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February 08, 1963 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1963-02-08

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Purely Commentary

Translations and Originals — Sanctity of Scriptures

Tempest Over Torah .
Translations . . . Talk of
Heresy . . Septuagint

By Philip
S ► omovitz

since taken up again by Prime Minister Ben Gurion and widely

Wasn't it Hayyim Nahman Bialik, one of the greatest poets
of our time, the eminent Hebraist, who said that any translation
from the Hebrew is as inadequate as kissing a pretty girl through
a veil?
There are many works, translations of which are difficult. It
has been recognized, for example, that Sholem Aleichem is
difficult to render into English, and it took a literary genius like
Maurice Samuel, in his prize-winning "The World of Sholem Alei-
chem," to offer a commentary on the great Yiddish humorist
that made him understandable to English readers. •
That is why Dr. Leo Baeck, in "The Pharisees," wrote: "All
translation is commentary."
Which accounts for the confusion that is being created over
the revised translation of the Five Books of Moses that has just
been issued by the Jewish Publication Society of America.
Christians, too, have recently revised translations of their
Biblical books, both the Old and New Testaments, and from their
ranks, also, have come many criticisms of the results. It is be-
cause it is so oppressive for people to accept new terms and it
is so easy to confuse meanings and to assume that sacred writings
are being defiled by translators.
One of the Christian fundamentalist objections to the new
Protestant version, for example is the proper translation of the
Hebrew word almah in Isaiah as a young woman and the aban-
onment of the mistranslation as virgin.
It is no wonder, therefore, that there should be disturbed
feelings in some quarters over new terms resorted to and in-
evitable interpretations that become unacceptable to the critics.

The deplorable factor about the criticisms of the Torah
edition as produced by the JPS is that the critics do not admit
that the original has not been, can not be and never will be
tampered with. The sacred text remains intact. Only the trans-
lation is altered to eliminate the archaic, to make the Holy
Writings more easily readable, esnecially by the younger gen-
eration. If -only the critics would take into consideration the
statement by Moses Mendelsohn in "Or LiNethiba" (1'783):
"The best translation cannot fully convey the exact meaning."
If, therefore, a translation can come closest to the exact mean-
ing, much good can be attained. And if a good translation can
encourage resorting to the original Hebrew, all the better.

Israel Feature Service of Jerusalem, in collaboration with the
Department of Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, re-
cently released an article by Arye Oschry entiled "Another Sad
Anniversary," stating as follows in reference to the Septuagint:

Besides the 10th day of revet (falling this year on Jan. 6)
which commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem,
there is another anniversary mentioned in the Talmud as oc-
curring in this month. This was the day when the Greek trans-
lation of the Bible came out, considered by the ancient Rabbis
a day as„sid for our people as the one on which the golden
calf was made; Ptoiemy H of Egypt (285-247 B.C.E..),..whose
dominion extended -oVer Judea, was a patron of culture. He
wished to add .a translation of the Torah to his well-stocked
library. in Alexandria, and, .aceordingly, 72 elders.of the Jewks,h
community were dispatched to Egypt where they were confined
in separate rooms and ordered to prepare a translation of the
Pentateuch. When the finished versions were compared, our
rabbis relate, they agreed in every detail. Since '72 scholars
participated in the work, the translation was called the Septuagint
(Seventy) translation, a name by .which it is known to this day.
At first sight it may seem strange that the Septaugint should
have been regarded by our rabbis so unfavorably. After all it
was not the first occasion on which the Bible was rendered into
a foreign tongue. Tradition records the practice of a "Metnrge-
man" giving an Aramaic rendering of each verse - of the weekly
Sidra as it was read out in the synagogue, and assigns . the be-
ginning of this practice to the time of Ezra when Hebrew was no-
longer the vernacular. The custom has survived to this day and
is followed in some of the Oriental ',communities.
The Greek translation, however, was Unique in that it firSt
brought the Western- world in touch with the wisdom of the Jews. .
Knowledge of the Bible spread to the Hellenistic world and from
there gradually to all of the corners of the globe.
Our rabbis were, however, clearly aware of the difficulties
attending upon translation. It is impossible to convey the exact
sense of an expression of one language in the words of a sec-
ond; misrepresentations and distortions must occur no matter
how proficient the translator. The Rabbis teach us this by a
striking example: "The one who translates a verse in its literal
sense is a falsifier; while the one who adds to it is a blasphe-
mer." To translate the verse in Exodus 10, as "they saw the
God of Israel", is obviously false, since no one can see God; to
say "they saw the angels of God" is to "give the servant the
honor due to the Master".
In recent times translations of the Bible have been used to
attack Jewish tradition from another direction. The discrepancies
between some ancient translations and our Massoretic text are
said by some "scholars" to be due to the fact that the trans-
lators used different texts from our own, and that the trans;
lators' version was authentic, while the Massoretic text had
been corrupted by copyists.
A formidable champion of Jewish tradition arose in the
person of the late Dr. Chaim Heller, a man of phenomenal
mental powers. The late Jabotisnky said of him that had he lived
in the Middle Ages, he would have been put to death as a
sorcerer, for the naive people of those days would have con-
sidered such mental powers impossible unless one communicated
with the devil.
He mastered the entire Talmudic and Rabbinic literature,
and every extant ancient version of the Bible. He published a
critical edition of the Peshitta (the Syriac) in Hebrew characters,
and wrote extensively on the Septatigint, the Samaritan Penta- .
teach, the Targumim, etc. He was able to demonstrate conclu-
sively that the scholars who purported to find variant readings in
the ancient translations had erred. Their misunderstanding was
due firstly to their ignorance of rabbinic literature, and.secondly
to their confining their attention to one book of the Bible at a
Many Biblical scholars have been profoundly impressed by
Rabbi Heller's theories. The present writer once heard Dr. Heller
relate that when he met Dr. Simon Bernfeld, a Bible critic who
was the first to claim that six hundred families and not six
hundred thousand Israelites had departed from Egypt (a theory

