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Tanakh: A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1985.
This Jewish version of the Old Testament was originally published in parts, beginning with the Torah in 1962, followed by a second edition in 1967, the Five Megilloth and Jonah in 1969, Psalms and Isaiah in 1973, Jeremiah in 1974, the complete Prophets in 1978, Job in 1980, and the complete Kethuvim in 1982. Then the several parts were revised for the edition of the entire Tanakh issued in 1985.
The version was produced for the Jewish Publication Society by a committee of Jewish scholars and rabbis under the direction of a well-known Jewish scholar, Harry M. Orlinsky (1908-1992), Professor of Biblical Literature at the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. It is not a revision of any previous version, but an entirely new translation. Orlinsky describes the early history of the version in the Introduction of his book, Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1969), pp. 17-19.
The guidelines for this translation had been set forth by the writer at the annual meeting of the Society held in Philadelphia on May 10, 1953, in his address, “Wanted: A New Bible Translation in English for the Jewish People.” After surveying something of the historical background and character of the more important Jewish and non-Jewish translations of the past, he placed special emphasis upon the two main elements that a new Jewish version should feature: (1) intelligibility in diction and (2) the fuller use both of the older commentaries—especially the Jewish but not at all excluding the Christian—and the recently discovered extrabiblical materials that had something really pertinent to offer the Bible translator.
Two years later, in 1955, after some six years of intensive discussion preceded by several years of desultory talk, the Society appointed a committee of seven scholars to prepare the new translation: Dr. H. M. Orlinsky as editor-in-chief, Dr. H. L. Ginsberg and (the recently lamented) Dr. E. A. Speiser as fellow editors, Rabbi M. Arzt (member of the Rabbinical Assembly—conservative), Rabbi B. J. Bamberger (member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis—reform), Rabbi H. Freedman (member of the Rabbinical Council of America—orthodox), and Dr. S. Grayzel (editor of the Jewish Publication Society)—the last-named also serving as secretary of the committee. Messrs. Louis E. Levinthal, Sol Satinsky, Edwin Wolf, 2nd, and Lesser Zussman, by virtue of their positions in the Society, participated in the solution of the committee’s problems. Toward the end of 1962 the first part of the new Bible translation appeared: The Torah, The Five Books of Moses: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text.
The members of the committee had been chosen for scholarly ability, broad outlook, and recognized status in the community at large. The Society itself is a purely culturaleducational organization with no specifically religious point of view and owing no theological allegiance to anyone; indeed, the American Jewish community as a whole, in its diversity, recognizes no single group or person as its religious authority. Consequently, if the new Jewish version manifests less eisegesis than either the new Protestant or the new Catholic version, one of the reasons is that the Society’s committee of translators felt utterly free to render the Hebrew text as they believed the original author of that text meant it to be understood by his contemporaries.
The procedure was as follows. The editor-in-chief prepared a draft translation of the entire Torah for the committee. Submitted chapter by chapter with the draft was a considerable body of data consisting, when pertinent, of the renderings of such important older versions as the Septuagint, Targum, Vulgate, and Saadia, and of more recent translations such as Leeser, Revised Version, the 1917 Jewish version, Moffatt, the American (Chicago) Translation, Confraternity, Revised Standard Version, and La Sainte Bible; also the more pertinent comments of such notable exegetes of the Middle Ages as Rashi (d. 1105), his grandson, Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam; d. about 1174), Abraham ibn Ezra (d. 1167), David Kimhi (Radak; d. 1235), Moses ben Nahman (Ramban —Nahmanides; d. about 1270), Levi ben Gershom (Ralbag —Gersonides; d. 1344), and Obadiah Sforno (d. 1550), as well as the works of virtually every modern commentator of merit, Jewish (notably Samuel David Luzzatto—Shadal; d. 1865; and Meir Leib ben Jehiel Michael—Malbim; d. 1879) and Christian. Wherever the draft proposed a new rendering of import, some justification for it was offered. The editor-in-chief usually kept no more than ten or fifteen chapters ahead of the committee, so that he might benefit from the thinking and consensus of his colleagues.
Chapter by chapter the draft was sent to the main office of the Society in Philadelphia, where it was reproduced and copies sent out to each member of the committee. They in turn sent back to Philadelphia their reactions to the draft, including suggestions of their own, and these too were reproduced and distributed among all the members of the committee. On the average of once every two weeks the committee met for a full day at the New York school of Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, where every point in dispute was discussed, often at great length. Whenever a formal vote was necessary—usually a consensus was reached without the need to raise hands—a simple majority of those who voted decided the issue. Quite often the rendering agreed upon was different from anything proposed previously either in the original draft or in the responses.
