Lost in translation

In the Jewish calendar, the current month, Tevet is pretty dull. Apart from the last days of Chanukah, which are at the beginning, there are no holidays during the month of Tevet. The only noticeable day is the 10th Tevet, which this year is tomorrow, and is a fast.
Now, in case you are panicking already, either because you did not know, (or have forgotten), the fast of the 10th Tevet, or because you don’t know what such a fast commemorates, I will provide some explanation.
First of all, 10th Tevet is a minor fast. People fast from dawn to sunset, which in the winter is not a long time. All the restrictions which are observed on Yom Kippur, such as not wearing leather shoes, are not observed. This fast has been instituted by the Rabbis and it is not in the Torah, therefore few Jews observe the practice of fasting on the 10th Tevet.
Even the reasons for the fast are not clear. The Rabbinic literature mentions the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE, but the calculation is wrong. The prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel, especially Zecharia) mention the 5th Tevet as a day of affliction, because of the loss of Jerusalem.
The search for reasons to fast on the 10th Tevet, includes “something that has happened but we do not know what it was” (so says the Shulchan Aruch). Nowadays some Rabbi suggests commemorating the victims of the Holocaust on such a day, as Yom ha Shoah is on the month of Nissan, when mourning is generally avoided.
One of the reasons why Jews fast, (or should fast), on the 10th Tevet, according to the Rabbinic literature, is really surprising. The translation of the Torah is in Greek, the Septuaginta as it is called, was completed on the 10th Tevet. Therefore we afflict ourselves: which is surprising. Why indeed should we fast, be sad, and afflict ourselves because of the translation of our Torah?
Rather, we should celebrate! There are so many wonderful things and teachings in the Torah, from which the non Jews can certainly learn, much like us. But the Rabbis reply that, because of its Greek translation, the Bible became the founding book for Christianity. And later the Church, on the basis of the Greek translation of the Bible, claimed that the Christians were the real Chosen People, the real Godly people, and that the Jews, that means us, were usurpers at least. That our understanding of the Torah was wrong. Because, so they teach and believe, the Torah, the Pentateuch, is not the law according to which one should live. It is rather “Old Testament”, preparation of the revelation included in the Gospels and in the New Testament.
Here you go, anti-Semitism was born.
Because, so the anti-Semites say, the Jewish people had no positive role in history. We are, they say, useless and our holy Book is just a collection of old stories that we are not even able to understand properly.
And what about Israel or, as they say, the Holy Land? Well, that certainly does not belong to us, because we are not the Chosen People anymore: the Christians are.
You see how the consequences of the translation of the Torah in Greek have been catastrophic for the Jewish people, and that there are good reasons to afflict ourselves and to fast on the anniversary of such a translation.
But. There is, indeed, a but.
None of us reads the Bible in Hebrew only, its original language. We have here the Hertz Humash, which is the English translation of the Torah. It is not my favourite, (I actually quite dislike it), because there are better translations available. But we certainly need a translation, if not in Greek, at least in English! We should celebrate the first translation of the Torah and not afflict ourselves because someone had dared to produce it. Therefore we find it particularly difficult to accept those passages of Rabbinic literature that say otherwise, that mourn for the translation of the Torah and condemn even the idea of reading the Torah in a language other than Hebrew.
But the problem still remains. As much as we can be happy and comfortable, because we have a translation of the Torah in our hands and we can access the text, we cannot deny that the anti-Semitic ideology is sadly strong and vivid around us.
A cornerstone of such an ideology is that we Jews are wrong, and not a people but merely another faith, and a wrong one. Because our holy book is an “Old Testament” has been replaced. And if we can say that the proof of our connection with the Land of Israel is in the Torah, the anti-Semite replies that we Jews are unable to properly understand such a book, which it is merely an introduction to the New Testament; and that the Land of Israel, which they call Palestine, belongs rather to the Christians. Hence the need for the Vatican to “protect the Holy Sites” which in the language of international diplomacy means that Jerusalem should never be Jewish.
A few weeks ago the United Nations had approved a resolution, according to which Jerusalem is “occupied territory”, hence the Jewish presence there is illegitimate. Unfortunately there is a red thread of anti-Semitic hate which connects that vile resolution to the first translation of the Torah.
Whether we fast or not on the 10th Tevet it is a matter of choice, like many of the elements of traditional Judaism that the non Orthodox movements are claiming back. We can decide to do it, we can decide not to do it.
But we should be aware that anti-Semitism, the irrational and furious hate against us, is still around. And that anti-Semites are subtle: they pretend to be secular, enlightened people, who just dream of peace between Arabs and Jews. But they are recycling ancient hateful legends, religious hate sugarcoated in the language of human rights.
Shabbat shalom, and don’t be fooled.


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