Notes by Autumn Light

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


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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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From the exercise book of a not very good Dead Sea apprentice scribe

Here’s a job you don’t get every day.

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Dr. Paul G. Chamberlain, a historical geographer at the University of Victoria, B.C., approached me two days ago to see if I could help him decipher and transcribe a copy of a Dead Sea Scroll that he had seen at the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman, Jordan in 2005. 

He suspected that it was displayed upside down, and I confirmed that it was—which is surprising, because you would think that the museum staff would know better, and failing that, visiting Israelis or scholars might have pointed it out.

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