By Translated by Michael L. Rodkinson
In our table of contents to this history announced in the prospectus issued in 1897, we have inserted "A Reply to some Criticism." This would be in place if this history had been published at the time when the criticism was still new. Now, however, after the lapse of six years, during which new proper criticism has not appeared, a reply to what is almost forgotten would be out of place. We, however, cannot restrain ourselves to say a few words about criticism in general, and about our edition in special. In our opinion, true criticism must drive only to the point, i.e., the critic has to show the author his mistakes and errors in such and such point, page or paragraph, based upon undoubted or uncontradictory evidence, or common sense, taking care, however, to avoid partiality and personality. Otherwise it is not criticism but attack. In our introduction to Vol. VII., we expressed our anxiety to face a true criticism, which has not appeared thus far as aught we know. As what concerns the criticism which appeared after the issue of the first volume, the same may be classified in three categories:
(a) Personality against the reviser of the first volume or against ourself. (b) Opposition on the part of those who disliked for some reason the idea of the Talmud being translated in any living language, no matter which; and (c) the views expressed by ignoramuses in all that concerns the Talmud and its study. It seems to us that a discussion would not persuade either of the three categories, as they indulged only in attacks lacking real evidence, nay, even a basis of probability on which they might have rested; e.g., there were some who claimed that our edition is not scientifically arranged, our omissions mutilating the whole text at large; but these did not care to give any example, which might have served them as evidence.
Now, concerning the scientific point of view, we hold that no translation of the Talmud could answer the requirements of a scientific work, as the Talmud itself is nothing but a chaotic mass lacking any scientific order, and should a translator follow scientific tracks, the result of his work would be a treatise on, but not a translation of, the Talmud. And, as what regards the so-called mutilations, since no example was given, we cannot enter any discussion as to them. Our method was already clearly explained in a lengthy article in Hebrew, out of which it might have appeared that our method consists in these very mutilations, and if after that anybody accuses us of mutilating the text we have nothing to say but let him try to invent a better method.
However, regarding the criticism of the spelling of some ancient names, which we were not very careful about, and also as to the distinguishing of the quotations from divers Mishnas, Boraithas, etc., we have gratefully admitted its truth and accordingly corrected in the succeeding volumes as well as in the second edition of the first volume, as it can be seen in our answer to these criticisms in the American Hebrew, July 29, 1896, which the critic himself admitted thereafter that it was a gentlemanly answer, though it could not induce him to deny his policy. And what concerns other criticisms of the above categories we may conscientiously say that they were not worthy of any consideration whatsoever, as their basis was the very criticism of this prominent scholar, who encouraged them to attack, to scold, and to make use of any expression which is fit to disqualify the work at large in the eyes of its supporters. 1 As an evidence to this latter statement we beg to quote the editorial of The American Israelite, September 19, 1901.
"The complaint voiced through the Jewish press that Rodkinson's translation of the Talmud is not receiving the support which its merits deserve is very much in the nature of self-accusation. The truth is that the great undertaking has never been able to overcome the onslaught originally made upon it. Recognizing its great value, the late editor of this paper gave to the work from its initial conception his earnest encouragement and support, which, instead of being seconded by the Jewish press and rabbinate, was met by a torrent of abuse and misrepresentation. Now that his foresight has been justified, and the former detractors of the work complain that Jewish support is lacking, they have a chance to contemplate their own doings. If the example set by the late editor of this paper had been emulated instead of neglected and derided, there would not now be occasion to charge the Jewish public with want of appreciation.
"It was not among Jews alone that the insensate opposition to Dr. Rodkinson's difficult project was met with. As is perfectly natural, the non-Jewish press depended largely upon Jewish sources for their information in regard to the work, and therefore reflected the unfavorable opinions expressed by supposed Jewish authorities. As soon as unbiased reviewers were made aware of its merits, they changed their unfavorable attitude, but it was too late to overcome the prejudice created by the first impression. To-day the non-Jewish press recognizes that it was misled into antagonizing the work, and speaks of it as a most important contribution to the world's stock of knowledge, but it certainly must be disheartening to its editor and his publishers to convince possible purchasers that the authorities upon which they depend for information have experienced a change of heart. It is an old story, that with one moment's start a lie will not be overtaken by its refutation in a thousand years. It is impossible to wholly right the wrong, but at least amends can be made by those who through ignorance or malice misrepresented Dr. Rodkinson's great undertaking, and it is not by taking a fling at the Jews that this is to be accomplished. It is safe to classify the Jews as average human beings, who are neither better nor worse than the rest of mankind, and taking them as such, the proportion among them who encourage Jewish letters will not be found to fall below what can rightly be expected. This statement, however, does not include the Jews who have been blessed with superabundant riches, for the members of that class have not in this country given to Jewish literature the same support so common among the men of wealth who enable the literature of Christianity to be spread broadcast over the world."
102:1 To our great sorrow we must confess that they have succeeded in harming us both materially and morally. The material harm was that, as an immediate result of their attacks, an enormous amount of financial support had been refused to us. The moral harm they caused us was that, being at loss of the necessary funds, we could not submit our work to competent men for revising, and so the whole gigantic labor of issuing all which has been printed so far was carried out only through our own endeavors, to which no assistance, moral or material, was given us an the part of anybody. And with all our modesty we may say that, had we not been so energetic and strong-minded, our attackers would have succeeded in destroying the whole plan and annihilating the publication of our work. A great authority and most influential man in this city, seeing our struggles and troubles after we had already issued several volumes, offered us 6,000 as financial aid for the duration of three years, so as to complete the translation in this period and to submit to him afterwards the whole manuscript, for which he was willing to take the trouble upon himself to find a publisher who would undertake to publish it upon the plan of royalty. The above amount he calculated to obtain of three philanthropists, two Gentiles and one Hebrew. We, however, having conjectured who the Hebrew philanthropist might be, told him that if he meant Mr. ------, he was mistaken, for he is already influenced by the critics and therefore would not support this work. In fact, it was so, and the professor was reduced to drop the whole plan.
This case was not the only one, There was another professor who promised to subscribe for twenty sets of our work for the purpose of distributing them among his friends. It was again the critic that prevented him from doing so.
The Jewish Publication Society of America, whose aim it is to help authors in issuing their works, and who are constantly doing so, have not assisted us with a single cent, in spite of the fact that all the above-mentioned critics but one had not only retracted from and moderated their first statements, but afterwards wrote favorably about our translation in different periodicals and private letters, as can be seen from the Press comments, which will be placed on the last pages of this work.
One cannot imagine our struggles and troubles at each issue of the volumes, and it is only our ideal that the edition of the Talmud should be completed which spurs us to continue, We rely upon the divine help, that it will not cease to grant us further on the assistance which it has lent us to the completion of the two large sections issued by us.