Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for September 2015

M Gottlieb 1878
Notes for a discussion on Yom Kippur afternoon

The Lord, The Lord, a God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, generous in love and truth, showing love to thousands, forgiving sin, wrong and failure; who pardons.

Yamim Noraim, Forms of Prayer for Jewish Worship, 1985

This prayer, listing the attributes of God’s mercy, comes from Exodus 34, when God passed by Moses on Mount Sinai. The first two attributes are God’s name, which is translated in our 1985 Days of Awe machzor as, ‘The Lord.’ More recent Reform prayer books have dropped the name ‘Lord’ in favour of ‘The Eternal,’ ‘The Almighty,’ ‘Sovereign,’ ‘The Living God,’ or, simply, ‘God.’ Does ‘Lord’ have too many secular and gender associations to be an appropriate way of addressing God in prayer?

This is part of a larger question about the problems of translating scripture and liturgy. In the case of the Torah, there is a history, in the Aramaic targums, of translating freely and explaining or rationalizing the text in the translation. Some targums differ from the Torah text enough to be counted as a kind of midrash. In the case of public prayer, the translator or author has a considerable degree of creative freedom. Our machzor has prayers and texts both ancient and modern and it is currently being revised by the Movement for Reform Judaism. When the new version is published, we can expect a significantly different High Holy Days machzor from the present one.

To narrow down our discussion, I would like us to think about how we translate the name of God, which is represented by orthodoxy as Hashem, except in prayer when it is pronounced Adonai and which appears in the traditional English of the King James Version as Lord.

There are understood to be various problems with the name Lord. It suggests maleness, entitlement, wealth. It has negative associations through literary creations such as Sauron – the Lord of the Rings and Lord Voldemort, or through peerage, as in The House of Lords.

I would like to ask if you have a preference about the name you use for God, and if you have a sense of there being a difference in meaning between the names of God which we read in scripture and in prayer. Is the meaning of the prayer different, if the name is Adonai or Elohim or El Shaddai or Ribon ha Olamim?

I wonder how you would translate the first sentence of the Shema, if asked to do so, without reflection.

In our translations when reading the haftarah in our synagogue, we substitute the name Eternal in texts which otherwise use the translation Lord. This is reasonable as there is only one Eternal and many lords. However, the computer settings result in the name Eternal occurring when someone is addressing a person as ‘My Lord’ which happens particularly often when there are kings involved.

The draft erev Rosh Hashanah machzor produced by MRJ in 2014, has a few solutions: substituting ‘Our Living God’ for ‘Lord’ in the Amidah, or using the translation God, where the prayer or psalm has Adonai in the original Hebrew. The words ‘You’ and ‘Your’, capital Y, are utilised, when they fit the context. A possible problem is that the names Adonai and Elohim are not distinguishable in translation, when both are translated as God.

‘Living God’ is an informed choice, because the tetragrammaton is similar to the verb to be, and because God tells Moses at the burning bush, ‘I am who am.’ Our Living God mostly translates the locution Adonai Elohenu; however, in the Nishmat, this is translated ‘God our Creator.’

Our siddur, published in 2008, has more than one way of translating the tetragrammaton. In blessings, it offers Blessed are You, our Living God. Melech is then translated as Sovereign to avoid gender specificity. Sometimes, the name is just God, which does not distinguish between Adonai and Elohim. ‘Source of existence and of all human strength’ translates ‘ribon haolamin v’Adonei haAdonim.’

The kaddish does not name God, although it speaks of His name and refers to God as the Holy One. The grammar referring to God is masculine, which is avoided in translation by saying ‘God’ instead of ‘He’ etc.

In the Shema, Adonai Elohenu becomes ‘the Eternal [is] our God.’

Adonai imloch l’olam vaed becomes ‘God alone will rule forever and ever.’

For Kumah Adonai veyafutzu oyevecha, the siddur has ‘Almighty God, rise up!’

Ki shem Adonai ekra is ‘I call out the name of the One God.’

For the Torah and Haftarah blessings, we say ‘Our Living God,’ as is the usual form for Adonai Elohenu.