Details on the production of the book belonging to the Prophets and Kethuvim are given in the Preface of the 1985 edition, which we reproduce in its entirety below.
This translation of Tanakh, the Holy Scriptures, produced by the Jewish Publication Society, was made directly from the traditional Hebrew text into the idiom of modern English. It represents the collaboration of academic scholars with rabbis from the three largest branches of organized Jewish religious life in America. Begun in 1955, the ongoing translation was published in three main stages: The Torah in 1962, The Prophets (Nevi’im) in 1978, and The Writings (Kethuvim) in 1982. These three volumes, with revisions, are now brought together in a complete English Tanakh (Torah-Nevi’im-Kethuvim), the latest link in the chain of Jewish Bible translations.
Bible translation began about 2,200 years ago, in the third century B.C.E., as the large Jewish population of Alexandria, Egypt, came under the influence of Hellenism. When the Greek language replaced Hebrew and Aramaic as their vernacular, and the Torah in its Hebrew original was no longer commonly understood, a translation into Greek was made for the Jewish community of Alexandria. This translation came to be known as the Septuagint, Latin for “seventy,” because of the legend that the committee of translators numbered seventy-two, six elders from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the last few centuries B.C.E., the Jews who lived to the north and east of Judea also found the Hebrew Bible difficult to understand, for their spoken language had become largely Aramaic. Translations into Aramaic, first of the Torah and then of the rest of the Bible, became known as the Targums.
The Septuagint and the Targums are not only the oldest translations of the Bible but also the most influential. Down to our own day, virtually every Christian translation has followed the methods of the Jewish translators who created the Septuagint, and generally followed their renderings of the Hebrew as well. The Christian translators also were influenced by the interpretation of the Hebrew text set forth in the Targums (much of it in oral form at the time) and by the writings of the Jewish philosopher-interpreter Philo of Alexandria (died about 45 C.E.).
The forerunners and leaders of the Renaissance and the Reformation (fourteenth-fifteenth centuries), and especially Martin Luther and William Tyndale (sixteenth century), made use of Latin translations of the classic Jewish commentators Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Kimhi (eleventh-thirteenth centuries), whose works were imbued with the direct knowledge of the Targums. Luther was greatly indebted to Nicholas of Lyre (1270-1349), who had adopted Rashi’s exegesis for his Latin Bible commentary. Rashi’s influence on all authorized and most unofficial English translations of the Hebrew Bible becomes evident when Tyndale’s dependence on Luther is considered. Tyndale is central to many subsequent English translations: the King James Version of 1611, the (British) Revised Version (of 1881-1885, the American Standard Version of 1901, and especially the Revised Standard Version of 1952.
Alongside the close, literal method of Bible translation, the earliest Jewish translators were also influenced by the widely held view that, along with the Written Law (torah she-biktav), God had given Moses on Mount Sinai an Oral Law (torah she-be’al peh) as well; so that to comprehend God’s Torah fully and correctly, it was essential to make use of both. Thus, when a translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Judeo-Arabic vernacular was deemed necessary for Jewry in Moslem countries toward the end of the first millennium, the noted philologian, philosopher, and community leader Saadia Gaon (882-942) produced a version that incorporated traditional Jewish interpretation but was not based on word-for-word translation; at the same time, it was a model of clarity and stylistic elegance. The present version is in the spirit of Saadia.
With the growth of Christianity in the first century, the Church adopted the Septuagint as its Bible, and the Septuagint was translated into the languages of the various Christian communities. As Greek began to give way to Latin in the Roman Empire, it was only a matter of time before a Latin translationof Scripture became the recognized Bible of the Church. The Church father Jerome (c. 340-420) produced the official Latin version. Drawing on Jewish tradition and consulting Jewish teachers, he achieved what came to be known as the Vulgate, the Bible in the language of the common people. The Vulgate, the Bible of European Christianity until the Reformation, is clearly the most significant Bible translation after the Septuagint.
With the rise of Protestantism in Europe, scholars within this movement set themselves the task of making the Bible available in the various vernaculars of the time. By 1526 the first parts of two notable translations began to appear: Martin Luther’s in German and William Tyndale’s in English. The latter, by way of several subsequent revisions, became the King James Version of 1611. The more modern English versions—such as The Holy Scriptures by the American rabbi Isaac Leeser (1855), the (British) Revised Version (1881-1885), the American Standard Version (1901), the Jewish Publication Society’s The Holy Scriptures (1917), and the (American) Revised Standard Version (1952)—made extensive use of the King James.
