eradicating or harming this nation without a moral justification

[Gerald J. Blidstein, Ekronot Mediniyim be-Mishnat ha-Rambam (Ramat Gan, Bar Ilan Univ. Press, 1983), p.223]