disproved), Bernfeld wept and asserted that had he met Rabbi
Heller earlier in his life, he would never have written as he had
done. Regrettably the belief in the "corruption" of the Massoretic
text still holds sway and the gloomy forebodings of our sages
regarding the Greek rendering of the Torah appear to have
been fully justified.
We quote the major portion of this article in full in view of
the manner in which so many people have become upset over
the newest revised translation. The actual reference to the
Septuagint in Talmud: Sefer Torah reads: "Seventy elders wrote

the whole Torah in Greek for King Ptolemy, and that day was
as ominous for Israel as the day on which Israel made the golden
calf, for the Torah cannot be translated adequately."

Therefore, the criticism is not of the form translations take
but of translations themselves. And if "Torah cannot be trans-
lated adequately," then there should be no translations at all.
But there are now new and accepted approaches which
recognize the vital need for translations.
Judah Al-Harizi, the 13th century Spanish Hebrew poet, in
a preface to his translation of Maimonides, "Commentary to
Zeraim," wrote:

'"A translator must know three things: the genius of the

language from which he translates, the genius of the language

to which he translates, and the subject matter."

When, therefore, Dr. Chaim Heller spoke of "misunderstand-
ings," "ignorance of rabbinic literature" and other faults, he
could not possibly have referred to the eminent scholars who
collaborated in the new revised translation of the Pentateuch.
They are all men who know the language of the Bible, who know
the English into which they translated it, who are fully acquainted
with the subject matter.
Recognizing the interpretation of the anpearance of the Sep-
tuagint as a "sad anniversary" in the Talmudic viewpoint, we
must take into consideration the truth that it was better fo have
72 acknowledged Jewish scholars do the translating than to leave
it to men who might not have known either the Biblical Hebrew
of the Greek into which it was rendered or the subject matter.
And the numerous other translations that have followed—espe-
cialiy the King James version of 1611 which was rendered into
beautiful Elizabethan English—need not serve as a preferred text
to that revised by Jewish scholars, in behalf of the Jewish Publi-
cation Society, first in 1917, and now in the revised English text
done by men of great scholarly eminence.
Septuagint brought the Bible to non-Jews and to Jews who
read only Greek. There are, tragically enough, too few who can
read and understand the Bible in its original. For
• such people
it is well that the text should be in simplified language, made
understandable to all.
The tragedy in the current debate over the adequacy of the
new revised JPS translation is that the charge of heresy should
•ave been resorted to. The learned men who served as the
translators, among them men of great piety, hardly deserve it.
There is a charming comment accredited to Judah ben Ilai,
the second century, Tanna,,who. said; , "If one tranSlates a verse
literally, he is a liar; and if he adds thereto he is a blasphemer
and a libeller." To avert such blunders of being damned if one
does and damned if he does not, there should not be any trans-
lations at all.' And. when we have them, as we should and must,
they are subject _to interpretation and they open up an avenue
of saying to the readers of the Scriptures that for strict authen-
ticity that must not aspire to kiss a girl through a veil or to
benefit from Holy Texts through. translation: they must learn
the original. If success is attained thereby in encouraging study
of the Hebrew, all to the good; if that is not attained, then let
us have translations, by responsible scholars, that will give the
desired inspirations through clarity leading to understanding.

