I just returned from a business trip where I stayed up late one night reading the Bible that was in the nightstand. Or I should say, that I tried reading it. The translation was indecipherable, with all the “shall’s” and “thou’s.” Now that my interest has been piqued, I’m wondering if you could suggest a better translation than the one I saw.
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Hebrew is a very special language. It is the language God spoke when He created the world. It is the national language of the Jewish people – which best captures the meanings of Jewish life, concepts, and prayers. And of course, Hebrew is the original language of the Bible/Torah.
When the Bible is translated into other languages, it loses much of its essence. For instance, many are familiar with the King James translation. Although a scholarly work, this translation is not rooted in Jewish sources, and often goes against Jewish teachings. Furthermore, the language is archaic and difficult for the modern reader. Our Sages teach that "every day the Torah should be as new" (Rashi to Deut 27:15). This means that archaic or obsolete language may not be used when translating the Bible, because this would give the impression that the Torah is old, not new.
Although many modern translations are more readable, they are often even more divorced from traditional Judaic sources. They may ignore the Talmud and Midrash, which contain the tradition for how to translate the idiomatic language of the Torah. (As an example, the expression in Exodus 13:9 "between the eyes," actually denotes the center of the head just above the hairline.
I recommend the following modern translations that are "Jewishly accurate:" the "Stone Chumash" and the "Stone Tanach." These are translated by top-rate Jewish scholars, who understand the subtleties of the Hebrew language and have a great knowledge of Talmudic sources, and the accompanying commentary fills in the background information.
These are available at any Jewish bookstore, or at www.artscroll.com
Best of luck in your studies!