Notes by Autumn Light

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


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How do you say “God’s fury will punish your soul” in Hebrew?

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A straightforward, modern Hebrew rendition would be something like

זעמו של אלוהים יעניש את נשמתך

which, phonetically transcripted, reads:

Zaamo shel Elohim yaanish et nishmatkha

This, however, is almost soul-destroying in itself since, while it is technically correct, it has no rhyme or meter. What you need is something suitably biblical in tone and poetic in nature. I would go with something like:

תנאק נשמתך בחמת ה׳

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Nice try—but (alas) no nargillah

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Liron Lavi Turkenich is a young and engaging Israeli graphic designer with a commendable idea: bridge the cultural gap between Israel’s Hebrew speakers and its Arab population by creating a ‘hybrid’ font set comprising characters that are half Hebrew, half Arabic:

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Fig. 1: A blend of the Hebrew and Arabic words for “language”, in the “Aravrit” font. Unfortunately, it looks nothing like the Arabic word, and most resembles the Hebrew word שנאה (sin’ah) = ‘hate’

I read briefly about this font (cleverly dubbed Aravrit—a play on the Hebrew words aravit and ivrit, i.e., ‘Arabic’ and ‘Hebrew’) a few months ago, and even adopted the first combined word that you see in the video (which allegedly depicts the word ‘language’ in both Hebrew and in Arabic) in my latest talk, about ‘Arabic Hebrew‘ (see Fig. 1).

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How do Elohim and Yahweh differ?

Elohim was the name of God for the Israelite (northern) tribes.

IHVH was the name of the God of the Judeans (southern tribe).

Since both religions were based on the belief in a single, Creator, God, the two traditions were knitted into one when the refugees of the northern kingdom were absorbed into Judea following the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians around 725 BCE, at the instruction of the Judean King Ezekiah.

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In the Hebrew version of Genesis 1, the word used for the first day is a cardinal number (one), yet all the other days are ordinal—why is that?

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Several Jewish biblical commentators weighed in on this same question.

Rashi’s explanation—‘Because the HOBBH [Holy One Blessed Be He] was alone in the world, because the angels were not created until these second day’—seems to leave us none the wiser.

The Ramban (Nachmanides)’s interpretation is more helpful: ‘One can’t say “first day”, since the second had not yet occurred, because “the first” [implies a series that already exists], whereas “one [day]” doesn’t.’

Shadal (Samuel David Luzzatto): ‘One day, [in the sense that] the evening and the morning [together] constituted one day […] i.e. a whole day.’ To put it another way: ‘God did all this within one day—more specifically, in one evening and morning, with time left over.’

Of those three, the latter sounds most plausible. But my personal take is that the real reason is poetical: Vaihi erev, vaihi boqer, yom eḥad sounds so much more lyrical than Vaihi erev, vaihi boqer, yom rishon.

(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com).


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What is the most British thing ever?

In an attempt to rein in the increasingly unruly Jewish community the late 1930s and 1940s in Mandatory Palestine, the British authorities would, from time to time, round up the entire Jewish leadership—my maternal grandfather among them—and hold them in administrative detention in a large camp in the valley of Latrun, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.

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What is the process of getting into translating?

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From what I can tell, people get into translation by one of two avenues: they attend translation training courses at universities, or they “fall” into it after becoming thoroughly proficient in two or more languages and working in other fields, doing translations on an ad-hoc or informal basis for their employers, friends, or colleagues, and find themselves increasingly in demand afterwards.

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