Bluethread Resource Reviews
When it comes to buying a Chumash , the text in Hebrew and English of the Torah and Haftarot used in weekly synagogue reading, synagogues and individuals have many choices.
Bluethread reviews the principal ones widely used and available as of 1999. In order of date of actual content (not necessarily current publication date), they are:
The Hertz and Cohen Chumashim use the translation issued by the Jewish Publication Society in 1917 (the "Old JPS"). That translation was essentially a modest revision of the (British Protestant) Revised Version, 1885, which itself was largely based on the King James ("Authorized") Version, 1611(1). In the Old JPS we recognize the use of "thee" and "saith", and of "maid-child" for girl, "help meet" for "helper", "smite" for strike and "twain" for two, as quaint forms that, while testifying to the antiquity of the Bible, also suggest a sense of obsolescence.
The Plaut Chumash uses the translation issued by the Jewish Publication Society beginning in 1962 (the "New JPS"), with participation by scholars and rabbis from Conservative, Reform and Orthodox Judaism. This translation is generally accepted by all streams of Judaism today. Compared to the Old JPS, the New JPS uses normal English words and word order, rather than obsolete words and mechanical, word-for-word Hebrew to English as in the older translation. It also makes fuller use of the older commentaries and of non-English Bibles (e.g., Septuagint and Targums), and where pertinent, Dead Sea Scrolls and similar extrabiblical material.
The Stone Chumash uses the recent ArtScroll translation. This translation "attempt[s] to render the text as our Sages understood it... to follow the Hebrew as closely as possible and to avoid paraphrase..." (Stone, p. xiv). The resulting text largely avoids using archaic words (but not entirely; e.g., "dwelt" in Gen. 24: 62: "...for he dwelt in the south country." The Stone retains the King James custom of using "and" or similar when translating sentences that have an initial Hebrew letter "waw"or "vav", and in that and other ways does not read as contemporary English prose.
Two examples of the difference between the translations follow:
Genesis 2:21, taking Adam's Rib
Genesis 32:30, Jacob asking the name of the wrestler
In addition, the New JPS uses more accurate translations than the legacies that pervade the Old JPS. Example: instead of the Old JPS' traditional "Red Sea" in Exodus 13:18 and 15:4, the New JPS uses the exact "Sea of Reeds", as does the Stone. However, where theology enters, Stone keeps a traditional outlook. For the end of Gen. 26:5, "Toroti", the Old JPS has, "My laws", the New JPS "My teachings", and the Stone / ArtScroll, "My Torahs". The Stone comment recognizes the alternative, "teachings", but true to its perspective, adds that the phrase "Toroti", being in the plural, means both the Written and the Oral Law.
The New JPS also uses more nuanced translations than the mechanical ones in the Old JPS and the Stone. Example: in Exod. 22:15, regarding the penalty for seduction, both the Old JPS and the Stone use the traditional "a virgin who is / was not betrothed", which to the modern ear equals "engagement", a custom not known in ancient Israel. The New JPS uses "a virgin for whom the bride price has not been paid", which reflects the situation covered by the verse. (Payment of the bride price means the girl has become the wife, and illicit intercourse at that point would be adultery or rape, not seduction.)
Hertz, Plaut and Stone all have original commentaries as well as frequent references to classic commentators; Stone's quotations from classic commentaries are especially extensive. Cohen's notes are "a digest of the commentaries of the [seven] most famous Jewish expositors", with no comments added by the editors.
The annotations by Rabbi Hertz and in the Stone and Cohen similarly reflect a sensibility not our own. Hertz, for example, in his comment on Num. Ch. 31 (p.704), cannot find circumstances that justify the ruthlessness of the war against the Midianites, and refers to the Indian Mutiny, not otherwise identified, as an example, an example not widely known to U.S. readers in our time. Plaut (p. 1222) and Stone (p. 903), by contrast, note that the Midianite War is, from Num. 25:16-17, a divinely imposed obligation. On that question, Cohen's note cites Rashi as saying the Midianites deserved punishment, but as noted above, does not add to that.
Hertz and Stone adhere to God / Mosaic origin of the Torah, and consider the Documentary Hypothesis utter falsity (Hertz, pp. 198ff.) and tantamount to denying the entire Torah (Stone, p. xx).
