A Croatian-born college student in Prague in the late 1980s, Sacha Pecaric became interested in traditional Judaism, but no Jewish texts were available in Serbo-Croatian or Czech. He turned to English and Hebrew books.
As an Orthodox rabbi doing outreach to Krakow’s small Jewish community in the first decade of this century, he found few Jewish texts in Polish. Again, he used English and Hebrew.
Rabbi Pecaric, now 45 and a resident of Teaneck, decided to fill the literary-linguistic void. The rabbi, who moved to New Jersey with his wife Ksenija, an artist, and two young sons, in 2005, has written, edited and translated some 30 classical Jewish texts in Polish during the last decade.
The books are aimed at Poland’s growing post-independence Jewish community — the official number of affiliated Jews in the country is about 5,000, but many estimates put the number of Poles with “Jewish roots” at 20,000 or above — and at philo-Semitic Polish Catholics. “There is tremendous interest” for things Jewish in Polish society, Rabbi Pecaric says. His books represent the largest number of newly translated Jewish texts in any of the Eastern European Jewish communities that gained religious freedom when Communism was overthrown in the early 1990s.
The latest: a volume of Talmud, incorporating text and original commentaries on chapters from three tractates of the Oral Law. It is, Rabbi Pecaric says, the first-ever Polish translation of the Talmud. “Anyone who goes through this volume can walk into any yeshiva and follow a shiur [lesson] in Gemara [Talmud].”
Coming up later this year: Psalms, a Mishnah excerpt, and a discussion of his Torah translations.
The books, Rabbi Pecaric says, are sold in Poland’s major bookstores.
To mark the 10th anniversary of his translation work, and to introduce the recent Talmud translation, the rabbi, who has taught at Yeshiva University and Stern College, spent a week back in Poland this winter, visiting and celebrating with his former students in several cities.
The translations, which began with the Five Books of Moses, were supported by the New York-based Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, and are both a product of and a boost to the revival of Jewish life in Poland, says Rabbi Pecaric. He studied at Yeshiva University, where he was ordained in 1997, and served with the Lauder Foundation, coordinating educational and religious programming in Krakow from 1997 to 2006.
Krakow’s need for Jewish books in Polish became obvious, Rabbi Pecaric says. So the rabbi, who speaks fluent Polish, German and French and other foreign tongues, decided to do the translations himself.
Working for Pardes (www.pardes.pl), an independent publishing firm based in Krakow, which sponsors his new online yeshiva, he has translated works that range from a prayer book and the Scroll of Esther to the Mishnah’s Ethics of the Fathers, from a Haggadah and Ecclesiastes to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s “Kosher Sex.”
The goal is a balance between halacha and history, philosophy and theology, Rabbi Pecaric says.
His most ambitious project was his translation of the Talmud (chapters from the often-studied tractates of Berachot, Kiddushin and Baba Kama), which includes the standard Aramaic text as well as a translation, ArtScroll-style explanations, and a commentary in the guise of a teacher-student dialogue.
The Talmud translation took 2½ years.
Rabbi Pecaric’s translations, and three original Torah commentaries written in the last decade by members of Poland’s Jewish community, all one-time students of his, are “signs of stirring of Jewish life” in the land that was home to the world’s largest Jewish community before World War II, says Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich. “If there weren’t people buying them, [Rabbi Pecaric] would not be able to publish them.”
Rabbi Pecaric says he wishes he had such texts when he was studying and teaching Judaism in Eastern Europe in earlier years. Today’s Jewish students in Warsaw and Krakow and Lodz can learn about their heritage in their language. “In Prague,” the rabbi says, “they don’t have this stuff.”