On a stand at the book fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia about two months ago was a sign advertising the first translation in history of the Babylonian Talmud into Arabic.
The huge project, which sparked debate in Saudi Arabia over the propriety of advertising the sale of Jewish religious literature in a Muslim country, was the work of a Jordanian research institute.
The work joins several other translations into Arabic in recent years of canonical Jewish works.
Experts disagree about the origin of this trend. Some call it purely scientific, while others believe it stems from a desire to “know your enemy” or an anti-Semitic attempt to “expose the truth” about Judaism.
Still other scholars say there is a desire to know Jewish works better so as to “purify” the Hadith – Muslim law – from Jewish influences.
Dr. Raquel Ukeles, curator of the National Library’s Islam and Middle East collection, who sought out the translation and saw to its purchase for the library, says the translation stemmed from scientific curiosity.
The translation took 96 scholars six years to complete. Some were Aramaic-speaking Christians who helped illucidate the Aramaic expressions in the Talmud. No Jewish scholars are known to have taken part in the work.
The translation does not include the interpretations by Rashi and others that have been added to the Hebrew version.