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 Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat