Do English-speaking Jews read the Bible in English, or is that too Christian for them? Maybe they like to get the gist of the Torah or Tanakh by reading in the vernacular English and then they may read prayerfully in modern Hebrew?

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    I think it also needs to be clarified whether the question is limited to the Christian Bible or if it applies as well to English translations of the Jewish Bible.
    – WAF
    Jul 9, 2013 at 13:54
  • This question seems to assume that there is a book called the "English Bible", which isn't really true, of course. English-speaking Jews do read the Tanakh (or Old Testament) in translation, but generally do not use Christian translations like the KJB, NIV, etc. A translation that Jews often turn to is the JPS, but there is also Artscroll and many other Jewish translations.
    – Daniel
    Jul 9, 2013 at 14:45
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    By the way, it's hard to avoid King James-isms in colloquial English. "The powers that be", "Garden of Eden", "Am I my brother's keeper?", "swords into ploughshares", "Let there be light", "ye of little faith", etc, all come from KJV (phrases.org.uk/meanings/bible-phrases-sayings.html) Jul 9, 2013 at 16:09
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    much like the word shibboleth and behemoth and probably others, a lot of these sayings have entered the modern lexicon, and many are not even aware of the biblical roots. -- Perhaps one could say that trademark erosion has happened.
    – Menachem
    Jul 9, 2013 at 16:36
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    Which of the 3 (or 5?) questions asked do you want answered? Please deleted the others and ask them separately if you wish.
    – Seth J
    Jul 9, 2013 at 17:56

2 Answers 2


Usually if English-speaking Jews want a translation of the Jewish Bible they'll use a Jewish translation.

As for exposure to the other part of "the Bible", i.e. the New Testament, my guess is some Jews who believe in extra exposure will have read bits of it in a survey course or the like.

There's a huge range of degrees to which Jews are exposed to general society, and this means that while most probably haven't read a King James Bible cover-to-cover, often they've come across both "Old Testament" (i.e. Jewish bible) and "New Testament" (Christian) phrases that were introduced by the King James and made it into popular English (or at least college-level literary English).

I was once speaking with a math professor who fully practiced Judaism; she said something about honors "for a student who can walk on water!" -- then she paused and laughed about the turn of phrase, especially when speaking with me. Similarly those who've been through first aid or CPR classes have likely heard of "good Samaritan" laws that legally protect people trying to help. Some people probably know where that phrase comes from, and a lot probably shrug it off without even thinking about it. (Personally I'm fine discussing the good Samaritan laws as such, but when the Talmud talks about conflicts between traditional Jews and another sect trying to mess up their calendar, I like to smile and say "the good-for-nothing Samaritans.")

So I'd say that Jews who have literary exposure will occasionally use such phrases, occasionally with a wink. As long as it's clear we're not endorsing the New Testament as divine. Just as we might use a phrase that originated in Greek mythology or Shakespeare. (The Talmud says Rabbi Meir taught lessons from the book of Proverbs using all sorts of fables involving foxes; that sounds an awful lot like someone else.)

Those who believe in very sharp boundaries against reading anything "from the outside" will probably try to avoid such phrases, though they may unwittingly wind up with some of them anyhow.

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    Agreed. Just to add - the Jewish Publication Society's 1917 translation of the Bible is derived largely from Christian translations (Revised Version and American Standard Version) which were based, to varying degrees, on KJV and Jewish sources. That 1917 translation influenced other English-language Jewish translations of the Bible. Jul 9, 2013 at 14:36
  • JPS is widely available (online, too) and has sort of become defacto "Jewish Bible translation." At the same time we have Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik in writing stating that it cannot be accepted as an official Orthodox translation. Aryeh Kaplan's translation of the Chumash (bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp) is terrific, readable, has Orthodox credentials, and is online -- it never quite got the popularity I think it deserved. Though that's just the first five books.
    – Shalom
    Jul 9, 2013 at 14:50
  • I've edited the question down to one of its two questions. You may wish to adjust your answer accordingly.
    – msh210
    Jul 9, 2013 at 17:59

Do English-speaking Jews read the Bible in English, or is that too Christian for them?

First, English is not a Christian language. If anything, it's a pagan language, but really it's just a language. There are many translations of the Bible into English. Most are explicitly Christian. A handful are scholarly works (e.g., Everett Fox's translation). Some are explicitly Jewish. The Jewish ones tend to use older Jewish translations and traditional Jewish commentators, like Rashi, Ramban, and Metzudot, to understand difficult verses or words.

If a Jew were to read a translation of the Tanakh into English, they'd likely turn to one of the Jewish translations. Some examples are "Old" JPS, New JPS, Hertz, Stone, and Aryeh Kaplan's translation. Wikipedia has a non-exhaustive list of Jewish translations. As you can see from the number of translations into English, many Jews do sometimes read the Bible in translation.

However, there is serious contention in some parts of the Jewish world if this is a valid practice. Translation of the Pentateuch has been an especially contentious issue in Judaism throughout its history because we are loathe to give up our relationship with the exact words of the Torah. The Septuagint was allegedly written by seventy knowledgeable rabbis under duress. There are several early translations into Aramaic (each called a Targum - Aramaic for translation) which are considered authoritative by modern Jews, and some of our interpretations of difficult verses come from these targums. But as I said, we're loathe to give up our relationship with the original Hebrew, so there are folks who oppose any translation aside from the targums.

Maybe they like to get the gist of the Torah or Tanakh by reading in the vernacular English and then they may read prayerfully in modern Hebrew?

In the vast majority of synagogues of any Jewish denomination, we chant the week's readings aloud in Hebrew. We don't use modern Hebrew, as that would still be translation (and all translations are interpretations), and because that is not necessarily a language we understand. We read the Bible ritually in the language it was written in - ancient Hebrew.

Some have a practice of reading the weekly Torah portion twice in the original and once in Aramaic translation. This is, in fact, a recommended practice, even (especially?) among those who don't believe in vernacular translations.

In practice, those who read English translations of the Torah might read the English to themselves as the Hebrew is chanted in synagogue. They might use the English first when trying to understand the text or might only use English when trying to skim it. They might use the Hebrew first and fall back to English when they don't recognize a word (though this can be problematic). They might read the Hebrew text but the English commentaries. Individual practices, as usual, vary widely based on ideology, language ability, experience, and preference.

So to answer your question, some Jews read English translations of the Bible. Some don't. Most congregations read it ritually in ancient Hebrew. But as a general rule, Jews do not read Christian translations of the Bible for non-scholarly purposes.

  • Well, of course English is not a Christian language. There is no such thing as a "Christian language". Though, I am not sure if Latin would count... there is the pope and all. Nope, it's still pagan.
    – Double U
    Jul 9, 2013 at 20:48

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