J-Vault: How to Translate the Bible

Since Jews worldwide are beginning a new cycle of Daf Yomi (one page per day Talmud study), BJPA will be dedicating our August Reader's Guide to the topic of Jewish Text. (Watch your email for our newsletter later in the month.) Meanwhile, as a preview, this installment of the J-Vault features an explanation of a major achievement in American Jewish text: the 1917 JPS Bible.

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From the J-Vault: The New English Translation of the Bible (1918)

This article in the 1918 American Jewish Year Book, based on the preface to the JPS Bible released the previous year, explains the project's origins, process and results--all in quite a bit of detail. Excerpts:

With the Jews the need of a new translation is twofold. We, too, are naturally eager to have a translation based upon the most recent results of scientific research. At the same time it is our ardent desire that our translation should be prepared by representative scholars of the Jewish faith. All the various Christian denominations, Catholics, Protestants, and so forth, have issued translations of their own, and the Jewish people that produced the prophets, psalmists, and historical writers is certainly entitled to lay before the world its interpretation of the Sacred Book. It is unreasonable to expect that the Jew should allow other denominations to prepare for him the book for his religious needs. Moreover, there are technical difficulties which make it inconvenient for a Jew to use the English versions in his synagogue. The order of the biblical books according to Jewish tradition differs greatly from that adopted by the Church...


The Jewish Publication Society of America almost at the very outset of its career conceived the plan of the new English translation of the Bible. At its second biennial convention, held on June 5, 1892, the following statement was made: "We look forward to the time when the Society shall furnish a new and popular English rendition of the book which the Jews have given to the world, the Bible, that shall be the work of American Jewish scholars."...

Professor [Max L.] Margolis devoted himself entirely to the work, and prepared a manuscript draft of the new translation, taking into account the existing English versions, the standard commentaries, ancient and modern, the translations already made for the Jewish Publication Society of America, the divergent renderings from the Revised Version prepared for the Jews of England, the marginal notes of the Revised Version, and the changes of the American Revisers. Due weight was given to the ancient versions as establishing a tradition of interpretation, notably the Septuagint and the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, the Targums, the Peshitta, the Vulgate, and the Arabic version of Saadya. Talmudic and midrashic allusions and all available Jewish commentators, both the great mediaeval authorities, like Rashi, Kimhi, and Ibn Ezra, and the moderns, S. D. Luzzatto, Malbim, and Ehrlich, as well as all the important non-Jewish commentators, were consulted. A copy of the manuscript was sent in advance to the members of the Board of Editors in order to give them ample time to consider the merits of every improvement proposed by the Editor-in-Chief and to enable them to make new suggestions not included in the draft. Sixteen meetings, each lasting ten days or more, covering a period of seven years (1908-1915), were held, at which the proposals in this manuscript and many additional suggestions by the members of the Board were considered. Each point was thoroughly discussed, and the view of the majority was incorporated into the manuscript. When the Board was evenly divided, the Chairman cast the deciding vote...

Before being sent to the printer the manuscript was once more examined in order to harmonize, as far as possible, the various suggestions made in the course of seven years. The first proof of the entire work was sent to each member of the Board for revision. The various corrections and suggestions made by the Editors were tabulated, and those which were supported by a majority or by a general rule of the Board were immediately inserted in the proof. There remained about three hundred cases for which the Editor-in-Chief and Chairman did not think it advisable to assume responsibility, and these were referred to the Board for discussion at the final meeting, the seventeenth, which took place in the autumn of 1915...

The new translation is the first for which a group of men representative of Jewish learning among English-speaking Jews assume joint responsibility, all previous efforts in the English language having been the work of individual translators. It has a character of its own. It aims to combine the spirit of Jewish tradition with the results of biblical scholarship, ancient, mediaeval, and modern. It gives to the Jewish world a translation of the Scriptures done by men imbued with the Jewish consciousness, while the non-Jewish world, it is hoped, will welcome a translation that presents many passages from the Jewish traditional point of view...

