May 25, 2006

by Reb Yudel
Updates to Conservative Etz Hayim Humash

Robert Kaiser on mail liberal judaism forwards a lengthy post on revisions to the Conservative Etz Hayim Bible commentary:
Etz Hayim: Corrected Printing

With more than 200,000 copies in print, "Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary" has now gone into its sixth printing. This printing is noteworthy because it includes the most comprehensive set of corrections since the book first appeared in 2001, and the first set of changes since 2003. The new changes are not as immediately obvious as was, say, the 2002 insertion of a table of "Torah Readings for Holidays and Other Special Days" (which by now appears in about half of the copies of Etz Hayim in existence). Nevertheless, the difference is significant in the new printing, although not formally announced in the book itself.

This post discusses the corrections that have been made, focusing on the most recent ones.

OVERVIEW. In the sixth printing, we have replaced 144 pages for the sake of corrections. Many of the replaced pages contain more than one correction. Of the individual errors now fixed, more than half appeared in Etz Hayim as the result of their having originally appeared in a work upon which Etz Hayim was based. (The majority of those errors, 88, had appeared in the Hebrew text as found in the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, including 38 scribal errors in the base manuscript -- a Bible manuscript that literally a thousand years ago its scribe was in the process of copying from older manuscripts -- plus 48 errors introduced when transcribers had copied from that manuscript during the late 20th century. Another 6 of the errors had appeared in previous editions of the NJPS translation.)

BIGGEST CHANGES. The most dramatic change in the Hebrew text is in the back of the book, in the first verse of the Taam Elyon of the Decalogue, page 1509. The prior version matched what is found in many humashim and tikkunim. We have now altered the accentuation of the first verse to match the well-reasoned critique and theoretical reconstruction by Miles B. Cohen and David B. Freedman of JTS, described in their paper "The Dual Accentuation of the Ten Commandments," Proceedings of the International Organization for Masoretic Studies (1974). Their findings anticipated Mordecai Breuer's textual reconstruction from his careful collation of early manuscripts that was published shortly thereafter.

(By the way, Breuer also edited the tikkun that in general is the closest to the Hebrew text in Etz Hayim; it was published by Horev [Jerusalem, 2003; the book is best suited for fluent Hebrew speakers]. Essentially as close to the reading in Etz Hayim are the tikkun sections in the forthcoming series of booklets from URJ Press titled Parashat Hashavua: The Weekly Torah Portion -- The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Study Guide. A free sample of a pilot version is available from the publisher, <> or 888.489.8242.)

Another extensive change in the sixth printing results from Lee Levine having rewritten the biblical archaeology essay that (so I'm told) had generated some popular controversy. The wording is now more precise, akin to how it has appeared in the Travel Companion (2005). In the full-size book, we somehow squeezed the rewritten essay into exactly the same space as before.

A third noteworthy change is in the Halakhah l'Maaseh to Lev. 18:22, prepared by the co-editors for that portion of the commentary. As I understand it, in 2001 the Conservative Movement was not able to speak in a unified voice and still say something cogent on the issue. Given that situation, the final editors of Etz Hayim had decided to include almost nothing at that verse in the original version of the book. The new printing fills in that lacuna to some extent. Because (so I'm told) this comment touches upon an issue currently of keen interest to many readers of this list, I quote it here in full:

<< Many biblical scholars understand this verse to forbid only male anal sex, but the Sages expanded the prohibition to include other forms of male homosexual sex and female homosexual sex as well (Sifra, Aharei Mot 9:8). These prohibitions have engendered considerable debate within the CJLS and the movement as a whole. Some rabbis and congregants believe that these prohibitions should stand as they are, while others say that they should be narrowed to prohibit only what the Torah does, and still others hold that they should be abrogated altogether through enactment (a takkanah). Despite such varied views on sexuality per se, the CJLS is wholly in accord with Conservative Movement resolutions that deplore violence against gay and lesbian persons, that endorse full equality for gays and lesbians in civil law, and that call on congregations to welcome gay and lesbian Jews in all aspects of synagogue life. >>

CRITERIA FOR CHANGE. Aside from the exceptional change just mentioned, corrections have met two criteria: they needed to be significant (that is, the change promised to avoid either misleading readers or undermining their confidence in the book), and they needed to be fairly self-contained (that is, able to be fixed without disturbing other pages).

The errors remaining in the book of which I'm aware are either too minor or too major to be worth correcting. That is, either the cost of correction or the risk of introducing new errors outweighs the benefit that would be gained, in my judgment.

LIST OF CHANGES. A table of the specific changes made in printings of Etz Hayim can be downloaded for free (10 pages, in PDF format) at (third entry on the page).

Thanks to all those who have submitted suspected mistakes for consideration, in particular our "regulars," Ivan Caine and Jeffrey Tigay! Finally, you may distribute this message freely; this initial posting is on Ravnet only.

R. David E. S. Stein (Project Manager, Etz Hayim)
For further information, please contact Rabbi David E. S. Stein by email