A Critique of Artscroll Press

I am often critical of the theology of Artscroll publications, and suggest that those who use anything produced by Artscroll need to understand that the theology behind their books is deeply embedded in their translations of text and commentary.

A great example of what I am talking about is found here:

I encourage you to read the article. The author, Fred MacDowell, describes how a mid 20th century Torah commentator, Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, made reference to Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe as an example of a person living in utter loneliness. The author even reproduces the page from the original Hebrew text, where one can very clearly read the paragraph mentioning Robinson Crusoe.

We also see a scan of the text of the Artscroll “translation,” which without comment or footnote omits that paragraph.

The author gives a number of guesses as to why Artscroll has emended the text of Rabbi Sorotzkin’s commentary:

  • It doesn’t seem natural or proper that an authentic Lithuanian rosh yeshiva of the previous generation, the pride of the great Telzer yeshiva, would have even read Robinson Crusoe much less included a reference to it in his Torah commentary.
  • Even if it was not written by himself, but based on oral talks, it doesn’t seem right that he should have referenced Robinson Crusoe in an oral talk on the Torah.
  • While not explicitly doing so, he almost seems to recommend reading it.
  • It appears strangely close to the much-maligned Torah U-Madda approach. [RK – The approach of the Modern Orthodox]
  • This is farfetched, but it is interesting that one of Orthodoxy’s favorite arch-heretics, the hebraist Eliezer Ben Yehuda, many times cited his having read כור עוני, Yitzhak Romesh’s Hebrew translation of Robinson Crusoe, which was secretly shown to Ben Yehuda by his half-maskil rebbe, R. Joseph Blucker (?). See, for example, his autobiographical החלום ושברו. Reading the fine prose of this book helped kindle a love for the Hebrew language within him.

So once more I caution you – Artscroll publications might seem to make Torah, the Siddur, the Talmud,  and other Hebrew works accessible to the non-Hebrew reader; but be aware that the original text and the version of the text that you are learning might not be the same.  If Artscroll believes that Rashi, Ramban, Rambam, the Siddur, the Talmud, the Torah, or a commentary on any of the above departs from their very narrow theology, they will take the very ‘modern’ approach of emending the text!

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