The Bible in English
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Jewish English Bible translations are English translations of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) according to the masoretic text,[1] in the traditional division and order of Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim. Most Jewish translations appear in bilingual editions (Hebrew-English).

Jewish translations often reflect traditional Jewish exegesis of the Bible; all such translations eschew the Christological interpretations present in many non-Jewish translations.[2][3] Jewish translations contain neither the books of the apocrypha[4] nor the Christian New Testament.

Lack of centrality

In general, English Bible translation has been less central and not as widespread among Jews as among Christians (the latter having produced dozens of modern translations and versions in English along with sets of initials to distinguish them).[5] This is partially due to the fact that English became the major spoken language among Jews only in the era since the Holocaust. Before then, even Jews in English-speaking countries were still part of an immigrant culture to a large extent, which meant that they could either understand the Hebrew Bible in its original language to a certain degree or, if they required a translation, were still not fully comfortable in English. Many translated Bibles and prayer books from before the Holocaust were still in Yiddish, even those published in countries like the United States.

A further reason that English Bible translation is less central to Jews than Christians is that often, those Jews who study the Bible regularly still do so, to a greater or lesser extent, in its original language, as it is read in the synagogue. Even those who require translations often prefer a bilingual edition.[5]

Nevertheless, Jewish translations of the Bible to English have become far more widespread, especially since the 1980s, and been made available in numerous complementary versions and styles. This article lists many Jewish translations with short descriptions (and sometimes with links to fuller, in-depth articles about specific translations).

Abraham Benisch translation

The first Jewish translation of the Bible to English was a bilingual edition by Abraham Benisch, A Translation of the Old Testament, Published with the Hebrew Text, published in England in 1851.[6]

Isaac Leeser translation

The first American Jewish English translation of the Bible was the 19th century effort by Isaac Leeser. Leeser began with a five-volume, bilingual Hebrew-English edition of the Torah and haftarot, The Law of God (Philadelphia, 1845). The complete translation of the entire Bible was published as The Twenty-four books of the Holy Scriptures in 1853 (commonly called The Leeser Bible). In 1857 he re-issued it in a second (folio-size) edition, with abridged notes.

Until the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation, the Leeser translation was the most important Jewish English translation. It was widely-used in North American synagogues and reprinted in England.[7]

A modern writer notes that despite its longevity, Leeser's translation was "wooden" and "devoid of literary distinction". He concludes that "it is perhaps the existence of Leeser's work rather than its merits that marks it as a noteworthy achievement".[8]

Michael Friedländer translation

Michael Friedländer edited a Jewish Family Bible in English and Hebrew. It was published in England in 1881.[7]

Jewish Publication Society translations

The translations of the Jewish Publication Society of America (JPS) have become the most popular English translations of the Hebrew Bible. JPS has published two such translations.

JPS 1917

The 1917 JPS translation.

Old JPS (1917)

The first JPS translation was completed in 1917 by a committee led by Max Margolis and was based on the scholarship of its day. Its literary form was consciously based on that of the King James Version; Margolis, a non-native speaker of English, felt that was the proper standard of language that Jews should adopt for their translation. The Old JPS translation was used in a number of Jewish works published before the 1980s, such as the Pentateuch and Haftaroth edited by J. H. Hertz and the Soncino Books of the Bible series. The translation committee included Cyrus Adler, Solomon Schechter, Kaufmann Kohler, Samuel Schulman, and David Philipson.[9] However, Schechter and Jacobs died before the translation was completed.[10]

Some of the copies had been printed with a serious printing error. A typesetter dropped a tray of type for first chapter of Isaiah and had incorrectly reset the type.[11]


File:JPS Tanakh.jpg

The 1917 translation was felt to be outdated by the 1950s, and a new effort developed that involved cooperation between numerous Jewish scholars from a variety of denominations. The translation of the Torah was started in 1955 and completed in 1962. Nevi'im was published in 1978 and Ketuvim in 1984.

