JPS is the 1917 translation of Tanakh from the Jewish Publication Society, NJPS (New JPS) is the 1985 renewed edition to "reflect contemporary scholarship."

The NJPS has the best English translation I've seen. Is there any halakhic problem with using/preferring a translation done by non-observant people?

I had to buy the JPS Study Bible for college, which was loaded with anti-Jewish/religious commentary, but have assumed there was no problem just using the direct translation.

Is there any halakhah that takes issue with translators of holy text?

  • Could someone explain What are the "NJPS Tanakh" and "JPS" ?
    – user1854
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 15:43
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    What is anti-religious about it?
    – Seth J
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 15:51
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    @Aryeh, ok, I can see that. I would expect the situation to be different for a translation -- which you know, by its being a translation, is not the original text -- than for a sofer writing a sefer torah that everyone will assume is accurate. But I don't know. Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 15:59
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    Also, can you cite that they are not religious?
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 16:26
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    @Double AA: The introduction to the JPS Study Bible explains their translation under the editorship of "Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox branches" and heavily promote Documentary Hypothesis in their methodology. I am referring to JPS in particular.
    – Aryeh
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 17:50

2 Answers 2


"Is there any halakhah that takes issue with translators of holy text?"

Yes and No. The gemorah very strongly supports the translation of Onkelos, while very strongly being negative about the translation into Greek (Septuagint), calling it the worst day in Jewish History.

On the other hand, the Talmud mentions miracles regarding the translation of the Torah into Greek, such as not translating "let us make man" in the plural. A Jewish view of translations in general regarding Tanach and the Humash specifically might make for a great follow up question.

That being said, today I do not know of any halachot that are followed regarding translations. Many yeshivot and rabbis have copies of the NJPS in their libraries. How well the translations are respected will depend on the circles you find yourself in, and certainly if you are looking to study the text in depth and it's nuance, you should look at multiple translations to be certain that they all lead you to the insight you are noticing.

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    Regarding halachah of translations, see this thread. I believe that the halachah is that (ancient) Greek (but no other translation) can be used for a sefer Torah. (However mezuzot and tefilin can only be in Hebrew.) Note also that the ancient Greek that can be used is usually considered a lost language. (See here.)
    – Ted Hopp
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 17:54
  • Thanks Avi and Ted Hopp, that was very helpful. Unless someone proves otherwise, it seems Jewish translation of Tanakh is void of halakhic parameters. I would have expected something in light of the rigorous requirements of kosher scribes, but perhaps since translated works don't have the kedusha of a sefer Torah, all that is required is good judgment.
    – Aryeh
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 8:07
  • Onkelos's is not a translation, it's a targum.
    – barlop
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 14:08
  • @barlop Targum translates to translation. There is no difference.
    – avi
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 15:29
  • @avi I told you targum is not translation, it often paraphrases at best. A paraphrase is clearly not a translation. This is basic logic and basic knowledge of English, shows you it's not a translation. blueletterbible.org/Comm/stewart_don/faq/bible-translations/… Some though will speak of literal translation vs dynamic translation tyndale.com/stories/…
    – barlop
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 15:57

What enters in our mind should be as important as what enters in our mouth. In the same way we eat kosher, it seems to me we should read only "kosher" translations, especially when it comes to Holy Writings. I am not sure this is a halakhic question (that is the difference with food), but it seems so important that I would never read something translated by a non observant person.

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    In my heart I feel the same, but when it comes to food treif is treif and kosher is kosher. The question is whether there is any halakhic basis to forbid learning from such translations.
    – Aryeh
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 14:58
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    Dovid, 'never' seems a little strong considering you without a doubt have read countless things written and translated by non-observant people (especially if you vary your definition of non-observant).
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 16:14
  • If you really think it is comparable to food, then why stop at translations? You shouldn't be reading math or spelling textbooks written by non-observant people either.
    – Dov F
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 17:34

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