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630 of 666 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I held back from submitting a review until I had worked my way through this hefty volume (or rather, its original material, as I was very familiar with the translation), so I might as well address some of the issues raised in the meantime.

At least some of the earlier reviewers seem originally to have been under the impression that the base text of this commentary was the Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917 (and not happy to find out that it wasn't). That translation (JPS or JPSV for short) was itself a de facto revision of the British Revised Version of 1885, carried out under the direction of (and largely the work of) Max L. Margolis, a distinguished critical scholar. (He had a known distaste for organized religion, which probably helped him ignore objections from some of his supposed colleagues in the Rabbinate.) It *was* the base text in the Soncino Bible Commentary, and the second edition of the Hertz Pentateuch, used in Synagogues for decades, and for a series of commentaries on specific books, published by the JPS itself. The Old JPS "Holy Scriptures" in its black-bound small format was for me, as for many other Jewish readers in the United States (and elsewhere), the primary introduction to the Bible. (For further details, the essay on Jewish Bible translations in the present volume may be consulted.)

The 1917 text was reprinted in larger format in 1955, with what may be called (out of courtesy) a "distinctive" orange binding, but a very attractive blue dust jacket. It retained the original title of "The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text: A new translation with the aid of previous versions and with constant consultation of Jewish authorities," although it wasn't "new." Both versions often can can be found used. A version based on this re-set printing can be consulted on-line, as "A Hebrew - English Bible According to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition" from Mechon Mamre. (The Hebrew text offered there is not presented to either traditional or modern critical standards, but is suitable for most purposes.)

"The Jewish Study Bible" is, in fact, based on the *replacement* for this familiar version, published between 1962 and 1982, often known as the New Jewish Publication Society Version (NJPSV). The Old JPS version, however, was reprinted for some time, fortunately for those who found the NJPSV gratingly modern, or just bland and rather abstract in its choice of words. It is important to keep the two versions distinct, however, as they were carried out following different principles of translation, and have very a different "feel".

The New Translation (now a few decades old) differs dramatically in using modern, instead of modified King James Version, English, in both vocabulary and, more radically, in sentence structure. With its various revisions in 1985 and subsequently, it has the advantage of nearly a century of additional scholarship, especially in archeology and ancient languages. Instead of being stamped with the influence of one strong-minded scholar, it was hammered out by committees of scholars, including representatives of the (modern) Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements. The NJPSV has served as the basis of Reform and Conservative one-volume Torah commentaries, of a JPS five-volume Torah commentary, and of JPS commentaries on various books which are appearing at intervals. The whole translation is also available facing a very beautiful Hebrew text, with selected Masoretic (traditional textual) notes.

Although some sections (Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others) were first published separately, the translation mainly appeared in three volumes of Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets -- the main historical books and the "writing Prophets"), and Ketuvim (Writings -- everything else, including Ruth, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Lamentations, and Daniel, classed as historical or prophetic by Christians). This is the Jewish canon, known by the acronym of T-N-Kh. Officially, the complete edition is known as "Tanakh: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text," with the Hebrew-English editions known as "JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh" (and variations, which may require a little searching on Amazon). NJPSV is still the common abbreviation, however.

Although the translation has been challenged at many points on technical grounds -- with the translators themselves joining in -- Emanuel Tov's "Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible" (1992) singled it out for its fidelity to the received text (any departures are clearly identified), and independence of earlier translations, adding, rather more boldly, that "its exegesis is reliable." Beyond its reception in Jewish circles, the NJPSV seems to have influenced the "New Revised Standard Version" of 1990, whether as a model, or because the translation committees had an overlapping membership.

There are other recent Jewish translations, complete or in progress, some from resolutely Orthodox perspectives, others, like Richard Elliott Friedman's, embracing Higher Critical analysis. A major attempt, by Everett Fox, to follow the Hebrew text as closely as possible while still being intelligible as English, differs quite radically from the NJPSV in style, although often in agreement on the meaning where they both depart from familiar phrasing; it is appearing in installments as "The Schocken Bible."

The present commentary, covering the whole Jewish Biblical canon, aims to place the Jewish Bible, as a Jewish text, in the context of modern information, and modern critical theories of various kinds. It is, logically enough, based on what is now the mostly widely used *modern* Jewish English translation.

Obviously, this project will not please those who want to think of the Hebrew text as a revelation dictated to human secretaries, and satisfactorily explained by the great medieval commentators and their latter-day synthesizers, whose views need only be copied (selectively). However, the team which has prepared this commentary, like the team of translators, is extremely aware of Jewish issues, and the kinds of questions Jewish readers are likely to have, even if it does not attempt to give Orthodox answers. (For example, Jonathan Klawans' essay on "Concepts of Purity in the Bible" manages to be clear, accurate, insightful, and probably useful to novice Bible readers -- with a good vocabulary or dictionary -- in a mere seven pages; but it is not a guide to observance of traditional Jewish practices.)

