Simultaneous Translation…or Better

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July 29 2005
Citing a pasuk in Yirmiyahu, the Talmud compares G-d’s words at Mount Sinai to the breaking of a hammer hitting a rock; the words were comparably divided into seventy langauages. Rashi explains the comparison as focusing on the rock, which splits into many pieces after being hit by the hammer. Rabbeinu Tam, however, objects (Tosafot, s.v. mah), noting that the Torah is compared to the hammer, and it is the Torah itself (in the form of the words) that is being divided into the languages. Rather, the comparison is to a hammer that strikes an unusually hard rock and itself splits into many pieces.

R. Dov Fink (Birkhat Chein, Berakhot, 30) suggests that this issue may parallel a different debate in rishonim. The Talmud (Berakhot 13a) relates the view of the Rabbis (against Rebbe) that the Torah was “said in lashon ha-kodesh”; Rebbe’s view was that it was “said in . Tosafot (s.v. b’lashon) comments that nonetheless, every word that came from G-d’s mouth was divided into seventy languages (see Maharsha). The Ra’avad (quoted in Shitah Mekubetzet), however, understood differently. In his view, all agree that the Torah was given purely in lashon hakodesh. The only question is in regard to the teaching that took place afterward: could that be done in any language, or did that have to be purely in lashon hakodesh?

In the hammer analogy, Tosafot appears to maintain his view consistently: the Torah itself divided, just as the hammer does in that version. Rashi, however, agrees with the Ra’avad; the translation was afterward, just as the rock is what shattered after receiving the blow of the hammer.

This difference reflects itself in yet another dispute. The Rambam (Hil. K’riat Shma 2:10) rules that although one may recite k’riat shma in any language, one must be careful might to employ any corruptions of that language, as precision is required in k’riat shma. The Ra’avad objects to this requirement, noting that all translation is interpretation, and if translation is being used, precison must be irrelevant.

The Rambam’s view may be consistent with that of Tosafot: the Torah was translated at its very transmission, and thus even in other languages there is a precision to be demanded. The Ra’avad, however, is consistent with his opinion that the Torah was given purely in lashon hakodesh, and all translation came later; thus, no precision is relevant to such a translation.


Collections: Rabbi Feldman Mini Shiur (Daf)

References: Berachot: 13a Shabbat: 88b  

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