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The Book of Legends

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Book of Legends
The Schocken Press English Translation of Sefer Ha-Aggadah
Edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky.
A CD-ROM for Windows and Macintosh
From Davka Corporation

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 1, 2004

The Sefer Ha-Aggadah is a time honored collection of Rabbinical writings on everything from ethics to essays on the Torah. This CD-ROM edition of the Sefer Ha-Aggadah contains the Schocken Press's English translation of this book, entitled The Book of Legends. Throughout this text you will find a wealth of stories, parables, anecdotes, proverbs, and treatise that have been selected from a host of Talmudic and Midrashic texts.

The Sefer Ha-Aggadah was originally published around 1908, and it was edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky. Bialik is the famed Jewish / Hebrew poet and Ravnitzky was an editor and journalist. According to the introduction, by David Stern, the term "Aggadah essentially designates all the traditions, statements, and beliefs in early Judaism that fall outside the bounds of the Halakhah, the system of Rabbinic law". (Sefer means 'book', and Ha equivalent to 'the'). This provided a vast repertoire of material to choose from when the editors compiled this book. This must have seemed to the editors, to have been a daunting task, but it was a task that they were well suited to carry out, and they excelled at this endeavor.

The 'legends' in this text are mostly short, pithy excerpts from longer works. All are well referenced, and hyper-links that connect related terms and ideas are found throughout. Due to the very nature of this work, the organization of this book is somewhat haphazard. However the editors have attempted to organized the stories into thematic categories such as The Work of Creation and the First Generations, The Destruction of the First Temple, Israel and the Nations of the World, and Sabbath, Feasts, and Fasts. This CD-Rom edition of the Book of Legends includes more than just the English translation of the this phenomenal book. It also includes an intuitive interface that lets you easily search within the text, add notes to the text while you read, and even store information, such as articles and web pages in 'binders'. If you have an Internet connection, you can also access the world wide web via this program and conduct research on various topics and to search for updates to this text. As with most word processing programs, you can also highlight the text in this book and copy and paste it to other programs. Detailed help files are included that explain all the various functions, as well as instructions on how to use all aspects of the program.

From the moment The Sefer Ha-Aggadah was first published, it was an instant 'hit'. It provides a wealth of information, and insights, that are invaluable to scholars and anyone who is studying the Talmud or the Midrash. The text was originally published in Hebrew, and it was not until 1988 that the first English translation of this text, by Rabbi William G. Braude, was completed. This work is completely indexed and includes an index of biblical references made in the text. In addition, the text is fully footnoted, and includes a glossary and detailed reference list that can be used a stepping stone toward further study on the topics covered in this text. As with the Hebrew edition, the English translation of this book has served as a boon to scholars, and students, of the Talmud and Midrash, as well as anyone needing a useful quote for a sermon, essay, or speech.

This program can be purchased individually, or as part of the Treasure Chest of Jewish Knowledge.

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