Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav

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Please: parsha no more

It’s a common refrain in Jewish synagogues throughout the English-speaking world:

How would you answer this question on the Parsha

View this week’s Parsha

Family Parsha 

The Parsha Experiment – Shoftim: Is This Just A Boring Parsha?

—and it drives me (and no doubt every Israeli) around the bend every time I encounter it.

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What are some interesting Hebrew idioms or proverbs that reflect unique cultural phenomena?


Anything to do with military service. My favourite:

קפה באימונים- נס בקרב (Café ba’imunim—ness baqrav)

which literally means: “Coffee in training — Instant coffee in battle”, being a humourous take on the original expression:

קשה באימונים- קל בקרב (Qashé ba’imunim—qal baqrav)

meaning “Difficult in training—easy in battle”

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Did Ancient Israel have theatre?


In truly ancient Israel (i.e., before Roman times), emphatically no.

To quote from Nurit Yaari’s forthcoming book, Between ʻJerusalemʼ and ʻAthensʼ: Israeli theatre and the classical tradition* (Oxford University Press, in press):

Theatre, as an art, a community event and a cultural institution, is entirely ‘Athens’ in nature: that is where it was first created in the late sixth century BCE, and where it acquired its form, conventions and concepts. As a visual and performative art, it is rooted in all aspects of classical Greek art—poetry, music, dance, sculpture, painting and architecture; indeed, their fusion is what gave rise to this independent and unique art form. […]

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In the Hebrew, Deut. 8:18 uses the verb for “to make atonement,” but the English translation says only “to make.” Why is this?



Your impression that the verb לעשות means “to make atonement” is due to the definition given in’s translation of that verse.

Which is surprising, because in fact it simply means “to do” or “to make” (like the French verb faire).

In this case, it is part of an expression

לעשות חיל (la’asot ḥayil)

which means “to thrive”, “to do extremely well”.

So basically it’s a mistake.

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How do you do a proper citation in a research paper?

Microsoft Word is your friend in this regard—it will help you generate the appropriate way of citing in the text, or generate References or Bibliography lists at the end. (The following instructions pertain to MS Word Mac 2011, but should be broadly relevant to all modern versions of the program:)

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Kabbalah – but not as we know it


In Steve Carell and Tina Fey’s amusing comedy Date Night, there are two scenes where they visit Mark Wahlberg (who plays some kind of secret agent who helps them out), and he exchanges a few words in Hebrew with his girlfriend in the background, who is an Israeli Mossad agent. The actress playing the Mossad agent is indeed Israeli, but Wahlberg himself does a very credible job pronouncing the few words that he says, and with almost no accent. (Although I agree with Carell’s character: For the love of God, please put on a shirt!…)

But he’s the exception to the rule. 99% of the time, whenever Hebrew is presented in American films or TV series, something is wrong.

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