We all have our coping mechanisms. I really do enjoy the soaring liturgy of Rosh Hashana, the tunes, the gravitas. But everyone has their limits. To get through the marathon sessions in shul, an interesting book is quite simply, indispensable. This holiday, it was the latest volume of Mishnat Eretz Yisrael – tractate Rosh Hashana (2011). Like previous volumes, the book represents the intellectual fruits of study sessions held in the Safrai family. The text of the Mishna includes both the ed. princ. alongside the celebrated Kauffman manuscript, which unfortunately is not reproduced in the clearest manner. The commentary, referred to as the “Safrai commentary” is historically and sociologically oriented (whatever the latter is supposed to mean). I picked up Mishnat Eretz Yisrael previously, but this Rosh Hashana I had enough time to get through almost the entire volume, start to finish.
There are plenty of readings that I disagreed with, instances that I thought the scholarly judgment was “off,” and many times that I found the commentary stray well beyond the matter at hand. And yet as a cultural phenomenon – a new edition of Mishna that incorporates academic insights and presents them to a non-academic public (that is, beyond the sphere of S. Jerusalem, where as the saying goes, even the milkmen are learned) – I think it is a great accomplishment. In certain respects, it recalls the Da’at Miqra series. Yes, there are serious and even fatal flaws in the approach taken by the project as a whole and even in some of the better volumes. But the fact remains that the series was successful in introducing certain (selective) aspects of the academic study of the Bible into the Orthodox Jewish sphere. I have to say that the Safrai Mishna does it much better, and from an Orthodox theology perspective, will encounter far less resistance from the Orthodox public. It also. I believe, has the potential to travel far beyond the confines of Israeli Orthodoxy, if it is only marketed properly, and if future volumes are just a little prettier.