After World War II, when the Jewish Publication Society began to consider a new edition of the Bible, the idea of a modest revision of the 1917 translation met with resistance, and the concept of a completely new translation gradually took hold. The proposed translation would reproduce the Hebrew idiomatically and reflect contemporary scholarship, thus laying emphasis upon intelligibility and correctness. It would make critical use of the early rabbinic and medieval Jewish commentators, grammarians, and philologians and would rely on the traditional Hebrew text, avoiding emendations. The need for this new translation was the focus of the Jewish Publication Society’s annual meeting in 1953. Later that year the Society announced its intention to proceed with the project, and in 1955 the committee of translators began their task.
Harry M. Orlinsky, Professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion (New York), was asked to serve as editor-in-chief for the new translation, along with H. L. Ginsberg, Professor of Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Ephraim A. Speiser, Professor of Semitic and Oriental Languages at the University of Pennsylvania, as fellow editors. Associated with them were three rabbis: Max Arzt, Bernard J. Bamberger, and Harry Freedman, representing the Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox branches of organized Jewish religious life. Solomon Grayzel, editor of the Jewish Publication Society, served as secretary of the committee.
The committee profited much from the work of previous translators; the present rendering, however, is essentially a new translation. A few of its characteristics may be noted. The committee undertook to follow faithfully the traditional Hebrew text, but there were certain points at which footnotes appeared necessary: (1) where the committee had to admit that it did not understand a word or passage; (2) where an alternative rendering was possible; (3) where an old rendering, no longer retained, was so well known that it would very likely be missed, in which case the traditional translation was given in the name of “Others” (usually referring to the Society’s version of 1917); (4) where the understanding of a passage could be facilitated by reference to another passage elsewhere in the Bible; and (5) where important textual variants are to be found in some of the ancient manuscripts or versions of the Bible.
The translators avoided obsolete words and phrases and, whenever possible, rendered Hebrew idioms by means of their normal English equivalents. For the second person singular, the modern “you” was used instead of the archaic “thou,” even when referring to the Deity (“You”). A further obvious difference between this translation and most of the older ones is in the rendering of the Hebrew particle waw, which is usually translated “and.” Biblical Hebrew demanded the frequent use of the waw, but in that style it had the force not only of “and” but also of “however,” “but,” “yet,” “when,” and any number of other such words and particles, or none at all that can be translated into English. Always to render it as “and” is to misrepresent the Hebrew rather than be faithful to it. Consequently, the committee translated the particle as the sense required, or left it untranslated.
The chapter and verse divisions found in the printed Bible are indispensable as a system of precise reference, but they do not always coincide with the organic divisions of the text. The chapter divisions, whose origin is neither ancient nor Jewish but medieval Christian, sometimes join or separate the wrong paragraphs, sentences, or even parts of sentences. The verse divisions, though considerably older and of Jewish origin, sometimes join together parts of different sentences or separate from each other parts of the same sentence. The translation of Saadia Gaon often does not correspond to our chapter divisions, which did not exist in his day. More noteworthy is the readiness with which he joined separate verses of the Hebrew text (whose authority he did not question) into single sentences when the sense required it. Thus, in joining Genesis 7.24 and 8.1 into a single sentence, or combining the last part of 1 Kings 6.38 with 7.1, the present translation is following the example of Saadia. The attentive reader will discover other instances in which the translators have followed what they considered to be the logical units of meaning even when they did not coincide with the conventional chapters and verses. The latter, however, are marked and numbered throughout.
The preface to the first edition of The Torah was dated September 25, 1962, Erev Rosh Ha-Shanah 5723. A second edition, incorporating some changes by the translators, came out five years later. The committee also produced translations of The Five Megilloth and Jonah (1969), Isaiah (1973), and Jeremiah (1974). The latter two books and Jonah were incorporated, with some corrections and revisions, into the complete translation of The Prophets (Nevi’im). For this volume, which was published in 1978, Professor Ginsberg served as editor, in association with Professor Orlinsky. Whereas Professor Orlinsky had initially prepared a draft translation of the entire Torah, individual members of the committee undertook to prepare a draft of an entire prophetic book or part of a book; but, as in translating the Torah, everyone had an opportunity to criticize the draft and to offer detailed suggestions at periodic committee sessions, which were presided over by Rabbi Bamberger. Differences of opinion were settled by majority vote.
In preparing the translation of The Prophets, the translators faced a recurring problem that deserves special mention. The prophetic books contain many passages whose meaning is uncertain. Thus, in order to provide an intelligible rendering, modern scholars have resorted to emending the Hebrew text. Some of these emendations derive from the ancient translators, especially of the Septuagint and the Targums, who had before them a Hebrew text that sometimes differed from today’s traditional text. Where these ancient versions provide no help, some scholars have made conjectural emendations of their own. Many modern English versions contain translations of emended texts, sometimes without citing any departure from the traditional Hebrew text.
