(JTA) — A new Biblical translation that eschews gendered pronouns for God is now available through Sefaria, the online library of Jewish texts, prompting backlash on social media from some who see the change as a sacrilege.
The Revised Jewish Publication Society edition of the Bible, which the 135-year-old Jewish publishing house has released in partnership with Sefaria, is the first major update to the JPS translation of the Tanakh in nearly 40 years. So far, only the books comprising the Prophets, the Hebrew Bible’s second section, are available on Sefaria..
The new English translation refers to individuals with pronouns that are consistent with traditional gender norms. But unlike nearly all translations of the Bible throughout history, the new edition, known as RJPS, does not refer to God with masculine pronouns. It doesn’t use feminine pronouns either: Instead, God is referred to simply as “God” throughout the text.
For example, Isaiah 55:6 reads, “Seek GOD while you can, Call out while [God] is near.” JPS’ landmark 1985 translation, by contrast, reads, “Seek the LORD while He can be found, Call to Him while He is near.”
“The RJPS makes the case that the art of Bible translation is always a work in progress, and should take into account not only our deeper understanding today of biblical Hebrew but also the significant changes that have occurred in the use of English over the past decades,” said JPS’ director emeritus, Rabbi Barry Schwartz, in the announcement for the new translation of the Bible, which is called the Tanakh in Hebrew.
“Tanakh is the foundational text of the Jewish people, and we share Sefaria’s desire for everyone to be able to access it in language that is appropriate and meaningful for them while remaining faithful to the original,” Schwartz added.
The lack of divine pronouns in the RJPS translation comes as non-traditional pronouns — and debate over their use — have become increasingly prevalent in public discourse. A 2021 study by the Pew Research Center found that more than a quarter of American adults know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns, up eight percentage points since 2018. Meanwhile, many conservatives have decried the use of gender-neutral pronouns, and multiple Republican-led states have passed laws effectively permitting educators to refuse to use the pronouns their students prefer.
The RJPS translation, one of at least 12 available through Sefaria, has sparked backlash online from some Orthodox Jews who believe the new translation is not aligned with their values. Arguing that the translation is an example of progressive political ideology seeping into religion, some have said they will stop using the app over the RJPS translation.
Yehiel Kalish, the CEO of Jewish ambulance corps Chevra Hatzalah, announced last week via Twitter that he had deleted the app. Other prominent figures in the Orthodox world also condemned the new translation.
“Sefaria is a tremendous resource for the [world of] Torah,” tweeted Yochonon Donn, news editor of Mishpacha Magazine, which reaches a haredi Orthodox audience. “Messing around with [holy books] to conform to western ideas of equality is an unacceptable breach. If this is true, I can’t see people learning from an unholy source.”
Rabbi Yaakov Menken, managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, a right-wing Orthodox political advocacy organization, tweeted that “to be more inclusive of atheists, they’ll provide a ‘historically accurate translation’ that avoids mention of the Supreme Being. ‘In the beginning, heaven and earth were created.’”
Sefaria has always featured texts relevant to Jews with a range of approaches — a spectrum that has only widened as the digital library has added (and begun supporting the creation of) contemporary texts and translations.
Publishing the RJPS is “about having different translations that are available,” said Sara Wolkenfeld, Sefaria’s chief learning officer. (Sefaria’s CEO, Daniel Septimus, is on the board of 70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent organization.)
“We are always working to include Jewish texts that are studied by the full range of Jewish learners,” she said. “And that’s why we chose to include the newest JPS translation, but among the many other translations that we’ve already hosted in the library.”
Sefaria also has translations from Orthodox-geared publishing houses, such as the Koren and Metsudah versions, and even translations into French and German. Users can select their own preferred English translation, and RJPS is not the default translation for the Book of Prophets.
“People should know that Sefaria is a library for the entire Jewish people,” Wolkenfeld said. “And our mission is to provide access to Torah and to bring Torah into the digital age. That’s really what we’re aiming for.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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