Artscroll and Reuben laying with Bilhah

Genesis 35:22 states that “Reuben lay with Bilhah.” The Artscroll multi-volume commentary on Bereshit (i.e., not the Stone Chumash), p. 1522, states that in Shabbat 55b “the Sages emphatically declare that Reuben did not commit the sin of adultery. They proclaim that מי שאמר ראובן חטא אינו אלא טועה.”

I believe this to be a conscious distortion of what appears in the Talmud, in the name of “frumkeit”, of course. If you open up the Talmud to Shabbat 55b you find that, first of all, it is not the “Sages” who proclaim מי שאמר ראובן וכו’ but one of the Sages, R. Samuel Bar Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan. This is a very minor point, since following this statement in the Talmud we find other Sages who agree with this statement, i.e., they also assume that Reuben never actually had sexual relations with Bilhah (and they are quoted in the Artscroll commentary to Bereshit). However, from the Talmud we also learn that there were Sages who disagreed with R. Jonathan and took the biblical text literally. It is none other than the Artscroll Talmud that, quoting Maharsha, explains that according to R. Eliezer, Reuben did have sexual relations with Bilhah.

The Artscroll commentary on Bereshit is a very long work (2232 pages), providing numerous perspectives on every verse. Yet, in this case, they chose not to include the view of R. Eliezer and R. Joshua that Genesis 35:22 is to be taken literally, and Reuben indeed had sexual relations with Bilhah. A conscious choice had to be made to exclude this view, and I think we all understand why. But doesn’t Artscroll’s choice in this regard show a real lack of respect for R. Eliezer and R. Joshua? Maybe others see things differently, but it appears to me that Artscroll stood in judgment, as it were, over R. Eliezer and R. Joshua, and decided that their view was not worthy of being included since Artscroll did not like what they said. This is hardly the sort of kevod ha-Torah that Artscroll is supposed to represent.

Marc B. Shapiro, “Assorted Comments”, The Seforim Blog (12 June 2014) []