The Oz Vehadar edition of the Yerushalmi has hit the shelves. Apparently it happened last year, but nobody told me. It is nothing short of revolutionary.
The edition itself has been circulating for a number of years now, as the other side of the Artscroll Yerushalmi, but the full edition contains some treats.
First, a preface. The editors review the history of the printing of the Yerushalmi, and list all the commentaries and their sources – which they say they checked against the MSS. They neglect of course to give credit where it is due (MS Escorial of the Yerushalmi was “discovered” in 1977; Hilkhot Hayerushalmi, attributed to Maimonides – perhaps written in his hand – are quoted, but no word about how they were discovered. The first should have been attributed to E.S. Rosenthal, the latter to Saul Lieberman). They also put the text of ed. Venice at the center of the page, noting that MS Leiden was full of mistakes (echoing none other than Zacharias Frankel). The preface also contains an explanation of why it is important to learn Yerushalmi, and what the differences between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi are. The list of Yerushalmi terminology culled from Frankel’s Mevo Hayerushalmi, found in ed. Vilna, is conspicuously missing.
Second, the edition also comes with an incredible upgrade to Baer Ratner’s Ahavat Ziyyon Virushalaim: all the medieval authorities (their names cover a six page list, in three columns) who quoted the sugya or wrote on it are cited and quoted in full. There are no critical notes, and the editions – or MSS – should of course be checked, but this is an amazing step forward. (J. N. Epstein tried to do this almost eighty years ago, and the index cards that were salvaged from Mt. Scopus – the Israeli soldiers used to roll tobacco in them – are the basis of a continuing project by Yaakov Sussman to finish the work. A sample of this work can be found at the end of Haym Soloveitchik’s Hayayin Biyemei Habeinayyim). (Another similar tool, which also provides references to scholarly literature – mostly in Hebrew – can be found here).
Third, the editors are aware of the various MSS of the Yerushalmi, and even some genizah fragments. The latter were known already in ed. Vilna (1924) and are quoted as variants at the bottom of the page. I haven’t checked systematically, and the publishers do not mention if they have other geniza fragments. I suspect that they don’t. Variants from MS Leiden, Vatican, and Escorial are quoted in the margins of the Yerushalmi page.
The page layout itself was changed, and the publishers assure us that this was done in consultation with the Gedolim.
With or without the Gedolim, the set is not yet finished, and the size of the volumes is hulking – the Yerushalmi is printed three times in each volume, each time with a different set of commentaries. The full edition of Zeraim is nine volumes. This would mean about 20 volumes in all. The price tag (NIS 110/volume) is also quite hefty. Despite these shortcomings, this is a serious step forward towards making serious Yerusalmi scholarship easier and more comfortable to do. All we need now is the geniza fragments.