Jewish Bible Translations: Personalities, Passions, Politics, Progress

By :  The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Jun 9, 2021 | Author Conversations: Between the Lines

An online discussion with Leonard J. Greenspoon 

Author Leonard J. Greenspoon discusses his book, Jewish Bible Translations: Personalities, Passions, Politics, Progress.

Examining a wide range of translations over 24 centuries, Greenspoon delves into the historical, cultural, linguistic, and religious contexts of translations in 11 languages. He profiles many Jewish translators—among them Buber, Hirsch, Kaplan, Leeser, Luzzatto, Mendelssohn, Orlinsky, and Saadiah Gaon—framing their aspirations within the Jewish and larger milieus in which they worked. He differentiates their principles, styles, and techniques—for example, their choice to emphasize either literal reflections of the Hebrew or distinctive elements of the vernacular language—and their underlying rationales. 

As he highlights distinctive features of Jewish Bible translations, he offers new insights regarding their shared characteristics and their limitations. Additionally, he shows how profoundly Jewish translators and interpreters influenced the style and diction of the King James Bible.

Reporter Rabbi Rachel Esserman says: “Jewish Bible Translations . . . show[s] how altering the word order, leaving out a word or two, or adding a sentence greatly changes the meaning of the text. It also shows how differences in Jewish theology affect the way that one interprets the text, something those attending Torah study at their synagogue will understand. Anyone who wants to better understand the translation they use will definitely want to read Greenspoon’s work.”

This event was sponsored by The JTS Library. Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, JTS, served as moderator.

ABOUT LEONARD J. GREENSPOON

Leonard J. Greenspoon holds the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton University, where he is also Professor of Theology and of  Classical & Near Eastern Studies. 

Greenspoon is the editor of the 32-volume (and counting) Studies in Jewish Civilization series. He has also written five other books, in addition to his most recent one on Jewish Bible translations. Additionally, he has served on translation committees for five versions.

In 2018, Greenspoon was the recipient of a Festschrift: Found in Translation: Essays on Jewish Bible Translation in Honor of Leonard J. Greenspoon. At the 2019 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, he was the featured scholar honored in a section titled “Wisdom of the Ages.” For 2020, Greenspoon was named researcher of the year at Creighton.