Daf Yomi At Beren: Why We Translate Terms in the YU Observer

By: Shayna Herszage  |  October 29, 2020

By Shayna Herszage, Managing Editor

When I edit articles for the YU Observer, I often find myself having to advocate for translations of Judaic or Hebrew terms. Writers and readers alike ask: why translate Judaic and Hebrew expressions in an independent newspaper of an Orthodox Jewish institution such as Yeshiva University? Should we not already expect that readers are familiar with such terms?

This question is answered in a recent page in the daf yomi (daily Talmud page study) cycle. In Tractate Eruvin 53a, the Talmud discusses the decline of Torah knowledge over time. At one point, the Talmud states:

רָבִינָא אָמַר: בְּנֵי יְהוּדָה דְּגַלּוֹ מַסֶּכְתָּא, נִתְקַיְּימָה תּוֹרָתָן בְּיָדָם. בְּנֵי גָלִיל דְּלָא גַּלּוֹ מַסֶּכְתָּא, לֹא נִתְקַיְּימָה תּוֹרָתָן בְּיָדָם 

Ravina said: With regard to the people of Judea, who would publicly disclose the tractate to be studied in the coming term so that everyone could prepare and study it in advance, their Torah knowledge endured for them; with regard to the people of the Galilee, who would not disclose the tractate to be studied in the coming term, their Torah knowledge did not endure for them.

The Talmud explains that if the tractate was disclosed beforehand and the people had time to prepare the tractate, they could better understand the classes and transmit the knowledge to others. However, if the tractate had not been previously disclosed, the people ended up not following or fully appreciating the lessons imparted during the classes, and the information was soon lost.

This passage connects to one of the reasons we translate Judaic and Hebrew phrases. Many YU Observer readers do not come equipped with knowledge of terms such as “tzniut” (modesty), “Shabbos” (Sabbath) or “Gemara” (Talmud). Due to a number of factors, including religious background and community, people do not always have the exposure to information necessary to “prepare” themselves — much like the Judean and Galilean people of the Talmud. Given this consideration, we make a point of defining potentially unfamiliar terms upon their first mention in any given article. After all, if these terms are not defined from the outset, how can we expect someone to gain enough of an understanding to care about the article’s message? Once someone is denied the means to understand a statement, as the Talmud teaches us, the message will be lost. With the assumption that journalism is meant to facilitate the spread of information and ideas, it is our obligation to make sure that those ideas are clearly delineated.

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that the YU Observer serves the greater Yeshiva University community, which includes far more than Modern Orthodox Jews with day school upbringings. We write and publish for the YU students, alumni and faculty — both Orthodox and not Orthodox, those somewhere in between, and those who are not Jewish at all. We write and publish for the frum (religious) from birth, baalei teshuva (those who became observant later in life), those who were raised observant and no longer identify as such, and those who never were observant. We write and publish for the family members, friends, and many others who care about what happens in the Jewish community and the YU community in particular. Our audience is not universally familiar with certain Judaic and Hebrew terms, so leaving those terms undefined leaves part of our readership out of the discussion.

Considering the diversity of the community we live in, why should ideas and information be kept exclusive to only a select few? If we refuse to allow a large portion of our community to understand the ideas being conveyed because we refuse to acknowledge those who come from different backgrounds, we become like the people of the Galilee and consequently fail to communicate the ideas and information that we wish to share.

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Photo Source: Temmi Lattin