Thursday, April 09, 2020

Tamar and Yigal Gross remember their Aunt Sara, z”l, as funny, exuberant and tenacious. In 2013, at the age of 50, Sara was afflicted with a virulent illness and was quickly and tragically taken from her adoring family and community.

Sara Lamm Dratch was the youngest child of Mindy and Dr Norman Lamm, the longtime chancellor of Yeshiva University. With her husband, Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA, they had four children, including a set of triplets. Every Shabbat, after the hashkama minyan in their hometown of West Hempstead, the Dratches would open their home to the community for a festive kiddush and a lively discussion of topics “ripped from the headlines.”

Three years ago, the Grosses, in consultation with their rav and neighbor Rabbi Daniel Fridman, decided to honor the memory of their beloved Aunt Sara by giving a platform to women’s Torah scholarship, an area in which their aunt had participated. Since then, the Grosses have hosted a yahrzeit shiur for Sara Lamm Dratch at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, to which they invite the entire community. Past speakers were Jackie Rosenzweig and Tammy Jacobowitz.

In opening this year’s program, Rabbi Fridman, mara d’atra of the Teaneck Jewish Center, pointed out the appropriateness of Sara Lamm Dratch’s yahrzeit being marked in close proximity to Purim. “In Megillat Esther, we are treated to many colorful descriptions of clothing and banquets. Sara’s life was lived ‘in full color’ and her relationships were filled with vitality. When necessary, she spoke up and was heeded. Similarly, we note that at the end of the megillah, when a new holiday was being proposed for the Jewish calendar, it was Esther’s determination that convinced the people to establish Purim.”

Miriam Krupka Berger’s participation in this year’s program was in keeping with the high standards of Torah scholarship that the annual lecture hopes to uphold. Berger, a Teaneck resident married to Dr. Ari Berger and mother to Etai, Gavriel and Shai, currently serves as the dean of faculty at the Ramaz Upper School where she has taught Tanach and Jewish philosophy since 2006. In this capacity, she helps design the Judaic studies curriculum, teaches interdisciplinary seminars, and is involved in student life and guidance. She holds an M.A. in Jewish philosophy from Columbia University. In her frequent lectures to adult audiences, Berger expounds upon Biblical text as the basis for all philosophical discussion.

In her presentation, titled “Biblical Translations and Megillat Esther—The Hidden and the Lost,” Berger’s thesis was that “translations are betrayals,” a well-known Italian credo in the world of literature. Translations of Biblical text often lose the intertextuality offered by the Midrash and the echoes that they provide. When Mordechai shouts a deep ze’aka at the news of the impending destruction of the Jews, he is echoing the painful cry of Esav when he realized the severity of what he had done by selling his birthright. Translations of Biblical texts often lose the power of emotions in Tanach that are based on bodily references, such as describing the Children of Israel as descendents of “Jacob’s thigh.”

Berger illustrated how translations often disregard connotations and double expressions that are so meaningful in Tanach. One example of a double expression from Megillat Esther teaches so much about Esther’s dilemma in deciding whether to enter the king’s presence unannounced. She said, “V’ka’asher avaditi avaditi,” meaning, “And if I perish, I will perish.” Her double usage teaches us that when she was taken by force to the king’s palace, she was judged innocent of marital betrayal as she was not a willing participant. But by going of her own free will before the king, she is actually initiating an act of marital adultery that will leave her alone and abandoned in the palace even after the Jewish people are saved, which is what actually took place.

Berger’s thesis was that the Book of Esther is filled with many examples of meanings “lost in translation.” Because the 127 provinces are scattered so far from each other, communication in the megillah is done through documents translated into these different languages. Many intermediaries are needed to communicate to the people, most likely causing the loss of the original meanings in translation. Esther herself does not communicate about her own background and language. In fact, there are only 40 active dialogues recited by Esther in the entire megillah, as contrasted with 60 direct dialogues in Megillat Rut.

Berger’s concluding suggestion to overcome the losses incurred through the translation of Biblical texts is to read the texts in English for accessibility, then return to the Hebrew text to experience the beauty of the language and the nuances that convey so much underlying meaning.