Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture
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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News September 2010

September 1, 2010

45th Anniversary of the Foundation

The Memorial Foundation, established by Dr. Nahum Goldmann in 1965 with a mandate to revitalize Jewish culture around the world after the Holocaust, celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. Since 1965 it has allocated over one hundred million dollars towards achieving that objective. Its success in this endeavor can be measured globally by the more than 13,000 individuals who have received scholarships and fellowships, who are now part of the fabulous mosaic of scholars, educators, rabbis, academics, writers and artists who have filled the vacuum created by decimation of the Jewish cultural elite in Europe by the Nazis. Secondly, the Foundation has supported the preparation and publication of close to 4,000 books by the recipients of those grants, as well as by academic and educational institutions also supported by the Foundation.

In this way the Foundation has played a major role in the creation, intensification and dissemination of Jewish culture in the more than half century following the Holocaust. We plan during the next academic year to share with you some of the results of the Foundation's work in selected areas of Jewish scholarship central to Jewish culture. We believe that these occasional papers will effectively demonstrate that the Foundation has indeed accomplished the vision of those who established the Foundation for the rejuvenation of Jewish culture and life after the Shoah, even with the modest resources available to the Foundation.


The Bible

As the Hebrew Bible is the cornerstone of our faith and culture, we will begin this series of reports with the Bible. Our goal is not to list and describe all the projects or individuals we have supported, but to highlight the major ones, which already have, or will have, a major impact on Jewish culture in our time. The projects will cover both traditional, academic and popular publications, projects, and programs intended to, in the words of the rabbis, L'Hagdil Torah U'Lehadira — to foster the most serious Biblical scholarship and the dissemination and comprehension of the Biblical text.


The Hebrew University Bible Project

The Hebrew University Bible Project was established to undertake a comprehensive survey of the textual history of the Hebrew Bible and to produce the major critical edition of the 24 books in the Jewish Biblical canon, collated from all extant sources. This historic project, initiated by Prof. Goshen Gottstein of Hebrew University, with the assistance of Profs. Chaim Rabin and Shemaryahu Talmon, determined at the outset that the base text for the entire critical edition of the Hebrew Bible would be the Keter Aram Zova, the Aleppo Codex.

The Aleppo Codex is the oldest and most authoritative complete manuscript of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. It is the handiwork of the greatest of Masoretic scholars, who were active in Tiberias in the tenth century. It has been shown that Maimonides used this manuscript as the basis for his regulations concerning the writing of a Torah scroll.

The Hebrew University Bible Project is the most extensive critical edition of the Bible in the world, in which all possible evidence of the text of the Hebrew Bible is recorded in one framework for the use of scholars and students of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible text has been handed down in manuscript form with the greatest of care by many generations of copyists. However, the further back one traces its transmission in history, the more variants are found in the text. This is evident most dramatically in the fragments of the biblical scrolls from the Second Temple period, found in Qumran & Masada in the Judean Desert. Those scrolls especially attest to textual variants in the biblical texts, as they preserve multiple versions of these compositions. The Hebrew University Bible Project includes all the evidence from these scrolls bearing on the text, and every difference in other ancient translations: the Greek Septuagint; Latin Vulgate; Aramaic Targumim; Syriac Peshitta; biblical quotations in rabbinic literature; and medieval Tiberian and Eastern manuscripts.

The purpose of the Hebrew University Bible Project, which we have supported since 1965, is to record these differences precisely, presenting the reader with all possible information necessary to analyze the development of the biblical text without any prejudicial assumptions or preconceived notions regarding their development.

To date, with Foundation support, three critical editions have already been published — Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The Foundation has also made grants for the preparation of two volumes on the Twelve Prophets. It is planned to complete and publish 5 of those prophets — Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah and Jonah — at the end of this year.

The current director of the Hebrew University Bible Project is Prof. Michael Segal. Prof. Segal was granted an Ephraim Urbach Post Doctoral fellowship in 2005 after he completed his doctorate summa cum laude at the Hebrew University. He recently was appointed chairperson at the Department of Bible at the Hebrew University and editor of the Hebrew University Bible Project. Not only has the Foundation helped support this and other monumental projects described in the rest of this report. We have been simultaneously engaged in helping train and produce scholars like Prof. Segal and support them in launching their careers and helping publish their subsequent research.

Another such example from the Hebrew University is Prof. Sara Japhet.. Sara Japhet, an internationally recognized Biblical scholar, who was awarded a fellowship from the Foundation early in her career when she began research on her seminal work on Chronicles I & II: A Commentary, which was subsequently published in 1993. Prof. Japhet serves as the Yehezkel Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has held many academic positions including the Head of the Department of Bible at Hebrew University, The Head of the Institute of Jewish studies at that university, and director of the Jewish National and University Library. In recent years she served as the President of the World Union of Jewish Studies, where she worked closely in cooperation with the Memorial Foundation in expanding the Foundation's Ephraim E. Urbach Post-Doctoral Fellowship program, many of whose recipients are doing work in Biblical studies and have already, like Prof. Segal, found a place for themselves among the next generation of scholars in this field.

Prof. Japhet was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 2004 for her achievements in Biblical research.


