Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
6
This year has witnessed a monumental achievement in Jewish
religious and cultural life. Under the aegis of the Jewish Pub-
lication Society of America, a committee of renowned Bible
scholars headed by Dr. Harry M. Orlinsky, Professor of Bible
at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has
been working since 1955 on a new translation of our Holy
Scriptures. The first ripe fruits of their sowing are about to be
harvested—the Pentateuch is now being printed.
In token of this major accomplishment, the Jewish Book
Council salutes the Jewish Publication Society of America and
extends felicitations to the distinguished committee of translators
who have dedicated themselves to this prodigious undertaking.
Perhaps it should be pointed out parenthetically that Bible
translation was not always an uninhibited project. We read
this rather astonishing notation in Gerald Kennedy’s
A Reader's
Notebook:
“For daring to translate the Bible into the language
of his country, William Tyndale was burned at the stake; and
Henry VIII did his best to keep the Book out of England. Public
notices gave the warning—‘No women, nor artificers, nor ap-
prentices, journeymen, serving-men, yeomen, husbandmen, or
laborers shall read the Bible in England in English to himself
or to another, privately or openly, on pain of a month’s im-
prisonment.’ ” Happily, such strictures do not confront Dr.
Orlinsky and his co-workers.
Beyond Semitic Frontiers
The Bible is, of course, a Jewish creation; the product of a
minuscule people desert-born and desert-bred. I t grew out of
the struggles, the triumphs and defeats, the hopes and frustra-
tions, the aspirations and wrestlings, the loyalties and apostasies
of this little people. The Hebrew canon of thirty-nine books,
compiled by Ezra the Scribe some 2400 years ago, is its per-
manent diary. Heine referred to it as “the portable fatherland
of the Jews.” He might well have added that it is also the spiritual
fatherland of the whole human race. Not only is it the rock
from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam were hewn, but
also the quarry from which the ethics, the morality, the culture,
and the social blueprint of western civilization were sculptured.
Blossoming out of the deepest loam of the Jewish spirit, it
transcended the frontiers in which it was cradled and became
the pulsebeat of mankind, the systole and diastole of humanity’s
throbbing heart.
The universal role of Scripture is emphasized in several fanciful
midrashim.
Our ancient rabbis asserted (Exodus Rabbah) that
the truths reverberated on Mount Sinai were intended for the
whole human family. Why, they asked, was the revelation given