Friday, September 10, 2010


Although I have been purposefully vague about certain identifying aspects of myself and my life on this blog, I don't think I'm giving anything away by telling you that I'm Jewish. Yesterday at Rosh Hashana services, I again remarked on something that struck me during our first High Holiday season in France, a season that commenced just weeks after our arrival: that the transliteration of Hebrew for French speakers is really different than that for English speakers. Duh? Yeah sort of, except I'd never really thought about it before.

If you don't know much about the Jewish faith, let me back up. Religious services are conducted in a combination of Hebrew and the native language of the congregants, with prayers and songs primarily in Hebrew and supporting text, for example, in English in the U.S. or in French here in France. But since many of us don't read Hebrew very well, the prayer book sometimes includes both the text in Hebrew characters and a transliterated version that uses the Roman alphabet to approximate the sounds of the words in Hebrew. I've been seeing the English transliterations all my life; they are familiar old friends I encountered every time I went to synagogue.

But the prayerbook for the services I attended yesterday? Well, the transliteration is done for those who speak French and thus use accents and a different constellation of letters to approximate the Hebrew sounds.

Just to give you a flavor of the differences, here are the first few verses of Psalm 23. It's not a High Holy Day passage but I picked it because it's one familiar to most Christians and Jews. And just imagine as you read, a little bit of French rolled into the words on line 3, a little bit of English in the words on line 2. And with that, I wish you all a very sweet new year.

Key: line 1 is English, line 2 is Hebrew transliterated for English speakers, line 3 is Hebrew transliterated for French speakers

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Adonai ro-i, lo ehsar
Adonai roî, lo é'hsar

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
Bin'ot deshe yarbitseini
Binéote déché yarbitséni

He leadeth me beside the still waters
Al mei m'nuhot y'nahaleini
âl méi ménou'hotes yénahaléni

He restoreth my soul
Naf'shi y'shovev
Nafchi yéchovév

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
Yan'heini b'ma'aglei tsedek
Yané'héni vémaâguéléi tsédéq

For His name's sake
L'ma'an sh'mo
Lémaâne chémo


Paris Paul said...

שנה טובה, Shana Tova, bonne année and happy new year 5771!

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year.

Mazel tov


Sasho said...

Wow. Never thought about the transliteration. I've been thinking a lot about Jews and France, even before the deportations of the Roma, which to me have a heavy aroma of those in the 1940s. This year I have read 3 novels about those times. And I have recently retrieved French Jewish cousins who somehow survived (they really WERE in the resistance). So it's close to home, so to speak.
L'shana tova.

Anonymous said...

That Psalm in either French or English translation versions look beautiful to look at. I can't imagine how beautiful they must sound when intoned. My Grandfather's mother was Jewish. He told me I should always be reverential to anybody or anything that had to do with Jesus's race, language and traditions. Maria O. Russell

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