In addition to the annotations to the Biblical text, which are themselves of considerable value, there are excellent essays offerings surveys of scholarship from various points of view, of which those under the heading "Jewish Interpretations of the Bible" might well be read first by those with a limited familiarity with this enormous subject, and can probably be read profitably by advanced students as well.

The results are at times strikingly different from those found in the other Oxford Annotated Bibles, and in other one-volume commentaries, such as the avowedly ecumenical "HarperCollins Study Bible." A typical example of the difference in emphasis in the three volumes is the commentary to the second chapter of "Ezra," which in this case includes information, not found in the others, on early Rabbinic understanding of the extent of Ezra's status and authority as a non-prophetic interpreter of Torah, seen as foreshadowing their own. (Rather as a commentary on "Acts" might note its use in controversies over the organization of the Church.)

However, even besides material such as maps and portions of essays from the recent "New Oxford Annotated Bible: Third Edition," there is also a very high degree of similarity in the information in the notes, due to the large amount of commonly received linguistic and material (archeological and other) information with which modern scholarship is conducted. (And perhaps to the presence of Jewish contributors to the other projects, including some whose work is also found in the present commentary.)

(The "Oxford Annotated Bible" series was based on the mainly American Revised Standard Version, and more recently on the New Revised Standard Version. Confusingly, there is also a 1992 "Oxford Study Bible," edited by Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, which is based on the Revised English Bible of 1989, a version of the New English Bible of 1970, which had a Study Edition in 1976. The recent editions of these "Annotated" and "Study" Bibles have, I think, only one contributor in common.)

Although those looking for an Orthodox Jewish approach are likely to be disappointed, if not outraged, traditional Jewish understandings of the text are drawn upon, to a considerably greater degree than in other general commentaries, and some, at least, of the Jewish liturgical uses of Biblical passages are identified, either in essays, or in notes to the passages in their original contexts. As I am sure will be true of every reader with a wide background in Biblical studies, I have a number of points with which I disagree. But I am enormously impressed by the enterprise as a whole.
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294 of 314 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 16, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I've always been a fan of the TANAKH Translation of the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament), but have been unable to find a volume that had study notes for the entire translation. The Jewish Publication Society (copyright holder of the TANAKH) has nice Commentaries on the individual books of the Torah (plus Jonah and Esther), but these cover only the books mentioned and are too unwieldy for everyday use.
Oxford Univ. Press has produced a great single-volume work that is beautifully typeset and easy to read. Each book has an engaging introduction and helpful sidebar notes and commentary provided by reputable Jewish scholars. These notes are organized as thought units, not as random facts and definitions. Although the TANAKH does not break down the text into subunits with section heads, the scholars providing the notes do this in a non-obtrusive manner. I find this to be a very respectful way to treat the Scripture text. (Many Christian study Bibles intrude upon the text in such a willy-nilly manner it can be hard for even a serious Bible-reader to know where the Scripture ends and the "commentating" has begun.)
The volume concludes with 200-pages worth of essays: 7 on Jewish interpretation of the Bible; 8 on the Bible in Jewish life and thought; and 9 on backgrounds for reading the Bible (some of which are adaptations of essays found in Oxford's Annotated Bible). Like most study Bibles, the Jewish Study Bible has a timeline to help the reader get an approximate sense of when key biblical events occurred. What's nice about the JSB is that it also has a Chronological Table of Rulers listing rulers not directly referenced in the Bible; this helps the reader better place those that are. The 20-page glossary covers literary and theological terms (casuistic law, etiology, haplography, Oral Torah, etc.) as well as key names and terms from the biblical text.
As for "chutzpah"...this can be found in the commentator's note on Isaiah 44.9-13: "God rebukes [the people] for their chutzpah in questioning the means through whom God chose to work." I offer this as evidence that the authors do not confine themselves to dry, esoteric scholarly ways of expression.
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168 of 178 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This study Bible contains the Jewish Publication Society's "Tanakh" translation of the Jewish scriptures [the Old Testament to Christians], together with extensive notes. The notes reflect modern scholarship, also indicate how a passage has been interpreted throughout the long history of Judaism and how a passage is used in Judaism today. Frequently, the notes give alternatives to the meanings presented in the translation. While the notes are far more extensive than in ecumenical study Bibles [such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible and the HarperCollins Study Bible], they serve only as a bare introduction to the vast wealth of Jewish commentary on the Bible.
The JPS translation, like all Jewish translations, adheres to the Masoretic (traditional) Hebrew text used in the Jewish liturgy. Most Christian translations substitute readings from other sources (such as the Greek Septuagint translation and the Dead Sea Scrolls) when they are thought to be more accurate than the Masoretic Text.
This study Bible does not pretend that, in places, other sources may reflect the original form of the text. The notes -- both to the Study Bible and the translation -- suggest possible alternate readings from other sources.
A long section of articles in the back of the Study Bible provides an introduction to Jewish interpretation and use of the Bible throughout the ages.
While it is impossible for any one-volume work to do more than scratch the surface of Jewish Bible scholarship throughout the ages, the Jewish Study Bible provides an introduction for Jews, and others who are interested in Judaism, to Jewish Bible study. It is definitely worth buying by those who do not have the time (or the money) for a multiplicity of volumes.
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This book is an excellent resource for those undertaking an academic study of the Hebrew Scripture. It continues the high standards Oxford University Press set with thier Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. The notes and commentary use modern secular Biblical scholarship, which is often times at odds with faith based scholarship. I point this out because many past reviewers seemed mislead by the title. The modified JPS translation is one of the most accurate available, though it does has its problems as any translation does. I would wager that those complaining of the translation's inaccuracies are likely not familiar with what the Hebrew text actually says. In academic study it is important to look at the literal meaning of the words instead of interpreting the meaning in light of one's faith (Not that faith based interpretations are "wrong," just that they differ in form and purpose from an academic interpretation).
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68 of 74 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
The Tanakh, an edition of the Holy Scriptures of Judaism, put out by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS), now has a study-bible edition, which is incredibly helpful for scripture study.

