Book Review: The Ohr Olam Edition of the Mishna Berura

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The Ohr Olam Edition of the Mishna Berura

Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson, Chief Editor

 

Reviewed By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

 

Whether it’s baalei teshuva, yeshiva graduates rusty on their textual skills, or simply those seeking to cover as much ground in as little time as possible, there is a tremendous thirst for advanced Torah texts in the English language. Indeed, in the last decade tremendous inroads have been made in this area. It would be remiss not to mention the most visible of such projects, namely, the Artscroll Gemara series, which has allowed so many people to enjoy the beauty and wisdom of the Talmud who would otherwise be unable to do so. And there are other such works, as well

 

Now, there is yet another advanced Torah text that has been made available to the English speaking public. Although not the first work of its kind, the Ohr Olam Edition of the Mishna Berura is certainly the best. Every word of the Shulchan Aruch, Rema, and Mishna Berura has been translated. The translation is crisp, clear, and creatively accurate, done in a manner that shows that the team of translators and editors had their constituents’ needs in mind. In a manner similar to the Artscroll Gemara, there is a grey bar showing the reader which parts of the Mishna Berura appear translated on the facing page.

 

Below the translation section is the “Notes” section (again, similar to the Artscroll Gemara) that helps explain the concepts and practical applications that are discussed in the Mishna Berura. The “Notes” also include rulings of many other authorities, such as the Kaf Hachaim, Aruch Hashulchan, Chayei Adam and many others. This allows the reader a welcome exposure to different customs and opinions. It also offers a glimpse into the evolution of Halacha and how regional and communal custom continue to affect the development of Halacha. The “Notes” are also intended to assist one in understanding the flow of the text and often adds pertinent details where needed including the Talmudic background for many of the rulings.

 

There is also a “Biur Halacha” section that summarizes many of the Biur Halacha discussions that expand and compliment the rulings of the Mishna Berura. Especially exciting is the English she’ilot uteshuvot section that features many of Rabbi Doniel Neustadt’s popular “Contemporary Halacha Discussion” essays. The chapter by chapter summaries at the back of the volume are an incredible tool for reviewing the basic halachot of each chapter of Shulchan Aruch and the accompanying rulings of the Mishna Berura. Finally, the drawings and illustrations throughout the volume are a welcome addition that greatly assists one in grasping many of the hard-to-visualize concepts and discussions.

 

The current volume of the Ohr Olam Mishna Berura contains nineteen chapters of Hilchot Shabbat (simanim 242-261). It is available in both large and small size formats. I found the larger size to be a bit too large and unwieldy while the smaller size was just right. This Beit Shemesh based production is an outstanding and handsome work that inherently inspires one to want to learn from its pages.  It is a masterpiece rightfully assuming its place in the world of advanced English Torah literature. Your study of Orach Chaim and Mishna Berura will never be the same.

 

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (4 Vol) and is General Editor and Halacha columnist at Torahmusings.com. He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review on the Torah Musings website. [email protected]

 

 

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

57 comments

  1. Another contribution to American Jews’ Hebrew illiteracy.

  2. Sounds interesting, but how about including a link for more information?

  3. Dardai-

    C’mon. Most 20-something baalei teshuva are never going to get the Hebrew literacy skills needed to learn this type of material in the original.

    ……et la’asot l’Hashem

    Ari Enkin

  4. Michael-

    Good point!!

    In Israel it is available everywhere. In the USA through Z. Berman.

    Ari Enkin

  5. Forget English; when was the Mishna Berura ever considered an “advanced” text?

  6. FYI – this book can be purchased in the USA at Z.Berman stores. In Israel at seforim stores. For more info contact: [email protected]

  7. “Ari Enkin on January 24, 2012 at 4:18 am
    Dardai-

    C’mon. Most 20-something baalei teshuva are never going to get the Hebrew literacy skills needed to learn this type of material in the original.

