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"The US Army Talmud"

US Army Talmud
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Courtesy of Jean and Menachem Rosenhaft

In what one scholar has called "the Holocaust of the books," book burnings, looting, and war left Europe's surviving Jews with a shortage of religious texts important for worship.1 Along with synagogues and other sacred texts, the Nazis and their collaborators had frequently targeted the Talmud2 as a symbol of the corruption and evil they regarded as inherent to Judaism.

Jewish leaders frequently took the view that, if European Jewry were to be revived, new copies of the Talmud and other texts would need to be printed.3 In 1946, a delegation of rabbis from displaced persons (DP) camps in the American zone of occupied Germany approached the zone's military governor, US General Joseph McNarney, to request that the US Army help to publish a Talmud. In an unusual turn of events—neither governments nor armies had traditionally published such texts—McNarney agreed.4 With guidance from two Jewish US Army chaplain rabbis, the project began.5 A Heidelberg facility once used to produce Nazi propaganda was acquired for printing.6

Featured here are the title and dedication pages appearing in each book in every nineteen-volume set of the Talmud. The illustration on the title page, crafted by a survivor, depicts a Nazi slave labor camp surrounded by barbed wire. Above are pictured palm trees and scenes in Israel. These images are paired with a Hebrew inscription: "From bondage to freedom, from darkness to a great light.” A dedication from the American zone's chief rabbi appears on the second page. 

Publication of the so-called "US Army Talmud" (also known as the "Survivors' Talmud"7 and the "Munich Talmud") was beset by delays. After winning Army approval in September 1946, difficulty obtaining printing materials in war-torn Germany stalled production. Pushing release back further, no complete set of the Talmud could be found in Europe, so two sets needed to be brought from New York to be copied. By the time of the completed Talmud's first run of printing in 1948, many survivors had emigrated to the United States, Israel, or elsewhere.8 Two years later, little more than five percent of Germany's prewar Jewish population remained. Largely unused in Europe, most copies of the Talmud were packed and shipped to Jewish communal organizations and libraries around the world.

See Phillip Friedman, "The Fate of the Jewish Book" in Roads to Extinction: Essays on the Holocaust, Ada June Friedman, ed. (New York : Conference on Jewish Social Studies: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1980), 88-99. Esther Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halachah and Leadership during the Holocaust (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2007), 652. Shimon Huberband, a rabbi in the Warsaw ghetto, also describes Nazi attempts to "deaden the religious feelings of pious Jews" through the burning of synagogues, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and the destruction of Torah scrolls. See Shimon Huberband, Kiddush Hashem: Religious and Cultural Life in Poland During the Holocaust, Jeffrey S. Gurock and Robert S. Hirt, eds. (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1987), 188.

A religious text describing Jewish ceremonial and civil law. Thousands of pages in length, the Talmud is considered to be a definitive corpus of rabbinical writing and teachings stretching over centuries. It is a critical text for study in many forms of Judaism.

Some Jews did not accord with this view; the Kielce pogrom of 1946 furthered the impression that there was little chance of perserving Jewish life in Europe. See Gerd Korman, "Survivors' Talmud and the U.S. Army," American Jewish History 73 (1984), 259.

According to William Haber, the US Army's advisor on Jewish affairs, this move would strengthen public opinion of President Harry Truman amongst American Jews. See Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder, 676, fn. 78.

There were a few partners in the project: the US Army, the Joint (JDC), and the Vaad Ha-Hatzala (a rescue committee organized by orthodox Jews in the US). The army funded the first 50 copies; the JDC later underwrote another six hundred copies. See Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder, 674, fn. 75.

See Michael Feldberg, ed., Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House in association with the American Jewish Historical Society, 2002), 231.

Korman, "Survivors' Talmud," 273-274.

Survivors in Munich also published what became known as the "Survivors' Haggadah" in 1946.

Caption appearing below the illustration at the top half of the page.

The oral tradition of Jewish law forming the first part of the Talmud, known as the Mishna, contains six orders. Each order is comprised of seven to twelve tractates, known in Hebrew as masechet. 

"Pesachim" is the third tractate of the "Order of Festivals" in the Talmud.

The American Joint Distribution Committee.

In the tradition of medieval Jewry, a term used to denote a geographical area comprising the Rhineland in present-day Germany.

Appears as the caption above the illustration on the bottom half of the page.

Appears as the caption below the illustration on the bottom half of the page.

Customary inscription used by religious Jews at the heading of written documents. 

Hebrew: literally, the big six orders of the Mishnah, meaning an inclusive edition of the Talmud with commentary.

Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi ha-Cohen (1013-1103), an important scholar of Judaism. This reference indicates that the works of Rabbi Alfasi were included in the publication.

Yimakh shemam, one of the strongest curses in Biblical Hebrew.

The "surviving remnant" is a biblical term used by Jewish refugees who survived the Holocaust to refer to themselves and the communities they formed in postwar Europe following the liberation in the spring of 1945.

The Jewish year that started in September 1945 and ended in September 1946. 

These are names of Masechet.

A Jewish study hall, usually located in a synagogue or a yeshiva.

Philip S. Bernstein of Rochester, New York, served as Adviser on Jewish Affairs to the Theatre Commanders of US Forces in Europe from May 1946 to August 1947. 

Written in Yiddish, this is an apparent reference to a religious or community organization in a displaced persons camp.

