The Torah And The TLS

English,Hebrew Testament,Judaism & Jews


Here’s a Letter-to-the-Editor of the British Times Literary Supplement. They wanted to publish it; I knew they would; Britons like a pedant. But they want private information about me, which I’m unwilling to disclose. What is it about so many private organizations these days that they act like government? On making a purchase, salesclerks will routinely ask for one’s address. Are they nuts? And most people comply. My husband takes cover whenever a salesperson dares to so pry.

Dear Editor,

In his review of Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses (TLS, June 24, 2005), John Barton praises the author’s translation of the Torah for “brilliantly imitating the Hebrew without sacrificing intelligibility.”
As someone who greatly admires the biblical narrator, I certainly agree that “welter and waste” does justice to “tohu vavohu” (Genesis 1:1), which Barton or the author transliterated to read “tohu wabohu.” Whence does that bowdlerization come? There’s no “wabohu” in Genesis 1:1—there’s no “wabohu” in the Hebrew language!
The first letter in vavohu is a “vav,” which is never a “w,” and here it’s pronounced “va.” The next Barton or Alter-bungled letter is an unpunctuated “Bet” (B), pronounced “v” too. Its enunciation here is “vo.” Hence, “vavohu.” I’m not sure how better to denote an unpunctuated “Bet” in English, but it’s certainly not a “b.”
So many scholarly writers, who profess to know Hebrew, habitually muck up the English transliteration of Hebrew words. Why?