    ……et la’asot l’Hashem”

    True-but one who is not capable of learning should not be Paskening for oneself-translating a psak book is inappropriate one must ask a sheila-even Rav Eider’s handbooks repeatedly state one should ask a sheilah.
    translations of siddurim, chumashim maybe Rashi and Ramban areappropriate not books where one will use to determine behavior for oneself-one needs a Rav/ /Rebbe. Texts are evidence of mesorah not the mesorah.

  8. Microft-

    Sounds a little Catholic in nature…They [sterotypically] always wanted to keep the people ingorant to ensure more power to the clergy.

    ……Most of the Hebrew readers have no competency to pasken, either. So haynu hach.

    Ari Enkin

  9. <>

    I am a BT, and I broke my teeth the hard way learning how to learn from the original. However, I admit that my comment was narky, and your point is taken.

  10. these things are a mixed blessing, for the BT who lacks the opportunities or abilities tog ain textual skills they are a god send. For others thay are a convenient reference.
    However, for the first time in history it is possible to have gone through shas and poskim (at least the MB) and remain a total am haretz.

    Direct encounter with Torah texts is fundamental to Judaism. Now more and FFBs are growing up with minimal contact with the text, in part because these kids see no reason why they need text skills. They feel they will never be big talmidei chachmim and for the rest of the people Artscroll will cary you through, shtayim mikra, daf yomi and other staple of balabatische learning, so why bother learning the difference between an in hacha nami and a deika nami?

    I’ll admit though that I read church fathers in translation 🙂

  11. R. Shoshan,

    …and what’s wrong with being a baalabos? What is this obsession with everyone being a high-towering intellectual?

  12. The availability of this text in English is a positive development, but may also exacerbate the existing problem of people mistaking this text, in itself, as ke’ilu Torah m’Sinai.

    As R. Meiselman recently wrote in Mishpacha: “When I deal with most products of today’s yeshivos, I have to assume they’re not proficient in independently learning a Mishnah Berurah, so I have to teach them how to read a Mishnah Berurah. I have to assume the only seforim they’ve seen in mussar and machshava are ArtScroll books, and so I have to get them exposed to primary sources. Many of them are not equipped to go through things inside.”

    As an aside, that “In Israel it is available everywhere” is an interesting (unintended) critical comment.

  13. An interesting angle that I think I never see discussed anymore regarding translation is that translating is a method for the translator to sharpen his or her own understanding – both of the text and both languages. This used to be very popular. Even if people who translate rabbinic texts do not nowadays mention this in their introductions, I would not be surprised if this was a personal motivation for many of them.

  14. R.Aiwac
    Chas veshalom. There is nothing wrong with being a balabos. My only point is that the threshold for being considered a serious balabos has been radically lowered. I see this as a problem, though for some this is clearly a good thing.

  15. I have no doubt that this is a very fine work, as you described.

    Given that this is a Beit Shemesh based production, May I surmise that those who worked on this are colleagues / friends of yours?

    (I have no idea).

    Nothing wrong with your reviewing it in that case, but wouldn’t “full disclosure” have been a good idea?

  16. Am I missing something? It sounds as if the hebrew text is preserved, but the translation is provided. Those who want to learn “inside” the Hebrew can still do so. Why criticize making Torah knowledge more accessible?

  17. Lawrence Kaplan

    S. You are certainly correct. I once translated the first four chapters of Hilkhot Talmud Torah (for Judaism in Practice, ed. Lawrence Fine). I would quip to people that the Hebrew of the MT is easy until one starts to translate it!

  18. IS there a translation of the Aruch Hashulchan?

  19. There is an English translation of the Chayei Adom. Ari might know about it 🙂

  20. It is sad that such a sefer, despite all of its positive values, will become yet another of the long list of works that illustrate why there is no substitute for mastering the real McCoy of the text , why such substitutes demonstrate “Kli Sheni Aino Mvashel”, and why such texts are to Talmud Torah what methadone is to a drug addict-once one has become accustomed to the same, one will never become a serious Ben or Bas Torah, let alone a Talmid Chacham or Isha Chasuvah, who can navigate their way through the original text, including the very important Lomdus and Chidushim in the Biur Halacha and Shaar HaTziun.