The entire Tanakh was revised and published in one volume in 1985, and a bilingual Hebrew-English version appeared in 1999 (also in one volume). The translation is usually referred to as the "New JPS version", abbreviated NJPS (it has also been called the "New Jewish Version" or NJV).

The translators of the New JPS version were experts in both traditional Jewish exegesis of the Bible and modern biblical scholarship. The translation attempts in all cases to present the original meaning of the text in a highly aesthetic form.

The New JPS version is adapted for gender accuracy in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, revised edition (2005, Union for Reform Judaism, ISBN 0-8074-0833-2), the official Torah commentary of Reform Judaism, where it appears together with the work of translator Chaim Stern. NJPS is also used in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (2001, Jewish Publication Society, ISBN 0-8276-0712-1), the official Torah commentary of Conservative Judaism. It is the base translation for The Jewish Study Bible (2004, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-529751-2). And NJPS is the basis for The Contemporary Torah: A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation (2006, JPS, ISBN 0-8276-0796-2), also known as CJPS.

The Jewish Bible for Family Reading

In 1957 Joseph Gaer produced an abridged translation called The Jewish Bible for Family Reading. Influenced by biblical source criticism and the documentary hypothesis, Gaer moved all "duplications, specifications, detailed descriptions of rituals and genealogies" to a summary in an appendix; made a separate appendix summary of the Torah's "principal laws;" and omitted "all obvious redundancies."[12]

Intended for the English reader with little or no knowledge of Hebrew, the text of The Jewish Bible for Family Reading is organized in brief sections with descriptive titles (such as "The Story of Creation" and "Isaac Takes a Bride") without the verse numbers that are typical of Bible translations.[12]

The Jewish Bible for Family Reading is available online.

The Koren Jerusalem Bible

The Koren Jerusalem Bible, (not to be confused with the Catholic translation of the same title), is a Hebrew/English Tanakh by Koren Publishers Jerusalem. The Koren Bible was the first Bible published in modern Israel,[13] distinguished for its accuracy and beauty, and one of the most widely distributed Hebrew editions ever published.[cite this quote] The English translation in The Koren Jerusalem Bible, which is Koren's Hebrew/English edition, is by Professor Harold Fisch, a Biblical and literary scholar, and is based on Friedländer's 1881 Jewish Family Bible, but it has been "thoroughly corrected, modernized, and revised".[14]

The Koren Jerusalem Bible incorporates some unique features:

  • The paragraphing of the English translation parallels the division of the parashot in the Hebrew version on the facing page. Chapter and verse numbers are noted only in the margin (as in the Hebrew version).
  • The names of people and places in the translation are transliterations of the Hebrew names, as opposed to the Hellenized versions used in most translations. For example, the Hebrew name Moshe is used instead of the more familiar Moses.[15]
  • It uses Koren Type, created by typographer Elyahu Koren specifically for The Koren Bible, and is a most accurate and legible Hebrew type.

The Koren Jerusalem Bible is sometimes referred to as The Jerusalem Bible, Koren Bible, the Koren Tanakh, or Tanakh Yerushalayim (Hebrew for Jerusalem Bible).

Living Torah and Nach

Perhaps the first Orthodox translation into contemporary English was The Living Torah by Aryeh Kaplan which was published in 1981 by Moznaim Publishing. After Kaplan's death in 1983, The Living Nach was translated in the same style by various authors.[16] The Living Torah is available online.

Kaplan's translation is influenced by traditional rabbinic interpretation and religious law, an approach followed by many later Orthodox translators. It also reflects Kaplan's interest in Jewish mysticism.[8]

The Living Torah is also notable for its use of contemporary, colloquial English. For example, it reverses the usual distinction between "God" and "Lord", noting that in modern English "God" is more appropriate for a proper name. One writer cites these examples, emphasizing Kaplan's modern translation:[8]

  • Shemot (Exodus) 20:8-10 — Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. You can work during the six weekdays and do all your tasks. But Saturday is the Sabbath to God your Lord.
  • Vayyiqra (Leviticus) 18:7 — Do not commit a sexual offense against your father or mother. If a woman is your mother, you must not commit incest with her.
  • Vayyiqra 19:14 — Do not place a stumbling block before the [morally] blind.
  • Vayyiqra 19:29 — Do not defile your daughter with premarital sex.

