It is frequently the case in translation that we do not know what we are doing. To pretend otherwise is to be in error. But - not to despair - the Spirit comes to us in our weakness.
Re not knowing - must I list my authorities? I already mentioned Rosenberg and Zlotowitz. Robert Alter has plenty of similar warnings. And if you read a half-dozen grammar books, you will quickly notice that there is considerable discussion on verb forms and not a little confusion of nomenclature. They say some things are untranslatable - and so it is true - for translation betrays as that Italianate phrase (traduttore traditore) goes. But perhaps also translation should trick - that we might fall into joy. So untranslatable is the least of the problems.
What are the problems?
At base there is no one-for-one gloss or word choice between the host and the guest languages
- no knowledge of some words - since perhaps there is only one usage in the corpus that we have
- no native speakers so no insight into nuance
- no knowledge of idiomatic usage
- difficult to agree on the precise sense of the grammar
- difficult to be concordant where sound or intertextual allusion is needed - We must learn similar uses of a root and the history etc to learn to hear such potentially distant echoes.
- easy to get a false sounds-alike - e.g. if one uses 'one' as a pronoun, what does one do with the pregnant meaning of 'one' as in shema Israel, adonai elohenu, adonai echad where 'one' is not a pronoun.
- word play is lost
- jokes are obscured
- our worship of words
- our piety
- our politics
- our religious persuasion
- my translations are personal (not individual but personal - a person formed in this age for this time and purpose). They are me. To rephrase Chagall, "when I translate, I am in a prayer". They are from me to God and through me from God to you. So it is that you are addressed as Beloved.
- my translations look for sense, sound, shape, structure, silence. They do not look for modern shibboleths like accuracy or naturalness - but I care for every letter.
- I cannot pretend to have authority - I just do it. I know my cultural difference with my ancient guests, poet and redactor. I try to receive the text as one who has learned hospitality. I am aware that I am a late-starter, a child, and I make mistakes.
- re word choices: structure is vital - hear and see it, gaps are vital - don't fill them in. Untranslatable? - coin or transliterate. Voice, point of view, idiom, figure of speech - be open to hearing. Politics - don't translate into a defect in the host language. The distortion is simply too great to bear. If you publish - footnote both uncertainty and allusion. Be prepared for revisions, so let yourself change your mind and in love revisit all your prior decisions. Watch with him one hour.