God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Life and a Little Liturgy: Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, has a blog!

I’m thrilled to announce that my father, Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D., has just started a blog: Life and a Little Liturgy. The author of three dozen books, Rabbi Hoffman — “Dad,” to me — is a preeminent Jewish liturgist (it’s a niche market, I know, but he’s got it cornered) and leading modern Jewish philosopher. Here’s part of his latest post:

I do not usually admit this right off the bat — it is definitely a conversation stopper — but here it is: I am a liturgist. “Liturgy” is a common enough word among Christians, but it does not flow trippingly off Jewish tongues, and I am not only Jewish but a rabbi to boot. The word comes from the Greek, leitourgia, “public service,” which is how Greek civilization thought of service to the gods. The Jewish equivalent is the Temple cult of antiquity — in Hebrew, avodah, which meant the same thing, the work of serving God. That eventually morphed into what people do in church and synagogue. Christians call it liturgy; Jews call it “services.”
Keep reading…

April 15, 2011 Posted by | announcements, Off Topic | , | Comments Off on Life and a Little Liturgy: Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, has a blog!

When the Liturgy and the Bible No Longer Match

I got a great question during a lecture I gave last week in Washington, DC: Quotations from the Bible frequently appear in prayers. What should we do when a better understanding of the Bible’s text forces a new translation that no longer matches the prayers?

For example, in And God Said I argue against the translation “The Lord is my shepherd” for Psalm 23. (The reasons why are involved and not really relevant here.) The questioner in Washington agreed that “shepherd” is the wrong word. But he was troubled, because my lecture followed a worship service, and Psalm 23 had been part of the service. “Do we have to change our prayers, now, too?”

The problem stems from potentially conflicting goals. I think a translation of the Bible should be accurate. But for liturgy, I think accuracy should be subservient to prayerfulness. What good is an accurate translation at a prayer service if it doesn’t make for good prayer?

This is a particularly vexing problem in strong liturgical traditions — the Catholic Church and most Jewish traditions, for example — but I think it applies to anyone who wants some degree of correspondence between prayer and Scripture.

So what do you think: When a better understanding of the Bible creates a non-prayerful translation, what should we do?

May 28, 2010 Posted by | translation applications, translation theory | , , , , | 8 Comments