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How does the translation know when to use capital letters?


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tammuz 20, 5774
If Hebrew doesn’t have uppercase or lowercase (capital or small letters), how do you know which is uppercase and lowercase in the English translation?
Your question is a good one regarding many words in many translations. The answer is: a. from the context, you can usually tell whether it’s addressing a particular individual/place (=a proper noun) or not; b. from the Oral Tradition passed down over the generations, from father to son- every Jewish child learned what the meaning of each verse is. In addition, the more one learns, the more he realizes that part of the beauty of the Torah, is that the Oral Tradition often has multiple meanings. That’s also why the Torah doesn’t have punctuation, and not even periods at the end of each verse. This enables a multi-faceted book which is learned eternally for generations- every year when I go through it, I find new explanations. In other words, sometimes, a particular word can be read either way, as with a capital (as a proper noun) or without. See for example, Breishit (Genesis) 18, 3, which intentionally is meant to teach us that Avraham told the three guests (Adonay- my masters) not to pass him by, but to come in and let him serve them. Additionally, it’s meant to teach us that Avraham even told G-d (Adonay, my Master!) not to pass him by, but that He should please wait for Avraham, until Avraham finishes serving his guests. The moral being: that even greater than talking to G-d Himself is to be like G-d (altruistic giving) and serve the guests! Obviously, this complex form of study is not done with children at an age where it will confuse them.
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