The Tosefta Blog: Introduction to This Edition of the Tosefta

by Eliyahu Gurevich

I tried to write a translation and a commentary on the Tosefta which would be equally interesting and insightful to an experienced scholar or a novice student of Jewish classical Torah literature. I have tried to write it in a way that even a person who does not know any Hebrew and does not have any background in the study of the Oral Torah will still be able to navigate through the complicated maze of its logic and enjoy the journey while doing so. I hope I have succeeded.

I did not intend for this work to be a critical edition of the Tosefta that sites all possible text variations, since that has already been done by Zuckermandel and Lieberman. My goal was to create a single flowing authoritative text so that the reader can enjoy the book and not worry which reading is better or worse. Therefore instead of using the text of the Tosefta from a single manuscript with footnotes of other readings, like Zuckermandel and Lieberman have done before me, I have carefully edited the original Hebrew text of the Tosefta from all available manuscripts and have chosen the best possible readings that make most sense. If the text that I have chosen came either from the Vienna, Erfurt or London manuscripts I have not noted so in the commentary. However, if I have chosen the text from a Geniza fragment or from some other source then I have stated so in the notes and explained my reasoning behind it. Generally I have not used the text of the Tosefta from any of the printed editions since they are not very authoritative. However there are a few places where I had to use the text from the printed editions, because otherwise the text did not flow or make any sense. In such cases I have stated in the notes which words or phrases were taken from the printed editions and why. I did not change any readings based on logic, even if it has been suggested by other commentators. All of the readings have an original textual source.

The source for the text of all manuscripts that I have used for this edition of the Tosefta is the Bar Ilan University Jewish Studies Department Tosefta Repository. Whenever there is a doubt of what the manuscript reading should be I have consulted the scanned images of the Vienna and Erfurt manuscripts, as well as of the first printed edition, Venice 1521. Currently I do not have scanned images of the London manuscript and of most Geniza fragments.

The division of each tractate into chapters and numbering of individual Toseftot follows the printed edition of the Tosefta in the back of Vilna Talmud Bavli. This division methodology slightly differs from the way the Tosefta is numbered in the manuscripts and in other printed editions. However, the reason that I chose to use it is because it is the mostly widely spread and readily available edition of the Tosefta and therefore most easily accessible by readers. Since all of the numbering systems of the Tosefta lack in precision and often do not make any sense I do not think that it really matters which system is used as long as it is consistent.

In the translation of the Tosefta there are parts of the text that written without brackets, parts in square brackets [ ] and parts in parentheses ( ). The text without brackets is the translation of the original Hebrew text as it appears. The text in square brackets is extra text added by me in order to make the text flow better and make more sense to the reader. The parts in parenthesis are extra explanatory notes that are used to clarify or paraphrase the preceding statement of the translation.

Many Hebrew or Aramaic terms that are best understood in their original form have not been translated in the main text, although I have provided their common translations in parenthesis next to them.

The spelling of the Hebrew terms is the common transliteration and pronunciation that is used in Orthodox Jewish circles in the United States. In some cases I have used terms from the American Yeshivish speech as opposed to directly transliterating the Hebrew vowelization. One such example is the word Rebbi, meaning Rabbi.

I wrote Rebbi not as a transliteration of the word רַבִּי, but rather as it is spoken in Yeshivish English, which may not be familiar to people from outside of the Yeshiva circles in English-speaking countries.

In an English speaking Yeshiva, students would never refer to their “rabbi” as Rabbi, but rather as Rebbi (pronounced Rehbee). But regular people who speak English would say Rabbi (pronounced Rabuy). The Hebrew word is pronounced Ruhbee, but its spelling in English is Rabbi, so people pronounce it as Rabuy even though it should be pronounced as Ruhbee. The same goes for the rabbis of the Talmud. They are called Rav or Rebbi, but not Rabbi.

So I chose to write as religious Jews speak in English and not how regular people speak in English. Among religious English speaking Jews the regular English word “Rabbi” does not have a very good connotation, because it implies that the person is not pious or learned. So for example if religious Jews would be talking about a teacher in a Yeshiva they would call him Rebbi (Rehbee), but if they would be talking about some Rabbi who is not so important and no one thinks high of him then they would call him Rabbi (Rabuy).

In modern Hebrew books (Sefarim), like Iggrot Moshe, when referring to an important orthodox rabbi he is always referred to as רבי (Rebbi) or רב (Rav), but when referring to a reform or conservative rabbi his title is written as רבאיי (Rabbi) to emphasize the English pronunciation as a way to portray the person not as a Talmid Chacham (sage), but rather as someone who simply works in a job whose title is Rabbi.

I have tried my best to apply modern research methods to the study of the Tosefta and other Talmudic literature in order to uncover its original meaning. I have explained the etymology of all foreign words that appear in the Tosefta. Words of Greek origin have been written in Greek and transliterated into English. I have dated some of the statements of the Tannaim (Rabbis of the Mishna and Tosefta) in order to put them in perspective. I have cited a lot of modern research as well as various ancient sources in order to back up my theories.

I have decided not to put a glossary and a bibliography in the back of the book, but rather to explain and cite all sources on the spot, since most readers never look in the back anyway and would rather know right away from where the material comes from and what it means.

The vowelization of the Hebrew text has been done by my good friend, Rabbi Levi Sudri who is an expert in Tanach and in Hebrew language.

As I receive feedback from readers, find mistakes or discover new explanations, periodically I will post on the Tosefta Online website updated files of this book in PDF format. Although an index is provided in the back, it might be very useful to use the PDF files to search the book. As I write upcoming volumes, the translation and commentary of each Tosefta will be posted on the blog, so make sure to check back often. All feedback can be written directly to me by email at support at toseftaonline.org.

From The Tosefta Blog

The original text of the article may be found here.

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