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From Enslavement to Salvation, from Darkness to Great Light
1

Masechet2

Pesachim3 from the
Babylonian Talmud

With all the commentators as printed in ancient times and with new additions as explained on the second page

Published by the Committee of the Rabbis Association in the American zone in Ashkenaz4

With the assistance of the United States Army and Joint in Germany, Munich-Heidelberg5

Year Five Thousand Seven Hundred and Nine to the Creation of the World 

They Almost Wiped Me from the Earth, but I Have Not Forsaken Your Precepts6

A Labor Camp in Ashkenaz in the Days of the Nazis7

 

 

DEDICATION

This edition of the Talmud is dedicated to the United States Army. The army played a major role in the rescue of the Jewish people from total annihilation and after the defeat of Hitler bore the major burden of sustaining the DPs of the Jewish faith. This special edition of the Talmud published in the very land where, but a short time ago, everything Jewish and of Jewish inspiration was anathema, will remain a symbol of the indestructibility of the Torah. The Jewish DPs will never forget the generous impulses and the unprecedented humanitarianism of the American forces, to whom they owe so much.

In the name of the Rabbinical Organization

Rabbi Samuel A. Snieg
Chairman and Chief Rabbi of the U.S. Zone

 

With God's help8

Blessed is He who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time—the printing of the Talmud! 

With His great grace, blessed be His name, we managed to publish the Big Talmudwith Rabbi Alfasi10, a perfection of beauty and elegance.

After the horrible destruction and the days of devastation and annihilation that we have gone through, an hour of distress like no other since Israel became a people, one fate was shared by the people of Israel and their Torah, as the evil ones that exterminated and burned the Jews of Europe, did their best also not to leave behind any Hebrew book, as if they willed it,  that the burned Jew be wrapped in a Torah book.

We still remember that bitter day, in which an order issued by the evil rule - the Nazis, may their name be obliterated,11 appeared in the ghetto, to collect all the books to one place in order to destroy them, and the one who tried to hide but one book was facing mortal danger. Our enemies dealt with us wisely, [attempting] not only to exterminate us but also to upset us as long as we are still alive. Seizing the book from the people of the book is a deep wound in the soul of Israel that cannot be cured. All the books of Israel were taken to be processed into paper, or for other foul uses or burned altogether. The aspiration of this exterminator-enemy was to erase the name of Israel, not only from life itself, but also from all books. In the many mercies of God, blessed be, He left a surviving remnant,12 survivors of destruction saved from the hands of these cursed evil ones, but with no book left in their possession.

In the year of 570613 we managed, with a lot of effort, to print masechet and Kidushin and Nedarim14 and to distribute them among the remains of Israel, in Yeshivas, Batei Midrash,15 and to individuals who study. However, the entire Talmud is rare and is rarely found among us, only single masechet can be found here and there.

For a time, we have aspired to publish the Mishnah in its entirety, but it requires a significant expenditure that was not within our means. Therefore, we have approached the authorities of the American Army in Ashkenaz to enable us to publish the Talmud. and as God wished it, we succeeded thanks to the help of the Army's advisor for Jewish affairs in Germany, Dr. Rabbi P. Bernstein16 may his light shine, and our request was fulfilled with the help of God, may he be blessed, and therefore this day is a day of good tidings for Israel.

It is worth noting that during Israel's days of diaspora, not once have the books of Israel were burned by the authorities, but not one authority helped us restore our books. This is the first time in history of Israel that a foreign government helps publish the Talmud books, which are "the source of our being and the length of our days." The U.S. armies saved us from death and they are now our protectors in this land. With their help, the Talmud come out once again in Ashkenaz.

Aside from the U.S. Army, the Joint participated in this publication. The same enormous society of aid whose relief work encompasses all the fields of our life, besides its support of [our] material life, it also supports our spiritual life, book publishing, and more. Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Rabbi Shmuel L. Zar the director of Tzent art cam17 and Rabbi Shlomo Shapira, may his light shine, the director of the office for religious affairs adjacent to the Joint, the Joint agreed to participate in this expenditure and to increase the number of copies to satisfy the need for Talmud books of those who study.

In the name of the Haredi Jewish community, we express our deep gratitude to the U.S. Army and the Joint. May the right of "establishing the Torah" protect them. 

Despite the effort and great labor of the commentary and others we experienced here, we did not cease from doing this holy labor, as we were aware of the Yeshiva boys' sorrow and pain, instigated by not having Talmud books, in addition to it causing "wasting time that could be spent on Torah-study." May God wills that we succeed, and may God, blessed him, have us "rejoice at the completion,"  and increase and extol the Torah. May we soon witness Yeshiva graduation ceremonies, and a complete redemption with the coming of the Messiah, Amen. 

Thus, the words of the publishers who anticipate the redemption of God.

The Committee of the Rabbinical Organization in the American Zone

Shmuel Abba Snieg
Chief of the Rabbinical Organization's Committee
Who dwells here in the holy congregation of Munich, may God protect it

                                                                     Shmuel Yaakov Raz
Member of the Rabbinical Organization's Committee
Munich

 

1948
Printed: Manul-Offset by Druckerei Carl Winter, Heidelberg (Germany)
under supervision of Procurement Division, European Quartermaster Depot, United States Army 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Courtesy of Jean and Menachem Rosenhaft
Accession Number 1999.A.0163
Date Created
1948
Page(s) 1-2
Author / Creator
Union of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States and Canada
United States Army
Publisher
The United States Army
Language(s)
English
Hebrew
Location
Heidelberg, Germany
Document Type Religious Text
How to Cite Museum Materials