The Ohr Olam Edition Mishnah Berurah – Book Review

It’s amazing how some events are permanently written into my memory.

I was standing in the home of my friend Yitz about 20 years ago.

He had just learned that Feldheim was publishing an English translation of the Mishnah Berurah.

My jaw dropped as my yeshiva-educated friend said, “I don’t need it. The Hebrew of the Mishnah Berurah is pretty easy. But I’ll buy it anyway … and it will become a crutch for me.”

My own yeshiva education started soon after that encounter.

At first I thought that Yitz was nuts. I didn’t find the Mishnah Berurah an easy sefer to learn or understand.

However, as the years went by and my Hebrew improved, I came to understand more of what Yitz meant.

Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Now there’s a new kid on the block.

I guess the Feldheim translation just doesn’t cut it any more.

In some ways I can understand.

Certainly, the original printing of the Feldheim Mishnah Berurah left something to be desired. (I understand that newer editions of the Feldheim Mishnah Berurah solve this problem.)

But then again, when Feldheim started, every edition of the Mishnah Berurah was a nightmare.

In case you don’t recall the good old days, just pull an old, battered Mishnah Berurah off the shelf of your local shul.

I mean, put your hands on the oldest one you can find. In it you’ll find Rashi script that hurts the eyes to try to read. Abbreviations are liberally scattered throughout the text. The whole sefer will have the feel of a photocopy of a photocopy…

It’s true, we’ve been spoiled by the sharp print, lack of abbreviations, and vowel marks of the latest Hebrew editions of the Mishnah Berurah.

Now there’s a new English translation, the Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah, that’s trying to be just as impressive.

The volume I received is large. Nine inches by 12 1/4 inches with a rich blue cover boasting silver print. This volume is over 470 pages long and weighs a ton.

The translators and editors have not held back. As they write in the Preface:

This publication is the product of intense research, writing, and editing by a team of outstanding talmidei chachamim… Intense efforts have been invested to carefully preserve all the value and richness of the Mishnah Berurah, and to render it unaltered into lucid English with utmost precision…
In all, an original translation was followed by two exhaustive halachic edits, followed by another English language edit and topped by a final, thorough halachic edit of every single word of the entire English text.

Readership

This book is suitable for the English-speaking public interested in learning the Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah.

The Hebrew text of the Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah are printed in an exceptionally clear font featuring Hebrew vowel marks.

The English translation is on the facing page.

When necessary the English translation is supplemented with explanatory footnotes.

Due to the terseness of the Hebrew and with the added notes, the translation usually requires more than one page.

To smoothly guide the reader, the editors have the adopted the practice of using gray vertical bars to indicate which section of the Hebrew is being translated on each page. This will take a little getting used to since both the Shulchan Aruch (top of the page) and the Mishnah Berurah (bottom of the page) are being translated on each page.

How to Use This Book

The author’s provide these guidelines in the Preface:

To maximize the value of this work, the reader is advised to begin by learning through the relevant material in the Shulchan Aruch text once or twice, to attain a certain level of familiarity with the halachos and concepts. The reader should then proceed by learning through the Mishnah Berurah, viewing it not as an auxiliary commentary but as a text in and of itself. The reader should therefore analyze each point of the Mishnah Berurah as a lesson in itself, and not view it as a mere elucidation of the Shulchan Aruch.

Enough said.

What’s Missing

I’ve already mentioned a number of features of this translation of the Mishnah Berurah.

There are several additional features that deserve being noted:
1. Contemporary Halachah Discussions by Rabbi Doniel Yehudah Neustadt are included at the end of the volume.

2. Glossary of halachic terms and concepts.

3. Chapter summaries are included at the end of the volume.

I must note two major deficiencies in this translation.

1. The Beiur Halachah is not translated.

The Beiur Halachah is the section of the Mishnah Berurah that delves more deeply into the background of the halachah. This will often include discussions of the relevant Gemaras and poskim up to the time of the Mishnah Berurah.

In my experience, people who learn the Mishnah Berurah view this as the most significant section of the Mishnah Berurah.

The translators of this edition have chosen to provide synopses of the Beiur Halachah. This is good but I don’t think it goes far enough.

2. I think it would have been helpful to add a bibliography listing the sefarim cited by the Shulchan Aruch and the Mishnah Berurah.

A useful bibliography would just need to include for each sefer the name of the author and where and when he lived.

Many people who will find this translation helpful will not be familiar with halachic literature. A bibliography would help new students get their bearings in the vast sea of halachah.

Since this is the first volume of a planned multi-volume set, I hope the translators will find a place to include a bibliography in a future volume.

Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Ohr Olam edition of the Mishnah Berurah

My Verdict

The Ohr Olam Edition Mishnah Berurah is an impressive volume.

I’m sure that many people will want to add it to their Jewish library.

I will just urge people to think about two issues before they make a purchase.

1. Though this volume is about Hilchot Shabbat, it is not a guide to Shabbat. Readers who want a practical guide to Shabbat observance need something like Shemirath Shabbat or The 39 Melochos.

2. Remember what my friend Yitz said about the Hebrew of the Mishnah Berurah not being so difficult.

If what is holding you back in learning Torah is your Hebrew skills, maybe a better investment would be something like The First Hebrew Primer.

Taking the time now to learn Hebrew will pay you many dividends in the future.

If you’ve thought about these two issues and want to learn Mishnah Berurah in English, then the Ohr Olam Edition could be right for you.

The Ohr Olam Edition Mishnah Berurah. Published by Machon Ohr Olam, Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson, Chief Editor.

So far one volume has been published: Hilchot Shabbat, Chapters 242-261 (which is the first portion of Section 3 of a standard Mishnah Berurah).

Disclosure: I was given a review copy of The Ohr Olam Edition Mishnah Berurah by the publisher.

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