Translating Shakespeare into biblical Hebrew was certainly the default approach in the early days of Hebrew theatre (end of 19th, early 20th century)—since Shakespeare’s English is roughly the contemporary of that of King James translation of the Hebrew Bible.
Prior to the First Exile of the Judean aristocracy to Babylon in 586 BCE, Israelites referred to themselves as ‘Hebrews’ (ivrim – עברים)—e.g.:
- And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew [Gen. 14:13]
- And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew [Gen. 41:23]
when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew [Exodus 2:7]
- And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee [Deut. 15:12]
- That every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free [Jer. 34:9]
- And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land [Jonah 1:9]
As I point out in What happens during the process of translation?—
[…] a good translation is [one where] you write the text as the author would have if they were a native speaker of the target language. The translated text should emulate the original in terms of the level of literacy, style, and (if someone is being quoted) the socio-economic/educational background of the speaker.
Since not all texts are written well, however, sometimes one must also engage in a bit of farteischt und farbessert (from the Yiddish, “translate and improve”), to convey the writer’s meaning as cogently as possible.
If a translation is meant for publication (or some other form of transmission), anything that clarifies the intended message is welcome.
For starters, there is no historical evidence for the existence of Moses as a historical figure—i.e., a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian prince who flees into exile then returns to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt.
Secondly, the Exodus story is likely an embellishment of the forced exodus of a quarter of a million Canaanites from northern Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom period in 1550 BCE, which marks the beginning of the New Kingdom period. Even if they had a charismatic leader who might serve as the basis for Moses, casual but clearly assured graffiti inscriptions in a well-defined Canaanite/Old Hebrew script on statues in the western Sinai at that time support the evidence of Canaanites indicate that by this time, even ordinary folk (probably teenage boys, or young men) were literate in that script—which indicates that the script was invented a considerable time before that.
In ancient Persian—as spelled out in Old Hebrew Script on every modern Israeli sheqel coin, which is based on a Judean coin when Judea was part of the Persian Empire:
The three letters are I-H-D (from right to left)—which is pronounced Yehud or Yahud.
Interesting question, which I’ve had to consider for a while.
One of the joys of my work is I get to read a whole slew of interesting research and information in areas as varied as biblical research, social work, history, psychology, and the law—and people pay me for it (well, after I translate or edit it, of course).
So if I had to choose a favourite, it would probably be one of the books that I’ve translated that was on a fascinating topic and taught me a great deal. The following three are very compelling candidates:
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…