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Apologies if this is a stupid question (or belongs in a different group). Since I'm not Jewish & only beginning to learn Hebrew I lack the background to pose an intelligent question.

English uses both definite and indefinite articles, but Hebrew has no indefinite article. When a Hebrew word has no definite article I've seen it translated it to English adding an indefinite article.

Thus בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית is literally "in beginning" and tradition adds the "the". Why not translate it "in a beginning"? You'll note he said "the heavens" and "the earth" a few words later.

Are other Hebrew passages translated with "the" added in this way?

If Moses does not say "the" beginning, I do not want to put words into his mouth. (Likewise, if he does not say "a" beginning I dare not add it without warrant.)

The implication is that deity might create (ex nihilo) other heavens & earths separate from the space-time we live in. I don't want to entertain this notion if it lacks grammatical support.

Thanks in advance,

steve

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  • Hebrew has a definite article. Words that begin with ה.
    – robev
    Oct 8, 2023 at 12:55
  • You are correct that certain words are translated in English with an added "the", because otherwise it's awkward. The best example is בני ישראל, which translates as Children of Israel, but when used in a sentence people say The Children of Israel. Regarding your specific example, you can't say in English "In beginning", so it's either "in a beginning" or "in the beginning". The former is awkward, so it's not used.
    – robev
    Oct 8, 2023 at 12:58
  • What does your translation have for Gen 10:10?
    – rosends
    Oct 9, 2023 at 1:01
  • 2
    FYI there is no core belief of Judaism that ours was the only or even first world created. In fact there are sources that God created many worlds before ours, so "in a beginning" doesn't seem problematic from that perspective and arguably could be a better translation Oct 9, 2023 at 7:15
  • For a scholarly view: unisapressjournals.co.za/index.php/JSEM/article/view/11647
    – Argon
    Feb 5 at 20:55

2 Answers 2

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The King James translation "In the beginning God created" is inaccurate. בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית is actually in construct form where the definite article is left out. The Schocken Bible has a better translation: "At the beginning of God’s creating"

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  • Rashi's commentary specifically explores this concept and expounds upon the purpose of the smichut in Bereshit Feb 26 at 22:08
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Actually, it’s a great question. The most literal translation, completely disregarding correct English form, is “In [a/the] beginning of” with something like a very weak comma after it.

The word doesn’t fit the rest of the sentence at all—not grammatically, not logically, not anything. The simple meaning is “in the beginning”, but obviously the simple meaning is not the basic meaning here. The true basic meaning is the subject of centuries of still-ongoing debate within the Jewish community.

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