Monday, January 09, 2006

The Terrible Translation

The Megillas Ta'anis explains that the eighth of Teves, which fell out on this past Sunday, was the day on which the Torah was originally translated into Greek and "darkness fell on the world for three days." This negative attitude to the Torah in Greek is hard to square with the Mishnah and Gemara in Megillah (8b-9b). The Mishnah and Gemara permit a Torah to be written in Greek. R. Hanina explains this permission with the following famous exegesis: "'May God make space for Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem' (Gen. 9:27) -- the beauty of Japeth will live in the tents of Shem." Clearly Greek is seen as a wonderful language and, if so, does this not contradict the negative attitude displayed in Megillas Ta'anis?

R. Gerald Blidstein, in his essay in Jacob Schacter ed. Judaism's Encounter with Other Cultures (p. 26), points out the following:

It is worth noting that the Sages did not take easily to the idea of translation, or more precisely, the reading from a translation as a written text in the synagogue in place of the original Hebrew. While the anonymous Mishnah does permit such translation into all languages, the point of R. Simeon ben Gamliel's allowance of Greek is to disallow translations into other languages. Similarly, both he and R. Judah use the term heter (permit) to describe the rabbinic policy even towards favored Greek -- hardly an enthusiastic endorsement; and this doubtless reflects hesitations about the use of translations rather than a negative stance towards Greek.
See also here (Dr. Aryeh Reich of Bar Ilan), here (R. Berel Wein) and here (R. Eliyahu Kitov).

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