Monday, October 22, 2007

Rav Soloveitchik and God's Name

The Artscroll siddur famously uses the word “Hashem” to represent God’s name of YKVK (some have named it the “Hashemite Siddur”). Since Artscroll is the basis of the Rav Soloveitchik machzorim, I was thinking about whether Rav Soloveitchik would have wanted the English translation to represent YKVK by “Hashem” or “God” and/or “Lord”.

R. Akiva Eiger (Chiddushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger [1983 edition], Megillah 17a sv. u-ve-yoter [second]) states that proper names cannot be translated, and the Rav reportedly agreed with this position (R. Hershel Schachter, Nefesh Ha-Rav, pp. 109-110). Therefore, he should prefer “Hashem” to “God” and/or “Lord”. However, Rav Soloveitchik consistently used the term “God” in his English writings, and “Lord” and “Almighty” sometimes as well. For Halakhic Man, he instructed the translator use the JPS 1917 translation (and not the newer one) with some modifications that did not include changing the names of God (see the Translator's Preface). In “Lonely Man of Faith”, he translated “YKVK Elokim” as “eternal God” (in Tradition 7:1 [Winter, 1964], p. 181). See the first chapter (“The Three Biblical Names of God”) of Reflections of the Rav, in which Elokim is rendered as “God”, YKVK as “Eternal” and ADNY as “Lord, Master, Owner”.

It is worth noting that Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains in the introduction to his siddur (p. xxxi): “Though I have followed convention, rendering the Tetragrammaton as ‘Lord’, it should be remembered that ‘Lord’ is not a translation but a substitution.” See also the commentaries of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch and R. Aryeh Kaplan (The Living Torah) to Gen. 2:4, where they both state that the names of God are untranslatable and they chose to use “God” for lack of an alternative. The second edition of the English translation of R. Hirsch’s commentary (ibid.) italicizes “God” in reference to YKVK so as to distinguish it from Elokim.

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