Consistent with that, Hertz creates opportunities to support his claim for historical accuracy of the Torah. For example, he comments on Deut. 1:2, that the eleven days' journey from Horeb to Kadesh-Barnea is quite plausible, since a traveller in 1830 C.E. made the same journey in eleven days by ordinary camel-riding. However, that comment is of dubious help to Hertz' claim for historicity of the text. There is considerable controversy regarding the date camels were domesticated enough for transport. Many scholars believe it to be only at the very end of the second millenium BCE (2), whereas the traditional dating of the entry into the Land following the Israelite's wanderings in the desert is ca. 1273 BCE, some two or three centuries earlier, when the beast of transport was still the ass.
Stone, following Maimonides and other pillars of rabbinic tradition, also considers that the Oral Law was given by God to Moses at Sinai.
Cohen does not directly address the issue of authorship. His brief introduction has insightful summaries of the differing approaches employed by the seven commentators cited. However, since the commentaries used by Cohen present a traditional interpretation of the text, and considering that Soncino Press' goal is to faithfully present Jewish classics for modern readers, it is reasonable to conclude that Mosaic authorship is understood.
By contrast, Plaut (pp. xi ff.), together with Reform and mainstream scholarship, finds the Documentary Hypothesis admissible, while concurring with traditionalists in treating the text as a unified whole. (NB: this comment is not intended to convince those who subscribe to Mosaic authorship that they are in error, but rather that the Chumash used by liberal Jews should be more in touch with Reform sensibilities than are the Hertz and Stone, valuable as they may be for presenting traditional perspectives.)
More generally, when Hertz' and Stone's notes and comments go beyond explaining the plain meaning of the word, they tend to be doctrinal explanations. Those from whom they quote are almost exclusively Jewish traditionalists, not representative of a broad spectrum of perspectives.
Plaut's notes also explain the plain meaning of many words, and much more frequently than Hertz, Stone or Cohen, mention alternative meanings. His comments are rarely homiletic, but instead tend to describe the circumstances and possible influences involved in the passage. Plaut's comments often relate the passage to others in the Torah, and when those other passages are not consistent with the present passage, he discusses the possible reasons for the difference. Plaut's quotes from other writers include scholarly, midrashic and literary selections ("Gleanings") from both traditional and non-traditional Jews, and from many non-Jewish sources as well.
Although Hertz, Stone and Plaut provide lengthy comments in addition to brief notes, those by Plaut and Stone are far more numerous and extensive. As before, Hertz's and Stone's discussions are homiletic. Plaut, by contrast, discusses as appropriate religious, legal, or historic aspects of the material, such as the development of the Jewish calendar (pp. 919 ff.). Plaut and Stone also include several maps, diagrams and other illustrations.
Hertz, Cohen and Stone divide the Torah text into the 54 traditional Parashiyyot. Plaut divides the text into 145 topical units, with no necessary relationship to the weekly Parashiyyot; the names of the parashiyyot are shown at the top of all pages, but there is no index or listing by page number of the parashiyyot.
Hertz and Cohen place the regular Haftarot immediately after their Parashiyyot. Stone has all the Haftarot together following the last book, Deuteronomy. Plaut places the Haftarot for the Parashiyyot in a given book of the Torah following each of the respective books.
The Hertz has extensive commentaries on all the Haftarot. Plaut and Stone have minimal introductions to each Haftarah (the UAHC Press in 1996 separately published Plaut's Haftarah commentary) and Cohen has the a selection of summaries of traditional commentaries as for the Torah.
Hertz and Stone each has an extensive index to the Biblical texts; Hertz's includes references to his longer commentaries. Cohen indexes the commentaries only. Plaut does not have an index.
Stone's bibliography is fairly lengthy and is exclusively of Orthodox commentators, ancient and modern, including those who battled Reform and "revisionist Biblical Criticism". It can thus be useful for identifying references to such commentators. Plaut's bibliograpy is also extensive, but much more eclectic; the end notes to Plaut's comments also identify bibliographic information related to the particular topic. Hertz's bibliography includes not only traditional commentators but also early Reform writers and then-contemporary Christian scholars of the Tanach. Cohen provides no bibliography as such.
Stone includes the
Plaut has some maps, Stone and Plaut have a few diagrams.
If you are buying a Chumash for personal use, you will probably want the same Chumash used by your synagogue. Alternatively, or in addition, you may want to buy the Chumash that reflects the stream of Judaism to which you relate:
In addition, amateur Torah scholars of any stream may well want to have both the Plaut and the Stone, because of the scope and quality of their commentaries and other supplementary materials.
And don't forget that the Cohen (Soncino) Chumash provides the basic Torah and Haftarah readings in Hebrew and English, together with a good selection of traditional comments, and it is the least expensive and most compact of the standard Chumashim.
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