The Politics of Bible Translations


See this interesting post.  Although referring to the Christian Bible, it states that “The Bible you carry is a political act”.   It categorizes each of the major English translations and the group to whom it appeals the most.

This back up the statement I make on several of my videos that “All translation is commentary.


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Study Updates – Hebrew College and Web Yeshiva

Neal Walters - Hebrew College Graduation - June 2013

Neal Walters – Hebrew College Graduation – June 2013

I’m going to try to start blogging again here more often. Back in June of this year, I finished my Master of Arts in Jewish Studies at Hebrew College in Boston. I actually started with Hebrew College back in 2005 because of their online (remote study) Hebrew classes. They fit my schedule and lifestyle perfectly, as I’m a software consultant, and I often work out of town. After that, I took a few classes in the masters program for credit, because I thought they looked interesting. After accumulating 14 hours of credit, I was told that I really needed to apply, so I finally did. When I started, it was a 45 hour program, which I think they recently lowered to 36 (I graduated with 44 hours).

The photo below shows graduates from three schools: The Master of Arts programs, The Master of Jewish Education programs, and the Rabbinical Studio, along with those receiving certificates. I think there were 11 of us in the Master of Arts in Jewish Studies.

Hebrew College Graduating Class of June 2013

Hebrew College Graduation June 2013

Below are the actual classes that I took.  One of my regrets is not blogging monthly for each class.  I would strongly encourage masters or PhD students to blog as they go, and share some of the information they are learning on the web.

2007-Fall Aggadah (Midrash) [Text]
2008-Spring Genres of Biblical Literature
2008-Summer Modern Jewish History (and Memory)
2008-Fall Intro to Talmud [Text]
2009-2010 (Took a break here because didn’t have work for a while)
2010-Fall Bible Text and Context
2011-Spring Shabbat Nusach (Leading the Prayer Service)
2011-Summer Intensive One-Week OnSite: Music and Prayer in the Jewish Tradition
2011-Fall Piety and Creativity: Jewish Liturgical Texts
2011-Fall OnSite: The Master and Disciple Relationship in Jewish Tradition (a great intro to Chasidism)
2012-Spring Reading Maimonidean Texts [Text]
2012-Spring OnSite: After the Kabbalah (also covered a lot of Chasidut)
2012-Fall Pirqei Avot [Text] [The Ethics of the Fathers]
2012-Fall Audited Only: Trope (Chanting the Torah)
2013-Spring Masters Paper/Seminar (usually only offered in Spring)

The classes flagged with [Text] indicates they involved reading primarily Jewish sources in Hebrew, sometimes with translations, and sometimes not.  Most people take more introductory classes before the text, but for some reason, I just jumped in with Text classes before I officially enrolled and before I had an adviser.

One of my “claims to fame” is that I worked in the following cities while taking classes there: Colorado Springs, Santa Fe, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas.  I actually had a consulting job in Boston for about 8 months, which allowed me to attend a few classes on campus.

Hebrew College Building/Library

Hebrew College Building/Library

My masters paper was entitled “The Challenge of David and Goliath”, a play on words, because I was referring to the textual challenges of the passage.  I will be posting a video where I go over my paper soon.

After graduation, I was slowly looking for what to do next, but they couldn’t really interfere with my consulting work.  The two choices were moving on to a PhD or possibly some Yeshiva.   Spertus in Chicago is one of the few schools with advanced Jewish studies doctoral level programs offered via remote study (students go there 2 to 4 times a year to take an intensive week of classes).

Also, most PhD programs expect you to be full time, and/or teach while you learn. I noticed that the SMU in Dallas had a PhD in Bible, which required four languages: Hebrew, Greek, plus two others.   A large number of both Jewish and Christians works were written in German.

I was somewhat casually taking an intro Talmud class and a class on Rambam’s “The Guide to the Perplexed” with Web Yeshiva, just two nights a week.  I did began studying some Greek, but then…

Web Yeshiva, an orthodox online school, announced it’s Halachic Mastery program, in which I enrolled. This is a three year program that meets from the end of the fall holidays until Passover each spring.