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‘Real Housewives’ Get Biblical

Real Housewives of the Bible

Gucci, Prada, Fendi,…and Rivkah? Bravo’s Real Housewives may have competition from some wholesome, bible-abiding counterparts. Think less acrylic nail cat-fights, and more palms pressed in prayer.

Ty Adams, evangelical author and CEO of Heaven Enterprises, has produced a straight-to-DVD series, ‘Real Housewives of the Bible’, following six women as they face the trials and tribulations of becoming a good wife.

“Housewives” featured include Sarah, who famously struggled with infertility, and Delilah, who used the age-old tool of seduction to trick Samson.  

While Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ are hardly credible role models (but fabulous for a TiVo guilty pleasure), can we expect women of the Bible to provide any less drama or examples of bad behavior?

Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah are golden examples of righteous women. But let’s be serious. Even just a preliminary rundown of Bible 101 includes Eve, Jezebel, and Lot’s daughters. If the ‘Real Housewives of the Bible’ ever want to make it prime time, they’ll need to show the good with the bad. (See Janet Rosenberg's take on Jewish women of the Bible.) Here’s hoping for an appearance of Athaliah.


Tishah B'Av 5771


(Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Francesco Hayez)

For Tishah B'Av today, excerpts from "Temple and Synagogue" by Rabbi Neil GIllman, from Sh'ma in June 2007:

The Bible knows two models of sacred space. On one model, what may be called “intrinsic sacred space,” God chooses one point on earth to reveal God’s presence. That point becomes axis mundi, the center of the world, around which the rest of the world is structured in descending levels of sanctity. The
source for this model is... the binding of Isaac. Abraham is dispatched to “the land of Moriah,” to offer Isaac as a sacrifice “on one of the heights which I
[God] will point out to you.” Subsequently, in II Chronicles 3:2, Moriah becomes the spot on which Solomon builds the Temple...

...The second model may be called “extrinsic sacred space.” Here, any spot on earth can become the center of the world. In the Bible, this model is illustrated by the Israelite encampment during the desert wanderings. The camp could be located at any place in the wilderness, but wherever it stood, the sanctuary was at its center...

...The Temple, intrinsic sacred space, could only be in Jerusalem. But the synagogue could be wherever a minyan of Jews with their Torah scroll chose to settle. God sanctifies intrinsic sacred space; the community sanctifies extrinsic sacred space.

Jeremiah 29 contains the text of a letter sent by Jeremiah to the community of exiles in Babylonia. It is an extraordinary document. In it, God counsels the exiles to “build houses and live in them, plant fields and eat their fruit, take wives and beget sons and daughters; . . . multiply there. And seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper.” Then, “When you call Me and
come and pray to Me, I will give heed to you. You will search for Me and find Me. I will be at hand for you and I will restore your fortunes. And I will gather you from all the nations, and I will bring you back to the place from which I have exiled you.”

This letter... affirms the religious legitimacy of extrinsic sacred space. Its theological basis is a statement about God. God’s power is not bounded by geography... One of the traditional names for God is HaMakom, literally “The Place.” But according to the rabbinic understanding of that name, God is “the place” of the world, not the other way around. God does not inhabit space. The exiled community can flourish but it cannot have a Temple; that is reserved for Jerusalem. But it can still worship God without a Temple, without sacrifices, through the words of prayer. “Instead of bulls, we will pay [with] the offerings of our lips.” (Hosea 6:3)

This pattern goes a long way toward explaining the ambiguities of our relationship to Israel, both land and state. For centuries, we prayed and dreamed of a return to Zion and the rebuilding of the Temple; we worship facing Jerusalem; we conclude Yom Kippur and our Passover sedarim with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Yet we remain here. Ironically, it is precisely our religious structures that make it possible for us to live an authentic Jewish religious life anywhere on earth. We carry our religion on our backs. Halakhah enables us to worship God at every moment of our lives, wherever we may be...


Jewish Text for Shavuot

Wheat harvest

Tonight begins the holiday of Shavuot, an agricultural festival which also commemorates the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

In honor of this celebration of the Jewish Urtext, why not browse our holdings of over 800 publications on the topic of Jewish Text?

Chag Shavuot sameach!

Mount Sinai