Song of Songs 1:5 says:

שְׁחוֹרָ֤ה אֲנִי֙ וְֽנָאוָ֔ה

It is frequently translated as "I am black BUT comely". Doesn't the Hebrew translate to "I am black AND comely"? There is a difference, of course, and it has been the subject of controversy.

  • Looking at the Rashi to Chabad's translation, it has the "but", but he seems to indicate that it's allegorical, and can be cleansed(washed off?). Also-can you put some sources in that translate it as "but" and some as "and"? – Gary Apr 28 '19 at 3:53
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    The pasuk shows an antagonism between שרורה and נאוה . in other places we have אל תראוני שאני שחררורת this is a synonym of bad. So, but is better than and. – kouty Apr 28 '19 at 8:09
  • Remember, translation=interpretation. Because black (skin color, sorry) is considered inferior and נאוה superior, translations use BUT to emphasize the contradiction. – Al Berko Apr 28 '19 at 10:32
  • As per judaism.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1231 I’m rolling back your edits. If you meant to ask a different question, ask it separately. – DonielF Apr 28 '19 at 16:12
  • Done. It was not a different question, but I won't argue. – Maurice Mizrahi Apr 28 '19 at 16:18

This is probably because most (if not all, I didn't find any) commentaries explain the verse as I am black but comely.

Take Rashi, for exemple:

שְׁחוֹרָה אֲנִי וְנָאוָה וגו'. אַתֶּם רַעְיוֹתַי, אַל אֵקַל בְּעֵינֵיכֶם אַף אִם עֲזָבַנִי אִישִׁי מִפְּנֵי שַׁחֲרוּת שֶׁבִּי, כִּי שְׁחוֹרָה אֲנִי עַל יְדֵי שְׁזִיפַת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, וְנָאוָה אֲנִי בְחִתּוּךְ אֵבָרִים נָאִים. אִם אֲנִי שְׁחוֹרָה כְּאָהֳלֵי קֵדָר הַמַּשְׁחִירִים מִפְּנֵי הַגְּשָׁמִים, שֶׁהֵם פְּרוּסִים תָּמִיד בַּמִּדְבָּרוֹת, קַלָּה אֲנִי לְהִתְכַּבֵּס לִהְיוֹת כִּירִיעוֹת שְׁלֹמֹה. דֻּגְמָא הִיא זוּ: אוֹמֶרֶת כְּנֶסֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֻמּוֹת: "שְׁחוֹרָה אֲנִי בְמַעֲשַׂי וְנָאָה אֲנִי בְמַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹתַי, וְאַף בְּמַעֲשַׂי, יֵשׁ מֵהֶם נָאִים, אִם יֵשׁ בִּי עֲוֹן הָעֵגֶל, יֵשׁ בִּי כְנֶגְדּוֹ זְכוּת קַבָּלַת הַתּוֹרָה".‏

I am black but comely, etc. You, my friends, let me not be light in your eyes. Even if my husband has left me because of my blackness, for I am black because of the tanning of the sun, but I am comely with the shape of beautiful limbs. Though I am black like the tents of Keidar, which are blackened because of the rains, for they are always spread out in the wilderness, yet I am easily cleansed to become like the curtains of Shlomo. The allegory is: The congregation of Yisroel says to the nations, “I am black in my deeds [i.e., sins], but I am comely by virtue of the deeds of my ancestors, and even some of my deeds are comely. [Even] if I bear the iniquity of the [golden] calf, [yet] I can offset it with the merit of the acceptance of the Torah.”

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    Rashi’s “allegorical” interpretation comes from Midrash Rabbah on the spot, FWIW. – DonielF Apr 28 '19 at 11:55
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    @DonielF- not unusual. What is unusual is the almost 3 dozen meforshin who all seem to sing the same tune; couldn't find (with a quick scroll) any alternate reading. (Was expecting something along the lines of Moshe's wife being as beautiful as black is black.) – Danny Schoemann Apr 28 '19 at 13:29
  • @MauriceMizrahi - I don't see how your rewording changes anything. (Besides for making the question even more unclear.) – Danny Schoemann Apr 29 '19 at 10:05

As is often found when translating words (and indeed, even when defining a word within the same language), you can find a single word that has multiple definitions.

Per the Jastrow dictionary, the prefix ו can be defined as both and and but:

Screenshot of definition of prefix Vav

While it seems that generally, the overwhelming majority of uses of the prefix Vav is defined as and (although to be fair, I haven't seen any formal statistics on how the definitions break down), it's clear based on how all the interpreters define this verse (as seen in @DannySchoemann's excellent answer) that the definition used in this context is but.

  • I agree with the conclusions, but Jastrow is not a dictionary of Biblical Hebrew. Maybe a different reference would be better? – b a Apr 28 '19 at 15:44

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