The word Tanakh consists of the first letters of the words denoting the three sections of the text: the Torah (the Law), consisting of the first five books; the Nevi'im (the Prophets), which includes major and minor prophets, as well as some of the history books; and the Kethuvim (the Writings), which consists of poetry, wisdom literature, stories and eschatological literature, and some further history books.

The Tanakh is not simply a new translation of the Christian Old Testament. Indeed, most Christian readers would be surprised at the differences inherent in the Tanakh. For one thing, the ordering of the books in the Tanakh is different from the order in the Christian Old Testament. The intent behind the differing order demonstrates one of the key differences in focus of Judaism and Christianity. The ordering of the Old Testament, with the minor prophets, and their call to repentance and future deliverance of the people of Israel by God, is anticipatory of the Messianic age, and hence provide a 'run-up' to the New Testament. Obviously, Judaism does not have the same focus toward Jesus. Thus, the conclusion of the Tanakh leads to the return from exile, the restoration of the people of Israel to the land of promise, and the return of the worship of God to the appointed place, the Temple.

Also, the chapter/verse division is somewhat different. This can be seen in side-by-side comparison with other English Bible translations, but also becomes apparent in comparison with other Jewish editions.

The editors state that English translations usually list thirty-nine books of the Bible. Meanwhile, Hebrew Bibles classically have presented twenty-four books -- counting the following groups as one book each: the two part of Samuel; the two parts of Kings; the Twelve ('Minor') Prophets; Ezra and Nehemiah; and the two parts of Chronicles. Some aspects of our book design presume the thirty-nine-book division: the tables, book openings, and chapter numbers. But we ended only the conventional twenty-four books with a closing prayer and with the sum total of verses.

The Tanakh was originally translated and published in three sections, corresponding to the three divisions of the text. Begun in 1955, The Torah was completed in 1962; then there was a wait until The Nevi'im was released in 1978, and The Kethuvim in 1982. This edition of the Tanakh is the compilation of these efforts by JPS, with revisions, especially of the 1962 Torah translation.

This edition has as its intended readership the scholar or the general reader; it is not set up for liturgical use -- as the preface states: 'It meets only the traditional rabbinic standards (halakhah) for formatting a study Bible, which are less stringent than those for ritual texts.'

The introduction to the JPS Tanakh is quite frank about the difficulties that arise in working with ancient manuscripts. In a section entitled The Unbroken Chain of Uncertainty, the editors address the problem of which documentation and corrective (the masorah, which gives rise to the name masoretic text, meaning, authoritative and 'marked') is used, given the variances that arise in ancient manuscripts with fairly equal claim of authority. Drawing on the MCW (Michigan-Claremont-Westminster) electronic BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia), JPS has a text nearly identical with the Leningrad Codex (a 1000-year old volume of the text, the oldest nearly complete volume known). In using this documentation, JPS editors have also done the following in making the text accessible and authoritative:

- added chapter and verse numbers, all of which were added much later

- redivided the Psalms to 150 (the Codex has divisions into 149)

- inserted markings to show codex paragraphing as well as possible scribal errors

- filling in cross-references

These notes deal with textual anomalies, and are written in such a manner than a glossary helps decipher them.

