Notes by Autumn Light

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

Kabbalah – but not as we know it

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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.

The most recent Hebrew boo-boo (or Heboo-boos for short) I’ve come across was in the (otherwise entertaining) science-fiction television series, Fast Forward. In it, a mysterious character explains the principles of Hebrew gematria to the protagonists, and writes the word Kabbalah in Hebrew—or at least, that’s what he claims. In fact, the tortured characters that he writes, if anything, say something like hakalah (“the bride”):


The Hebrew word kabbalah as written in the series (left) and as it should be (right).

I sympathise with the actor in question, however, who had to learn to write Hebrew as well as learn his lines. Had he or the producers had only read my book on mastering the Hebrew script, he would have understood that it is a lot less exotic than it appears.

Or drop me a line. My fees are very reasonable :-).



Author: יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

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