Rosh Hashana for Translators

According to the Geonic addendum to Megillat Taanit, the 8th of Tevet (which is today) was a fast day that commemorated the translation of the Torah into Greek for the Egyptian King Ptolemy. Contra the Letter of Aristeas, the Rabbinic work views the translation of the Torah negatively.

This challenge, translation form Hebrew into Greek, is indeed both tragic and a cause for celebration. If Levinas is correct that “The translation of the Septuagint is not yet complete”, then the task of the translator remains in this fundamental tension. On this day, I reflect on the service that we translators provide to humanity – allowing disparate cultures to engage each other and facilitating communication between people who have no common language. At the same time, since it is impossible to translate anything perfectly, I also contemplate the limitations of our trade and the loss that translation inevitably entails.

I have written about the tensions inherent in translation here and here. Perhaps this also explains why, no matter how good Google Translate gets, there will always be a need for those who practice the art of translation.

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