Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials may be under copyright. If you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact the Bentley Historical Library at bentley.ref@umich.edu

March 22, 1963 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1963-03-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Purely Cornmentary

Bible Translations,
Revisions, Charges
Involving 'Heresies'

By Philip

Says Moses of the Torah,.
Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you
For a time, the debate over the acceptability of the revised
this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond
translation of the Torah, which came off the press a few weeks
reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say,
ago and was made available to the public by the sponsor of the
"Who among us can go up .to the heavens and get it
revision, the JeWish Publication Society of America, waxed hot.:
us and. impart it to us, that we may observe it?"
Arguments seem to have cooled -off. Yet,• there persists - the
Neither is it beyond the sea; that you should say,
•charge that • the Third Commandment has been tampered with.
"Who among us can cross to the other side of the
While it is inconceivable that eminent scholars, among them
-sea and get it for'us and impart it to us, that we may
very pious Jews.; who were members of the committee of trans-
observe it?" No, the thing is very close to you, in your
lators, could possibly be guilty of such an offense, it would be
mouth and in your heart, to observe it.
well to make a comparison of translations so that -.judgthents
•Dr. Greenberg, in his thorough examination of the new JPS
may not be rash. Let's compare the .1917 and 1963 versions of ;
translation, had this to say, in part, in the Hadassah Magazine
the Third Commandment, both from the JPS Bibles: .

Was the Third Commandment Tampered With?

1917 text _
Thou shalt not take the
name of the Lord thy God
.i4 vain; for the Lord will
not hold him guiltless that
taketh His name in vain.

1963 text
You. shall not" swear
falsely by the came of Me
Lord your God; for the
Lord will not clear one
who swears falsely by his

The work is permeated with iriSight into the nuances of Hebrew words
that been regularly obliterated by wooden literalism. Compare the
renderings of the 'before" phrase in the following.: Genesis 10:9, 0:IPS: "Like
Nimrod, a /nighty hunter before the I,ord"; NJPS: ". . a mighty hunter by
the grace of the Lord"; Geesis 17:15, OJPS: "And Abraham said unto God:
.0b that Ishmael might live before 'Thee!' " NJPS: ". .. might lave by Your
favor." Thai the verb yatsa ("go out") has The technical sense "go free" is
recognized, for example, in Exodus - 21:7: a female slave "shall not be freed
as male slaves are" (OJPS: "shall not go Out as the' men-servants do"), 'or,
in another form, in Exodus 12:51: "the Lord freed the Israelites from the
land of Egypt" (OJPS: ". . . did bring the children of Israel out . ..")..


Parents Seek
Resumption of
School Prayer

NEW YORK (jTA)—A suit
was on file in Brooklyn Fed-
eral Court from .15 parents seek-
ing to compel resumption of the
voluntary offering of prayers in
kindergarten classes in a
Queens public school.
The prayers were stopped
Oct. .5 in Public School 184 in
Whitestone in conformance with
the June decision of the U.S.
Supreme Court outlawing a Re-
gents prayer for public schools
in New York State. Etihu Or-
shinsky, principal of the school,
ordered the halt in the kinder-
garten prayers.
The suit was brought on be-
half of two Jewish, six Protest-
ant and seven Catholic parents,
representing 21 children in the
classes. It was filed against the
principal, the City Board of
Education and the trustees of
the University of the State of
New York. The suit claimed
denial of freedom of religion.
Until the principal ordered
the ban, the suit said, the
children said this prayer be-
fore eating milk and cookies
in the morning session: "God
is great, God is good, and we
thank Him for our food;
Amen." During the afternoon
s e s s i o n, the kindergarten
children prayed: "Thank you
for the world so sweet, •thank
you for the food we eat, thank
you for the birds that sing,
thank you, God, for every-
The suit charged that "the
prohibition by the defendants
of prayers voluntarily offered
by the infant plaintiff violates
the prohibition against laws
prohibiting the free exercise of
religion, and the prohibition
against laws abridging the free-
dom of speech contained in the
first amendment of the Consti-

Readers of the Hebrew Bible have usually agreed; now modern
Is -there 'distortion in the revised translation? Is it possible, English readers may come to -know why.