Year 1 Kitchen and Kashrut Laws of Kosher (e.g. Meat and Milk, forbidden mixtures)
Year 1 Kitchen and Kashrut Laws Relating to Cooking/Heating and re-warming food on Shabbos (The Sabbath)
Year 2 Orach Chayim Mastery of the laws of tefillah and blessings; the “positive” mitzvot of Shabbat and holidays.
Year 2 Shabbat and Technolgoy Muktzah, issues presented by technology and halacha, electricity and “modern” issues; overview of laws of medical treatment and pikuach nefesh on Shabbat.
Year 3 The House and the World Mezuza and tefillin, eruvin, bikur cholim, tzedaka and intro to Jewish financial laws.
Year 3 Orach Chayim on Yomim Tovim Overview of the laws of the cycle of the year, with an emphasis on Pesach and its preparations.
Year 3 Hilchot Niddah Laws of family purity

The three year program above is open to both men and woman. The fourth year is an optional extra year for men wishing to pursue Smicha (Rabbinical Ordination).

Prior to this, Web Yeshiva had been offering many other wonderful courses.  Although I was enjoying the courses I was taking, they seemed to lack a direction.  Interaction with the professor was available by email, but there was little to no class interaction (that was a part and parcel of Hebrew College).  As far as I know there were no tests, and little accountability.  On one hand, that is Torah Lishma – learning Torah for its own sake. However with the Halachic Mastery program (they are charging more for it, other classes are by donation only), there are tests, and they have begun using Google Groups for the class to interact with the Rabbis teaching the classes.

Apparently, getting into some Yeshivot are like getting into Harvard or Yale.  A child has to be taught Torah and Judaism since a young child, and has to have advanced skills to get in the door.  From what I can see, Web Yeshiva is more open to adult learners who have a desire to learn, but may not have an extensive background.   I’m sure some level of Hebrew is required for the Halach Mastery program, but I’m not sure the minimum.

With just the two classes, it’s keep me extremely busy, but that will be the topic of one of the next blogs.  I soon hope to write about the type of Hebrew we are learning.

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There is a Yeshiva named Pirchei Shoshanim.

I was trying to google it the other day using “Pirkei Shoshanim” and couldn’t find any match. There is a big difference in the words PIRKEI (פרקי)and PIRCHEI (פרחי ). The first is the plural of PEREQ or PEREQ meaning chapter, saying, as in the famous work “Pirkei Avot”. “PIRCHEI” with the letter CHET means “flowers of” or “blossoms of”, and this particular yeshiva could be called “blossoms of roses” (or maybe even “rosebuds”?).

Anyway, if you are googling, and you came across this article, perhaps you are looking for the Yeshiva here:  It’s other name is Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim, or the “Shulchan Aruch Project”.

If you are unfamiliar the “Shulchan Aruch” (or Aruch Ha-Shulchan), it is described as: (Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך‎, literally: “Set Table”) also known as the Code of Jewish Law, is the most authoritative legal code of Judaism. It was authored in Safed, Ottoman Eyalet of Damascus, by Yosef Karo in 1563 and published in Venice two years later. Together with its commentaries, it is the most widely accepted compilation of Jewish law ever written.

Interesting enough, I checked Google on 12/08/2013, and it now notices that PIRCHEI is similar to PIRKEI, and says “Did you mean:” or “Showing Results for:”  PIRCHEI SHOSHANA.  So Google somehow learned that people got these words mixed up, maybe this blog helped in sum small way.





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Learn to Touch-Type Hebrew Letterrs on your Keyboard!

This is the site that I used to learn how to type in Hebrew:

It’s designed for kids, but the it’s not too hard for adults!  Basically, letters fly by slowly on a clothesline, and you have to press the correct letter on your keyboard before they cross to the other side.  It assumes you know the letters, i.e. it doesn’t teach you that a letter is an GIMEL or a DALET, but just requires you to type that letter on the keyboard.

It’s free, runs on the web, but does require a free copy of Java to be installed (if you don’t already have it installed).


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Advanced Hebrew Pronunciation: What Difference Does an Accent Make?

You must read these two blogs (a little advanced, a kind of confusing), but you might be  mispronouncing these important words!

