Page 84 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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What was the word holocaust
Two years before the Holocaust?
It was a word for a big noise,
Something with a roar.
Translated by Curtis Arnson
Hebrew Book R ev iew ,
Summer 1974
In both cases the capitalized words Destruction (by the Rom­
ans in 70 C.E.) and (the Nazi) Holocaust have profound con­
notative implications, while the lower case “destruction" and
“holocaust” are merely denotative words in the dictionary.
Curtis Arnson’s translation is quite adept, especially since there
are no capital letters in Hebrew.
Paradoxically, due mainly to radical divergencies in structure,
translating from Hebrew into English is fraught with a number
of formidable complexities. Judah Stampfer, in his essay “On
Translating Biblical Poetry,” maintains that “translation from
Hebrew is next to impossible” (
vol. 14, no. 4). Using
prefixes and suffixes, and the letter
which is “and” in English,
the verbs virtually eliminate the use of pronouns by absorbing
them. For example, in the Priestly Benediction (Num. 6.24) we
Yevarekhakha Adonoy ve-yishmerekha
(three words); in
English translation “The Lord bless you and keep you” (seven
words). The pronoun “you” is absorbed by both verbs. In Psalm
130, the first two words
mi-maamakim keratikha
require eight
in English: “Out of the depths have I called You.” The paucity
of adjectives and prepositions in Hebrew as contrasted with the
rich variety in English, as well as their diverse word order and
sequence of clauses, add a further impediment to the process of
If, as Judah Stampfer and Franz Rosenzweig maintain above, it
is impossible to reproduce in English the identical equivalent of
the original Hebrew, the translation should at least establish
between it and its putative readers the precise relationship that
obtains between the Hebrew work and
readers. Such an ob­
jective would exclude any purely literal translation; the transla­
tion’s close adherence to the words and the form of the Hebrew
original would produce a synthetic copy, little more than a stulti-