25 October, 2011

Translating creation

Filed under: Divrei Torah,Hebrew,Siddur,Tanakh by Joel @ 11:18 pm, 25 October 2011.

A dvar torah, given at Or Chadash, Parashat Bereshit, 22/10/2011.

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

This line is so familiar and iconic, that you probably didn’t even notice when your own chumash said something else entirely. If you’re using the Hertz chumash, you’re excused; that’s precisely how it begins. Whereas:-

Artscroll says:

In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth – when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep…

NJPS says:

When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep…

They both understand the opening verse in agreement with Rashi and Ibn Ezra, who both contend that here the word בראשית means “the beginning of”, not just “the beginning”. Still, these medieval commentators were potentially influenced by the science of their day, and certainly by the vowels on the Torah text, which were first written down only a few centuries before them. (Had the Masoretic scribes written בָראשית, the reading “In the beginning, God created…” would be clear. Instead, the Masoretic vowels seem to indicate “in the beginning of” or “in a beginning”, as the LXX translates.) Yet, it makes sense that the translation בראשית ברא אלהים is introducing the Bible’s whole first chapter, which concludes with ויכולו השמים והארץ (“the heaven and the earth were finished”).

We already see from this that a good translation takes account of fiddly grammar, textual context, and cultural context. Seeing as none of us are native speakers of Biblical Hebrew, translations are a very important part of how we understand the bible, among other essential Jewish texts.

Warning: Under-edited speeches ahead

Filed under: Divrei Torah by Joel @ 11:00 pm, 25 October 2011.

For some time, over this blog’s long period of silence, I’ve intended to publish the few divrei torah (Synagogue sermons) I have given at Or Chadash. Having resolved to finally do so, I’ve realised that the fear of having to edit them is what stops me copy-pasting them.

Being speeches, they were only really designed to be read by me, with plenty of gesticulation if not performance; they’re short on citation and footnoting that I might put in a written work; they’re likely to have inconsistencies like presenting Hebrew terms alternately in Hebrew and in transliteration; and when I’m unsure whether the message was clear, I often expand my words as I read them. This is exacerbated by the fact that I often write these divrei torah in a rush, and I generally present them on days when I can’t put any last-minute changes in writing.

Despite all these faults, I don’t have time to properly edit the talks, or they’ll never get posted.

So I hope you enjoy my words, but take them with some salt.

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