The Oral Torah, explanations of the Written Torah, was originally passed down verbally from generation to generation.
After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., it was decided the Oral Torah should be written down so it would not be forgotten. In the 2nd century C.E., the Mishnah, a written outline of the Oral Torah, was compiled.
Over the next few centuries, Jewish scholars studied the Mishnah. Their discussions, questions and decisions became known as the Gemara. The Gemara is commentaries elaborating on the Mishnah.
The Talmud is the combination of the Mishnah and Gemara together. In the 4th century, the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in Israel. In the 5th century, the Babylonian Talmud was compiled in Babylon. The Babylonian Talmud is studied and used more than the Jerusalem Talmud because it is more comprehensive.
Today, thousands of Jews regularly study Talmud, especially during their mature years. It is believed that Talmud study sharpens one's intellect. Some are motivated to study Talmud because they believe it teaches principles that help sustain values and character.
Unfortunately, a language barrier has prevented many people from studying Talmud. Many people, who lacked knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic, felt Talmud study was inconceivable.
Fortunately, publication of the Artscroll Schottenstein Talmud, a 73-volume English edition of the Talmud, has broken down this language barrier. The last complete English translation, published between 1935 and 1952 by Soncino Press, is a line-by-line translation that does not contain the extensive commentary needed for self-study. Random House has translated a portion of Israeli scholar Adin Steinsaltz' 47-volume Hebrew edition into English, but there are no plans to publish more.
In addition to translating the text into English, the Schottenstein Talmud helps beginning Talmud students to penetrate the telegram-like Talmudic language by filling in gaps in the text with insertions in a lighter font. This edition clarifies the text's intent to less experienced readers by added "connecting words" (in a lighter font) between the literal translation.
Furthermore, this edition makes Talmud study more accessible to the novice by including extensive notes on the text and suggestions on further research.
The Artscroll Schottenstein Talmud has been a 15-year, $21 million effort. As many as 80 scholars at a time, in locations from New York to Baltimore to Cleveland to Jerusalem to Bnei Brak, have worked on the more than 35,000 pages in the series. Each volume, which includes the original Hebrew text facing English-language pages (often four English pages explain one Hebrew page), costs $250,000 to publish. Each volume has a list price of $50, with an entire 73-volume burgundy-covered set selling for $3,650.
ArtScroll, realizing that sales would not cover costs, enlisted donors. Jerome M. Schottenstein, a student of Gemara at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan in the 1940's and later a founder of a department store empire based in Columbus, Ohio, financed a large share of the project. Since his death in 1992, his family has sustained the gift.
According to Jerome's son Jay Schottenstein, "The Schottenstein Talmud has enabled tens of thousands of people from all levels of study to better learn and appreciate the foundations of Jewish law, ethics, history, culture and Bible."
Some say that the Artscroll Schottenstein Talmud, by making Talmud study possible for thousands of people for the first time, is one of the greatest Jewish literary accomplishments in the past 100 years.