This is a rewarding volume for anyone who seeks to tap into the power of the Hebrew scriptures.
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73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a Christian, I'd heard (favorably) about the upcoming publication of the newest Oxford Jewish Study Bible, so I purchased it at the end of January 04.
I have not been disappointed with this purchase. It's a nice addition to my library to have what Christians consider the Old Testament, in contemporary English, in a layout/format, translation and commentary from a Jewish perspective.
Note that for example as to commentary: Chapter 52/53 of Isaiah dealing with the "suffering servant", the commentary explains how Christians believe/teach that this is referring to Jesus, but then gives at least two different Jewish perspectives on this passage.
Other goodies are diagrams of the temple, and commentaries on the levitical priesthood and temple practice from a Jewish perspective that give insight to those of the Christian faith trying to understand the Jewish roots of our faith.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I got the Jewish Study Bible for use during a Christian Bible study of the Old Testament. It was one of the best decisions I've made.

The study notes and commentary from the Jewish perspective have given me a much richer understanding into the Scripture. As with any good study Bible, the notes include background info about the time, place, and events surrounding the text (either from the time it happened or when it was written). It also mentions how certain verses are used today (i.e. Daniel 2:20 is basis of Kaddish prayer).

During in-depth Bible study, simply having different translations of Scripture gives insight into the text. Comparing this version (the TANAKH) to the NIV and the NRSV has been interesting.

The only downside I've found is that some of the words used in the notes section are not every day language so I had to keep a dictionary handy while reading. But the occasional new word did not detract from the knowledge I was gaining.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I've been finding this volume a real joy to read. In the past, I've always found the Bible to be maddeningly dull and primitive (and yes, I am an Orthodox Jew). Partly, this is becuase of the endless repetition and repeated contradictions in the text. Partly, it's becuase of the obsessive attention the Bible gives to agricultural and tribal concerns that are far removed from those of the modern world, and from our much more pluralistic worldview. And partly it's becuase there are passages in the Bible that just don't seem to make any sense, any way you cut them.

But the commentary in the JPS Study Bible really adds new dimensions to bring the text alive. Yes, it appeals to critical theories to explain redundancies and contradictions. Does that bother you? Just suck it up already. Like Ralbag says, our religion doesn't require us to believe things that violate common sense. So compare the critical explanations to the hermeneutic explanations, and then use your common sense.

But the really nice thing is that the Study Bible is not obsessively critical. It offers the critical analyses in cases where they seem to provide the greatest insight into textual problems. In many other cases, it offers the classical rabbinical opinions, and gives them equal weight. For myself, I don't know why Rashi should be considered an authority on ancient Near Eastern social mores, but the Study Bible will cite his opinions and those of the other major commentators in order to illuminate the text. There are really wonderful comparisons to other Near Eastern literary productions, and many fascinating inter-biblical cross references.

You also get a nice set of ancient maps (or rather, maps of the ancient world), and a set of very interesting essays at the end. It's a lot of bang for the buck, great Shabbos reading for the whole year, and a source for endless further exploration. I recommend it highly.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 19, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As a Christian pastor, I really enjoy my Jewish Study Bible. I appreciate the multiple scholars who wrote the study notes. This is not a preachy Study Bible, it is an academic work. But the notes are immensely helpful. You will learn a lot about the Hebrew Bible.

I have always respected the scholarship of Michael Fishbane, Carol Meyers, Jon Levenson, Jeffrey Tigay, Adele Berlin, and Marc Zvi Brettler, and the work they do here is solid. I also like how the opinions of the great rabbinical sages of the past are occasionally referenced.

There are also some articles in the back about the composition and compilation of the Tanach, and its use in Jewish liturgy. This is a wonderful anthology of Jewish knowledge, and I highly recommend it. I plan on buying one of these for my mom. It makes a great present.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is a very good study Tanach for those who wish to learn, with helpful Jewish commentary, the full range of the Tanach books. It has a helpful glossary, wonderful maps to help one understand the various locations. The print is somewhat small, so I would suggest for someone who has difficulty reading to find a large print copy, if available. Otherwise, this is a very good book for groups to study with, or people studying on their own. I was amazed to discover it existed. I'm so glad I bought it and will use it for the rest of my life.
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