Rabbi Saadya Gaon’s Commentary on the Torah
The Discovery of Raabi Saadya Gaon’s Commentary
It all began in 2013. During a Chabad campaign to publicize the seven Noahide laws, Chabad chassidim turned to their fellow chassid Rabbi Yom Tov Hacohen, a native of Aleppo, Syria. They requested Rabbi Hacohen’s help in translating the Tanya into Arabic. (The Tanya is the basic book of Chabad Chassidic philosophy.)
The deep and lofty nature of the Tanya caused Rabbi Hacohen to explore the world of translated works of Jewish commentary and thought into Arabic. He wanted to learn key concepts which would help him translate the Tanya into Arabic.
While searching for official Jewish translations Rabbi Hacohen discovered the unique translation of the Torah into Arabic, compiled by Rabbi Saadya Gaon over 1100 years ago. During that time period the majority of Jews lived in Arabic-speaking countries and Rabbi Saadya Gaon thus wrote his commentary in Arabic.
Why isn’t Rabbi Saadya Gaon’s Commentary public knowledge?
There are two reasons why Rabbi Saadya Gaon’s commentary hasn’t come to light until now:
- There are currently few Jews who speak Arabic.
- The commentary was preserved in the original, handwritten form. 1100 years ago, the way to distinguish between holy vs. mundane Arabic writing was by writing the rich, and holy, Arabic translation of the Torah in Hebrew lettering. This form of writing presents an inherent challenge as few researchers are versed in Judeo-Arabic.
Stages in decoding and deciphering the handwriting
There are two stages to the publishing of this work:
- The original writing, with the Hebrew letters, needs to be converted into the authentic Arabic wording of Rabi Saadya Gaon’s commentary.
- Once the commentary has been returned to its original Arabic it can then be translated into various other languages (including Hebrew).
Rabbi Yom Tov Hacohen established Project Saadya Gaon in order to decode Rabbi Saadya Gaon’s writing and to publish the Arabic commentary. His goal is to make these writings accessible to all people to learn.
The Completion of Stage One
In December 2015, after three years of exacting work to decode Rabbi Saadya Gaon’s handwriting, stage one of Project Saadya Gaon was successfully completed and the commentary was published in literary Arabic. The work is published in a book entitled “Torah in Arabic”.
The second stage of our unique project awaits us now: Publishing Rabbi Saadya Gaon’s precise Torah commentary in Hebrew.
May it be G-d’s will that we merit the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the end of days: “The earth shall be full of knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 40:5)