Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Lost in Translation

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

…Reuven went and… (Bereshith 35:22)

When Rachel died, Yaakov moved his personal effects from Rachel’s tent to that of Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah. Reuven considered this a terrible slight to his mother Leah, and moved Yaakov’s bed to Leah’s tent.1 Since interfering with his father’s private matters was a very serious offense, the Torah implies that Reuven’s transgression was much graver than that which he actually committed.2

In earlier generations it was customary to read the Aramaic translation of the Torah’s verses publicly following the recitation of the Hebrew verses, however the translation of this verse was not to be read to the congregation after the reading of the Hebrew verse.3 The Aramaic translation did not present the deeper Midrashic explanations of the verse. Rather its intention was to enable those who were untutored in the Hebrew language to understand the literal meaning of each verse. Since a translation of the above verse cannot encapsulate its real meaning, it would leave the listener with the mistaken impression that Reuven committed an immoral act. The Sages chose to leave this verse untranslated, rather than to allow a negative presentation of Reuven’s reputation.

Nowadays, in most congregations reading the Aramaic translation of the Torah’s verses is no longer common practice. Nevertheless, since the custom of reading the translation was initially enacted so that people could understand the public Torah readings, it seems logical that we should adopt a similar practice in synagogues today, reading a translation of the Torah’s verses in the language of the country. However, the only reason that the Sages permitted a public reading of the Aramaic translation was because God gave it directly to Moses (and Onkelos eventually established its proper text for later generations). Any other translation is bound to contain inaccuracies – which would render it false; and it is improper to read anything publicly in a synagogue that contains elements that are false.4

The Torah’s books are unique among all forms of literature, for every word can be interpreted in many different ways, all of which are accurate and true. The Vilna Gaon said that he was able to expound a hundred and fifty explanations on a single verse in Shir HaShirim.5 Such incredible depth of meaning is lost entirely when Torah is translated into other languages.

1 Rashi on Bereshith 35:22.
2 Shabboth 55a.
3 Megillah 25a.
4 Response of the Chatham Sofer 6:86.
5 Introduction to Pa’ath HaShulchan, written by Rav Yisrael Mishklow, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon.


Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org


 
Sell Chometz Online







ARTICLES ON KEDOSHIM AND THE OMER:

View Complete List

Love Your Neighbor
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5759

Holy Nation
Rabbi Label Lam - 5771

Everyday Holiness
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5766

ArtScroll

Unspoken Words
Rabbi Label Lam - 5760

State of the Union
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5766

For I am Holy
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5759

> Who Has To Honor Whom?
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5773

From the Inside Out
Rabbi Dovid Green - 5761

There's Holy, and There's Holy
Shlomo Katz - 5760

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Don't Take it to Heart
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5760

Everybody's a Dreamer – Everybody's a Star
Jon Erlbaum - 0

Faith Healer
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5770

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Burden of Reproof
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky - 5757

The Senior Partner
Rabbi Raymond Beyda - 5767

Beyond Common (In)Cense
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5758

Stamped a Sinner
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5757



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information