Translate Hebrew – is it possible?

All people like to know what they are reading, when reading Hebrew. I am often asked to help translate Hebrew by my pupils. I explain to them that it is quite difficult to translate Hebrew word for word. Hebrew has a very difficult grammatical structure in comparison to English. Also, some words simply cannot be translated into English.

Hebrew translation using the siddur (prayer book)

It is interesting trying to translate Hebrew in the prayer book (siddur), as many words are open to interpretation. There is one particular word which means “very” or “much”, but when trying to translate it to make a meaningful sentence, it would not make sense to use the translation of “very” or “much”. The editors of this particular siddur have translated it to be “greatness”.

This is a brilliant example of how difficult it is to translate Hebrew. Another example, is that Hebrew has the prefixes and suffixes as part of the verb. For example, the word “your” is not a separate word, it is actually incorporated into the verb a prefix or suffix (depending on if it is past or future tense). However, when it comes to translate Hebrew, the editor needs to take the 2 languages into account, and write the English accordingly. Otherwise, it would not make grammatical sense in English!

Translating the word “et”

There is a word in Hebrew which simply cannot be translated into English. This is the word “et”. It does not have a meaning. The word “et” only has a grammatical function. It is used to introduce a pronoun. This includes people or places. It also includes personal pronouns, such as “I” or “you”. So, again, this is another example of how it is very difficult to translate Hebrew.

I do not think it is always necessary to be able to translate Hebrew word for word. As long as someone understands the essence of what they are reading, that is what counts.

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