Saturday, 29 October 2016

Lost, misused and abused in translation

Translations have many positive facets. They bridge between cultures, peoples and societies. They can help enlighten us, educate us and enrich us.

Unfortunately, translations, when done by the wrong entities, some of whom may carry their own selfish agenda, can lead just to the opposite. The consequences can be detrimental, cause much strife and shed rivers of blood.
One such translation is what is known as the Septuagint (תרגום השבעים), an affair that went down in Jewish history as a sad and disastrous milestone. In fact, it was considered such a calamity that Jewish rabbis designated a special mourning day to commemorate it.

It all started in the third century B.C.E. with the Greek ruler, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the king of Ptolemic Egypt. An educated man, Ptolemy wished to augment his library in Alexandria and commissioned seventy-two (six from each of the twelve tribes) scholars to translate the Torah and later the rest of the Tanach into Greek. This translation came to be known as “The Septuagint” (Seventy in Latin). The main reason for producing the translation was for the benefit of the many Jews who were scattered throughout the Greek Empire and who were beginning to lose their Hebrew language. The translation also gave many non - Jews an opportunity to have a glimpse at the Hebrew Scriptures. Apparently, a noble cause but, as you will soon learn, dear readers, a great reason for alarm.

The main concern of Jewish authorities regarding this translation or for that matter, any translation, was that it might pose danger to the Biblical message and word, the danger of being misunderstood or badly interpreted. Unfortunately for us, Jews, this has ended up being the case which in turn gave rise to much of the suffering that many of our people have endured throughout history and continue to endure until this very day.

To those of you wondering why I chose to write about this subject, let me just add that I have personal reasons for alerting my fellow Jews to the dangers that such mistranslations hold. As a teacher who lost at least one student to the unrelenting efforts of missionaries to convert Jews, I learned that the lurking spiritual thieves use such mistranslations to lure Jews into their midst. Uneducated Jews will fall an easy prey to them. Knowledge is power and a tool to ward off such efforts. The more our Jewish brethren know about their own history and the better they understand it, the less likely are they to become victims of treacherous efforts by the missionaries!

Let us move on to some examples of how our Tanach was mistranslated and the ensuing price, we Jews and Am Yisrael sustained as a result.

One example that comes to mind is the mistranslation of Leviticus 34, verse 29: "כי קרן עור פני משה" (Moshe’s skin was radiant). The Hebrew word for “radiate”קרן  , is the same as that for  “horn.” This mistaken translation is well illustrated in the famous sculpture of Moshe by Michelangelo which is displayed in Rome. One can hardly ignore the horns that were added to the gracious figure of Moshe holding the two tablets. That mistranslation not only affected Michelangelo’s creation, it was also a tool used by many anti-Semites through history to describe Jews and attributing to them monstrous traits. And who loves monsters?

Another example causing much controversy and a rift between Judaism and Christianity can be found in the Book of Isaiah Chapter 7 verse 14. There it says: “
לכן יתן אדני הוא לכם אות הנה העלמה הרה וילדת בן וקראת שמו עמנו אל” The same verse is conveniently translated as: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Luckily, the Tanach was written in Hebrew and yours truly is proficient in that language. Isaiah does NOT use the word “virgin” in that verse in Hebrew. He uses the word  (almah) עלמה “maiden,” “an unmarried woman.” The Hebrew word for virgin is בתולה (betulah). If Isaiah had indeed intended to impress upon us that he was prophesying the immaculate conception would he not have used “betulah” instead of “almah?”

“But hey,” argue my devout Christian friends, “were not all maidens during Biblical era expected to be virgins?” A valid argument indeed, one would suggest. But do not rush to any conclusions, dear friends, not yet anyway. And this, by the way, is where many innocent ignorant Jews fall in the trap set by messianics and missionaries. Unfortunately for the missionaries who enter a debate with me on this verse in Isaiah, I always have the answer.

