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October 13, 2015 | 30th Tishrei 5776
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New Torah Commentary


When The Torah: A Modern Commentary was first published in 1981, it was not only the first liberal Torah commentary ever produced in English but also the first full Jewish commentary on the full Torah to be created in North America. Now, more than two decades and a quarter of a million copies later, the URJ Press will release a reorganized and enhanced Revised Edition of the commentary, designed to make Torah reading more accessible and Torah study more engaging.

The Revised Edition, to be published in February 2005, includes many enhancements, including an updated, gender-neutral translation and larger Hebrew and English type. In addition, the volume is reorganized by parashah and includes a helpful index and aliyot markers.

Upon its initial publication, The Torah: A Modern Commentary sparked a revolution in how Torah was studied. Written by W. Gunther Plaut, the rabbi emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, along with Rabbi Bernard J. Bamberger and Professor William W. Hallo, it contained verse-by-verse commentaries on the five books of the Torah, and gleanings from the entire range of world literature, from Midrash to Maimonides to John Milton.

The commentary received universal acclaim upon its release in 1981. The Associated Press hailed it as a “publishing milestone,” and Library Journal included it in its list of the outstanding reference works that year. Biblical scholar Robert Alter wrote that “for Jewish readers of the Bible, nothing like it exists in English, or indeed, in any language,” while Rabbi Alexander Schindler, z”l, president of the Union at the time of its release, announced that the Commentary “can give our pluralistic community a necessary sense of ideological cohesion.”

“This revised edition, updated and enhanced in many ways, will enable us to continue to keep the Torah at the center of our lives,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reorm Judaism. “It will provide knowledge and inspiration to all who hunger for Jewish learning and spiritual nourishment.”

Rabbi Hara Person, editor of the URJ Press, said “the time was right” to introduce a Revised Edition. “Although the original remains a brilliant work, the second edition improves upon it,” said Person. “We solicited comments and requests from dozens of Reform congregations, cantors, and rabbis prior to this revision, and incorporated many of their suggestions into the new edition. This will truly be the Torah commentary that introduces a new generation to Jewish thought and scholarship.”

The new version features:

  • A reorganization by parashah, including more accessible verse numbers in the Hebrew text, a helpful index, and aliyot markers, all of which make the text easier to access and navigate.
  • Enhanced readability, with thicker, more opaque paper and newly reset and enlarged Hebrew and English type.
  • Introductory essays for each book and parashah, which provide readers with a quick grasp of each section’s structure, contents, and relationship to the rest of the Torah.
  • Easier access to the Hebrew text, with English translations next to the Hebrew, making it easier to correlate the two languages.
  • Updated Genesis commentary and new Genesis translation completed by Plaut and Rabbi Chaim Stern, z”l, which incorporates the latest biblical scholarship to give a more accurate picture of life in the ancient Near East.
  • Updated NJPS translation for Exodus through Deuteronomy, which for the first time ever includes gender-neutral God-language, more accurately ascribes gender, and incorporates advances in recent scholarship.
  • New Haftarot translations by Stern.
  • Additional resources, including a table of scriptural readings, suggested alternative haftarah selections for every occasion.

The Revised Edition of The Torah: A Modern Commentary will be available for purchase in February 2005. It will retail for $60.00, with discounts available for the Union’s member congregations. For more information, including samples of the text, visit the URJ Press Web site.

The Union for Reform Judaism, formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, is the synagogue arm of Reform Judaism in North America, and unites 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 congregations in the United States and Canada. URJ programs include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to intermarried and unaffiliated Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC.


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