List 3 Speakers
for UJA's Parley;
Berle on Program

Milton Berle, alias "Uncle
Miltie," alias "Mr. TV," will be
featured in a four-star starring
role at the 25th national inau-
gural conference of the United
and Joseph
Jewish Appeal,
Sunday, Feb.
17, at the Fon-
Hotel, Miami
Other head-
liners in the
all-star cast in-
clu d e Israel
Avraham Har-
m a n, Senator
Kenneth B.
Keating of
Milton Berle New Yor k,
Meyerhoff, UJA general chair-
man, all of whom will launch
the 1963 campaign for $96,000,-
000 in behalf of the United
Israel Appeal-Jewish Agency,
Inc., Joint Distribution Commit-
tee, New York Association for
New Americans and United
Hias Service.
Some 1,500 community cam-
paign leaders are expected to
United Jewish Appeal Leaders
Medals, created by the State of
Israel in honor of the UJA's
25th anniversary, will be pre-
sented to chairman of commu-
nity campaigns from all parts
of the country in recognition of
their devoted service in aiding
overseas Jewry, at the confer-

Challenge Doctor
Who Says Jews
Can't Take Pain

Testimony by a University of
Wisconsin medical specialist
here that Jews .cannot take pain ,
was -challenged by Dr.. Abra-
ham Bernstein, a well-known
San Francisco specialist.
Bernstein cited the testimony
of Dr. Francis Hunimer before a
circuit court jury. Hnmmer testi-
fied that he based hiS .opinion on
32 years as a practicing physi-'
cian. In his Comment, Bernstein
said that in his 35 years of prac-
tice,. he had had patients of all
faiths, races, color and creeds.
On that basis of that experience,
Strike Averts Public Linen Washing
he added, he believed that "the
One of the deplorable developments in American life is the Jewish patient stood pain as
current series of strikes that have deprived great communities- well, if not better, than the -pa-
NeW York and Cleveland still suffering the effects—of their tient of Latin or Greek origin"
newspapers. .
and that it was "a mistake to say
But if it is true that every cloud has its silver lining then the Jew cannot stand pain."
in at least one respect the New York strike has averted the
Bernstein noted that pain is an
embarrassment of washing linen in public.
experience of the whole person
We have had the sad experience of witnessing the airing "and is highly colored by his
of internal Jewish issues in the New York Times. As soon as a emotions." He then cited the
controversy had arisen in the past. national organizations, through torture of Rabbi Akiba by the Ro-
their PR departments, immediately turned to the NY Times for mans, recalling that Rabbi Akiba
space. Think of the rancor that has been averted over the revised was burned to death "and yet he
translation of the Bible because the argument-happy space-seek- died with a smile on his face. He
ing PR men do not have the New York Times to turn to !
certainly suffered pain and tor-
As a matter of fact, publicity from national organizations, ture but not one word of com-
that used to be released in reams ! Is it because the PR men in plaint. This is not an isolated
New York don't have the NY Times?
case of Jewish heroism."
This is one of the major diseases in Jewish public life: that
The San Francisco medical
the PR crews have been thinking in terms only of the NY Times. specialist noted also that man/
A stickful of type in that great newspaper was sufficient to Jewish victims of the Nazi geno-
satisfy publicity writers, and in that process they overlooked the cide "went to the gas chambers
vital English-Jewish press throughout the land and the Yiddish singing and praising the name of
newspapers in New York. Those who look for roots of evils the Lord." He added that such
responsible for negligence in reaching the Jewish masses by Jews knew "they were going to
national organizations will find it in that aberration in the PR suffer the tortures of hell, yet
they showed true heroism."


Ben-Gurion Sees United States of Europe as Reality

(Direct JTA Teletype Wire
to The Jewish News)

PARIS—Prime Minister David
Ben-Gurion asserted Tuesday in
an interview in the Paris_ Daily
Laurore that Israel had achieved
substantial economic stability,
full employment and expansion
of • productivity but still faced
the task of integrating . "year after
year tens of thousands of im-
migrants and possibly in the near
future • hundreds of thousands."
The Prime Minister, who was
interviewed by the mass circula-
tion daily's editor, Robert Lazu-
ric, said one of the main tasks

facing his country was the nar-
rowing of the "cultural gap" be-
tween European and Oriental im-
He described Israeli-French
relations as "the very best,"
adding that he found friendship
for Israel in political and mili-
tary circles "and also on the
part of President DeGaulle,"
"whom he c a 11 e d "France's
He expressed the belief that
the western world and the Soviet
' Union were steadily drawing
closer together. He said this
was developing in response to

the growing demand by Russia's
masses for better standards of
living and to the Chinese "dan-
ger of which the Soviets were
fully aware."
Another reason, the Prime
Minister added, was European
unity. He said, "I am for a
United States of Europe and I
am convinced that this will be-

come a reality." He also ex-
pressed the view that Britain

would eventually join the Euro-
pean Economic Community which
"will become one of the strongest
elements" in world affairs.

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