This question came up during a discussion about Hebrew vs translated texts and I'm curious what the answer or consensus is.

We're taught that every single word and letter is specific and used for a reason. Nothing is wasted and nothing is misplaced. Is the same true for translations or are translations always going to be inherently imperfect and thus it wouldn't matter?

I've heard of people who rework translations to express an idea in more "poetic" English. Typically, this is done with siddurim so non-native speakers can better connect to the nature of what they are reciting.

Would that be considered problematic or would it ultimately not matter because the text is always going to be in an impure form when you try and translate over from the original Hebrew?

  • 2
    I'm not sure I follow. The premise of your question is the Torah is divine, so every word has significance. How can the same be true for a translation, which by definition is a human contribution? Every translator could decide if they want significance or not behind their translation choices.
    – robev
    Sep 30, 2022 at 8:47
  • Different translators -- and I'm talking very knowledgeable Jewish ones -- have gone in different directions to balance precise fidelity vs. readability. Look at the late Lord Sacks' translation vs. Artscroll Stone's vs. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's. Those are all reasonable ways to do things. The Talmud talks about rabbis who had to translate the Torah to Greek and got um, creative in a few places.
    – Shalom
    Sep 30, 2022 at 9:02
  • An interesting question is that prayer is acceptable in other languages, but how far afield can the translation be? Some translated the name of God as "Eternal", which raised eyebrows.
    – Shalom
    Sep 30, 2022 at 9:03
  • @Robev The Torah, in its original Hebrew, is divine. When I speak to translation I'm speaking to how Rabbis and scholars have created texts that allowed people to understand the works while existing in a language gap. My question is regarding where the "line" is and whether a translation grants more liberty in language use since the translation is inherently imperfect by nature. Is one allowed to "transmute" poetic license to the texts so it can flow more naturally in a foreign tongue?
    – Michael
    Sep 30, 2022 at 9:31
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    There are answers but there will be no "the answer or consensus." It's a judgement call but basically there's no perfect substitute or proxy for the original. Sep 30, 2022 at 12:18


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