Photo Credit: Koren Publishers

Title: The Koren Tanakh – Magerman Edition
Published by Koren Publishers

 

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Introducing the first ever Jewish English translation of the Bible, Isaac Leeser declared in 1853 his desire to “present to his fellow-Israelites, an English version made by one of themselves.” At the time, only the King James version with all its christological references and associations was available to his English speaking coreligionists, and Leeser sought to offer the Jews of the New World a translation appropriate for their synagogues.

The number of English biblical translations has grown exponentially since Leeser’s revolutionary project, each one engaging the immense challenges in translating the essential book of our heritage. Indeed, any Tanach translation must grapple with traditions of midrashic and halachic interpretation, generations of debates of the commentators, not to mention Hebrew grammar and syntax, in order to produce a readable text that can also capture the power of the encounter with the word of G-d. Entering this fray is Koren’s newest English translation, The Magerman Edition.

An impressive collection of scholars collaborated to produce this hefty, but beautiful, and durably-bound volume. These include translators, translation scholars and footnote scholars, as well as literary editors, typesetters and designers. The Torah itself, as well as major portions of Psalms, was translated by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, and his influence is apparent. Not only a creative thinker, Rabbi Sacks served for this generation as Judaism’s great communicator, displaying an uncanny ability to explicate controversy, complexity, and tradition in a way that was both authentic and aesthetically pleasing to Jews and non-Jews alike. The ambitious collaborative effort that produced this new Koren translation with its vocabulary, syntax, commitment to elegance and readability emanates from Rabbi Sacks’s inspired vision and legacy.

Those searching for a word-to-word translation will be disappointed by this text, as it prioritizes readability over all. Thus, for example, the statement vayomer Esav belibo (Gen. 27:41) is translated not as “and Esav said in his heart” but as “Esav said to himself.” Further, the syntax and grammar is based not on the Hebrew text, which in translation can sound awkward or forced, but on natural English grammar for a pleasurable English reading experience.

This reader-centered quality is particularly appreciated when encountering poetic texts. Balaam’s prophetic Mah tovu Ohalecha Yaakov… (Num. 24:4) is rendered:

How good are your tents, Yaakov, your homes, O Israel. Like palm groves stretching forth, like gardens by the river, like aloes the Lord planted, like cedars by the waters. Water will drip from his branches; his seed as abundant water; his king will be higher than Agag, his kingdom exalted.

This translation eschews medieval constructions, like the “thees” and “thous” that we have come to expect in Bible translation, in favor of contemporary though still moving and inspiring language. Jessica Sacks is similarly elegant and straightforward in her translation of the thick poetry of Isaiah, as is Lauren Gordon and Rachel Ebner in their work on Ezekiel and Daniel. Even the book of Iyov becomes reader-friendly and engaging in this translation.

Of particular interest is the translation of the Song of Songs, traditionally read as a parable of love between G-d and the Jewish people. Koren presents a literal translation, a tale of the tribulations of two lovers, and allows the readers to explore the deeper metaphorical meaning debated in the commentaries of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and the like. Further, the interplay of the male and female beloveds is marked by helpful bracketed speaker pronouns, which mark the speaker, a task that is usually quite challenging in English that lacks Hebrew’s masculine and feminine forms. Thus we read (Song 2:14-15):

[He] My dove in the rock’s cleft, in the cliff’s shadow – show me your face; let me hear your voice, for lovely is your voice; your face so fair.

[She] Catch foxes, the little foxes ravaging the vineyards, just as our vineyard is flower.

Footnotes scattered throughout the book have been added to assist in the identification of people and places, and at times to explain editorial decisions and sometimes offer alternative translations. Also, the names of biblical characters are presented in their traditionally pronounced forms rather than anglicized. The first forefather is referred to as Avraham, not Abraham, the redeemer of Israel is Moshe, not Moses, and so on.

Added to its pleasing translation, the Magerman Edition of the Koren Tanach is user-friendly and shul-friendly. The parshiyot and chapters are clearly delineated. The book offers a table of contents marking Torah reading and Haftarahs for special occasions on the Jewish calendar and provides an impressive collection of family trees, maps, and visual depictions and diagrams.

This new Koren translation represents another step forward for the American Jewish community as it provides an exceptional aesthetic for Tanach study.

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Rabbi Elie Weissman is currently the rabbi of the Young Israel of Plainview. He has taught Judaic Studies at Yeshivah of Flatbush High School and now teaches at Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central).
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