V’a-hav-ta should be pronounced mil’ra (last syllable), not the almost universal “V’a-hav-ta” (second to last syllable). The accent actually changes the meaning – it should mean “and you shall love Hashem your G-d”, whereas the mispronunciation renders it “and you loved Hashem your G-d”.

For more mispronounced Hebrew words, check this post:



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Why is a Bee called “Devorah” in Hebrew?

The bee is the only creature that has the word “Dabar” in its Hebrew name and very essence.  In Hebrew “Davar” means “a word, or a thing, or an object”, and “DABAR” is the word for “speak” (L’DABER is infinitive “to speak”).  [The “V” and “D” are the same letter in Hebrew (VET/BET), the accents and grammar determine which way it is pronounced).  There’s a whole lesson in itself on the relationship of “word”, “speaking” and “thing”, but back to the bee for now…

At first glance, someone might say a bee speaks with it’s buzzing sound.  Bee’s buzz,  snakes hiss, and cat’s meoowww – but that is not language and not speaking.   Onomatopoeia describes words like “buzz” that actually sounds somewhat like the sound the animal (or nature) makes.   So what is the real relationship between “bee” and “DABAR”?

The lips are the only part of the human body where the inside of the skin turns outwards.  Why, because your insides come out through your lips.   “PEH” (mouth) is the word “POH” which means here.  Thus every-time you are speaking, you are saying “here I am”.

The bee itself is “treif” (not kosher), but the honey is kosher.   According to Wikipedia, “Honey bees form nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation.” The honey is basically the inside (essence) of the bee coming out.

Likewise the prophetess Devorah (perhaps better known to you as Deborah in English, but in Hebrew prounounced “devoRAH”) knew how to sing, i.e. let her inside come out. She knew how to take her insides or internals, and let them come out, and is known for the “Song of Deborah”, the sixth of the ten “true” songs mentioned in the Tanach.  [According to The 10 Shirot (or Ten Shirot, where “Shirot” means “Songs” in Hebrew) are the Songs above all other songs in the Hebrew Bible according to Jewish tradition and above any song that has ever been created in the world since Creation.The 10 Shirot mark historical events in Jewish history and in the history of the world. The 10 Shirot are not mere melodies, but are the only true Songs in the world in that they express the harmony of Creation as well as marking the aforementioned historical events in human history. ]

This actually reminds me of a Ghandi quote: “My life is my message”.  (Saw this on a statue in San Francisco – here’s the photo:  I include the quote on my BizTalk site, because BizTalk is a software product that deals with “message processing”.  So what message are you sending?

Inspired by: A wonderful drash (lecture) on Jewish Music from Rabbi Eytan Feiner from Aish Audio .



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Sephardic Music Resource

I was browsing the site of Hebrew Union College (Sephardic Studies), and found this online resource: Introduction to Sephardic Music

It includes a 25 page PDF/paper called “Introduction to Sephardic and Mizrachi Liturgical Music” by Dr. Mark Kligman.

The somewhat hidden “click here” link at the bottom of the page will take you to web page with sample cantillations from Genesis 1:15 from five different Sephardic (or Mizrachi) groups: Yemen, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, and the “Spanish/Portuguese” style (commonly used by Sephardics in the USA).  There are also music samples of “Nishmat Kol Chai” (“The Soul of Every Living Being”).

If your browser support the “Quick Time” player, the files will play in you browser.  Otherwise, you might have to right-click “save as” and store the MP3 fiels on your PC to listen.


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“Given to Gluttony” – That’s not what it says in Hebrew!

Photo by Falashad (on Flikr)

I quoted this verse to someone the other day, and they couldn’t remember it, so I looked it up in the Stone Edition of the Tanach, and it didn’t say what I remembered. Good old King James (KJV) says:
Proverbs 23:1 When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: 2 And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. 3 Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat. [NIV substitutes the word “gluttony” for “appetite”, meaning about the same. Even the old JPS says “given to appetite”.]

But Stone’s translation says “put a knife to your throat if you are a master of [your] soul.”. When I read that, I HAD to go to the Hebrew, and take a look.