  21. S. – Great point.

  22. Rabbi Michael Broyde has written a translation of the Hilchot Shabbat section of the Aruch Hashulchan. If I am not mistaken he is seeking a publisher to put it out.

    …..If you ask nice enough he just might send it to you.

    Ari Enkin

  23. SD-

    I have nothing to do with anyone on the project nor have I even ever spoken to any of them.

    …..Suffice it to say that we frequent different ‘circles’.

    Ari Enkin

  24. Direct encounter with Torah texts is fundamental to Judaism.

    And what about women?

  25. Blah, blah, you can’t become a talmid chochom, wah.

    Of course most people who can read seforim in the original also are not and won’t become talmidei chachomim (I’ve never heard that the mere ability to read rabbinic works makes one a talmid chochom). But what such things do is empower countless people who never would and never could master the skills necessary to understand rabbinic works. What alternative is there? Tzeenah Reenah? There’s an audience for that sort of thing too, but there are people who are past that. Rather than lowering the quality of balhabatim these things raise them.

    Of course it also raises balhabatim who know a little and “a little knowledge is dangerous,” etc. It raises new challenges to rabbis who probably wish they didn’t have to explain things which they consider elementary to an earnest questioner with a Schottenstein under his arm who believes in his own intelligence. Yes, 90 years ago such people were the ones who we are told passively heard a shiur in Eyn Yaakov. Does anyone really think that even in the absence of translation that these people, today, would consider that sufficient?

  26. An occassional commentor

    “have I even ever spoken to any of them”

    Look at the list of translators again… 🙂

  27. Aaaaahhhhhh Rav Doron Beckerman?

    I confess.

    Ari Enkin

  28. …..but it still stands: I never spoke to ANYONE about the book,project, or the review!

    In fact, I didnt even know about this edition until the publicist handed me a copy for review!

    Ari Enkin

  29. You certainly didn’t speak with R. Beckerman because just yesterday he approached me about writing about the project. Then he e-mailed me this morning when he saw that you had already done it!

  30. I did not intend to be chosheid b’kasherim.

    I merely wanted to raise the issue of friends / colleagues endorsing each other’s books without disclosing the relationship.

    I apologize for suspecting it perhaps applied in this case as well.

  31. Translating the MB without the Biur Halacha seems to indicate that the translators don’t really know what a MB’s for. They might as well have translated the Magen Avraham or Eliyahu Rabba.

  32. An English translation of the Chayai Adam? I have an English translation of BBH and Taaruvot from the Chochmat Adam (two vols). I also have several Chochmat Adams; the early editions are not identical to the late ones, I guess due to different editorial decisions.

    Moshe Shoshan – reading the Church Fathers in translation. Even my LOR reads Koine Greek. Latin, he’s not so comfortable with.

  33. My concern is that such works ultimately widen the gap between talmidei chachamim and the amcha.

  34. Doron Beckerman

    Just a few things I would like to point out:

    The purpose in adding the Chayei Adam, Aruch Hashulchan etc. was statedly not to second-guess the Mishnah Berurah and undermine his decisions. In fact, we stressed often throughout the work that we are not competing with the MB. The purpose was just to use them to supplement and provide extra information, elucidation, and background, in places where the MB did not.

    Jenny,
    First of all, every Beiur Halachah is summarized, albeit without all of the ins and outs. To quote from the introduction:
    “The BH, the section of the commentary dealing with the points that require deeper and more involved discussion, has not been translated in its entirety. The full discussions often involve lengthy analysis and elaboration of the sources behind the halachos, which extends well beyond the subject matter and is more of a subject for in depth scholarly research for those well versed in the sources. Rather, a synopsis of each discussion has been presented, providing, in brief, the BH’s added points of halachah, reasons for the decisions rendered in the Mishnah Berurah, or the added points of elaboration on thw halachos.”

