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Nov 10

Hebrew Discoveries

 

A child was working on learning ברכות השחר (birchot hashachar, “Morning Blessings,” a part of the morning prayer service), when she called me over.

“Morah Leah, that word means “night,” right?

“Well, the סדור (siddur, prayer book) you’re using includes the translation. What does it say?”

“…who allows us to distinguish between day and night. Yeah!”

 

“Morah Leah, I think this translation is wrong.”

“Where?”

“See, here in the Hebrew it says המים (hamayim) and I know that מים (mayyim) means water, but the translation says “who created heaven and earth”. It doesn’t say water!”

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“Wow, I agree, that doesn’t look like a literal translation. Go ahead and check another סדור (siddur, prayer book)  and see what it says.”

“It’s the same thing! No, wait, this one has a second, literal translation, too. Oh, and it says why…”

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“Which one do you think is better?”

“Well, I would go with this translation. No, wait, I think I would say… what does that word mean, again..?”

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We’re not exactly anti-translation here at the Enrichment Center. We read our theme Torah texts in translation, for example. It’s a useful tool that allows us to explore really complex stories and ideas on terms that are accessible to us. But as the children grow into confident Hebrew readers, and the vocabulary they build through our classroom routines becomes a familiar flicker in a Hebrew sentence printed on a page, they enter a new stage of relating to Jewish texts. They are able to interact with the ancient texts that have served as a backbone of Judaism with no mediating interpreter; no person or denomination’s translation or paraphrase. In my experience, the children appreciate and value other peoples’ interpretations, but they don’t need to, and often don’t want to, take anyone’s word for it when it comes to figuring out “what it means.”

Remember how we started this year with a focus on עברית (ivrit, Hebrew) reading skills? This powerful skill set is what we’re working towards. It’s not just about being able to read עברית (ivrit, Hebrew) words, although that’s an important foundation. It’s also the sense of confidence that comes when the children know they have the knowledge and the right as capable, powerful interpreters to figure out texts on their own terms. (And wow, are we ever working!)

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