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What is the correct translation of "Ashrei"? For ages every siddur translated it as "happy". But in recent decades, Artscroll decided it was "praiseworthy" and Chabad decided it was "fortunate".

The implications are very different for each of the three words.

'Praiseworthy' implies 'Who cares about your happiness? It's doing the mitzvot correctly that counts. Your feelings are irrelevant.'

'Fortunate' implies 'You have no merit in this. It's pure luck. What you do or don't do is irrelevant, free will or not.'

So which is it?

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    In modern Hebrew אשרי indeed means happy. But I’m not sure I agree with your analysis of fortunate; that sounds to me like “such a person deserves good fortune,” which could absolutely take the other terms into account. – DonielF Sep 13 '17 at 20:22
  • I disagree with your analysis of "fortune". I'm working on a more thorough answer to your entire question, now that would address this from a Tanac"h definition. But, certainly in modern times, people absolutely create and influence their fortune. Successful people work hard at doing so and they frequently analyze and strategize how they accomplish their good fortune. Some luck is involved, but it is definitely NOT "pure luck". – DanF Sep 13 '17 at 20:39
  • Since when does "praiseworthy" not imply "happiness"? Have you or someone you know been honored at a dinner or some other ceremony? People "sing" the honoree's "praises". Look at the Oscar ceremony as an example. Have you seen any honoree sitting with a scowl on his face while people are praising him? – DanF Sep 13 '17 at 20:42
  • These quotes imply 'ashrei' can only mean 'happy': -When Leah had a son through her maid Zilpa, she said 'Be-ashri! -- I am happy!' ... and she called his name Asher. (Gen. 30:13) -Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty [Job 5:17] הִנֵּה אַשְׁרֵי אֱנוֹשׁ יוֹכִחֶנּוּ אֱלוֹהַּ וּמוּסַר שַׁדַּי אַל-תִּמְאָס: – Maurice Mizrahi Sep 13 '17 at 22:02
  • Here ashrei could mean 'happy' or 'praiseworthy' but not 'fortunate': Prov. 3:18-It is a tree of life to those who hold it fast, and its supporters are happy Prov. 8:32. Happy are they who keep my ways. Ps. 128:1. Happy is every one who ... walks in [the] ways [of the Lord]. Prov. 20:7. The just man walks in his integrity; happy are his children after him. Prov. 3:13. Happy is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding. Prov. 14:21. Happy is he who is kind to the humble Ps. 128:2. [If you] eat the labor of your hands; happy shall you be, and it shall be well with you. – Maurice Mizrahi Sep 13 '17 at 22:05
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It seems that classic commentators on Tehillim have different explanations of the word.

The word אַשְׁרֵי first appears in the first chapter of Tehillim - as the first word - so I took some explanations from there, since on the verse you refer to nobody explains its meaning.

Rashi: The Ashrei (circular reference) and Tehiloth - praiseworthiness - of a person.

אשוריו של איש ותהלותיו של אדם אלו הם אשר לא הלך כי מתוך שלא הלך לא עמד ומתוך שלא עמד לא ישב : ‏

Metzudoth Dovid: The praises one says about a person...

אשרי האיש. ספורי תהלות האיש המה לומר עליו בשבחו זהו אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעי‏

Metzudoth Zion: The fortune and praise of a person - as Leah said כִּי אִשְּׁרוּנִי בָּנוֹת.

אשרי. ענין שבח ותהלה כמו כי אשרוני בנות (בראשית ל')‏

Malbim: Spiritual success.

באור הענין אשרי האיש, בא לבאר התנאים שבעבורם יהיה האיש מאושר, ויש הבדל בין מאושר ובין מצליח, ההצלחה הוא בענינים עולמיים בחיי העולם הזה, והאושר הוא בענינים הנפשיים בחיי העולם הבא, והנה השלמות יהיה בשלשה ענינים, שלמות הקנין, שלמות הגוף, שלמות הנפש, לכן באר שמדבר פה מאשרי האיש, האושר המיוחד אל האיש והאדם מצד שהוא אדם, לא האושר שישתתף בו עם סוגו מצד שהוא חי, רצה לומר כי שלמות הקנין ושלמות הגוף ימצא גם בשאר בע''ח, כי מצאנו כמה בע''ח שמשיגים מחייתם ומזונם ביתר נקל וביתר שאת מן האדם ולית דעתיר מחזירי, וכן יתעצמו בכח גופם יותר מן האדם, כמו הפיל והאריה, וכן בחושיהם הנשר והאיה בחוש הראות וכדומה, ואין זה אושר המיוחד אל האיש והאדם, רק שלמות המדות ותכונת הנפשיים הם המיוחדים אל האיש לבדו, ומבאר כי אשרו תלוי בראשונה במה שיזהר מחטוא,‏

It's fair to assume that other commentators have other opinions - as there are 70 ways to interpret the Torah.

  • See both Metzudot on Tehillim 144:15 -- hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14255&pgnum=522 -- where Ashrei is explained to mean "praiseworthy". See Metzudot David on 84:5, which can easily be translated as fortunate, and definitely not happy: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14255&pgnum=315 – Menachem Sep 14 '17 at 22:32
  • I'm not sure that your translation of Metzudot Tzion is accurate. שבח means "praise" but תהלה does not mean "fortune". I don't think you would translate the first two words of Tehillim 145, *Tehilla Ledavid" as meaning "David's fortune". – DanF Sep 14 '17 at 22:52
  • @DanF - good point; what is a better translation? – Danny Schoemann Sep 17 '17 at 9:20
  • It seems to me that, of all translations, only "happy" fits ALL occurrences of "ashrei" in the sources. So I am happy with "happy". – Maurice Mizrahi Sep 18 '17 at 8:26

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