It is then that I enlist the help of a publication called  a “ Bible Concordance,”
a verbal index to the Bible. In it, one can find references to every word that appears in the Tanach. Since my contenders suggest that “a Biblical maiden has got to be a virgin,” I looked up the references to maiden. It appears in the Tanach seven times. The first one is in Genesis 24, verse 43  where Eliezer, the servant of Avraham describes Rivkah, the future wife of Yitzchak “מג הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי נִצָּב, עַל-עֵין הַמָּיִם; וְהָיָה הָעַלְמָה, הַיֹּצֵאת לִשְׁאֹב, וְאָמַרְתִּי אֵלֶיהָ, הַשְׁקִינִי-נָא מְעַט-מַיִם מִכַּדֵּךְ.  ("See, I am standing beside this spring. If a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar") .In that same chapter verse 17, Rivkah is described as a Virgin, betulah that no man knew (and we all know what “to know” in the Biblical sense means). “טז ""וְהַנַּעֲרָ, טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד--בְּתוּלָה, וְאִישׁ לֹא יְדָעָהּ  (The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her). So here is my question to you, dear missionaries, if indeed it was so obvious that almah, a young maiden is akin to betulah in Biblical times, why was there a need to reiterate it in the case of Rivkah? Evidently, it was not as obvious as you would like your poor uneducated Jewish victims to believe!

So how did the Hebrew word almah become virgin? Remember the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanach? That is where the answer lies. In Greek, the same word Parthenos means BOTH “maiden” and “virgin.” Isn’t it natural, therefore, that to make their case for the immaculate conception, early Christianity conveniently chose the word virgin instead of the original Hebrew word for maiden?

Finally, and I have used that example of mistranslation a few times, I have an issue with those who refer to my homeland as Israel (where the S is pronounced as a Z instead of Yisrael where the S is pronounced as it should be an S.

Israel (where S sounds like Z) when written in Hebrew עיברית (Ivrit) the language of Am Yisrael, the language of our heritage, is spelled as יזרעאל  which is how we spell the valley of Jezereel in the Northern part of Eretz Yisrael. That valley is ONLY one part of our Jewish Homeland. Additionally, it also means something totally different than what our forefathers intended for our state. It means in Hebrew, “G-d will sow”. The name Yisrael which is the correct English spelling of our Home has a totally different meaning.

The name “Yisrael, first appears in the Torah, in the Book of Bresheet (AKA Genesis in its Hellenistic translation) Chapter 32 verse 29 “
לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱ-לֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל  (No longer shall your name be Yaakov, but Yisrael because you fought with G-d and people).

Dear Jewish readers, Am Yisrael and those who claim to love us, do you realize the significant message that the name
יִשְׂרָאֵל  (Yisrael, where the S is pronounced like an S as it should be!) bears? Do you grasp the message of Hope, Strength and Promise that it holds? No longer shall your name be Yaakov, which in Hebrew means to follow, to walk in the footsteps of others. We shall no longer be followers, but rather leaders. We will lead our people and those who wish to follow our holy message that we carry for humanity. We shall do it against all odds. We shall face our challengers, our haters and adversaries and we shall win! We are the People of Eternity!

Am Yisrael Chai <3


Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Hellenists among us

 The term "Hellenism" which literally means, "to speak Greek," or "make Greek," refers to ancient Greek rule and history and covers the period following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE and the rise of the Roman Empire. It ended in 31 BCE.

 To many, "Hellenism" denotes ancient Greek Culture and is mostly perceived as that period in history where Greek language, Culture, Literature, Art, Architecture, Science, Philosophy and Erudition prevailed. 

The Hellenistic period had deep influence on the Eastern Mediterranean area, which was under Greek rule for a long time. That, unfortunately, also included Eretz Yisrael.

I say, "unfortunately," because in many spheres, this cultural phenomenon had a lasting and devastating impact on Judaism and the thought process of our Jewish People, an impact that is felt until this very day.   In almost every way, Hellenism and Judaism were culturally diametrically opposed in terms of mankind’s place in the world, the role of personal responsibility, man’s relationship with G-d, and the concept of and role of hope.

The effects of Hellenism on the Jewish population were felt as early as the year 200BCE. At that time, there surfaced a group among the Jewish population called Mityavnim, meaning Hellenists. Its members, most of whom were those closest to the Greek rulers and eager to please them, adopted Greek culture and way of life, which was foreign to the Jewish one in almost every way. Their practice of it reached such a degree that, almost unvaryingly, it replaced their Jewish culture and Jewish identity. One example of the extent to which these individuals were willing to go in order to be accepted as Greeks or Hellenizers, relates to one of the most central practices in Judaism, circumcision. 

