39 years ago, Rav Adin Steinsaltz, shlit"a, began a project that would change Jewish learning in unprecedented ways. On his own at first, he began developed an elucidated commentary on the Talmud including translation of the Aramaic phrases into Hebrew and an in-depth commentary on issues in the text. Slowly at first and then with increasing speed over that last few years, Rav Steinsaltz added tractate after tractate to his collection.
On November 7, 2010 this monumental achievement will be completed with the publication of the final volume, Chullin (Niddah is due out any week now). In recognition, Rav Steinsaltz has begun organizing a Global Day of Learning to celebrate the event in the best Jewish way possible - through the joining together of Jews around the world in the study of our holy Torah.
It is hard to describe the impact his Talmud has had on Jewish learning today. When he began his project, the only accessible Talmud on the market was the Soncino Edition (which until today is still the only complete translation of the entire Bavli into English). However, those who have looked inside can attest that while the Soncino provides a decent translation, it does not provide much in the way of insight into the text, nor does it encourage the reader to keep up with the photostat of the Vilna Shas opposite the English.
Rav Steinsaltz was different. Clearly he had read through the Shulchan Aruch and was aware that nowhere in that August work does it discuss the format of the Vilna Shas page or its immutability. Seizing upon that, he began to produce a reader-friendly version of the Gemara, complete with vowelization in the main text to encourage proper pronounciation of the words.
Despite its obvious necessity his project has not received universal acclaim. The Chareidi community was especially hostile to the idea of any changes in the style of learning gemara:
But Rav Steinsaltz has no shortage of opponents to his approach. Many Litvish rabbonim have even banned the use of his books. Rav Shach zt”l said studying from an elucidated Talmud “has no trace of kedushoh and emunoh,” arguing it would cause the Gemara to be forgotten, chaliloh, and even called for his books to be put in sheimos. Other rabbonim, including Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, signed notices calling on the public to oppose the Steinsaltz Edition in “protest that would be heard from one end of the earth to the other.” Israel Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said these commentaries were meant for baalei tshuvoh who had never learned Gemara, warning bnei yeshiva to avoid easy commentaries and calling their use “mental laziness.”
However, after all the warnings and condemnations, these same authorities then tasked Artscroll with doing the exact same thing, making the gemara accessible in both English and Hebrew, hence the creation of the Schottenstein Talmud.
Hopefully Jews from across the spectrum of observance can come together in the next year to help celebrate the achievements of this great Gadol HaDor who changed the face of Jewish learning and opened up the important text of the Gemara to all who are interested in it.