Da'at Mikra

Da'at Mikra is a monumental multi-volume commentary on the Hebrew Bible published by Mosad HaRav Kook. In essence it is an innovative response by traditional biblical Jewish scholarship to the challenge of reconciling academic and secular biblical scholarship with the older and more traditional Jewish perspectives on Torah. This principle was incorporated into the guidelines formulated by its editorial committee, in which Yehuda Kiel and Prof. Mordechai Breuer played major roles. This commentary would be based on traditional classical biblical exegesis starting from the interpretations of the Talmudic sages and continuing through more recent commentators, while taking account of the results of modern scholarship in the areas of exegesis, philology, history, geography, archaeology to the extent that the conclusions of such scholarship did not run counter to Jewish tradition.

The major base for the biblical text in Da'at Mikra, like for the Hebrew University Bible Project, was the Aleppo Codex. Each volume presents a comprehensive introduction, including an overview of the book's authorship, its religious motifs, language and literary style, and its historical, sociological, and geographic context. The central commentary is based on Talmud and Midrashic interpretations, the classic medieval and more modern commentaries, a careful analysis of the meaning of the words in the text and the grammar and syntax of the verse. A background of society during the time each book in the bible is also presented, including photographs and drawings illustrating daily life in the biblical period, as well as maps delineating the geographical background for events that are referred to in the text.

These volumes have achieved very wide popularity in Israel and the Diaspora. Indeed, Yehuda Kiel received the prestigious Israel Prize for Bible Studies for his work in the preparation and publication of Da'at Mikra.

The Memorial Foundation awarded grants in the early stages of this monumental undertaking, in accordance with the principal that guided us in those years of providing seed money to help important innovative projects to get started. The following volumes were published with the Foundation's support: Samuel, Judges, Kings, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Chronicles.


Torah Shelemah

Torah Shelemah is a pioneering encyclopedia of the Pentateuch in which all the relevant material of the oral rabbinic tradition was collected and cited in connection with each scriptural verse in the Pentateuch to which it refers. That oral tradition includes the entire corpus of the Talmud and Midrashim, the earliest post-biblical works until the Gaonic period, the Targumim including Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Targum Yerushalmi, the Sifri, and Sifri Zutah, drawn from rare early manuscripts, and Maimonides' comments on Talmudic passages as found in his Code.

Rabbi Kasher also sought out material from previously unknown Midrashic works such as the Midrash Teiman to incorporate into his work. The second part of each volume consists of his extensive annotations, addendum and the variant texts, in which Rabbi Kasher explicates many of the obscure sections of his citations from the oral tradition and its relationship to the scriptural text.

The Foundation has since 1965 supported the preparation and publication of 22 volumes of the Torah Shelemah, including most of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. For his work on Torah Shelemah Rabbi Kasher was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize.


Bible In East European Languages

Since its establishment in 1965, the Foundation has been active in Eastern Europe, especially the former Soviet Union, before and after glasnost, in supporting the preparation and publication of more than 650 books in East European languages dealing with Jewish culture, aimed at raising the Jewish consciousness and the level of the literacy of Jews there. Some of our major projects in Eastern Europe projects dealt with the Bible.

In the 70's and 80's the Foundation supported the publication of translations of the entire weekly parshiot of the Torah, with a brief commentary in Russian translation. The initiator of the project was Prof. Herman Branover, a prominent scientist and dissident who emigrated from Riga to Israel. Prof. Branover, who established Shamir, a publishing house for cultural and educational materials and books for Russian Jewry, undertook the publication of these pamphlets, supported by the Foundation, which were transferred and distributed clandestinely to the Jews living behind the iron curtain. After glasnost, these pamphlets were incorporated, first in five, and then in one volume.

The Foundation's Committee on Russian Jewry, after extensive consultation, concluded that a commentary with a more contemporary cast was needed that met both the needs of the cultural elite and the larger sector of Russian Jewry who had limited or no connection or contact with religious life. The Foundation then commissioned and published the translation of the Hertz Chumash in five volumes, with the assistance of the Darchei Noam Foundation. They were an instant success in Russia and were subsequently republished in one volume and thousands of copies were distributed all over the former Soviet Union by the Chabad organization.

In recent years with the growth of the Reform movement in Russia, we awarded a grant to the World Union of Reform Jewry for the publication of the Russian language translation of the Plaut Modern Torah Commentary. The Russian language edition is based on the 2005 edition of "The Torah, A Modern Commentary" edited by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, which the Reform Movement in North America under the aegis of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, published in 1964, to provide a contemporary commentary on the Torah. The Russian language edition was conceived in response to the growing number of Russian speaking Jews affiliated with Reform congregations in Russia. The first volume Bereishis will be published this January.

One of our community service scholarship and fellowship recipients, Rabbi Sacha Pecaric, who served as a rabbi in Poland, has translated the Pentateuch into Polish. Most noteworthy is that his translation received the approbation of Czeslaw Milosz, the internationally recognized Polish poet who received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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As the Bible has played such a critical role in Jewish religious and cultural life, we at the Memorial Foundation are especially proud of our contribution to the development of both Jewish scholars and scholarship in the field of Biblical Studies.

Best wishes for a New Year of contentment and peace.


With warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President