German Translation of the Talmud, Originally Completed on Eve of WWII, Now Available Online

September 27, 2021
A German translation of the Talmud – a central text of Judaism that outlines Jewish religious law and theology – and the first translation of the book ever completed by a single person is now available on Sefaria, a free nonprofit online library of Jewish texts. The translation by scholar Lazarus Goldschmidt was the first German translation of the Talmud and was released in 1935, on the eve of World War II. While it is used in German Jewish studies departments and universities, it had not been widely accessible to the general public until now. A team of four scholars and rabbinic students in Berlin and Vienna worked for the last five months with Sefaria to make the translation available online.
“The history of the Goldschmidt Talmud translation is tied closely to the history of German Jews in the last 100 years,” said best-selling author Joshua Foer, Co-founder and Chairman of Sefaria. “Goldschmidt released the translation at a time of rising antisemitism to dispel dangerous myths and make the text accessible to all German speakers around the world. What followed was the devastation of the Holocaust and the document falling into relative obscurity. That this translation is being made more accessible today with the help of German and Austrian rabbinic students and scholars representing the future of German Judaism is a fitting celebration of Goldschmidt’s legacy.”
Goldschmidt was a scholar of Near Eastern languages and in addition to being the first person ever to translate the entire Talmud, he translated other religious texts including a Hebrew translation of the Ethiopic Book of Enoch and a German translation of the Koran. Born in Lithuania, he learned German at the age of 18. His translation of the Talmud took 39 years to complete and he continued to make revisions after publication. He was also a collector of rare books and his extensive collection is now part of the Royal Library in Copenhagen.
After the Goldschmidt Talmud translation became public domain in January 2021, a team of four led by Igor Itkin, a rabbinical student at Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, integrated its 9,434 pages of text into Sefaria’s free online library. The team’s work included reviewing and correcting errors introduced in the text when it was scanned and digitized, as well as segmenting the document and manually linking sections of the Goldschmidt translation to corresponding Talmud texts in English and Hebrew/Aramaic already in the Sefaria library. The connections allow scholars, educators, and others to navigate between the translations and connect them to the larger library of Jewish scholarship. The team’s work was supported by a grant from the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe.
“As the first complete German translation of the Talmud, the original publication of this document was a milestone event in German Jewish life,” said Itkin. “Making it available online not only preserves that legacy, but also introduces it to future generations. Integrating it into the Sefaria platform also makes it easy for the site’s tens of thousands of users to enrich their learning and understanding of Jewish life with this foundational work.”
Since 2013, Sefaria has been digitizing Jewish texts and developing user-friendly software to learn and explore interconnections that deepen understanding of those texts and ignite debate. Texts are linked to one another in a sidebar that displays references or other connections so that users can easily move between different sources representing thousands of years of Jewish scholarship. The software also allows users to create “Sheets” — sharable user-generated content that includes texts from Sefaria’s library with their own comments and additional media. Sefaria is used by more than 500,000 people each month, including students, educators, scholars, and others.
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