Sunday, September 04, 2011

Know any good bibles?

As the new year is on its way, Mrs. Yid and I have been thinking about various personal and professional goals we have that we can try to work on during the coming year. One of the things we discussed was trying to get this Jew-thing more on the front burner. To that end, we're contemplating, among other things, finding a Hebrew tutor/class again (hopefully this time the guy will stay around for more than six weeks before deciding SF is too hard to live in and running back to Crown Heights), trying a new round of shul-hopping on Saturday mornings, and also trying to study a little on Shabbos.

I've been looking at various Chumashim (Bibles) and translations, and am trying to figure out which ones are worth getting, how many do we really need, etc. Here are my top picks below, along with a few others I'm curious about. Comments are welcome and appreciated. Am I missing something good? Are some of these redundant? Silly? Just plain bad? I don't know, so tell me.

The contenders are:


Five Books of Moses by Everett Fox. Everything I've heard about this guy and his work sounds amazing. Apparently he has retranslated the Tanakh to approximate the "poetic" quality of the original text.

Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter. I've heard of this guy, not too familiar with his work, but he gets good Amazon reviews.


JPS Jewish Study Bible. I've read bits and pieces in college and it seems like a nice resource that's grounded in both solid academic approaches but also in Jewish content and perspectives.

Etz Hayim, by the Conservative movement. The new standard CJ translation and commentary. I've seen it a few times and it would be interesting to contrast it with other commentaries.

The Torah: a Modern Commentary, by the Reform movement. A revised version of their classic commentary from the 80s. Never heard of it until researching Etz Hayim, but I figure it would be nice and fun to have a balance between it and Etz Hayim.


How to Read the Bible, by James Kugel. Dovbear and other smart people seem to like him.

Chumash/Tanakh Stone edition, by Artscroll. Is it worth getting just to have a counterpoint?

Koren Chumash, by Jonathan Sacks. I would be more interested in this if there was commentary.

I also know I have some commentaries by Nechama Leibowitz and Rav Hirsch somewhere at my folks' house that I should dig up, too...


Antigonos said...

Well, this will floor ya: I personally think, as one who has no problem reading Tanach in the original, that the best English translation is the New English Bible, which is a Protestant/Catholic co-production. You've got to remember that Biblical Hebrew is about as difficult, for a Hebrew speaker, as Shakespeare [NOT Chaucer!] is for a native English speaker. Only slightly archaic, certainly entirely intellegible.

I think it is very useful to "see the other side" by getting the Artscroll edition, for comparison value. The commentary can be astounding. I also have a translation of a translation -- the Chumash of R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, which has many insights in the commentary.

The Sachs translation of siddur and machzorim got a good review on the "Hirhurim-Torah Musings" blog, which is very frum, as being in better English than the Artscroll.

Reform and Conservative Tanachim leave me cold, but there is an excellent commentary on the Chumash [also Orthodox, but not as haredi as Artscroll] in 5 volumes called "The Call of the Torah" by Rabbi Elie Munk [it is also a translation of a translation as R.Munk lived in Paris for many years after escaping Germany]

Not really Tanachim, but two classic works, the Me-Am Loez, and the Sefer HaHinuch, might interest you. The former was composed in Turkey in the 18th century, and combines commentary with practical halacha for the time and aggadah. It really opens a window on how Jews lived and thought back then which I find fascinating. The Sefer Ha-Hinuch is really a compendium of the commandments in the Chumash, parasha by parasha, with commentary and is also several hundred years old, which provides an interesting new angle. They are both multi-volume, and in excellent English translations [Me-Am Loez translated by R. Arye Kaplan, z"l]

Personally, I think where Torah study is concerned, the more the merrier. Eventually you digest all the various approaches, and figure out your own. Remember that there are also a number of websites, such as that of Yeshiva University, which post weekly commentary on the parasha.

Antigonos said...

Oh, and I forgot Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg's marvellous commentaries. I heard her lectures, here in Israel; I'm not sure how far she has gotten with turning them into books -- at least Bereshit and Shmot are in print. Believe me, they are an entirely new approach.

Friar Yid said...

Thanks so much, Antigonos! I will look up Zornberg, Munk, and look into getting an Artscroll or two. Like I said, I'm curious about Sacks but I really would prefer to have commentary in it. If you know of any good MO-ish Chumashim in English that people seem to like in Israel, please let me know. Since at this point it seems like we're going to be playing in the more liberal-ish side of the pool, I think it would be nice to start familiarizing ourselves with some of those movements' approach to commentary and Chumash, though as I said, more traditional stuff is probably useful to have if only as a reference.

I've heard of Sefer ha-Chinuch and Me-Am Leoz. A professor of mine in college also once recommended checking out Chovot HaLevavot. I will try to see if I still have my grandfather's Kitzur Shulchan Aruch lying around. I might as well compile all the Judaica we may want to consult. (One day we'll have a home with an office or study and then I can buy Jew books to my heart's content!)

And yes, I was quite surprised by your first sentence. :)

JRKmommy said...

What about the Jewish Publication Society's "Tanakh: The Jewish Scriptures"? It's a fairly scholarly translation with some decent footnotes, and it's quite readable. It was recommended by my history professor 20 years ago.

Sholom said...

Whenever I come across a translation of the Bible that I had not yet seen, I turn immediately to Ezekiel 16:17.

JPS is thus far the only edition to score a full 10/10.

Fox is good, but comes across as stilted if you're not familiar with the original Hebrew. Etz Chayim is useful as far as commentary goes.

Friar Yid said...

Thanks for the suggestions JRKMommy and Sholom!

Anonymous said...

I've heard that "The Living Torah" translation by Rav Aryeh Kaplan is be very good.