as a revered Orthodox Detroit leader wrote to us, that a totally
Neither Prof. H. L. GinSberg, nor Dr.- Harry Orlinsky, nor
new meaning has been given to the Third Commandment; that, •Dr. Moshe Greenberg, nor any other member of th•e committee
as he wrote: "Jewish law has always prohibited the needless of translators would have, if he could, either desired to tamper
uttering of G-d's sacred name, deriving this : prohibit= from with tradition, or to abuse a privilege by altering the meaning of
the Third Commandment; but the new translation blithely does • a Commandment. Them undoubtedly are some faults in the new
away with this prohibition, and with the unania'onous` opinion translation—but faults in this instance relate more to differences
of the Rabbis who passed it down to us through several thousand : of •opinion in resorting to English terms than to errors. When
accusations are made that the translators were sacrilegious, the
Where does the revised translation • "needlessly utter the charge is both ludicrous and utterly unwise.
sacred name" - any more than the accepted translation that had
been in use since 1917 in the first translation that was made Once Again—the Charge of Heresy
under the JPS sponsorship?
Once again, however, spokesmen for the Agudath
Is it possible, as we had asked some time back, when the
bonim have issued an edict, this time in the form of .a resolution
controversy first arose, that a translation by a Christian is ac- adopted at the Orthodox Rabbis' convention, :declaring that the
ceptable and a substitute one by Jews is rejectable—because the new English translation :of the Pentateuch published by the
latter stem from the Conservative and Reform rabbis?
Jewish Publication Society of America, "has the status of books
The scholars who are responsible for the new translation of heresy which one is.abt allowed to read, nor to propagate."
Calling the new translation "a false" one and "a misrepre;
resorted to the RaMBaM •(Maim•onides)., Rashi, the Talmud,.
the Ta-rguirn and all the traditional sources. Why look for faults sentation .of the Torah," the Orthodox Rabbis charge that the new
when a translation has become available that will be more easily F_aiglish version is "contrary to the interpretation of Torah
Sheb'al Pei (oral Talmudic law)"; that: "without 'Torah Sheb'al
understandable, more suitable to the needs of our youth?
One of the most distinguished young scholars of our time, Peh one cannot know or understand the meaning of Torah
Dr. Moshe Greenberg, in an evaluation of the new translation Shebiksav (the written law). Both Torah Shebiksav and Torah
written for the Hadassah monthly magazine, made these observa- Sheb'al .Peh emanate from the same source., i. e.. from Heaven."
At no time, however, have these revered rabbis rejected
tions about the new JPS English version of the Torah (NJPS re- .
• ommentaries—the explanatory writings of the RaMBaM (Mai-
fers to the new JPS translation and OJPS to the old):-
The translation is provided with notes, exceeding in monides), Bashi and scores of other scholars, and all commenta-
quality and quantity anything available in Other :similar • tors have played.with words, rationalized, recognized changes in
works. These 'offer alternative renderings, -interpretative •the life of our own people and the peoples of the world, ,and by
comments,•cross references, ancient variants of the Hebrew •recognizing change merely added to the interpretations of both
text, and, on rare occasions when the translators are..;:eono th Oral andWritteri laws but never really changed them.
The new translation of the Torah is not a change in the
vinced that the current text is faulty, a. conjectured Coro
rection. Where the text is uncertain -or Obscure; the 'regular :Torah-but-a' thaage in the English version of the Torah, and to
practice is to wrest some fitting . meaning from . it by speak, therefore, of •falsification and misinterpmtation tends to
appending a candid note, "Ilea obscure," or the like„ The - icOnfose rather than to enlighten. :
While confusing', our revered Orthodox leaders are holding JWVA Establishes .
notes thus permit the reader to enter into the mind of the •
. translators, and — especially important — to realize the up eminent scholars to ridicule and are accusing them of heresy.
extent to whioh the Torah text remains enigmatic even to This is even more puzzling, since there. is, traditionally, so much Humanities Award
tolerance towards differing 'opinions in Jewish lore.
our best scholars.
Indeed, times 'change and .opinions change, and there have • at West Point
What is the relation of the new translation to tradi-
tional Bible interpretation? To begin with, certain .crucial! .been many - controversies - in Jewish life that occasioned resort
An award named after a Jew-
but vague terms are ammtated with .a reference to 'Talmu to the-charge of heresy. 'The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia's
Military Hero will be pre-
dic interpretation (p. 227 hadar tree: p. 366 roamer-)..
sented annually to a graduating
Certain departures from familiar renderings are sup- "Jews Who Were Accused of Heresy:"
"Elisha ben Abuyh (Amer) was considered a heretic.
Cadet of the U.S. West Point,
ported by citing medieval Jewish commentators; for
Maimonides regards as a heretic one who rejects any of . U.S. Air Force, U.S. Annapolis
example: "Hear, 0 Israeli The Lord is our God, the Lord.
the thirteen articles as a heretic by -Nahmanides. Levi ben
alone (note: Cf. Ibn Ezra and --Rashbam . . .) -(Deuterno-
and .U.S. Coast Guard Acade-
Gerson was called a heretic because he held that matter was
nomy 6:4)." Some renderings are closer to tradition than
who excels in the area
those of the 0.1PS; the forbidden relationahip. of Levi-
studies of Humanities.
risively interpreted as "The Wars Against God. Joseph Caspi
ticus 18:17, according to Talmudic law, is with "your
and •Issac Albalag were called atheists because of_ their bold
wife's daughter," (NJPS) not,. as in the OJPS; "a woman
The superintendent and 'the
interpretation • of Maimonides' ''Gruide to the Perplexed.'
and her daughter." The fact is, however, that the trans-
awards committee at the U.S.
lators—among whom are the three outstanding American
'West Point Academy approved
del Biassi was an infidel- Elijah Levita was accused of_ heresy
. Jewish Bible scholars and .Semitists—have retained
for maintaining that the vowel signs to Hebrew were post-
the National Ladies Auxiliary
throughout their independence of Scholarly judgment.
Biblical. in 1588 Italian rabbis denounced the study of the
Such. agreements as these with tradition result • from the
Jewish War Veterans annual
`Zoh'ar' as heresy. Uriel Acosta and Baruch Spinoza were
exercise of that judgment, not from a predetermined
presentation of a set of books
placed under the ban for their teachings. Elijah Vilna
submission to tradition's mandate. -
for "The Humanities" to be