The Hebrew is “IM-BAAL NEFESH ATAH”. Literally, “if you are a soul-master”. Stone correctly puts the word ‘your’ in brackets because it’s not there in the Hebrew, but it could be implied. “Master of soul” would be an ordinary noun-construct, but in this case the definite article is not used.

Now, how is this different. At first, you might think that “being a master of your soul” is one who is “not given to appetite/gluttony”, and with that I would agree. But PLEASE NOTE – they are opposites!!! Being a glutton is generally considered a bad character, and being a master of your soul, sounds like a good trait.

A) Put a knife to your throat if you are a master of your soul
B) Put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite/gluttony

The verse does NOT say:
C) Put a knife to your throat if you are NOT a master of your soul.

In other words, if you mastered your appetite, you would not have to put a knife to your throat. So what is this verse trying to say??? Why would one need to put a knife the throat, if indeed the guest at the king’s banquet was a “master of his soul?” He would already know what to do, and would have to regulate himself with a “knife”, because he would already be accustomed to self-discipline. It would seem that only the lower, more carnal man would need to resort to the “knife tactic”. Of course, putting a “knife to your throat” is figurative, not literal. But to me, it basically means “constantly remind yourself”, or “be on guard”, or “tie a string around your finger so you don’t forget.”

Stone has a brief comment: “Before dining with an absolute ruler, or anyone with considerable power, one should consider the consequences of incurring the host’s displeasure, or the moral harm that can come from being subservient to an unscrupulous person.”

I found one obscure reference here: The author is researching the word “NEFESH”, and makes a comment: “Only he who is master of his soul will be able to resist the temptation.” This would suggest that only the “master of his soul” would heed advice, and put a knife to his throat; any lesser man would just eat and ignore, or not be wise enough to handle himself in such a situation.

In any case, I prefer the more literal translation, which seems to give an entirely different understanding of this verse. Remember, “All translation is commentary”. Read it for yourself in Hebrew!

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Sacred Trash – The Geniza

A new book has just been published called Sacred Trash; The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza.

According to Wikipedia, a genizah is the store-room or depository in a Jewish synagogue (or cemetery), usually specifically for worn-out Hebrew-language books and papers on religious topics that were stored there before they could receive a proper cemetery burial, it being forbidden to throw away writings containing the name of God (even personal letters and legal contracts could open with an invocation of God). Most religious schools and synagogues have a Geniza, where students and members can put sheets of paper or documents bearing God’s name. From time to time, the contents are taken out and buried in a designated spot in a Jewish cemetery. When a lost Geniza is discovered, it can be a great treasure trove of historically-significant documents related to Jewish law and life of a given time period.

The word genizah come from the Hebrew root g-n-z (Gimmel-Nun-Zain), which means hiding, and originally meant “to hide” or “to put away”. Later, it became a noun for a place where one put things, and is perhaps best translated as “archive” or “repository”.

The cover of the book shows Solomon Schecter studying the documents. His greatest academic fame came from his excavation in 1896 of the papers of the Cairo Geniza, an extraordinary collection of over 100,000 pages of rare Hebrew religious manuscripts and medieval Jewish texts that were preserved at an Egyptian synagogue. The find revolutionized the study of Medieval Judaism. Schechter was alerted to the existence of the Geniza’s papers in May 1896 by two Scottish sisters, Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gibson, who showed him some leaves from the Geniza that contained the Hebrew text of Sirach, which had for centuries only been known in Greek and Latin translation.

Schechter’s name is synonymous with the findings of the Cairo Geniza. He placed the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA) on an institutional footing strong enough to endure for over a century. He became identified as the foremost personality of Conservative Judaism and is regarded as its founder. A network of Conservative Jewish day schools is named in his honor.

Link to Book and Video:

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The Blessing Formula

Did you ever wonder why Jewish blessings always have “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe…” in them?

The first of the amoriam (third century C.E.) established rules for the formulation of the benediction, ordaining that each one must include the mention of God’s name, while some added that it must also mention God’s kingdom (MALCHUT).  In this way, the form for the opening of the benediction that is familiar today came into being…” [Jewish Liturgy, A Comprehensive History, by Ismar Elbogen, page 6].


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