Steinsaltz delivers first volume of his Russian-language Talmud

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MOSCOW — The first volume of the Babylonian Talmud to be translated into Russian has been released here.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, an Israeli known for translations of the Talmud into modern Hebrew, English and French, presented the Russian-language edition at a ceremony last week at the office of the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov.

The Babylonian Talmud — which contains 63 sections, or tractates, and which was written in Aramaic and ancient Hebrew when it was compiled some 1,700 years ago — has never before been available to Russian Jews in their native language.

During the Soviet era, when Communist authorities suppressed all expressions of religious activity, Russian Jews had little access to the Talmud, copies of which were sometimes in the country's few functioning synagogues or were smuggled in by foreigners.

The 59-year-old Steinsaltz, who is the founder and the head of the Jerusalem-based Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications, already has published 27 volumes of the Talmud in modern Hebrew, as well as in English and French.

The Russian Talmud is being published under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Steinsaltz first became widely known to Russian Jews in 1990, when his book, "The Thirteen Petalled Rose," a personal exposition of Jewish mysticism, was translated into Russian.

It led many Russian Jews to re-establish links to Judaism.

In 1995, Steinsaltz was invited by the chief rabbi of Russia, Adolph Shayevich, to take on the title of Duchovny Ravin — the spiritual leader of Russian Jewry. Since then, Steinsaltz has spent a week every month in Russia giving lectures and visiting Jewish communities throughout the former Soviet Union.

"I see my attempt to be in Russia today as a big chance, a big effort and a big gamble," he said. "Many have asked me why to go to Russia, where any chances to revive Jewish spiritual continuity are so weak…Any attempt to do something in the former Soviet Union is an attempt to see if there is any way of changing the situation elsewhere. If there is any possibility, it means that Jews as a people have hope."