    I think you will find the footnotes on the Mishnah Berurah more than adequate for purposes of in depth discussions of the Mishnah Berurah’s rulings.

  35. Abba's Rantings

    R. ENKIN:

    how does this differ from the feldheim MB?

    MOSHE SHOSHAN:

    “for the first time in history it is possible to have gone through shas and poskim (at least the MB) and remain a total am haret”

    isn’t there an online semicha program (legit as far as i understand?) that gives all texts in english?

    IH:

    “As an aside, that “In Israel it is available everywhere” is an interesting (unintended) critical comment.”

    i thought this was interesting. my first thought was that it is marketed to all the anglos who make aliyah but don’t learn hebrew. (of course this is better than those of us with better hebrew skills but living in galut). second thought is it’s for all the americans in israeli yeshivos.

  36. Moshe Shoshan,

    Do you believe that knowledge of Halacha Pesuka is what differentiates between Hamon Am and Talmidei Chachamim? For MB (without BH etc) is hardly a lomdishe sefer.

    Just wondering, do you learn Rambam’s Pirush HaMishnayos or Rav Hirsch’s Chumash in original?

    It is my opinion that:

    1. Leaning skills of great majority of population were pretty bad during the whole course of Jewish history.

    2. Artscroll is not the cause but result of the sad state of independent learning skills among the general population. Do you think that people who spent full time 10+ years in yeshiva and can’t learn a blatt on their own will magically develop those skills in a late night one hour shiur?

  37. Jacob Suslovich

    Many of those commenting seem to believe that overcoming the language barrier will all by itself make mastering the subject of a particular sefer easy. That is true only if the level of mastery that you seek to achieve is to be able to parrot what is stated. But true mastery requires the understanding of concepts, the ability to draw analogies between what may at first blush seem to be differnt situations, the ability to draw distinctions between what may at first blush seem to be identical situations, the ability to see apparent inconsistincies and to resolve them by perhaps applying conceptual structures that are not explicitly stated in the texts, and the amassing of the knowledge to which these skills can be applied. No translation can eliminate the difficulty in developing and applying these skills. While fluency in the language in which a sefer is written is clearly optimal, it is only a first step, and does not go to the essence of what it takes to become a talmid chacham. A translation can only eliminate an artificial barrier created by unfamiliarity with the language used and is to be applauded.

  38. Rabbi Beckerman – I understand that the content of the BH is there. However, the treatment of the sefer as a whole (i.e that MB is translated while BH is not) seems to send a message regarding which is the “ikar” part of the sefer. IMHO (and there are many, probably including yourself who can correct me), the gadlut of the MB (the sefer) is not the MB. In fact, probably about 90% of the MB is simply quotes from the MA, ER, and others (often based on which section he is dealing with). The greatness, and why it became the “go-to” sefer for this generation is specifically due to the relationship between the BH and the MB, allowing for a deeper understanding of the way in which the CC decided to pasken. By de-emphasizing the BH, people will read the MB and not understand why the MB hit it so big (or worse, they’ll think the MB is so great in and of itself). Having nothing to do with the questions of an English translation, I think that an emphasis of the MB over the BH is going to give a mistaken impression as to what the sefer is about.

  39. Abba-

    I cant properly comment and compare with the Feldheim MB. Its been a while since I had one in my hands.

    Ari Enkin

  40. I am the publicist on this book. I can attest to the fact that when I asked R’ Enkin if he’d like to see the book & consider it for review he had no idea the book existed.

    Secondly, the reason why the book is widely available in Israel is simply because there are more copies here and the person behind the whole project has approached many stores directly.

    However, you can easily find it on the Z.Berman website.

    Also, in the UK you can contact the distributor directly on: Tel: 020 8203 3821
    Mob: 07894 335 965

    Enjoy.

