Notes by Autumn Light

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


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Are Jewish men forbidden to farm pigs?

Many years ago, I was working for a while as ‘Deputy Food Manager’ (i.e., ‘the guy who schlepps the big boxes from the delivery platform at the back to the walk-in fridge’) at a kibbutz in southern Israel.

The kibbutz members frequently complained about the lack of variety of our meat offerings (basically, chicken, turkey, or beef)—so one day the Food Manager took me for a ‘research trip’ to another kibbutz in the southern Negev—Lahav, some forty km to the east, where, it was rumoured, members were very happy with their food.

The ‘research trip’ was a sham—he and I, and everyone else already knew why the Lahav members were happy with their food: they had pork alternatives almost every day, thanks to their pig farm.

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As a translator, which was your favourite project?

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:

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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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Has English grammar become part of Hebrew recently?

—such as I’m going to+verb, or more+<adverb/adjective> instead of <adverb/adjective>+more?

Answer: Actually, I would argue that modern Hebrew is fairly resistant to English grammatical forms—mainly because its grammar is much simpler (comprising the equivalent of past simple, present simple, and simple future), with no mechanisms for emulating tenses such as present perfect (e.g. I have gone) or present continuous (e.g. going) or conditional (would go).

As a result, the sample constructions that you suggest — e.g. going to <verb> and more <adjective> (instead of <adjective> more) are not only uncommon, but indicative of poor Hebrew usage.

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Is there any difference between the pre-exile Biblical Hebrew and post-Exile Biblical Hebrew?

Hugely, yes.

Post-Exile (First Exile, that is—in Babylon), Hebrew was flooded with Aramaic words and expressions, as the returning Judeans sought to introduce the sophistication of the prestigious and cosmopolitan Babylon, where they had lived for over three generations, into the provincial backwater of their ancestral land, where only poor and barely literate Judeans (“none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land”—II Kings 24:14) had remained after the Babylonian conquest some 75 years before.

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Why does God in the Bible at first harden the heart of the pharaoh and then punishes him for not letting Jews go?  

[A2A] Because He was putting on a show, to demonstrate to the Hebrews* and other nations that He is the greatest—nay, the only—God.

This was, if you like, God’s comeback performance (His first since the Flood), so he was intent on making a big impression. And what greater impression could there be than to beat up and humiliate the most powerful kingdom in the known world at that time?

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