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!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • 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.