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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Other English Versions

The post‐World War II period has witnessed the proliferation, some might call it explosion, of new, often competing English‐language versions, especially among Protestants. The number of such versions is in effect multiplied by the seemingly endless variety of editions, often aimed at niche markets (recent widows, virgin teenagers, recovering alcoholics, for example) in which these translations appear. In comparison, the correspond‐ing market for Jewish versions is quite limited, even when interested non‐Jewish scholars, ministers, and laity are taken into account. Nonetheless, the NJPS is far from alone in finding supporters (as well as detractors!) in the contemporary English‐speaking Jewish community, or better, communities.

Among the most widely advertised and beautifully produced versions is the ArtScroll's Tanach (Tanach, an alternate spelling of Tanakh, is an acronym reflecting the traditional tripartite Jewish division of the Bible: Torah, Neviʾim [Prophets], Kethuvim [Writings]), a product of Mesorah Publications of Brooklyn, New York. It is aimed primarily at more traditional or Orthodox segments of the Jewish community, but its appeal has gone beyond that market, in common with many of Mesorah's other publications in the ArtScroll series. For the Torah, its translators relied on the interpretations of the medieval exegete Rashi; elsewhere, they are more eclectic—but they never range beyond traditional sources. This leads to a number of distinctive English renderings, among which are:

Genesis 2.2 : By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He abstained on the seventh day.

For the first prepositional phrase, the Hebrew reads “on the seventh day,” which is contextually difficult, given the fact that creation is elsewhere portrayed as a six‐day event.

Exodus 12.15 : For a seven‐day period shall you eat matzos, but on the previous day you shall nullify the leaven from your homes.

The highlighted prepositional phrase is, literally in the Hebrew, “on the first day,” which creates confusion when compared to other biblical passages in which the leaven was to be “nullified” before the Passover began.

Exodus 20.7 : You shall not take the Name of HA‐SHEM, your God, in vain, for HASHEM will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain.

Here, as frequently elsewhere, the tetragrammaton (“YHVH“)—which in most English‐language versions is represented by the title, the LORD—is replaced by an expression that literally means “the Name,” reflecting the ineffability of God's proper name. Ha‐Shem as a surrogate for YHVH is frequently used in Orthodox contexts.

Exodus 22.24 : When you lend money to My people…do not lay interest upon him.

The Hebrew word rendered here as “when” is the common Hebrew conjunction, ʿim, which in the vast majority of instances is translated literally as “if.” The use of “when” here, paralleled in two other places in the Torah, is in accordance with the tradition that in Judaism charity is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

Leviticus 23.11 : He shall wave the Omer before HA‐SHEM to gain favor for you; on the morrow of the rest day the Kohen shall wave it.

This verse describes a ceremony, still maintained among traditional Jews, in which the days from Passover to Shavuot (the Festival of Weeks or Pentecost) are enumerated by an offering called the Omer. The Hebrew text specifies that the counting of the Omer starts with the day after “the Shabbat.” But rabbinic Judaism understands “Shabbat” here not in its usual sense, but as “the day of rest,” that is, the first day of Passover. As in several examples above, the ArtScroll Tanach follows rabbinic interpretation rather than a more literal rendering of the biblical text itself, especially when the more literal rendering might create confusion on halakhic matter.

Another version intended primarily for Orthodox and other traditional Jews is The Living Torah, by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, and the Living Nach, three successive volumes covering the Prophets and the Writings, translated by Kaplan's followers after his death. Kaplan was a prolific writer on Jewish topics and often emphasized mystical elements in Jewish thought and practice. The volumes influenced by Kaplan reflect traditional Jewish sources—for legal interpretation especially the philosopher Maimonides—and also display a demonstrable interest in matters of spiritual import. Among characteristic Kaplan renderings are:

Exodus 20.8–10 : Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks. But Saturday is the Sabbath to God your Lord.

Lest there be any doubt about when the “seventh day” falls, Kaplan explicitly introduces the modern‐sounding expression “Saturday” into the ancient text.

Leviticus 17.14 : Tell the Israelites not to eat any blood, since the life‐force of all flesh is in its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off [spiritually].

The translation of this passage, along with Kaplan's rendering of Deut. 12.23 below and elsewhere, explicitly introduces a spiritual element into the biblical text that is, at best, implicit in the literal wording of the Hebrew text.

Leviticus 18.7 : Do not commit a sexual offense against your father or mother. If a woman is your mother, you must not commit incest with her.

There is no specific Hebrew word for “incest” as opposed to the more general term translated here as “sexual offense.” As in other examples, Kaplan's practice leads to modification of the literal text in the direction of specificity or explicitness.