  41. abba's rantings

    Stuart Schnee:

    can you comment on how this edition improves on the feldheim edition: more accurate translation? better english? translator(s) with better credentials? haskomos? improved aesthetics/typography? user-friendlier format? added visuals? cheaper? less shelf space? sturdier paper/binding?

    “the reason why the book is widely available in Israel is simply because there are more copies here”

    i think the question was raised above wrt why there would be such a large market in israel for this type of a work.

  42. Doron Beckerman

    Jenny,

    I think the Mishnah Berurah’s greatness is twofold:
    a) There is a fundamental difference between the MA and the ER, for example, versus the Mishnah Berurah. Neither of the former two endeavors to account for every Halachah in the Shulchan Aruch, in terms of providing essential background rationale and reasoning for it. Just as a brief but glaring example, the Mishnah Berurah provides an introduction to topics that require it, such as (in this volume alone) the beginning of Simman 243, 248, and 253 (although that is taken from the Machatzis Hashekel). Every halachah in the Shulchan Aruch is explained, culled from many sources ranging from the Gemara to the Acharonim. Other supercommentaries directly on the Shulchan Aruch are not nearly as comprehensive.

    b) The Mishnah Berurah endeavors to synthesize and distill all of the various opinions until his time to the point of practical Halachic guidance. I don’t think there are too many people today who pasken like the Magen Avraham or the Eliyah Rabbah, period. But very many, including contemporary classic Halachah Sefarim such as Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah or Ishei Yisrael and such, consider the Mishnah Berurah a very weighty Posek Acharon.

    The Beiur Halachah is not meant to provide the rationale for every Psak of the MB. It is meant to air out certain issues that need broader elucidation; make the reader aware of additional source material that the Mishnah Berurah considered in rendering his Psak; or provide a forum for presentation of lengthy bits of information. There are some exceptions but that is a broad sketch.

    In response to the question regarding the difference between this and Feldheim, there are numerous differences:

    a) This is perhaps subjective, but many have said that it is a far more readable translation.
    b) Extensive footnotes, including: elucidation, every Shaar Hatziyun other than pure sourcing, contemporary Psak, major opposing views, sources needed for clarity, and crossreferencing to Mishnah Berurah elsewhere.
    c) Beiur Halachah summarized
    d) Illustrations
    e) Contemporary Halachic discussion section by R’ Neustadt
    f) Kitzur Mishnah Berurah in the back
    g) Overall more attractive layout.

  43. To second the question of another, was the Aruch HaShulchan ever translated to English?

  44. As mentioned…Rabbi Michael Broyde translated all of Hilchot Shabbat of the Aruch Hashulchan.

    Ari Enkin

  45. Shachar Ha'amim

    Moshe Shoshan – I don’t think you meant “am haaretz”. What you meant was functionally illiterate and analphabetic with respect to basic Jewish texts.

    There are many people – even ordnained and reknowed rabbis – who are talmidei chachamin but can’t read a rambam or a basic Hebrew parshat hashavua sheet. they are not am haaratzim. I would even suggest that theer are many Israeli talmidei chachamim who are fully fluent in Hebrew and most Jewish texs, but can’t really read an aramaic passage in the Babylonian Talmud (let alone the Yerushalmi or the Zohar) without translation. Are they am haaratzim? No. Is someone who can’t read the Rambam’s pirush hamishnayot or moreh nevuchim in the original arabaic an am haaretz? no.

    But Hebrew is a basic fundamental in Judaism. What is sad about American orthodoxy is not that it relies on translations of the talmud – or translations of aramaic passages in the Book of Daniel. Israelis rely on those as well.

    What is sad about American Orthodoxy is that it can’t handle these texts as translated in the Hebrew Schottenstein or Steinsaltz or Mesivta editions of the talmud. Or the Hebrew Daat Mikra on Tanach. Or read pasages in the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam with perhaps little more than footnote explanations for obscure or archaic words. or even read and understand 99% of what is written in the multitude of weekly parsha sheets handed out in Israeli shuls. That is the sad state of FFB American Orthodoxy today.

    more than $500,000 dollars spent on educating each child kindergarten through college and the kid can’t read and understand a parsha sheet….

