From Hebrew to... Hebrew

A Fascinating New Bible Translation in Process

Proudly Raised: A new translation of the Bible found fault with an archaic expression referring to a raised horn of a gazelle. The translator switched it to the generic, ‘my strength increased.’
getty images
Proudly Raised: A new translation of the Bible found fault with an archaic expression referring to a raised horn of a gazelle. The translator switched it to the generic, ‘my strength increased.’

By Philologos

Published December 18, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

For a while now I’ve been hearing about a new translation of the Hebrew Bible, called Tanach Ram. (Tanakh, of course, is Hebrew for “Bible,” an acronym composed of Torah, the Five Books of Moses; Nevi’im, the Prophets, and K’tuvim, the other biblical writings, while Ram is the name of an Israeli publishing house.) What makes the Ram edition unusual is that it’s a translation, by Israeli educator Avraham Ahuvia, of the Hebrew Bible into — of all languages — Hebrew.

That is, it’s a translation into contemporary Israeli Hebrew. The concept behind this is hardly original. Languages change over the centuries, and their great books, or parts of them, can become incomprehensible to many of their speakers; hence, the need to produce modern versions of them. There are modern English versions of Chaucer and Shakespeare, modern Greek versions of “The Odyssey” and modern French versions of “La Chanson de Roland.” Why not, then, a modern Hebrew version of the Bible — especially if printed, as Ahuvia’s translation is, with the original Hebrew on one side of each page and the modern Hebrew on the other, so that the latter does not replace the former but exists beside it as a learning aid?

Although the Ram translation has been attacked as, in the worst case, a desecration of the biblical text, and in the best case a misguided pedagogical tool, this doesn’t seem to me a fair judgment. Ever since, well before the Christian era, Hebrew ceased to be an everyday spoken language, translations from it were made for the common Jew who did not have the education to read it; at least one of these, Targum of Onkelos, the second-century C.E. rendition of the Bible in Aramaic, became a canonical Jewish text in its own right, and others, like the 17th- and 18th-century translations of the Bible into Yiddish, meant mainly for use by women, had the approval of the rabbinical establishment. Essentially, the Ram Bible is the same sort of enterprise.

Of course, there’s a difference between translating from one language to another and translating from a language’s ancient form to its modern one, which is both easier and harder. It’s easier because it’s possible to retain many of the words, phrases, and grammatical constructions from the ancient language either as is or with minor changes, so that there’s no need to start from scratch. It’s harder because the decision when and whether to retain them can be a difficult one. Although they may still be used in the modern language, they may have changed their meaning slightly; or they may have become relatively rare or literary whereas once they were common and colloquial; or though definitely archaic, they may still be understandable to most readers. Should one keep them, or replace them with substitutes?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.