For the Talmud, the Translation of the Bible into Greek Was a National Tragedy. Azariah de Rossi Disagreed

Dec. 28 2017

Today, the fast of the Tenth of Tevet primarily commemorates the start of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 588 BCE, which culminated with the city’s destruction. But it is also associated with a handful of other anniversaries, including that of the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, completed, according to medieval Jewish sources, on the eighth day of Tevet. As this linkage with the fast day suggests, rabbinic tradition took a dim view of the Septuagint, as the Greek translation—legendarily executed by 72 Jewish sages on commission from King Ptolemy of Egypt in the 3rd century BCE—is known. In the early 1570s, the Italian rabbi and humanist Azariah de Rossi undertook to change that, for reasons summarized by Elli Fischer:

[The history of the Septuagint involved] an admission by classical Greek culture (represented by Ptolemy II) and Christianity (which preserved the work and considered it sacred) that the Jews held the original, authentic Bible and had access to its true meaning and wisdom. For a persecuted people—it had been barely a year since the expulsion of Jews from Bologna, and the Talmud had been burned publicly in several major Italian cities in the 1550s and 1560s, not to mention that Jews expelled from Spain constituted a significant part of Italian Jewry—such a work had great apologetic value.

Moreover, the Hebrew language played an important role in the two great movements that were transforming Europe at the time: the Renaissance and the Reformation. The Renaissance, as its name indicates, was perceived as a recovery and renewal of lost grandeur, a rebirth after a long, dark age. There was a return to Greek and Latin classical culture, but also to Hebrew.

In Italy and the Netherlands, Renaissance scholars studied Hebrew with Jewish or apostate tutors, attempting to gain access to Jewish texts—far more than just the Torah—without the mediation of translations or interpretations. . . . This emergent phenomenon, which came to be known as Christian Hebraism, required Jewish manpower. Indeed, 15th- and 16th-century Jewish scholars . . . found employment teaching Hebrew to Christians and translating Hebrew works into Latin and other European languages. That is, they were playing a role similar to that of [the Jewish sages who authored the Septuagint]. Azariah, too, . . . was approached by a Christian scholar [for assistance]. . . .

But Azariah was not just the analogue of Ptolemy’s [Jewish] sages; he was also their mirror image. They translated Hebrew into Greek; he translated [works] from Latin into Hebrew. They brought the Torah to the famed Library of Alexandria; he brought books and knowledge from the vast repositories accessible to him and embedded them in a rabbinic work.

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More about: Azariah de Rossi, Italian Jewry, Religion & Holidays, Septuagint, Tenth of Tevet, Translation

Palestinian Leaders Fight Economic Growth

Jan. 15 2019

This month, a new shopping mall opened in northeastern Jerusalem, easily accessible to most of the city’s Arab residents. Rami Levy, the supermarket magnate who owns the mall, already employs some 2,000 Israeli Arabs and Palestinians at his other stores, and the mall will no doubt bring more jobs to Arab Jerusalemites. But the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) are railing against it, and one newspaper calls its opening “an economic catastrophe [nakba].” Bassam Tawil writes:

For [the PA president] Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah officials . . . the image of Palestinians and Jews working in harmony is loathsome. . . . Instead of welcoming the inauguration of the shopping mall for providing job opportunities to dozens of Palestinians and lower prices [to consumers], Fatah officials are taking about an Israeli plan to “undermine” the Palestinian economy. . . . The hundreds of Palestinians who flooded the new mall on its first day, however, seem to disagree with the grim picture painted by [these officials]. . . .

The campaign of incitement against Levy’s shopping mall began several months ago, as it was being built, and has continued until today. Now that the campaign has failed to prevent the opening of the mall, Fatah and its followers have turned to outright threats and violence. The threats are being directed toward Palestinian shoppers and Palestinian merchants who rented space in the new mall. On the day the mall was opened, Palestinians threw a number of firebombs at the compound, [which] could have injured or killed Palestinians. The [bomb-throwers], who are believed to be affiliated with Fatah, would rather see their own people dead than having fun or buying attractively-priced products at an Israeli mall.

By spearheading this campaign of incitement and intimidation, Abbas’s Fatah is again showing its true colors. How is it possible to imagine that Abbas or any of his Fatah lieutenants would ever make peace with Israel when they cannot even tolerate the idea of Palestinians and Jews working together for a simple common good? If a Palestinian who buys Israeli milk is a traitor in the eyes of Fatah, it is not difficult to imagine the fate of any Palestinian who would dare to discuss compromise with Israel.

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More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian economy