Ancient Greeks, as we all know, were great believers in practicing the art of nudity. That was demonstrated in sports, which were done in the nude.  Bathhouses in ancient Greece were popular and, likewise, were attended in the nude. Circumcision was not among their practices. Therefore, in order to avoid embarrassment and be accepted as an equal and "Good Greek," Hellenized Jews "underwent painful operations-at a time with minimum anesthetics-to restore their foreskin and appear Greek…" Naturally, those who were ignorant of Jewish life and tradition fell easy prey to Hellenism and some of its positive aspects. "Others, however, became vicious self- haters." Among the latter group, many detested their Jewish brethren and thus became willing collaborators, ones who were ready to help them in their attempts to eradicate Judaism in Eretz Yisrael and replace it with their "more enlightened pagan culture of theirs."  (  
Our Sages warned at the time about Hellenism invading Jewish thought, how it would pervert how Jews thought of themselves and of their own beliefs, how Hellenism was like a disease that would leave the Jewish People sick and how difficult it would be to rid ourselves of this sickness.

Now, let us fast forward into the present.

If we replace ancient Greek and Hellenism with The New Israel Fund (NIF) and their agenda of a New Middle East, an agenda that is foreign to Jewish culture and traditions then we reach the unavoidable and unfortunate conclusion that history, in this case, Jewish history, repeats itself. For how else can one describe organizations such as "Breaking  Silence," or "B'Tzelem," both of which are funded and supported by (NIF) and other entities whose sole purpose is to remove the Jewish essence of Eretz Yisrael, but self- hating Jewish collaborators?  For people to so want to appease and conform to the beliefs and interests our their enemies is sick.

How else or what else can we call those who loathe and despise anything Jewish and in their efforts to blend with the "in" crowd are ready and willing to sacrifice their brethren, their Jewish core on the altars of modern day Hellenism?

But there is yet another kind of Hellenism, one that stems not from self- hatred but from misplaced gratitude to the non-Jewish supporters of the Jewish people and political Zionism (the movement established by Herzl at the end of the 19th century). That kind of Hellenism stems from the fear of losing that support of the world that is so void of love for Jews.
We should be happy and thankful for the support others show us.  Nothing is wrong with that.  Everyone wants and needs friends in this world.   But, here’s the interesting question.  “Friendship”, real friendship, means accepting us for what we are, respect for our traditions, our beliefs, our security, our rights.   Those who are really friends will not try to change us, not try to redefine us in ways alien to our traditions and beliefs, nor impose things on us for their own benefit.

There are, sadly, those Jews, however, who have adopted Hellenism, replacing Judaism and the noble concept of honest Jewish gratitude, out of some mistaken fear of losing friendship and needed support, and in the process seem willing to shed some underlying fundamental principles in our few millennia old Jewish tradition and leave them in the hands of those who are, for now, friends. Many of those who claim to be our sincere friends and sincerely love us, are rarely familiar, if at all, with what Judaism is all about, and through really no fault of their own try to define us, our beliefs, our traditions, in terms that are familiar to them and alien, to a degree, to what our tradition teaches us. 

We are not going to accuse people of having evil intent.  We don’t see evil in this.  We see misguided.  We see something akin to Stockholm syndrome.  Two Thousand Years of persecution and deprivation has an effect of making a people vulnerable to being liked, eager to seek approval, but let’s not fool ourselves.  Approval and being liked that comes from giving up what you are and copying those who you fear might not like you, is not acceptance. It is surrender.  

Surrender cannot be allowed to define the Jewish Future. Jews and Am Yisrael are here to stay regardless of what either group does or says.  How difficult our journey will be depends on how well we guard what we are and grow by our own beliefs and traditions as we alone can define them.  Regardless, our fate is known, sealed and proven. We are an eternal nation, no matter what!

Chag Sukkot Sameach to all of you.

Written jointly with Roger Froikin.