Leviticus 19.14 : Do not place a stumbling block before the [morally] blind.

Leviticus 19.29 : Do not defile your daughter with premarital sex.

As elsewhere, Kaplan renders a fairly general term with a specific one; in this instance, “premarital sex.” In a sense, he may be responding to those who, with some justification, make statements like, “there is no specific prohibition against premarital sex in the Old Testament.” While that may otherwise be quite true, the explicit prohibition does appear in The Living Torah!

Deuteronomy 12.23 : Be extremely careful not to eat the blood, since the blood is associated with the spiritual nature, and when you eat flesh, you shall not ingest the spiritual nature along with it.

Working on his own, the Jewish scholar Everett Fox has produced an English‐lan‐guage version of the Torah that draws its distinctive inspiration from the German translation of Buber‐Rosenzweig. Like them, Fox endeavors to draw the contemporary reader into the world of antiquity through a modern‐language version that incorporates many aspects of the ancient Hebrew text absent in most other English renderings. The flavor, as it were, of his Schocken Bible: The Five Books of Moses, can be appreciated through the following examples:

Genesis 1.1–2 : At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was wild and waste, darkness rushed over the face of Ocean, rushing‐spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters—

aGenesis 1.8 : God called the dome: Heaven!

There was setting, there was dawning: second day.

Genesis 17.5 : No longer shall your name be called Avram, rather shall your name be Avraham, for I will make you Av Hamon Goyyim/Father of a throng of Nations!

Fox chooses to present the biblical names in their Hebrew form, thereby allowing English readers to hear more clearly what the ancient listener would have heard and to enjoy something of the wordplay hitherto accessible only to readers of Hebrew.

Genesis 25.30–31 : Esav said to Yaakov: Pray give me a gulp of the red‐stuff, that red‐stuff, for I am so weary! Therefore they called his name: Edom/Red‐One. Yaakov said: Sell me your firstborn‐right here‐ and‐now.

Although other versions note wordplays, here and elsewhere, in their notes, Fox presents wordplays associated with names in the text itself. It is also characteristic of Fox to use dashes to indicate that what takes more than one “word” to say in English required only one word in Hebrew.

Genesis 27.36 : He [Esav] said: Is that why his name was called Yaakov/Heel‐Sneak? For he has now sneaked against me twice.

Genesis 30.24 : She [Rahel] became pregnant and bore a son. She said: God has removed/ asaf my reproach! So she called his name: Yosef, saying: May YHWH add/ yosef another son to me!

Genesis 42.7 : When Yosef saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended‐no‐recognition of them and spoke harshly with them.

Genesis 43.10 : The man [Yosef] warned, yes, warned us, saying: You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.

Where the Hebrew uses the same root (here, “warn”) twice in proximity, most English translations either ignore it or paraphrase, as “surely” or “really warned us.” Here and elsewhere, Fox represents this verbal repetition as literally as possible.

Genesis 45.12–13 : Here, your eyes see, as well as my brother Binyimin's eyes, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. So tell my father of all the weight I carry in Egypt, and of all that you have seen, and make haste, bring my father down here!

Exodus 5.17 : But he [Pharaoh] said: Lax you are, lax.

Exodus 12.42–43, 48: It is a night of keeping‐watch for YHWH.…YHWH said to Moshe and Aharon: This is the law of the Passover‐meal. Any foreign son is not to eat of it.…But any foreskinned‐man is not to eat of it.

Exodus 13.1 : Hallow to me every firstborn, breacher of every womb among the Children of Israel, of man or of beast, it is mine.

These are among the most important English‐language Jewish versions available today. They are by no means the only ones. Especially among Orthodox Jews, individual rabbis or groups of rabbis are preparing their own translations, reflecting both distinctive elements in their teaching and the need for instruction in English even within the most traditional communities. In many ways, the production of such versions parallels developments within the far larger Protestant communities, where distinctive theologies stimulate an ever increasing number of translations.

In today's world there are many factors that promote the production and publication of Bible translations. Theological, literary, social, even fiscal forces have come to play their role in this phenomenon, which is as old as the Septuagint and as new as the latest version. For Jews, the questions that arise are ancient and perennial, modern and immediate: What is it that makes a Bible translation Jewish? Should a Jewish translation ever supplant, rather than supplement, the Hebrew original? Who, if anyone, should determine which mode of translation, or presentation, or annotation is best? Do differing versions serve to divide Jews, and, if so, should there be one unifying version? In the past, diverse responses have met such queries, giving rise to present circumstances. For the future, even greater diversity is likely. Nonetheless, it is possible to be optimistic that Jewish Bible translators will remain true to their task of finding and perfecting distinctive ways to link their communities with the sacred text of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.


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