Sunday, June 10, 2012

Creating a new bentcher

I've been working on a new bentcher (birkon, for the purists), hoping for it to be ready by my son's Bar Mitzvah. The goal is to produce a text which is easy to read, and which includes English translation as well as transliteration and commentary for the songs of the Shabbos table. I'm not aware of another bentcher which includes all of these elements.

For the transliteration, I'm largely using the work of the "Yale Bentcher". For the translation and commentary, though, I'm starting from scratch.

In the process of doing this, I've encountered quite a few places in which the translator must make the choice of following different commentaries. For example, the phrase in Kiddush, "כי הוא יום תחלה למקראי קדש זכר ליציאת מצרים," associating Shabbos with the commemoration of the exodus, admits of multiple explanations.

Another challenge is whether to translate songs in ways which highlight their puns. For example, Yom Zeh Mechubad includes the line, "על שתי לחם יבצעו תמימים," which has a double meaning - "upon two unblemished loaves of bread they will slice", or "upon two loaves of bread, the unblemished nation will slice". The former, literal approach is the one I've seen in various translations, but I favor the latter.

And another challenge involves translating phrases which may have been shifted from their proper grammar for the sake of rhyme or meter. One is the phrase ולנוח בחבת in Mah Yedidus; another is נעים שמכם in Dror Yikra. The standard translations take them entirely non-grammatically. For the former, I think a proper translation can work if one reads this as part of ולנוח בחבת כשושנים סוגה, which does fit the sort of enjambment seen elsewhere in the song. For the latter, I'm genuinely stuck.

It's an interesting process. Stay tuned!


  1. כי הוא יום doesnt belong in the text
    save yourself the trouble

  2. The problem is that the authors probably intended both meanings. Selecting one translation over the other is therefor not a choice to find the most accurate translation, but which of a palimpsest of meanings you are willing to omit.

    Tefillah was written to have many layers of meaning, so that I can say the same words multiple times a day, every day, and still be able to relate to them in my various moods and while facing whatever it is I am facing.

    Sepharadi piyutim tend to be more straightforward. I don't know if that's true of pizmonim, said weekly, but it is certainly true of Selichot and the tefilot for Yamim Noraim.

    HaKalir set a more complex norm for Ashkenazi piyut, and others appear to have followed. More like tefillah. The problem is, it means that even during the most moving tefillos of Yamim Noraim, few Ashkenazim understand the piyutim being said. And Selichos are even more opaque. It's written for the elite, but gives the elite far more to work with in terms of kavanah.

    Anyway, back to the problem... I therefore can't bring myself to translate tefillah. And when I need to in an email or blog post, I tend to end up with translation one / for a phrase or two.

    Also, in Tzur miShelo Achalnu, I would appreciate you mentioning that not everyone is okay with singing it. You were already yotzei the deOraisa mitzvah of benchen with the zemirah. So, can you bentch? Can you be counted toward the zimun? I think it's from the Gra, but I picked it up from my father. But if it's in the bentcher, people might believe me.

    1. Omission in 2nd-to-last paragraph. Should end: ... I tend to end up with translation one / translation two for a phrase or two.

  3. Just a suggestion on the "easy to read" part. Use a font and a type size large enough for all those attending your simcha, not just those people with 20/20 vision. Also this: many bentchers--in fact most--make the psukim said only on Shabbos or yom tov far smaller than the other psukim. Again, this shift in type size presents problems for anyone whose vision is less than perfect. Perhaps box in these psukim rather than change the size of the type. A brilliant translation is of no use if all those receiving the bentcher can't physically read it in comfort.

  4. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)June 10, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Some of my friends produced their own bentshers for their weddings. Good luck!

  5. I suggest taking a long at the bencher Yedid Nefesh. It includes some of the features that you are talking about.

  6. nachumj-
    Thought someone would say that...

    R' Micha-
    Absolutely agreed; I intend to use the commentary for some of this, but there will never be room for all of it.
    Re: Tzur MiShelo - Not including it in this edition, but I know the problem.

    Good points, thank you.


    Just did; interesting, thanks for sending the link.

  7. For "על שתי לחם יבצעו תמימים," why not preserve the ambiguity with "upon two loaves of bread, unblemished, they will slice"?

    I recall this issue of squashing artful ambiguities through translation being one of Leon Wieseleir's chief complaints about *The New American Haggadah*.

  8. It sounds very exciting! Good luck and mazaltov.

  9. what about askinu seudata? I hope you are not planing on translating that!

  10. Good luck on this project. I produced a bencher (just birkat hamazon) for his wedding because he specifically wanted one that included a "harachaman" for Medinat Yisrael and for Chayalai Zahal. (I know your feelings on the permissibility of these as they were discussed in another post).

    For the translation, it was a combination of looking at how others had translated and my own.

    I used Dagesh Pro and created a laminated fold up card with some faint pics in the background that I took of various things such as our Shabbat candlesticks, tephillin etc.

    Mazal Tov on the upcoming simcha!

  11. I should have said it was for my brother-in-law

  12. Isaac-
    That's an interesting idea; thanks.


    Nope. I have taught it before, but I wouldn't dare translate it on paper.

  13. "the phrase in Kiddush, "כי הוא יום תחלה למקראי קדש זכר ליציאת מצרים," associating Shema with the commemoration of the exodus"...
    Sorry, lost you - how's that about Shema?

    By the way, the "Yale Bentcher" link has your own URL attached to the beginning.

    1. David B. FreedmanJune 20, 2012 at 6:50 PM

      Yitziat Mitzrayim is the tzitzit paragraph. We say it at night, even though we do not wear tziztit at night, to remember Yitziat Mitzrayim day and night (kol y'may chahyecha).

    2. David-
      That's true, but not what I meant here. I meant Shabbat, and corrected it to say after seeing Andat's post.

  14. Andat-
    Thanks for catching those errors; duly changed now.

  15. Michael-
    Thanks for your comments; sorry for the delay in replying, but for reasons unknown to me they ended up in Comment Spam.

  16. David B, FreedmanJune 19, 2012 at 12:40 AM

    I am a purist. How do you know it's birkon, and not birkhon (without a dagesh in the khaf)?

  17. 1- Sorry for all the spurious linkbacks. This blog is in my blogroll, which means that the last few posts are on the sidebar. Blogspot clearly went through my blog and found lots and losts of links here, one on each page it visited.

    2- Beged kefet following another consonant sound usually is degushah. Here, the sheva is nach, so the khaf is following the sound of the reish. I think it would be "birkon".

    1. David B. FreedmanJune 19, 2012 at 11:46 PM

      You could be right. We say Birkat haMazon. But you know that the rule you stated is just not so. Lamdan,arkhan,chatfan, nadvan . . . all rafeh.

      Since Birkon is a newly minted word -- not in my Even Shoshan, for example -- whoever minted it should tell us what it is. Or the Va'ad haLashon should tell us. It could go either way. I say Birkhon, but you could prove I'm wrong -- especially if you made up the word. Beged kefet is not really a good rule when declining words -- as Melekh Malkhay haM'lakhim will tell you.

    2. David B. FreedmanJune 20, 2012 at 12:42 AM

      I say "birkhon" possibly because we say "birkhot hashachar" or "birkhot hanehenin." Once again, that beged kefet "rule" simply doesn't work when declining words.