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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.

Read more at Lehrhaus

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

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals