Soncino Books of the Bible

Soncino Books of the Bible

The Soncino Books of the Bible is a set of Hebrew Bible commentaries, covering the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) in fourteen volumes, published by the Soncino Press. The first volume to appear was Psalms in 1945, and the last was Chronicles in 1952. The editor was Rabbi Abraham Cohen.

Each volume contains the Hebrew and English texts of the Hebrew Bible in parallel columns, with a running commentary below them. The Hebrew text in Psalms is that of C. D. Ginsburg's earlier (1894) edition. This led to protests, since Ginsburg had converted to Christianity, so subsequent volumes used a (completely reset) copy of Meir Letteris' second (1866) edition of the Hebrew text. Both Hebrew texts are scrupulous versions of the Masoretic Text, so the differences between them are small. The English translation is the Jewish Publication Society of America Version of 1917.

The commentary in the first edition of the books was designed to summarise the best mid-20th century Bible scholarship from a Jewish viewpoint. The only exception was the "Soncino Chumash", covering the Torah and Haftaras, first published in 1947 and frequently reprinted. It was felt that to have a modern commentary in that book would unnecessarily duplicate the book "The Pentateuch and Haftarahs" edited by Chief Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz, also published by the Soncino Press. Thus instead there was a summary of the views of the most important mediaeval Jewish commentators, such as Rashi, Ramban and Ralbag.

A second edition of all books other than the "Soncino Chumash" appeared in the 1990s, edited by Rabbi Abraham Rosenberg. In this edition, the modern commentary in the other books has largely been replaced by a commentary similar to that in the Chumash. This has led to complaints that it is now difficult to find a modern but Orthodox Jewish Bible commentary, and to accusations that Haredi Jews, who reject the application of modern scholarship to Bible commentary, are exerting too much influence over Jewish life.

Translations of classical works

The Soncino Press also published the Soncino Talmud (1935-1952), the Soncino Midrash and the Soncino Zohar (1934) all of which were translations of the Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar, respectively. The first two have brief commentaries in footnotes. Some reprints of the Talmud also include the original Hebrew and Aramaic text. Another publication is the Soncino Haggadah, a translation and commentary on the Haggadah by Cecil Roth.

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