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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Medieval and Renaissance Periods

The preeminence of the Arabic language accompanied the rapid rise of Islam in the mid‐7th century CE. Jews living in the East and in North Africa quickly adopted it, as they had earlier Latin, Greek, and Aramaic. Several centuries passed before Saadia ben Joseph, a gaon (head of a Babylonian rabbinic academy) in the early 10th century, took it upon himself to prepare an Arabic translation of the Bible. Originally written in Hebrew characters (as was most Judeo‐Arabic), Saadia Gaon's version was destined to be the standard biblical text for Arabic‐speaking Jews—a status it still retains for certain Yemenite communities. Saadia's goal, which he magnificently achieved, was to produce a clear, unadorned Arabic rendering of what he understood the Hebrew original to mean. Where this practice came into conflict with the pre‐sentation of distinctive features of Hebrew grammar or syntax, he readily jettisoned the latter.

As Jews settled throughout Europe, they did not at first translate the Bible. Their adherence to the Bible in Hebrew ran parallel to, albeit at some distance from, the aversion of the Catholic Church to vernacular versions (the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church is the Latin Vulgate). In fact, Jewish translations of the Bible were rarely among the earliest literary achievements of European Jewry.

In the case of the Spanish Jews, for example, the most influential version, the Ferrara Bible, postdates the expulsion of 1492 by half a century, taking its name from the northern Italian city to which many prominent Jews had fled. Although this text ultimately formed the basis for other Spanish‐language Bibles in wide use among Catholics, its Jewish origins are securely fixed by a number of distinctive features: use of Hebrew characters in its first printings, close adherence to Hebrew grammar, transcription of proper names, and its division according to traditional synagogal practice.

Among German‐speaking Jews translation of the Hebrew Bible goes back to the 1200s. These early exemplars, shaped primarily for the home and school, were often excruciatingly literal representations of a single book or block of biblical material. The implicitly “female” orientation of such versions—after all, women had charge of the home and elementary education, but no public role in the synagogue—became explicit in the Teutsch Ḥumash of Jacob ben Isaac of Yarnow, from the mid‐1600s. Better known as the Tzena Ureʾena or “Women's Bible” (see “Post‐medieval Jewish Interpretation,” pp. 1900–1908), this rendering incorporated an enormous amount of extrabiblical, largely aggadic, material. This development seems to support the prevailing view of the time that women could comprehend the Bible only when it was augmented with stories and concrete examples; men, on the other hand, could be trusted with the Hebrew original.

A century before Jacob ben Isaac, and unnoted by him, Martin Luther had produced his landmark German version of the Bible, laboring on the Old Testament from 1522 to 1534. As part of his efforts to reform Christianity, he shaped a German text characterized by forceful language and direct diction. A literary masterpiece against which all subsequent German Bibles would be measured, Luther's version, like Jerome's some 1,100 years earlier, reflected the Jewish interpretive tradition—in Luther's case, Rashi, as refracted through Christian sources, influenced him more than he would probably have been comfortable admitting.

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Oxford University Press

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