In looking up a pasuk online, the first result one gets is usually the King James translation or another Christian translation. Can one use this translation if the pasuk isn’t Isaiah 53:5 or something similar?
It’s not so much a question of whether one can use the source, but whether one should.
My father, z”l, was an expert in Christian missionaries and spent a good deal of his life combating them and rescuing Jews from their clutches. He pointed out to me on more than one occasion that many apparent innocuous translations can be deliberately misleading with a Christian bent.
For example, the second pasuk in Bereshis states: “and the spirit of G-d was hovering over the face of the water.” In Christian translations, the word “spirit” is spelled with a capital “s,” implying a split deity. There are several other such examples.
One may not possess, let alone make use of, a New Testament. If it was printed for Christian purposes, it is sacrilegious and should be burned if it comes into one’s possession, even if the Torah is also included in the work or it has G-d’s name, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 172).
This ruling implies that one should avoid benefiting from a Christian translation even if it pops up first on a Google search. Laziness is no excuse. A little more scrolling or a few more clicks will get you to the right source.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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I generally prefer to provide my own translations. When I do use existing translations, I prefer the Jerusalem Bible translation of Koren Publishers or the translation of the Jewish Publication Society of America.
I think it’s fine, however, to draw on the King James translation (or other Christian translations) as long as the verses are not translated using Christological interpretations.
My son, Rabbi Hayyim Angel, has written about a comment of a 12th century sage, Rabbi Yosef ibn Aknin. In his commentary to Shir haShirim, he noted several rabbinic precedents for utilizing Christian and Muslim writings and quoted a story related by Shmuel HaNagid:
R. Mazliah b. Albazek, the rabbinic judge of Saklia, told [Shmuel HaNagid] when he came from Baghdad…that one day in [R. Hai Gaon’s] yeshiva they studied the verse, “Let my head not refuse such choice oil” (Psalms 141:5), and those present debated its meaning. R. Hai of blessed memory told R. Mazliah to go to the Catholic Patriarch and ask him what he knew about this verse, and this upset [R. Mazliah].
When [R. Hai] saw that R. Mazliah was upset, he rebuked him, saying, “Our saintly predecessors, who are our guides, solicited information on language and interpretation from many religious communities, and even of shepherds, as is well known!”
When providing translations of Biblical verses, we should draw on those sources that provide the best understanding of the text.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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Even a Sefer Torah written by a min who is a pious idolater must be burnt and one written by a non-Jew who is not a pious idol worshipper must be put in genizah. Christians are considered either minim or idolaters according to many poskim. Surely, therefore, their translations would be prohibited to use as their intention in writing “G-d,” “L-rd,” etc., is to the trinity, which is idolatry.
Keeping a King James Bible in one’s home is prohibited, even if the New Testament is removed. Hence, reading it, or excerpts from it, is prohibited.
It’s possible that printed (as opposed to handwritten) material is not included in this prohibition, but one should still not use the King James translation especially since other kosher translations are easily available. In addition to the above concerns, one may not be sensitive to the nuances of translations that may have problematic connotations.
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator
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All translations are interpretations. The King James translation of the Bible was written by believing Christians, which had to have influenced the translation. While there are only a few verses where it’s obvious that the translation incorporates a Christian perspective, that perspective is always present.
According to the Christian religious tradition, its founder fulfilled biblical prophesies, and that affects their understanding of the prophesies. There’s no reason to use a Christian translation when there are many Jewish translations available.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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I have two problems with utilizing a Christian translation. One is philosophical; the other is practical. Philosophically, the Torah belongs to the Jewish people. When Talmai HaMelech gathered 72 sages in 72 houses and forced them to translate the Torah into Greek, that was considered a black day.
Chazal originally decreed a fast on that day because the Torah belongs to the Jewish nation, not to other people, and that incident was considered an affront to us. The Torah in a sense was stolen from the Jewish people. So to use any foreign translation would seem philosophically very, very questionable.
On a far more practical manner, using a Christian translation would seem to be foolish. There are so many online Torah sources today that are so much more accurate and properly resourced, so why would one go to a most likely mistaken source?
There’s no question that the King James Bible is grossly inaccurate in many places and misses a tremendous amount of what the Torah actually means. So why refer to an inaccurate translation when you have at your fingertips many online Torah resources that are accurate and convey the translation as Chazal explain to us in the Torah She’be’al Peh?
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz