Book Review: The Koren Tanakh Maalot - Magerman Edition

Monday, December 6, 2021
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

The Koren Tanakh Maalot - Magerman Edition 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks / Koren Publishers Jerusalem 2021

Reviewed by Rabbi Barry Gelman

A Jewish library is essential for every Jewish home, and a Tanakh (complete Bible) should be high on the list of books to have. The Magerman Edition of the Tanakh published by Koren is a great choice for your home library. This review will examine a few of the excellent elements of this newly published volume.

Essays: A number of essays in this volume point to some of the goals and methodologies of the publication.

An excellent introductory essay by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l focuses on the importance of words in Jewish life. As Rabbi Sacks notes: “Creation, revelation, and the Moral life begin with the creative word...Just as God makes the natural world by words, so we make the human world by words.”  Judaism is “supremely a religion of holy words.” Being that words and the word of God are so important to Judaism, having a Tanakh that provides an accurate text and translation is of great consequence.

At the end of the volume, there is a series of short essays on archeological artifacts that support, explain and expand on the words of the Tanakh. Each essay comes with a note indicating which part of the Tanakh the finding relates to. These essays are not included merely for their connection to the text.They serve to declare that modern scientific findings and archaeological discoveries can and should be used to help us better understand the Torah text. This modern approach to Torah study is one of the ways that Koren Publishers stands out in the world of Jewish publishing.

There is a really interesting article that puts this printing in context of the history of the printing of the bible. For example, there is this tidbit: “Most Jews in the nineteenth century used Bibles published by Christin missionaries (or reprinted from such editions). While this may be difficult to imagine today, for much of modern history the only books available to the Jewish student of Torah were those printed by gentiles intent on converting them.”

Special Features: The Magerman Tanakh is replete with great features including maps, timelines and family tree diagrams. All of these elements make understanding the text and context much easier. For example, the “Leaders of Israel” diagrams provide a visual guide of who the kings, prophets and leaders were from the time the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel until the return to Zion.  

Another great feature is the breakdown of each book into main themes by chapters that appear on the cover page of each book in diagram form.  For example, before the Book of Esther, we find this: Ahashverosh’s party - Ch.1, Choosing a queen to replace Vashti - 2, Haman’s Decree - 3-5, Salvation 6-10. A timeline of each specific book is also provided on the cover page, highlighting when events in that book took place. 

There are very helpful footnotes all through the publication. Even though the notes are very concise, they are extremely helpful in making the text more understandable. Some notes point out where similar words or phrases are used elsewhere, making that verse in question more understandable, while some notes point out alternative translations to the one in the main text. 

A note of introduction mentions that a group of scholars composed “richly informative footnotes from which we have drawn and adapted the short footnotes appearing in this Tanakh edition.” This tease is both frustrating and exciting. While I understand why the decision was made to keep the footnotes short, I hope that Koren will one day publish the full text of the footnotes. 

I also love the thumb tabs that make finding what you are looking for super easy and the two book mark threads, as I am usually working on more than one text at a time. 

Translation: The publisher, Matthew Miller, provides a preface that highlights the religious attitude necessary when undertaking a translation of the Tanakh, stating that it requires: “chutzpah and humility unequal measure, but neither more than yirat Shamayim - fear and trembling before God.” As he further notes, such an undertaking puts the publisher between God, God’s prophets and the reader. Doing justice to those words comes with a high level of responsibility. 

The seriousness and potential for error when translating the Torah is dramatically expressed in this rabbinc passage: “It once happened that five elders wrote the Torah for King Ptolemy in Greek, and that day was as ominous for Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made, since the Torah could not be accurately translated.” (Tractate Soferim 1:7)

Notwithstanding this hesitation, translating the bible has become an accepted practice. In my view, Koren did a great job. Having made significant changes from the original Koren translation, it is very sensitive to the modern reader while at the same time paying attention to how Jewish it sounds. For example, “Eve” is replaced with “Hava.” 

I really like this volume (even though it is very thick and a bit heavy—there are smaller editions, but I think they may not have all of the features mentioned in this review). For a home library, the large size is a great option. 

After over a decade in the making, Koren has made an important contribution to the study of Tanakh and hopefully to many home libraries.

Rabbi Gelman's book reviews are a joint project of the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and the Jewish Herald-Voice.

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the ERJCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of Judaism.  


Category: CJLL