Monday, January 02, 2012

Fun with the Wife

Continuing our ongoing efforts to be crowned Leitzhanei Ha-Dor, Mrs. Yid and I have recently been reading some Artscroll books. Well, to be more precise, books about Artscroll. Yep, all two of them.

While paging through these (and getting plenty of chuckles along with groans), I decided that for our Shabbat study session this week, Mrs. Yid and I should take a look at Song of Songs.

"The one with all the sex?" she asked.

"Not according to Artscroll!" I said.

"Oh Lord."

Yes, for those who don't know, Artscroll's approach to the Song of Songs is somewhat unique. You see, the Song of Songs is, for the Tanakh, somewhat graphic. And there's a longstanding Jewish tradition that it's meant to be read allegorically as a love poem between God and Israel, not two lovers. Fair enough, I can understand that approach. But what Artscroll does really takes the cake. Rather than argue for why it should be read allegorically, they treat it as an accepted fact.

To both the Sages of the Talmud and the classic commentators, it was clear that Song of Songs is an allegory... Its verses are so saturated with meaning that every commentator finds new themes in its beautiful and cryptic words. All agree, however, that the truth of the Song is to be found only in its allegory. That is why, in the interest of accuracy, our translation of the Song is different from that of any other Artscroll translation of Scripture. Although we provide the literal meaning as part of the commentary, we translate the Song according to Rashi's allegorical translation.

At this point Mrs. Yid actually got mad. "Artscroll! What are you doing? How can... how can they even pretend to have any intellectual honesty anymore?"

I read through some of their translation, and it was pretty entertaining. I particularly like the part where "my nard gave forth its fragrance" becomes "my malodorous deed gave forth its scent as my Golden Calf defiled the covenant." Another good one is when the line about breasts gets glossed as being about the Ark of the Covenant: "The long staves of the Ark pressed against the curtain that separated it... in the Tabernacle, causing breastlike protrusions on the other side..."

I think the whole thing is funny, but Mrs. Yid was quite bothered by the sheer force of double-speak. She says she may have to consider an Artscroll boycott in our house. (But then how will our kids learn good middos?)


MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

You know you've made it big when people write books about your books!

Yes, the Artscroll translation of Shir HaShirim is a farce. On the other hand, their "interpretive" translations are vital for other obscure Jewish text like the piyutim on the High Holydays and all those Selichos we say during that time. Sometimes a straight translation is too awkward to render in English and sometimes the text is hinting at something in the original that needs to be plain out said in the translation. When it comes to that they do a great job.

Friar Yid said...

Yes, I agree that they fulfill a need; it's just very jarring to keep bumping into their ideology in my Chumash footnotes. I know that a lot of the time they're just repeating something an established authority said, but something about their tone just seems to rub me the wrong way. I think I'm allergic to philosophical certainty. R. Hertz isn't quite as readable, but I'm definitely glad I also got his commentary so my first intro to Orthodox drash isn't quite as skewed.