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Modern Hebrew Bible translation reaches out to Israeli youth

RISHON LETSION, Israel (BP)–The Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew. So you might think that the millions of Hebrew-speaking youth in Israel would be able to read and understand it.

But HaGefen Publishing, a Christian publisher in Israel, has taken note of vast differences between the biblical Hebrew of the Old Testament and the modern Hebrew of today that make it very difficult for Israeli youth to understand the Bible. HaGefen is attempting to remedy the problem by publishing the first-ever translation of the Old Testament in modern Hebrew.

The new translation is part of a modern-Hebrew translation of the entire Bible called “The Testimony” (“Ha’Edut” in Hebrew). The first volume, containing the first five books of the Old Testament, was published in 2001; volume two, containing the historical books, was published in early 2004. Volume three contains the prophetic books and is scheduled for release in late 2006. The entire project began in 1994 and is slated for completion by 2010.

All volumes are translated into simple, modern Hebrew vocabulary by Shoshan Danielson and edited by Baruch Maoz. Experts in Hebrew and the Bible are among those involved in the project, along with a control group of children. The finished product will feature more than 1,000 illustrations, including diagrams of genealogies.

Maoz told Baptist Press that Israeli youth need The Testimony because biblical Hebrew is like a foreign language to those who read modern Hebrew.

“Biblical Hebrew is 4,000-2,500 years old,” Maoz said in an interview. “Who can read a text written in English even a mere 1,000 years ago? There are differences of vocabulary, syntax and the meaning of words, sometimes radically so.”

Yitzhak Laor, an Israeli novelist, emphasized the vast difference between biblical and modern Hebrew in a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“In my opinion, one of the difficulties of teaching the Bible [to Israeli youth] lies not in the clash of religion and secularism, but in the inability to recognize the fact that the Bible is written in a foreign language,” Laor writes. “The Israeli high-school graduate does not have the ability to approach a chapter that was not previously studied at school without a book of biblical commentary within easy reach, without a dictionary of biblical Hebrew.”

The Testimony is part of HaGefen’s larger mission to share the Gospel with Jewish men and women. HaGefen is the Israeli branch of Christian Witness to Israel, a UK-based interdenominational evangelistic society committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus with the Jewish people.

In addition to The Testimony, HaGefen has published in modern Hebrew classic Christian books such as “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, “The Mystery of Providence” by Puritan John Flavel, “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer and “The Sovereignty of God” by A.W. Pink.

A statement on HaGefen’s website notes, “Like the apostle Paul, we reason from the Hebrew Scriptures to demonstrate and prove that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead and that Jesus is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world promised through the ancient Jewish prophets. We believe that to preach the Good News of Jesus to everyone but the Jews is an act of spiritual anti-Semitism. We are completely open and honest about our beliefs and aims and we deplore deceptive and manipulative techniques.”

According to HaGefen, The Testimony will meet needs among Israeli’s that have been ignored for far too long. “HaGefen Publishing has embarked onto an ambitious program of illustrating all the books of the Bible in a manner that will respond to the needs barely met until now by all other illustrators,” the website states.

Maoz, who also serves as pastor of Grace and Truth Christian Congregation in Israel, said it is uncertain what impact The Testimony may have for the Gospel. But certain Rabbis fear the translation’s impact and have raised opposition, he said.

“There is strong opposition to the translation’s distribution,” Maoz said. “Shops refuse to carry it.”

One major challenge facing HaGefen is funding to complete the project and to start future translation projects, Maoz said.

“We would also like to produce a metric version of the Psalms, with music, for singing in our congregations,” he noted.