Translating the Hebrew Bible Can Rob It of Its Ambiguity—and Readers of the Sacred Duty of Interpretation

Reviewing the newly published Koren Tanakh (discussed here and here by Mosaic’s Philologos), Francis Nataf addresses one of the most difficult problems posed by any translation of the Hebrew Bible to the Jewish reader. This problem comes down to the very essence of Torah study, which, Nataf writes:

is predicated on the notion that the original is somewhat indeterminate [and thus] allows for various possible meanings. . . .

An example of the price paid for the sake of readability can be found in [Abraham’s maidservant] Hagar’s encounter with an angel or angels when she first runs away from Sarai (Genesis 16:7-12). A famous midrash (Breishit Rabbah 45:7) takes note of the triple verbatim repetition of, “And an angel of the Lord said to her” (verses 9, 10, and 11)—after already introducing the angel in verse 7—and concludes that there were actually four angels. Of course, it is not the only way to read this repetition, but it is one that works well with the Hebrew text. Yet because such repetition also reads clumsily, the Koren translation changes the phrasing the second and third time, thereby undermining the midrashic reading. It undermines it further still by using the wording, “the angel . . . added.”

The creative license taken with the original text [by the Koren translation] sometimes goes in the opposite direction as well, trying too hard to follow rabbinic readings—which can paradoxically backfire.

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Read more at Jewish Action

More about: Hebrew Bible, Translation

 

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism