“A Prayer for Bibi” explores new frontier in Hebrew-English translation difficulties

This blog has thoroughly rehearsed the inability of Facebook (in partnership with Bing) to faithfully render Hebrew into English. I was skeptical the standard set by Bing’s engine could ever be topped. Until, that is, I read “A Prayer for Bibi“, published this morning by the Times of Israel:

Prayer for Bibi no name

This post is in no way intended to pick on the sentiments expressed in the prayer reproduced above. Whether the usual Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel — which beseeches the Almighty, inter alia, to “send Thy light and Thy truth to [Israel’s] leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Thy good counsel” — would have sufficed under the present circumstances is a question I will leave to a different conversation. (Though I will note that the timing of its publication, shortly after Bibi’s decision to begin the withdrawal of forces from Gaza is probably no coincidence.)

What I do intend to pick on is the included translation.

So far as I can tell, no translation engine was employed to produce the English text included above the Hebrew. That means someone deliberately translated “אמונה” as “trusting-love” and “ישוב דעת” as “settled mind-heart” in this particular context. One need not speak any Hebrew to realize that the word choice here is magnum-bizarre.* I would like to assure the perplexed that it is possible to translate Hebrew into English without the help of a mystic guide: “אמונה” is typically rendered faith or belief and “ישוב דעת” can be translated as composure or equanimity.

*Were I a hardcore conspiracy theorist, I would note that “ישוב” means settlement and that the phrase from which “settled mind-heart” was presumably derived (מוח שליט על הלב) includes the word “Shalit”, two loaded terms in the context of Israel’s renewed withdrawal from Gaza. I won’t even bother to point out the connection between “אמונה” and the settlement project. But I’m not, and really don’t believe these coincidences necessarily reflect the author’s intent.

Of course, the nonstandard translations don’t come from nothing — they are derived from deeper Jewish concepts — but the Times of Israel probably should have learned by now that its audience is wider than the observant Jewish community (if for no other reason than the fact that its claimed readership of 2 million far exceeds the size of said community) and that writing to some subset of them in code isn’t going to fly on the internet. Throwing “trusting-love” and “settled mind-heart” into what would have otherwise read as a straightforward prayer for Bibi to make only good decisions unnecessarily complicates everybody’s comprehension.

Next time, let’s let Bing handle this again:

Heavenly Father please have mercy on Israel and faith and community reviews for Benjamin Ben ntziion Ben Israel Israel keeping slaves please maintain it and help him do what he needs to bring justice and peace to Israel and all Nations

Wait, what? Israel is keeping slaves? Abort! Abort!


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