Monday, March 08, 2010

Targum:A precedent for translation, like it or not

Pardon the usual formatting problems. :(
A few years ago, a former colleague of mine (since retired) told me that her synagogue's new rabbi had insisted, much to her distress, that every single book of any kind that included an English translation be removed from the sanctuary. My response was to say that her shul might as well hang a huge banner over the entrance saying, "Baalei T'shuvah ("returnees" to Orthodox Judaism) and Gerim (converts) not welcome here." :(
Have you read my previous post? Isn't this rabbi aware that there are translations from the Hebrew on the Hebrew pages of a bilingual siddur (prayer book)?
Rabbinic Intern Braham Weinberg shared this information on "The Language of Tefilla":

"While only certain select non-Hebrew prayers were included in the formal liturgy (Kaddish, Kedusha D’Sidra, Brich Shmey, Yekum Purkan, and some sections of the Selichot), the rabbis of the Talmudic and post-Talmudic periods permitted us to recite any of the other prayers in the vernacular as well. The Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, rules that a person may recite any of the prayers including the shma and the amidah in any language that he or she understands (OC 101:4) provided that it is a direct translation of the text of the siddur and not a paraphrase or a personally composed prayer newly invented by the translator (Igrot Moshe OC 4:70). It would even be permissible for an entire congregation that didn’t understand Hebrew to pray together in a different language that they understood more clearly (Mishna Berura 55:1).
[New paragraph ]
The Chatam Sofer writes that the Shulchan Aruch only permitted a congregation to pray in a language other than Hebrew in order to understand what they are saying on a temporary basis. They would not be able to establish the official language of prayer in that synagogue to be any language other than Hebrew (Chatam Sofer, OC 84 & 86)."
[ ]
My guess is that the original precedent for praying in languages other than Hebrew came from the Targum. "To facilitate the study of Tanakh and make its public reading understood, authoritative translations were required. . . . Targum Onkelos was read alternately with the Torah, verse by verse, and Targum Jonathan was read alternately with the selection from Nevi'im (i.e. the Haftarah)."
[ ]
If the ancient sages authorized the translation of even the Torah (Five Books of Moses) and the N'vi'im (Prophets) to ensure that they would be understood, what's wrong with providing worshippers with a Hebrew-English siddur and Chumash?
[ ]
In addition, this rabbi seems never to have considered the possibility that translations might be an educational tool. He has no idea how much Hebrew I've learned by reading translations of the Tanach (Bible) and siddur.
[ ¶ ]
And he's obviously given no thought to the difficulties of newcomers to prayer, such as baalei t'shuvah and gerim/converts, and to those with learning disabilities. A couple of former fellow congregants (from our Manhattan days) and current Israeli-folk-dancing buddies of ours have a child who's sufficiently dyslexic that s/he can barely read English, much less any other language. Is s/he not allowed to pray?
[ ¶ ]
I don't even know this rabbi, and I dislike him already. :(



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize that you're trying to be supportive of gerim, and I appreciate that, but you equate being a ger with not having a very high level of Hebrew knowledge. Frankly, as a ger whose Hebrew comprehension is much better than that of most of my peers, I find this assumption naive at best. I am constantly being asked if I need transliteration or translations for simple texts, while born-Jews who can barely sound out vocalized texts are given Hebrew without a second throught. I support providing whatever's needed to connect people to prayer and to our textual tradition, but the assumption that I am ignorant simply due to my heritage is offensive.

Mon Mar 08, 10:37:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, no offense intended. I've found that there's a wide range of Hebrew comprehension among both gerim and "born Jews." (My own Hebrew comprehension is better than some, but certainly nowhere near what one might expect of a yeshiva grad or an Israeli.) I'll try to be more sensitive to such variations in the future.

Tue Mar 09, 12:24:00 AM 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>