Judaica Press

Judaica Press, an Orthodox Jewish publisher, has brought out several English translations.

Complete Tanach with Rashi

The Judaica Press Complete Tanach with Rashi is a bilingual Hebrew-English translation of the Bible that includes Rashi's commentary in both Hebrew and English. The English translations were made by A. J. Rosenberg.[17] The Complete Tanach with Rashi is available online.

Mikraot Gedolot

Judaica Press also published a set of 24 bilingual Hebrew-English volumes of Mikraot Gedolot for Nevi'im and Ketuvim, published as Books of the Prophets and Writings. As in traditional Mikraot Gedolot, the Hebrew text includes the masoretic text, the Aramaic Targum, and several classic rabbinic commentaries. The English translations, by Rosenberg, include a translation of the Biblical text, Rashi's commentary, and a summary of rabbinic and modern commentaries.[18]

Judaica Press has published 5 volumes of its bilingual Mikraot Gedolot for the Torah, including Bereshit (Genesis) and Shemot (Exodus).

ArtScroll Tanach series

In 1976 Mesorah Publications, an Orthodox publisher, began publishing a series of bilingual Hebrew-English books of the Bible under its ArtScroll imprint. The ArtScroll Tanach series include introductions to each books and a running commentary based on classic rabbinic interpretation.[19]

The Torah volumes were collected, revised, and published in a single Hebrew-English bilingual volume as the Stone Edition of the Chumash (1993) with a short commentary in English. This Chumash also includes haftarot, Targum and Rashi.

A translation of the entire Tanakh was published in a single volume in bilingual form (Hebrew-English) as the Stone Edition of the Tanach (1996).

The English translation in the ArtScroll series relies heavily on the interpretation of Rashi and other traditional sources and religious law. Some critics have said that this approach sometimes results in an English rendering that is as much an explanation as it is a translation.[19][8] In this regard, one critic likened the ArtScroll volumes to "non-literal" targumim, which interpreted as well as translated the Bible.[19]

One distinctive feature of the ArtScroll series is the way in which it renders the four-letter name of God, יהוה. Most English translations represent this name by the phrase "the Lord"; ArtScroll uses the Hebrew word "Ha-Shem" instead. Ha-Shem, literally "the Name", is an expression sometimes used by Orthodox Jews to refer to God.[8]

The ArtScroll series has become very popular in the Orthodox Jewish community, and is in use among non-Orthodox Jews as well.[8]

Torah translations

Because the Torah is read in a yearly cycle in the synagogue, there are many Jewish translations of the Torah only (without Nevi'im and Ketuvim). Such a translation is sometimes called a chumash, particularly when it is published in a bilingual Hebrew-English edition.

Everett Fox

Everett Fox translated the Torah (The Five Books of Moses, 1995) for Schocken Press. Fox's approach to translation was inspired by the German translation prepared by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, and he describes his work as an "offshoot" of theirs. His translation was also guided by the principle that the Bible "was meant to be read aloud". Fox's translation is printed in blank verse, and the personal and place names are transliterated versions of the Hebrew names.[20]

Writer John Updike cited some of these qualities as faults in Fox's translation, describing Fox as "an extremist after Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig" who "liberally coins compound adjectives like 'heavy-with-stubbornness' and verbs like 'adulter'" and noted that Fox renders the seventh commandment as "You are not to adulter".[21]

Another reviewer, echoing Updike's comments, wrote that "Fox's use of hyphenated phrases seems to be [modeled] after the German habit of compounding nonce words, a device used frequently by Buber and Rosenzweig in their German translation. The results seem less [strange] in German than in English, and it may be questioned whether such 'strangified' English gives the reader a true impression of what in Hebrew is really quite ordinary."[22]