Like the translation of The Torah, the present translation of the prophetic books adheres strictly to the traditional Hebrew text; but where the text remains obscure and an alteration provides marked clarification, a footnote is offered with a rendering of the suggested emendation. If the emendation is based on one or two ancient versions, they are mentioned by name; if more than two versions agree, they are summed up as “ancient versions.” Conjectural emendations are introduced by “Emendation yields.” Sometimes, however, it was deemed sufficient to offer only a change of vowels, and such modifications are indicated by “Change of vocalization yields.” In all cases, the emendation is given in a footnote, which may be readily disregarded by those who reject it on either scholarly or religious grounds. The only exceptions involve such changes in grammatical form as those, say, from second person to third or from singular to plural. In such rare instances, the change is incorporated in the text, and the traditional Hebrew is translated in a footnote.
The committee of translators for The Writings (Kethuvim), the third part of the Hebrew Bible, was set up by the Jewish Publication Society in 1966. It consisted of Moshe Greenberg, now Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University, Jonas C. Greenfield, then Professor of Semitic Languages at the Hebrew University, and Nahum M. Sarna, then Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University, in association with Rabbis Saul Leeman, Martin S. Rozenberg, and David Shapiro of the Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox movements. Chaim Potok, then editor of the Society, served as secretary of the committee.
The present English rendering of Kethuvim, like Torah and Nevi’im, is based on the traditional Hebrew text—its consonants, vowels, and syntactical divisions—although the traditional accentuation occasionally has been replaced by an alternative construction. Following the approach of the original committee, the entire gamut of biblical interpretation, ancient and modern, Jewish and non-Jewish, has been consulted, and, whenever possible, the results of modern study of the languages and cultures of the ancient Near East have been brought to bear on the biblical text. In choosing between alternatives, however, just as antiquity was not in itself a disqualification, so modernity was not in itself a recommendation. Divergences of the present translation from recent renderings reflect the committee’s judgment that certain innovations, though interesting, are too speculative for adoption in the present state of knowledge. The as yet imperfect understanding of the language of the Bible, or what appears to be some disorder in the Hebrew text, makes sure translation of many passages impossible. This uncertainty in Kethuvim is indicated in a note, and, where the Hebrew text permits, alternative renderings have been offered. However, emendations of the text of Kethuvim—except for the five Megilloth—were not proposed, and notes were kept to a minimum.
Some passages in Kethuvim are identical or very similar to passages in Torah and Nevi’im. The rendering of these passages in Kethuvim generally follows the wording in the earlier books; on occasion, however, owing to various considerations, divergences in style and translation will be found. For example, in the presentation of the poetry of the Psalms, it was deemed fitting, because of their liturgical use, to indicate the thought units through appropriate indentation. The text of Kethuvim frequently presented the translators with extraordinary difficulties, for it is hardly possible to convey in English the fullness of the Hebrew, with its ambiguities, its overtones, and the richness that it carries from centuries of use. Still, it was their goal to transmit something of the directness, the simplicity, and the uniquely Israelite expressions of piety that are so essential to the sublimity of the Hebrew Bible.
The committee’s translation of The Psalms appeared in 1973; of The Book of Job, in 1980. The two were incorporated, with revisions, into the complete translations of The Writings (Kethuvim), which appeared in 1982.
For this one-volume English edition of Tanakh, the translation of The Torah, first published twenty years earlier, underwent more revision than the more recent publications of The Prophets and The Writings. A number of the changes had already been projected in Notes on the New Translation of the Torah, edited by Harry M. Orlinsky and published by the Society in 1969. Subsequent research on the text has led to further revisions in the translation of Torah and some revisions in Nevi’im as well.
Ephraim Speiser, of the original committee, died in June 1965. Max Arzt, also an active member of the original committee, died in 1975, when the work of translating the prophetic books was almost complete. Since the appearance of The Prophets and The Writings, Bernard J. Bamberger, Solomon Grayzel, and Harry Freedman have also passed on. Their memory, and their scholarship, will be for a blessing.
The Jewish Publication Society joins the members of the committees of translators in the hope that the results of their labors will find favor with God and man.
The Jewish Publication Society
September 15, 1985
ערב ראש השנה תשמ״ו
The prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz, who prophesied concerning
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth,
“I reared children and brought them up —
4 Ah, sinful nation!
5 Why do you seek further beatings,
10 Hear the word of the LORD,
18 “Come, e-Let us reach an understanding,-e
21 Alas, she has become a harlot,
a-a Emendation yields "like Sodom overthrown."
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