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By: Pnina Souid

There have been many revolutionary inventions that fundamentally changed human life or the course of history, and generally speaking, they have evoked two reactions among people: “How come we didn’t think of this before?” and, “How were we ever able to manage without this?”

These are the two questions that come to mind when we hear of the revolutionary new edition of the Talmud, the “Shas Kedem.”

The Missing Treasures

For centuries, ever since the invention of the printing press, the Talmud Bavli was printed only by Jews of European countries. This was true even in the aftermath of World War II, when the roaring of the cannons died down and Europe was licking its wounds, as enterprising and dedicated Jews began to quickly print entire tractates on the accursed soil of Poland. Remarkably, Jews in displaced persons camps in liberated Germany began studying those gemarot, hot off the presses. And when the students and faculty of Yeshivat Mir fled Europe to Shanghai, where they lived under Japanese rule, they somehow managed to produce copies of entire volumes from the Talmud Bavli, which they used as they continued their studies in this remote and foreign land.

In Sephardic communities, by contrast, both in Asia and Africa, complete editions of the Talmud were never printed, with the exception of the communities in Turkey and Greece, where numerous prominent Jews operated printing houses.

This reality explains why Sephardic Talmud commentators are grossly under-represented in all standard editions of the Shas (Talmud). All the editions produced in Russia and Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania, Slavita and Zhitomir, were printed with the novella, redaction and revisions of numerous Ashkenazic scholars, but with scant few Sephardic commentators. In the famous Vilna edition of the Talmud, the forerunner of all subsequent publications of Shas, which have adopted its format, 124 commentaries, annotations and novella are printed either alongside the text or at the end of the volume, only five of which were written by Sephardic sages. Due mainly to the geographic distance separating the Ashkenazic and Sephardic worlds, printers simply did not have access to a large corpus of Sephardic works as they did to Ashkenazic commentaries, which were thus naturally included in the publications. And even the small handful of Sephardic commentaries which were included – such as those of the Rif (Rabbi Yitzhak of Fez) and the Ran (Rabbenu Nissim of Gerona) – appear in the back of the volumes, after the text of the Gemara. Alongside the text one finds only the commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafists, who represent the Ashkenazic scholarly tradition.

As a result, many treasures of Sephardic Talmudic scholarship received little or no exposure beyond their own countries or circles of followers. Their incisive questions, creative answers, and illuminating comments were mainly transmitted through oral tradition from teacher to student, and thus only a small fraction of their wisdom was preserved.

Oz V’Hadar and Kedem – A Match Made in Heaven

The history of Sephardic Talmudic scholarship will soon be changing, however, thanks to a new publication by the renowned Oz V’Hadar publishing group. Oz V’Hadar is famous for, among other projects, its deluxe edition of the Talmud which has found its way into virtually every bet midrash in the world, and which presents the text in a beautiful format and with comprehensive annotation. The “Metivta” series of Oz V’Hadar is received by tens of thousands of subscribers, and graces untold numbers of bookcases throughout the Jewish world. Volumes of the Oz V’Hadar edition of the Mishnah Berurah, which features scholarly notes and references, is being constantly reprinted, as are its deluxe editions of the Humash which present a wide range of commentaries alongside the text.

Now, Oz V’Hadar Publications has teamed up with the Kedem Institute, under the aegis and guidance of its president, Hagaon Rav David Avraham shlita, Rosh Yeshivat Binyan Av in Jerusalem, to embark on its newest venture – the Otzar Geonei Sepharad project. The goal is to collect the scattered treasures of Sephardic Talmud commentary from throughout the ages and present them to the modern-day student and scholar. To achieve this goal, members of the team are plumbing the depths of Sephardic scholarship, poring over many hundreds of manuscripts composed by the sages and Torah leaders of Sephardic Jewry, the great scholars of Eretz Yisrael, Persia, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey. The ambitious undertaking also includes works by the accomplished rabbis who served in the rabbinates of the Far East – India and China. The texts and manuscripts are being compiled from various libraries and private collections from all over the world, as well as from Torah publications of all kinds, including memorial books, scholarly periodicals and journals.

Recently, the long, grueling processing of collecting, cataloguing sorting  and arranging the material was finally completed. In preparation for the next stage, over 50 of Jerusalem’s elite kollel students have been added to the Kedem staff, all of whom are experienced experts in the field of editing Torah source material. They will be responsible for preparing tens of thousands of footnotes and presenting the material in a clear, readable format. This includes dividing the text of the commentaries into paragraphs, adding punctuation, eliminating errors, completing missing text, and merging various existing editions into a single body of text.

The Kedem Institute has enlisted the top editors from the ranks of Sephardic scholars, who are all well versed in the special style and vernacular used by the Sephardic sages, their poetic figures of speech and rich forms of expression, to carefully review the final product before it goes to print.

Shas of the Future

What makes this publication so special is that all this material will be arranged on the page of Gemara so it could be easily studied as one learns the text of the Gemara. The material will be divided into different sections and properly organized around the page, together with the classic commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot. This will enable students and scholars of all levels and backgrounds to easily research every topic discussed on any given page in the Talmud in the vast corpus of Sephardic Talmudic literature, brought together for the first time in history onto one page. Every question and answer relating to every page of Gemara will be right there in front of the student’s eyes, including questions and answers from esoteric sources and rare manuscripts which he would never have otherwise seen.

Shas Kedem is, without doubt, the “Shas of the future.”

Whether it’s in the synagogue, in yeshivah, in kollel, in a daily Daf Yomi class, in the dining room or in the office, anyone who opens up a volume of Shas Kedem has centuries’ worth of Sephardic scholarship right there in front of him. All the brilliance of the Sephardic scholarly tradition is brought together on a single page, in a clear, accessible format.

Thanks to the groundbreaking work of Oz V’Hadar publishers and the Kedem Institute, thousands of luminous insights, questions, answers and commentaries that would otherwise remain unknown are now available to students of all levels. And these texts have all been corrected, typeset and annotated to ensure the most rewarding and enriching learning experience possible.

Oz V’Hadar recently released the first volume of its impressive “Shas Kedem – A Treasury of Geonei Sepharad,” on Masechet Makot. Within days of its appearance on the bookshelves, the books were gone. Additional volumes are slated for release in the coming weeks.

And as students and scholars eagerly await this historic publication, we can only wonder, why did no one think of this before? And how was the Gemara ever studied without this?