  46. Shachar Ha-amim – I find it hard to believe that there is a single renowned rabbi (unless he happens to be a rabbi and is renowned for other things) who cannot read a Rambam. And an Israeli scholar who cannot read a piece of gemara ‘inside’ is ipso facto not a talmid chacham. I don’t even know of anyone who is considered ‘learned’ who cannot read a gemara, but it may be different in the US.

  47. Shachar Ha'amim

    J. – there are most certainly ordained – and practicing – Orthodox rabbis in the USA who cannot read a Rambam that they haven’t previously studied
    I didn’t say that an Israeli scholar is necessarily a talmid chacham. I did say that there are Israeli talmidei chachamim that don’t have a good grasp of Aramaic and can’t read an aramaic passage in the talmud bavli without the aid of commentary – be it Rashi, Steinzaltz, or Schottenstein in Hebrew.
    Those are 2 different statements and please don’t re-write what I wrote.

    If you don’t believe me try it out – take an aramaic passage from the bavli that is not one that is generally studied in yeshivas (and not reently studied in daf yomi), print it out from the bar ilan database or the kodeshsnunit website without anything else and ask an israeli rabbi or musmach that you know to be a talmid chacham to read and explain the passage to you word for word (or even phrase for phrase). see what you get

  48. “Direct encounter with Torah texts is fundamental to Judaism”

    As in persuh hamishnayus of the Rambam,Moreh Nevuchim ofthe Rambam, Emunot deot of Saadiah etc-of course few if any of us have read any ofthem in the original Arabic.

  49. “Shachar Ha-amim – I find it hard to believe that there is a single renowned rabbi (unless he happens to be a rabbi and is renowned for other things) who cannot read a Rambam”

    Prof Kaplan : Did the Rav or Prof Twersky know Arabic? Both were considered experts in the Rambam. Why is reading a Hebrew translation automatically better than reading an English translation.

  50. “Ari Enkin on January 24, 2012 at 5:32 am
    Microft-

    Sounds a little Catholic in nature…They [sterotypically] always wanted to keep the people ingorant to ensure more power to the clergy.”
    My concern is certainly not keeping power within the clergy-it is the delusionary aspect that people believeYahadus follows the texts-no Yahdus follows mesorah-texts are evidence of mesorah. mesorah goes from Rebbe to talmid -today with various reshut being given to Talmididm aka as modern smicha.

    ……Most of the Hebrew readers have no competency to pasken, either. So haynu hach.

    Ari Enkin

  51. “Most of the Hebrew readers have no competency to pasken, either. So haynu hach.

    Ari Enkin”

    A fortiori the vast majority of Englsih readers would not be able to pasken-there is simply no need for sucha book for those who aren’t scholars-local Jewish communities can put out minhag books etc.

  52. “I did say that there are Israeli talmidei chachamim that don’t have a good grasp of Aramaic and can’t read an aramaic passage in the talmud bavli without the aid of commentary”
    What is the definition of a talmid chacham?

  53. Feldheim already translated it.

  54. Lawrence Kaplan

    mycroft: I see no evidence to indicate that either the Rav or Prof. Twersky read the Guide in Judeo-Arabic.

    As for readingd the Guide in Hebrew vs. English tranlation: The Guide that was known, studied,and discussed throughout the generatins was the Guide in the Hebrew translation of Shmuel ibn Tibbon. The best translation of the Guide is the Hebrew one of Michael Schwartz, much better than the English translation of Pines.

  55. Do you if this edition is menukad or a facsimile like the Feldheim edition?

  56. It is beautifully menukad…

    Ari Enkin

  57. It’s a great thing what Ohr Olam has done to the Mishnah Berurah, Klal Yisroel needs to thank them for such a great production.
    The learning the Minshnah Berurah has become a great pleasure.
    Thanks again, We can’t wait for the whole set to be fifnished.

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