Monday, November 3, 2014

The Inadequacy of English Translation

The Torah is a document written in the Hebrew language and while there are a number of excellent translations and commentaries of the Torah written in the English language they all nonetheless fall short of capturing the essence of the Hebrew itself. Hebrew is a deep and very dynamic language that fundamentally differs from the English language. For example, all Hebrew words are built upon root words that have a three-letter construct. Hebrew elaborates upon these root words with suffixes, prefixes and vowels which turn these root words into nouns, verbs, etc. However, no matter how deeply these root words become concealed, they continue to maintain their original meaning.
For example, michtav means letter, katban is a scribe, ketubah is a marriage contract and kotevet means to write.
Another way in which this operates is to understand that in the Hebrew language there are molds that allow the reader to understand a words contextual meaning. A katban is a scribe, rakdan is a dancer, shadchan is a matchmaker, and dayan is a judge. The similarities between these words lead the reader/ listener to understand that these are all professions.
Those who do not possess even an elementary understanding of Hebrew are at a loss when it comes to acquiring a true sense of the Torah's essential meaning. The Hebrew language which comprises the Torah is like a code and unless one understands the code then they cannot perceive the message.  The first chapter of the Bible beginning with the word b'reishit has an almost Finnegan's Wake feel to it in the Hebrew because it consists of archetypes that are redolent with meaning.
The first verse of B'reishit (Genesis) is commonly translated as, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." However, this translation is an impossibility from the Hebrew text. Further, this statement is also unintelligible- a "beginning" of time and space is as unthinkable as their non-beginning. The Hebrew narrative does not have a "hey" as a prefix to the word reishit and thus there is no "the beginning" possible in the text and those who have translated the verse thus into the English language have not even attempted to be true to the original Hebrew narrative. If translators have failed to correctly translate the second word of the Bible then what hope does that provide that the rest of the English Bibles are any better?
Another example of Hebrew differences from the English texts is in the first chapter of Genesis wherein the phrase "God said..." repeatedly occurs. There is no such word or equivalent of the word "God" in the Hebrew narrative. The Hebrew phrase is "v'yomer Elohim…" and read according to its letters presents an idea of cosmic energy evolving into the human psyche or the psyche of existence. Read according to its letters the text is impossible to accurately translate into English. Elohim represent a process whereby Aleph becomes Yod in evolutionary existence and the term yomer (yod, aleph, mem, reish) is the process of emanation of both Yod and Aleph in a state of existence and life. How do you adequately translate this into English?
The Bible is a lot deeper and richer in its Hebrew context than what an English translation could ever adequately capture. This is not to make an assertion that a study of the Bible in English has no merit rather it’s a statement of a simple fact and an encouragement for those who are serious concerning obtaining a proper understanding of the Scriptures to begin developing some competency of Hebrew language and idiom. Your Bible study will become infinitely deeper and more meaningful. Don't ever think that your studies of the Scriptures have brought you to a mastery of the texts and their meanings. One who thinks this hasn't truly understood anything.