Chaim Miller

Chaim Miller's chumash is a translation whose text incorporates Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's "novel interpretation" of Rashi's commentary, which was delivered in a series of public talks that began in 1964 and continued for more than 25 years.[23] The translation, which was sponsored by Meyer Gutnick and is called "The Gutnick Edition Chumash", is published in a bilingual Hebrew-English edition that includes a running commentary anthologized from classic rabbinic texts. It also includes the haftarot, mystical insights called "Sparks of Chassidus", a summary of the mitzvot found in each parashah according to Sefer ha-Chinuch, an essay on public reading of the Torah, and summary charts.[24]

According to Miller's foreword, unlike most other translations, the Gutnick edition does not intersperse transliterations among the translations; this is intended to make the text more reader-friendly. However, the translation does includes Rashi’s commentary in parentheses, and the foreword explains that these are Rashi’s words and not a translation of the chumash.[25]

The publication of the 5-volume series by Kol Menachem, Gutnick's publishing company, was completed in 2006.

Robert Alter

In 2004 Robert Alter translated the Torah with his own commentary. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. Alter aimed to reproduce in his translation the "slight strangeness", "beautiful rhythms", and "magic of biblical style" of the original Hebrew that he felt had been "neglected by English translators".[26]

One way in which Alter tried to accomplish this was by using the same English equivalent in almost every instance that a Hebrew word appears in the Torah. As one reviewer noted, "if a Hebrew adjective is translated as 'beautiful,' it won't next be rendered as 'pretty' or 'attractive.' This is important because it allows the reader to detect narrative and imagistic patterns that would otherwise go unnoticed".[27]

Reviewer John Updike noted Alter also "keep[s] the ubiquitous sentence-beginning 'and,' derived from the Hebrew particle waw; he retains emphatic repetitions, as in 'she, she, too' and 'this red red stuff.'"[21]

Partial Translations

Translations of individual books of the Bible

Menachem Mendel Kasher

In 1951 Menachem Mendel Kasher translated the book of Genesis and his commentary, Torah SheBaal Peh.

Everett Fox

In addition to his translation of the Torah, Fox has translated the books of Samuel (Give Us a King!, 1999).

Robert Alter

In addition to translating the Torah, Alter has translated I and II Samuel (The David Story, 2000) and the Book of Psalms (The Book of Psalms, 2007)

Kehot Publication Society

Kehot Publication Society has started a translation of the Torah, and as of March 2007 has completed the books of Shemot (Exodus) and Bamidbar (Numbers). The volumes, titled Torah Chumash Shemos and Torah Chumash Bemidbar, are bilingual Hebrew-English translations that include a running commentary based on Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's interpretation of Rashi's commentary. The project is supervised by editor-in-chief Moshe Wisnefsky.

Incomplete translations

The Bible Unauthorized

In 1942 A. H. Moose published a volume titled The Bible Unauthorized that included a translation of the first few chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) and a "treatise" that "proved" the existence of God, the Biblical account of creation, and other parts of the Bible. Moose claimed that "the real content of the Bible differs greatly from the many erroneous translations" that preceded his, and that his was "likely the first accurate translation".[28]

According to the correspondence of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn Moose was the pseudonym of Rabbi Aaron Hirsh Levitt, who had worked with Schneersohn.[29][30]

The Bible Unauthorized has been reprinted several times, most recently as In the Beginning: The Bible Unauthorized (Thirty Seven Books, 2001).

Further reading

See also

Bible in the Jewish Tradition:

Other translations:


  1. For basic information regarding the masoretic text as the Jewish canon and text of the bible, see the concise Britannica article.
  2. The motivation for specifically Jewish versions in English is summed up in the Britannica as follows: "Though Jews in English-speaking lands generally utilized the King James Version and the Revised Version, the English versions have presented great difficulties. They contain departures from the traditional Hebrew text; they sometimes embody Christological interpretations; the headings were often doctrinally objectionable..."; see "Jewish versions".
  3. "The repeated efforts by Jews in the field of biblical translation show their sentiment toward translations prepared by other denominations. The dominant feature of this sentiment, apart from the thought that the christological interpretations in non-Jewish translations are out of place in a Jewish Bible, is and was that the Jew cannot afford to have his Bible translation prepared for him by others." "Preface" to the 1917 JPS Translation
  4. The books of the apocrypha became part of the Greek scriptures of Hellenistic Jews (the Septuagint) and eventually of the Church, but were not included in the Hebrew proto-masoretic tradition of the Pharisees and the early rabbis. With some minor exceptions, these books were not preserved at all in the Jewish tradition, and their survival is due to their preservation by the Church. The classic scholarly study of Jewish canon as reflected in the Jewish sources, focusing on the background for the selection of books found in the masoretic tradition, is Sid Z. Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence, 2nd edition. New Haven, CT, Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1991. An online summary of some of Leiman's findings appears online here.
  5. 5.0 5.1 For a discussion of the Hebrew text's centrality in Judaism (of all denominations) and thus the popularity of bilingual versions in public worship, versus the centrality of translations in Christianity, see Why are Christians satisfied with English-only Bibles? and responses to it: Christianity is cross-cultural and cross-linguistic and Parallel Bibles: S. Bagster & Sons'.
  6. "Abraham Benisch" in the Jewish Encyclopedia
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Preface" to the 1917 JPS Translation
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Leonard J. Greenspoon, "Jewish Translations of the Bible" in The Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. Oxford University Press, 2004.
  9. Greenspoon, Leonard J. 1988. A Book "Without Blemish": The Jewish Publication Society's Bible Translation of 1917. The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 79.1, pp. 2, 8.
  10. Greenspoon, Leonard J. 1988. A Book "Without Blemish": The Jewish Publication Society's Bible Translation of 1917. The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 79.1, p. 11.
  11. Greenspoon, Leonard J. 1988. A Book "Without Blemish": The Jewish Publication Society's Bible Translation of 1917. The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 79.1, pp. 2.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Joseph Gaer, "The Bible: Our Inheritance", The Jewish Bible for Family Reading, Thomas Yoseloff, 1957.
  13. and the first Hebrew Bible designed, edited, printed, and bound by Jews in nearly 500 years. As recorded in the inner title page of each edition, followed by mention of the announcement by Knesset Speaker Kaddish Luz (1965) that "all Presidents of the State of Israel will hereafter be sworn into office on this Bible" (the Koren edition).
  14. Jerusalem Bible (Koren)
  15. Koren Publishing
  16. Ari Mark Cartun, An Annotated Bibliography of Translations and Commentaries on the Torah and Bible, Congregation Etz Chayim, 2006
  17. Judaica Press Tanach with Rashi
  18. Judaica Press Prophets & Writings
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 B. Barry Levy, "Our Torah, Your Torah, and Their Torah: An Evaluation of the ArtScroll Phenomenon" in Truth and Compassion: Essays on Religion in Judaism, Howard Joseph, Jack N. Lightstone, and Michael D. Oppenheim, eds. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1983.
  20. Everett Fox, "Translator's Preface", The Five Books of Moses, Schocken, 1995.
  21. 21.0 21.1 John Updike, "The Great I AM: Robert Alter’s new translation of the Pentateuch", The New Yorker, November 1, 2004. Accessed via Google cache.
  22. Michael D. Marlowe, "The Five Books of Moses: A New Translation by Everett Fox", Bible Research, September 2002.
  23. Chaim Miller, Rashi's Method of Biblical Commentary,
  24. Gutnick Edition Chumash, World Jewish News Agency.
  25. Jewish Press review of The Gutnick Edition Chumash
  26. Robert Alter, "The Bible in English and the Heresy of Explanation", The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton, 2004.
  27. Michael Dirda, "The Five Books of Moses", The Washington Post, October 24, 2004.
  28. A. H. Moose, The Bible Unauthorized, Rainbow Publishing, 1942. Portions of the book are available online at and Judaism Online.
  29. Yosef Rubin, The Wheel, Meaningful Life Center.
  30. In the Beginning: The Bible Unauthorized,

External links

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