Under the editorship of David E. S. Stein, a gender-sensitive adaptation of the NJPS translation of the Torah recently appeared. Entitled The Contemporary Torah, it is a thoughtful piece of work. In conjunction with the documentation Stein provides online, it will be treated as an inevitable point of departure in future discussions of gendered language used of human beings and God in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. More than anyone else before him, Stein tackles the issues faced in translating the gendered language of the Bible with sensitivity and verve.
 The new Jewish Publication Society version of the Torah came out in 1962 and superseded the 1917 version. Revisions of the 1962 version were published in 1967, 1985, and 1999. For a splendid introduction to Harry Orlinsky, the general editor of NJPSV, see Iyov’s post here. Thanks to Iyov, Orlinsky’s extensive notes to his team’s translation of Genesis are available online (go here and note the index at the bottom). It is hoped that Iyov will post Orlinsky’s notes to the rest of the Torah.
Stein distinguishes between two approaches to translation that are often confused in people’s minds:
(1) A gender-neutral translation, in which, regardless of evidence that the source text was deliberately non-inclusive, a putative contemporary need for gender-inclusiveness is allowed to have the last word and “improve” on the source text.
(2) A gender-accurate translation, which does not pass judgment on how the source text constructed gender, but seeks to be as gender-inclusive or as gender-specific as the source text is, no more, no less.
Stein offers a translation of the latter kind.
All translations strive to be sensitive and accurate vis-à-vis a source text. At the same time, and this leads to “conflicts of interest,” all translations seek to be responsive to the needs of a target audience. Here’s the question: are available translations sensitive to what Stein calls the grammar of social gender in Biblical Hebrew? Are they gender-accurate?
If Stein is right, they are not, in hundreds of specific instances. That makes his revision of NJPSV of blockbuster importance. Will others take note, or will they, like so many ostriches, bury their heads in the sand?
David E. S. Stein, revising editor. Consulting editors: Adele Berlin, Ellen Frankel, and Carol Meyers. The Contemporary Torah. A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2006. 424 pages.
The goals of a gender-accurate approach to translation are lucidly described in Stein’s preface (v-xxxv, online here). A less detailed but more accessible introduction is provided in a Q & A with David Stein, online here. The “Dictionary of Gender in the Torah” at the conclusion of the volume is also useful (393-412). Key words such as אב, אדם, איש, and בן are briefly discussed. The consulting editor for Genesis and Exodus was Carol Meyers; for Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, Adele Berlin, with the intimate involvement overall of JPS Editor-in-Chief Ellen Frankel. A KISS (Keep It Short and Sweet) overview of some of the issues is provided by Stein in a post on the indispensable Better Bibles blog, online here.
The scholar’s appetite will be whetted but not sated by the material in this volume. The best way to get a sense of the contribution The Contemporary Torah makes to Bible translation and to the understanding of gendered language in the Bible is to work through examples of the revisions it contains in conjunction with the following resources:
(2) The endnotes in the volume that relate to social gender.
(3) The “Dictionary of Gender in the Torah” at the conclusion of the volume.
(4) “Methodology: Frequently Asked Questions,” online here.
(5) “The Grammar of Social Gender in Biblical Hebrew,” online here.
(6) “The Noun ‘ish in Biblical Hebrew: A Term of Affiliation,” online here.
(7) The reviser’s notes to gender-related changes to NJPSV in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, revised edition: Exodus, here; Leviticus, here; Numbers, here; Deuteronomy, here. Stein’s notes to Genesis, unfortunately, are not available.
(1) An interview with Ellen Frankel, one of the volume’s consulting editors, online here.
(2) David Stein’s SBL Forum contribution entitled "God’s Name in a Gender-Sensitive Jewish Translation," online here.
In posts to come, I will interact with some of David’s specific proposals. In that context, I will offer constructive criticism on a range of other matters relating to the best study translation of the Hebrew Bible on the market today: the New Jewish Publication Society version of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament (the Torah appeared in 1962, with revisions published in 1967, 1985, and 1999; revised by Stein, 2006, introduced here).
For a photo of David Stein posted by Chris Heard, go here.