Notes by Autumn Light

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


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Cobwebs of the Righteous?

cobwebs_of_the_righteous

(with thanks to Dahlia Beck)

You would think that one of Canada’s major banks would use someone who knows Hebrew to design the artwork aimed at its Jewish customers—or at least give the artwork to a Hebrew speaker before approval.

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Why is the Passover song called “דַּיֵּנוּ” instead of “זה היה מספיק”?

‏זה היה מספיק

is very funny—I will propose it as an alternative to Dayennu at our next Passover meal: it will definitely crack people up.

Modern colloquial Hebrew has many fine qualities, but poetic metre isn’t one of them.

So that’s one reason why we don’t use that phrase here — but the second reason is that the true meaning of Dayennu is not “That would’ve been enough”, but rather: “We would have been content with that.”

Thanks for the chuckle, though…

ADDENDUM, March 31, 2018: We tried it at last night’s seder, and it was indeed hilarious…


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

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

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

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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.

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When to say “Shalom” (and when not to)

A recurring trope in Hollywood films and American TV is that when Jews meet or part with each other, they say “Shalom!”. This is an amusing fallacy, based on the premise that all Jews are Hebrew-speaking Israelis—which is not the case.

In fact, even native Israelis rarely greet each other that way.

In my talk about Arabic Hebrew: How Israelis Really Speak, I point out that this myth is similar to how, in American film and TV productions in the 1950s and ‘60s, native Americans (or “Indians”, as they were called back then) would always greet each other (and white men, in particular) with the word “How!”

In reality, there are only three situations when Hebrew speakers greet each other with the word Shalom!:

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