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Soncino Press is a Jewish publishing company based in the United Kingdom that has published a variety of books of Jewish interest, most notably English translations and commentaries to the Talmud and Hebrew Bible. The Soncino Hebrew Bible and Talmud translations and commentaries, now half a century old, were a standard of Jewish publishing for many years, and were widely used in both Orthodox and Conservative synagogues.
Soncino translations and commentary on the Hebrew Bible are based on traditional Jewish sources. They accept the Bible as Divine and the Biblical history of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai as true, and have been widely regarded as Orthodox. Nonetheless, they tended to have some input from modern academic scholarship. and tended not to treat Rabbinical Midrash and Aggadah as fact.
As Orthodox and Conservative Judaism have diverged in recent decades, they have tended to move to different Bible translations reflecting their increasingly different theological viewpoints. Orthodox Jews are now more likely to use Artscroll translations, which shun academic scholarship and treat Midrashic and Aggadic accounts, as well as the Biblical text, as literally true. Conservative Judaism has moved in the opposite direction, publishing a commentary, the Etz Hayim Bible, which is considerably more liberal in tone, based on academic sources that accept the documentary hypothesis as the Bible's origin and question the accuracy of its accounts of Jewish history.
Nonetheless, Soncino books still retain a following, particularly among traditional Conservative, Conservadox, and Modern Orthodox Jews in the English-speaking world. No popular Jewish translation with Soncino's intermediate approach, combining traditionalist outlook and exegesis with openness towards academic scholarship, has appeared since. Additionally, because the Soncino publications were generally released without copyright notices at a time when notices were mandatory for establishment of copyright, the works were generally considered as public domain. Legally, however, this is no longer the case in the United States since 1994. (Judaica Press, which operates in partnership with descendants of the family that owned Soncino Press, considers the works as non-public-domain and that the lack of copyright notices was simply a mistake. Thus, some in the frum world contended that unlicensed reprint of Soncino texts was unethical and perhaps illegal, although this was certainly not a majority position.)
The firm is named for the Soncino family of Hebrew book printing pioneers. Based in Northern Italy, this family published the first-ever printed book in Hebrew type in 1483 (an edition of the Talmud tractate Berakhot) and continued a string of printed editions of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and various rabbinical works until about 1547.
- Hebrew Bible
- Orthodox Judaism
- Modern Orthodox Judaism
- Conservadox Judaism
- Conservative Judaism