It took Adin Steinsaltz over 40 years to translate all 2,711 pages of the document, but the word ‘translation’ falls short of what he actually achieved.

Some 45 years after he started out, secular -Orthodox Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has completed the first ever translation of the Talmud into Modern Hebrew.

Translating all 2,711 pages sounds like a grand achievement, but the word “translation” actually underplays what Steinsaltz has managed.

When he started out in 1965, the only widely available Talmud was the traditional Vilna edition, with the unvoweled and unpunctuated text of the Talmud running down the middle and commentaries in Rashi script around it. Even reading the words, second nature to seasoned scholars, was near impossible for others.

Adding vowels and punctuating the text, Steinsaltz, now 73, made sure that anyone who knows Hebrew can read it. He then added, in a column on the outside margin of each page, his translation in straightforward everyday Hebrew. But when it comes to Talmud, reading the words and understanding them isn’t enough, so he added a commentary that draws on modern science and sometimes even includes a diagram to explain the often-obscure ancient wisdom.

Teams of scholars at the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications and Milta Books — organizations he founded to disseminate his books — started translating Steinsaltz’s volumes from Hebrew into English long before the U.S.-based ArtScroll began its English Talmud, and the volumes have since been translated into Russian, French and Spanish.

Read more:

Thanks to Erik Hansson on Twitter