In the Aleynu, we say ‘Almighty God’ and ‘the Eternal.’

There is a tradition of substituting Hashem for the tetragrammaton, or HaMakom, or, from Talmudic times, Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu.

Yah, short form of the name occurs 50 times in the text of the Hebrew Bible, of which 24 form part of the phrase Halleluyah. In Jewish tradition, there are many names for God. Some developed in the time of the Mishnah and the Talmud, such as Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu and Ha Maqom; a few are Kabbalistic, notably Ein Sof, Without End, and many of them are biblical, such as El Shaddai, El Elyon, Eloah, Yah and simply El which is also the name of a Canaanite god.

The date of the oldest known inscription of the tetragrammaton is 840 BCE, on the Mesha Stele.

In some of the earliest manuscripts of Greek translations of the bible, the Tetragrammaton was written in Hebrew letters; later it was translated as the Greek word, Kyrios, meaning Lord, while Elohim was translated as Theos. There is a view that Kyrios was not used in Greek translations of Hebrew texts until the time of the New Testament, which was written originally in Greek, and used the name Kyrios.

In Latin translations, Deus translates Elohim and Dominus translates the Tetragrammaton.

The first century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, said that it is lawful to utter God’s name only in a holy place, which would be the Sanctuary of the Temple, by the High Priest. He said: ‘If any one should even dare to utter the name unseasonably, let him expect the penalty of death.’
According to the Mishnah and the Talmud, the name was pronounced only on Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies, as we know from our Avodah service, which quotes the rabbinic sources.
The Masoretes, who added vowel points (niqud) and cantillation marks to the manuscripts added the vowels for ‘Adonai’ to the Tetragrammaton, so that the name could be read from the Torah, or in liturgy.

LXX Exodus 34:6
κύριος ὁ θεὸς οἰκτίρμων καὶ ἐλεήμων μακρόθυμος καὶ πολυέλεος καὶ ἀληθινὸς
Deuteronomy 6:4 Shema
’Ακουε Ἰσραηλ, Κυριος ὁ Θεος ὁ ἡμων, Κυριος εἰς ἐστι.

Vulgate Exodus 34:6
Dominator Domine Deus, misericors et clemens, patiens et multae miserationis, ac verax,
Deuteronomy 6:4
Audi, Israel: Dominus Deus noster, Dominus unus est.
French Ex 34:6
L’Eternel, l’Eternel, Dieu miséricordieux et compatissant
Je suis le Seigneur ! Je suis un Dieu compatissant et bienveillant
Deut 6:4
Ecoute, Israël! l’Eternel, notre Dieu, est le seul Eternel.
Écoute, peuple d’Israël : Le Seigneur notre Dieu est le seul Seigneur.
German Ex 34:6
HERR, HERR, Gott, barmherzig und gnädig
Deut 6:4
Höre, Israel, der HERR ist unser Gott, der HERR allein.
Italian Ex 34:6
Il Signore, il Signore, Dio misericordioso e pietoso
Italian Deut 6:4
Ascolta, Israele: il Signore è il nostro Dio, il Signore è uno solo.
Yiddish Ex 34
יהוה יהוה
איז אַ דערבאַרימדיקער און לײַ טזעליקער גאָט
Deut 6:4
הער, ישׂראל: יהוה אונדזער גאָט, יהוה איז אײנער

Outcome of the discussion
Some people said that they found male terminology obtrusive in prayer while others found the avoidance of gender specificity equally jarring. It was noted that the machzor, dating from 1985, used traditional terminology which the translators of the 2008 siddur had avoided. I did not get the impression that preferences regarding the English translation were an impediment to prayer for those in the discussion group. It was noted that the words of the Hebrew text are rarely changed, although the editing of the prayers may vary, due to theological differences. Editors seemed more willing to cut than to change. Those present expressed great esteem for tradition and the sense of being at one with other Jews across space and time, literally singing from the same hymn sheet! Yet they also esteemed enlightened, universalist values and thought it appropriate that these should be expressed in our Reform liturgy. Several people felt that the language of prayer resembled the language of poetry, being to some extent impressionist and euphonic, but not precise, least of all in the language used to and about God.

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