(lubavitch.com) Russian language readers interested in Biblical Judaic texts can now study the Torah, or the Pentateuch with Rashi’s super commentary in modern Russian translation.
The new translation gives Russian readers access to Torah study in the same format as it is traditionally studied in Hebrew, with the Biblical text at the top of the page, and Rashi’s commentary running below. Rashi, an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105) was the medieval French rabbi whose comprehensive commentary on the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud is to this day, the primary and most widely studied of all Torah commentaries.
Interest in primary Jewish texts and biblical commentaries in Russian is on the rise, observes Rabbi Dovid Okunov, Associate Director of FREE, which recently released the five-volume edition in collaboration with L’Chaim Publishing House of Moscow.
In December 2009, the first run of 4000 copies was printed in Russia and quickly sold out. This was followed by a second, slightly larger run (5 000 copies), printed in May 2010, which sold out as well. Rabbi Boruch Gorin, Chief Editor of L’Chaim Publishing House, a division of the (FJC) Federation of Jewish Communities which initiated the project as part of a larger program to make source texts available to Russian readers, says the numbers are “simply a matter of supply and demand.”
“Most of the Russian-translated Chumashim [Five Books] have been out-of-print for a while and were limited in their original translations due to time and budget constraints,” said Gorin.
Given the low ratio of Rashi teachers or Torah teachers to Jewish Russian speakers, it is a significant achievement, said Gorin. Even in Moscow, where Jewish citizens enjoy a well developed Jewish infrastructure, there is as of yet, a relatively small number of individuals who can teach Torah.
The publishers made the decision to distribute the new volumes in general bookstores. In Moscow Bookstore, a mainstream bookseller in Moscow, the books topped the best seller list in the spiritual/religious category for a three month streak.
Sold as well online and through other venues, the five volume set, observe the publishers, is also being purchased by people who have no formal Jewish affiliation.
“Many Russian Jews prefer to learn in privacy on their own. They don’t believe in official institutions. Not even 10% of the Jewish population of Moscow (roughly estimated at half a million) is affiliated with Chabad or religious center,” said Gorin.
“The majority of those buying the book don’t know anything about Judaism, are not affiliated with the community and are coming to Torah teachers for the first time to ask questions that have been stimulated by the book,” Rabbi Gorin states. “They don’t realize that Torah is the source of deep intellectual and philosophical thought.”
The project of translating the Torah to Russian began in the late 1970’s with a partnership between SHAMIR (Jerusalem) and F.R.E.E. – Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (New York).Both pioneered the translation of Judaic literature into Russian. “Initially, we began to disseminate individual portions of the Torah,” recalled Rabbi Dovid Okunov. “Once the entire translation had been completed, a one volume edition was published.”
In 1987, under the editorship of Professor Herman Branover, a basic Torah and Haftorh translation was published as a single volume, followed by a 5 volume edition with the addition of selected commentaries. Two million copies of the former were sold and distributed throughout the Former Soviet Union and the Russian-speaking Diaspora, Israel, the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.
The current edition of the Five Books, bound in an elegantly produced hardcover, is expected to find its way to libraries, synagogues, schools and Chabad centers in Russian-speaking communities everywhere.