What must be realized, however, is that -Jewish
given in - honor of Benjamin
Kiochmal and Solomon Judah Lob Rapoport were -declared
tradition lays down no rules for the interpretation of
Kaufman •of Trenton, N. J.,
heretics because of their researches. Aaron Chorin was
the plain sense of Scripture. Rabbinic Judaism makes
World War I hero, holder - of
called Alter, a pun - formed from the initials of 'his name,
mandatory certain norms of moral, and religious conduct,
t he Congressional Medal of •
heeauae of his radical • views."
and, in a far more problematic - way, certain articles of
Honor.. His right arm shattered
faith. But how to understand the plain sense of the
and his rifle empty, Sgt. Kauf-
Bible was never defined: because the plain sense was never gion, in the latter at times applying to the most pious and most man charged a German machine
in itself authoritative in historical Judaism. Authority devout, often causes the invoking of the charge of heresy.
John . Milton (1608-1674), in his ."Areopagitica," gave this gun nest in the battle of. the
. rested in the "oral tradition," the rabbinic interpretation
Argonne Forest, France, on Oct.
and application of the Torah. and that—as was frankly definition for heresy: "A man may be a heretic in the truth; 4, 1918. Single-handedly, - he
admitted—might even go contrary to the plain sense of and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the took one prisoner and scattered
assembly so •determines, 'without knowing other reason, though
the text.
the crew. This and other heroic
The existence of the "oral tradition". as the authority his belief be. true, Yet - the very truth he holds 'becomes 'his 1 deeds earned him the highest
in Judaism has given Jews an unparalled freedom in inter- heresy."
Perhaps 'tis heresy 'even to quote this, and already having decorations from nine allied
preting the plain sense of the text. No one can read a
page of a traditional rabbinic Bible, with its array of run that risk, .let. us quote another definition, one given by
The United States Air Force
medieval commentators each going his own way—later
scholars freely criticizing and 'contradicting their pre- approve a private ophition .Ball it opinion; but they that mislike Academy also accepted an an-
decessors—without becoming convinced of this elementary -it, heresy.: and yet heresy signifies no more than private opinion." • nual award sponsored by the
Of course, the Orthodox Rabbis' accusations do not provide National JWV Ladies Auxiliary
truth; so long as he did not challenge rabbinic authority
in prescribing the actual practice of Judaism, the tradio a time for punniag. Our contention is that, as in the instances —a silver bowl suitably in-
tional Jewish •commentator has always been free to state • of numerous similar experiences., there is bitterness over the scribed—in memory of the late
new translation and there are rash charges of heresy, falsifica- M/ Sgt. Meyer Levi n, Bom-
the truth of the plain sense of the Bible as he saw it.
In the ages-long line of independent Jewish commen- tion, etc. But time will surely heal. these wounds and an under- bardier of the Flying Fortress
tary to Scripture, and in the far smaller company - of - inde- standing people will honor tradition and will respect difference piloted by . Capt. Colin Kelly
pendent Jewish translations of the Bible into the vernacu- of opinion in translations—as long as the Torah in its sanctity, that knocked out the Japanese
lar, this work takes rightful place of honor. Like any in its original text, is not tampered with. We are convinced that Battleship Haruna. His last
human effort it is not without faults—the manly indepen- there has been no tampering , with 'Sacred lore, that the great volunteer mission was executed
dence with which it proceeds necessarily entails the risk scholars who have provided ;us with a readable and more easily after he received his orders
of error. But it has done more to make the reading of understandable English translation of the Torah are as • pious to return home, and it was then
Scripture esthetically gratifying. intellectually respectable, and as respectful of Jewish lore as we are, and we believe, as that M/Sgt. Levin met his death
and therefore spiritually uplifting than any other work we hope, that the ill feelings in evidence at this time will vanish in his blazing plane. He died
at the age of 25 in 1943.
with timP.

Back to Top

© 2021 Regents of the University of Michigan