Hebranglish: It’s not Hebrew and it’s not English

gibberishThere is a growing interest among many Christians to understand the Jewish/Hebrew roots of our faith and those who take the time to truly understand the roots of our faith will find that their understanding of Scripture is also enriched. Unfortunately, there is also a growing trend to simply adopt beliefs and practices from Jewish culture without really taking the time to understand them. Sometimes what has been adopted from Jewish culture actually places obstacles in our path that hinder us from understanding our Scripture.

One of the most tragic examples has been the acceptance of the idea that Hebrew is a “sacred” language. This belief has resulted in English “translations” of the bible that are nearly impossible to understand. Here are a few examples from modern English translations of Scripture that have arisen because of this belief.

“And concerning the Goyim coming to emunah, we have sent an iggeret with our decision that they avoid what is offered to elilim and dahm and what is strangled and zenut.”

“and he spoke with them and with all the mishpakhat bais avi imo”

“Are you willing to have da’as, O hollow man, that Emunah unharnessed to Ma’asim, stands idle?”

If you find it difficult to comprehend the meaning of these verses, you are not alone. Even the English speaking congregations that use these translations are often confused about what their own translations mean.

To understand how we have come to the point where translations of Scripture like these are being used in congregations today, it would be helpful to understand a little of the Jewish background from which these practices arose. Because Hebrew has been seen as a “sacred” language in Jewish culture, Jewish people have, for centuries, read the Scriptures in the synagogue and prayed their (memorized) daily prayers in Hebrew even though few understand what is being read or prayed. They have also mixed in significant amounts of Hebrew vocabulary into their native language to such an extend that other speakers of their language may have a difficult time following some of their conversations. The Yiddish language is an extreme example of this tendency, it is basically German written in Hebrew characters and includes a large amount of alternative Hebrew vocabulary; a spoken conversation is difficult for a German speaker to follow and written communication is completely unintelligible.

There is a growing trend in Hebrew roots communities to accept, even more zealously, the idea that Hebrew is a “sacred” language. Today the “Hebranglish” spoken in Hebrew roots communities may use an even more extensive list of Hebrew words compared to what is commonly used in Jewish communities and this vocabulary is being adopted into the “English” translations of Scripture that are being used every week in their congregations. These new translations, which are a mix of Hebrew and English, are difficult to understand because they use an extensive Hebrew vocabulary which is foreign to English speakers and they provide little value to person wanting to learn Hebrew because they frequently use these Hebrew words incorrectly.

One of the greatest blessings God has given His people is His word in a language they can truly understand. We need to remember that the original language of our Scripture is not Hebrew; our Scripture is a collection of books written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek! Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, his disciples wrote in Greek and frequently quoted from their Greek translation of Scriptures, and the leaders of the early church spoke Latin and quoted from their Latin translation; there is simply no one “sacred” language of Christianity. The most tragic misunderstandings of Scripture have arisen at times when some have elevated one language above all others and hindered God’s people from having access to a God’s word in a language they could understand. Scripture is no more sacred when it is written in Latin, Middle English, or Hebrew. Let us not again make the mistake of believing that any one language is God’s Holy language and instead thank him for giving us Scriptures in a language we can truly understand.

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