Shema, Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad!
Hear, O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One!
When I served Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf in Southern California, I worked to learn how to say my prayers in ASL, American Sign Language. As is always the case with translation, there were some tricky bits about making the words of the prayers truly available to the congregation. The first word of the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism, is usually translated “hear.” The problem is that to say that word to a group of Deaf people would lose the very essence of the prayer, because it immediately exclude them.
This dilemma is handled in various ways in various Deaf Jewish communities, but at TBS, they use the sign for “understand” to translate “Shema.”
This led me to think about other ways to translate the Shema into English. ”Hear, O Israel” always seems formal and, well, rather passive, and the passage itself, (Deuteronomy 6:4) is emphatic, not passive. Here are my thoughts:
Listen, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.
LISTEN UP! Israel: Adonai is our God, Adonai is One!
Get it straight, Israel: Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.
Or perhaps the best translation I can imagine would be:
(((SHOFAR BLAST))) – Israel! Adonai is our God! Adonai is One!
How would you translate that word?
This post is part of #BlogElul 5773 / 2013, a month-long themed blogburst orchestrated by imabima, the mother of this great idea. I can’t promise that I’ll post every day, but I hope to share at least a few posts on these themes over the month to come. For other people’s posts on these themes, search using the #BlogElul hashtag.