Yaakov Meir Zalkind, or Dr. Yankev-Meyer Zalkind was an orthodox Rabbi, an anarchist friend of Rudolf Rocker and a pacifist. He was born in Kobrin in 1875 and his family descended from generations of famous rabbis, including the Chochom Tzvi, Maharshal and Tosephes Yom Tov. He was educated at the Volozhin yeshiva, and then followed a secular education at the universities of Berlin, Munich, Geneva and Berne. He spoke many languages and was a Zionist activist and prolific writer. In 1903 he emigrated to London, and was briefly a Rabbi in Cardiff before returning to London. In 1915 he was at the University of Glasgow, studying agronomy, and in 1916 he became an opponent of the war and returned to London to campaign as an anti-militarist. He moved intellectually to anarchy, and revived the old Yiddish anarchist newspaper, Der Arbayter Fraynd, which he edited from 1920 to 1923.
Combining Jewish orthodoxy with anarchism, he believed that an authentic “free society” would, in his view, be a “Talmudic society”—namely, a society in which the Talmudic ethic would lie at the foundation of its political philosophy and at the base of its legislation. He believed that from the Talmud one could today extract living sources, and this was the purpose of his vast, nearly lifelong work of translating the Talmud into Yiddish.
Only four volumes were published. This volume, Maseches Berakhos, was the only one from the Babylonian Talmud – the other three were from the Jerusalem Talmud.
In the introduction, entitled “In place of an introduction”, the “translator and editor” wrote, “With respect to the translation we wish to note that it is highly literal…, even when the style has to suffer on occasion…. As concerns the commentary we have made every effort to create something that is worth any price, usable for the beginner as well as for the scholar.” The commentary “is built, in the main, on the explanations of Rashi, Tosafot, Maharsha, Rabenu Yona, and other commentaries… ” but in certain places “we have found it appropriate to offer our own opinion as well.”