Talking about that elephant

I feel compelled to respond to Shmuel Goldin’s essay (“Understanding Orthodoxy,” May 20). It all sounds quite wonderful if you don’t actually stop and think about it, but quite absurd if you do.

“You can’t judge Judaism by the Jews”? Are you kidding me? By what other standard could you possibly judge it? How beautifully typeset the Torah is? How luscious the parchment feels? Judaism is a system of belief and behavior designed to improve the way people live their lives. If it doesn’t lead people to live good lives, then it’s no better than a fad diet that doesn’t help people lose weight.

Next up, this gem: “Religious coercion is antithetical to Jewish thought…” Really? Did we all learn the same Torah? The one I learned obligates Jewish courts to engage in all sorts of religious coercion. Fines, lashes, imprisonment, even stoning to death are all required methods of encouraging compliance with Jewish law.

Sure, we don’t have this system today. But do Rabbi Goldin and all who believe as he does not pray every day for the moshiach to come, for the beis hamikdash to be rebuilt, for the Sanhedrin to be reinstated, along with the legal system that includes whipping people who violate certain laws?

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but since we’re addressing the elephant in the room…

Adam Schorr

hagdud-haivri-correctedTransliterating into Arabic

I was intrigued by your Page 3 story, “Wanted: A legion of proofreaders,” on May 13.

Representing the Hebrew original in other languages poses a dilemma: Should the Hebrew be translated or transliterated? In the present case, the decision was made to transliterate “Hag’dud Ha’ivri” (“The Hebrew Legion”) into both English and Arabic. Other than the obvious typographical error, the transliteration into English was not difficult, with the exception of the Hebrew “ayin” (the first “i” in “Ha’ivri”), the sound of which exists only in Hebrew and Arabic. The substitution of the English “i” appears to be a reasonable choice.

The transliteration into Arabic poses greater difficulties. The second letter (from the right) in the middle word was designed to duplicate the sound of the hard “g” in “Hag’dud.” This sound usually is approximated in Arabic either by the Arabic letter “kaf” (pronounced, as the Hebrew “kaf,” more harshly than the “g”) or by the Arabic letter “jim.” The latter letter works well in Egypt, where it is indeed pronounced as a hard “g” (as in “Gamal”). Unfortunately, it is pronounced “j” (as in the English “jam”) in the countries of the eastern Mediterranean littoral (including Israel), so would not be a good substitute for the hard “g” on a Jerusalem sign. Moreover, the actual letter on the sign is neither a “kaf” nor a “jim.” It is, in fact, not Arabic at all. In the process of transliteration, Arabic occasionally borrows letters from cognate languages, when the required sound is not part of the Arabic alphabet. The letter on the sign was taken from Persian/Urdu, apparently for this purpose. Regrettably, the letter chosen is not pronounced as a hard “g” but rather as “ch” (as in the English “chair”). It therefore is used incorrectly here.

Transliterating the “v” sound of the Hebrew “vet” in “Ha’ivri” into Arabic is even more problematic, since this sound does not appear in any Arabic dialect. Sometimes the Arabic letter “fa” (pronounced as the “f” in the English word “father”) is used as a rough surrogate. At other times, an artificial “v” is used. The letter depicted on the sign (third letter from the right in the third word from the right) may be an attempt to inscribe this artificial “v,” but the three dots should lie directly on top of the letter and the two dots below the letter were added erroneously.

The good news is that the first Arabic word (beginning on the right) is entirely proper. It means “street.”

Hillel S. Ribner