Wednesday, May 4, 2011

God's Voice

Parshat Kedoshim Tihiyu
8th day of the Omer
23 Nisan, 5771
April 27th, 2011

Next month marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Charles McGrath writes in the New York Times ( that not only was the King James written by committee (usually an excellent recipe for mediocrity), but it was intentionally written archaically. Nonetheless, it remains one of the masterpieces of the English language.
            McGrath, himself an atheist, spends some time belittling modern Bibles that render into more colloquial English. Apparently, the God he does not believe in is very formal.
            However, he asks a profound question: how does one translate God’s voice? It is a question worth investing in.
Translating Torah well is essential. Connection to Judaism depends on being drawn into a world of holy words. If such words are opaque, the handicap both to students and teachers is enormous.
But as a student of the Rabbis, I want to contradict a basic assumption of biblical literalists – that God’s voice can be directly translated. In fact, the opposite is true: God’s voice is inherently difficult to understand. Take this midrash for example:
            “Said R. Yose ben R. Hananiah: according to each person’s individual capacity did [God] speak [each of the ten commandments]. Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 12:25
Or this one:
            The commandment to remember Shabbat and the commandment to keep Shabbat were said the same utterance…something that human beings are incapable of doing (i.e. God said one thing, but human brains can only understand it as two separate things). Midrash Tannaim 25
            There are those who assume that if we just followed what God told us, the world would be a better place. Jews believe, though, that the trick of it is first trying to understand what God was saying. Looking at the world, I’d say we have yet to hear the Holy One right.

No comments:

Post a Comment