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Further comments on translating the Zohar

Professor Pinchus Giller

Not everybody feels the way that I do about whether faithful translation is possible. For instance, it seems to be that with the circulation of the Buddhist dharma, that the great transitional moment between Sanskrit and Chinese was accomplished without much fuss over the numinosity or possibility of multiple meanings, in the Sanskrit or Pali original, even though the translators were using Taoist terminology to describe Indian Buddhist phenomena. I have not yet met a scholar of Buddhism who wanted to wade into the chasm between the two religions and figure out what moved the Chinese translators to make certain exegetical leaps (I hope that there are some out there).  And today, studies are written without recourse to the "original." In this view, a translation is a translation; this word means that one. In this, a Christological emphasis on the logos/meaning as standing behind the manifestation in the word has spread to Eastern studies.

But for the Torah, the concrete word on the page comes before all meanings, and this may be the hermeneutic of Islam as well. This is the thrust of the argument that the aformentioned studies make (Idel, Wolfson, Scholem, Boeman, and in Hartman's anthology). It also underlies the recent interest in Midrash among post-literary critics, with their concerns for significations and misprisions.

In making these sometimes sweeping pronouncements, I don't mean to be condescending but I am reflecting the opinions of careful scholars who came before me.

Comments on translating the Zohar by Prof. Giller | Further comments on translations of the Zohar by Prof. Elqayam

posted on the Donmeh mail list
Tue, 8 Jun 1999


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