(Last updated by AMG on 2010-03-17)
Our goal is to create a well-written translation into modern colloquial English. Avoid translating overly literally when that will create a stilted sentence. Feel free to use a lighthearted or conversational tone when that will clarify the Talmud’s text.
The Talmud often can be formatted as a dialogue. Sometimes it’s a question-and-answer exchange; sometimes two or more perspectives are being debated. Feel free to format these as dialogues. It will help the reader keep things straight. For example, see Kiddushin 2
When there’s a whole sequence of “amar leih” it’s helpful to identify the speaker each time, even if the Aramaic doesn’t. For an example, see Gittin 56: [Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai] said to him:
In general, indicate interpolations with brackets, but don’t let them clutter your translation when you’re inserting “helper” words.
When the Gemara cites a Biblical verse, try to work the name of the book and, where possible, the chapter into the natural flow of your text. Don’t worry about citing the specific verse; the Vilna Shas doesn’t get more precise than the chapter citation, and the truly curious reader will be able to find that information easily enough elsewhere. Including it will merely be a distraction.
Forego footnotes. If it’s necessary to explain something that’s not in the Gemara text, write a sentence or two in brackets. If it’s not necessary, it can be omitted. Footnotes present the reader with a dilemma: to interrupt the reading flow to find out if the footnote is actually interesting, or to ignore it. Make that decision for the reader.
Our intended audience spans the range from newcomers to Talmud study to those who have studied in yeshivah. It is easier for the newcomers if we translate terms into English whenever possible, and the more experienced reader will have no trouble back-translating into Hebrew or Aramaic. So, for example, use “the school of Hillel” instead of “bet Hillel”.
On the other hand, there are certain technical terms that have no precise English translation, and whose most common English translation is misleading. For example, the terms tamei and niddah refer to specific kinds of ritual status, and to translate them as “unclean” or “impure” is inaccurate, as they have nothing to do with the usual meanings of those words. Perhaps this example is better given in the positive: “clean” means naki, physically unsullied; “pure” means 100% unadulterated. So leave the technical terms relating to tumah and taharah untranslated. Some terms are best expressed by using the specific Hebrew or Aramaic term as an attributive qualifier on the more general English term, such as the parochet curtain
Transliteration, when necessary, should be based on the Sephardic pronounciation. Transliterated terms should, in general, be italicized. Names of Rabbis should be transliterated (without italics), not converted into their English equivalents; names of Biblical figures and of Roman and Greek contemporaries of the Rabbis should be rendered in their familiar forms. So: the prophet is Samuel but the rabbi is Shmuel; Caesar is Caesar and Italy is Italy.
Use American English spellings.
Use the serial comma.
Use British-style “logical” punctuation around close-quotes, for enhanced precision.
Of course, in many cases the daf boundary will fall in the middle of a sentence or a topic. Try to find the closest natural boundary, which may be a little before or after the start and end of your daf. Obviously, if the adjacent daf has already been posted, you will know where to begin or end; always indicate your actual start and end points so that the editors can determine if there’s overlap or a gap.
Instructions for translators and editors on the technical aspects of preparing files is here.
This page will be updated periodically with additional specifics.
אי בעית אימא – “If you wish, I could say….”
איכא דאמרי – “There are those who say”
אין ___ אלא – “There is no ___ except ….”
אלא – Try to use “rather” whenever possible.
אמר – Translate using the simple sense of “said” whenever possible
בית הלל/בית שמאי – Use “the school of Hillel/Shammai” instead of “Bet Hillel/Bet Shammai”.
טהור/טהרה – Do not translate; use transliteration instead
טמא – Do not translate; use transliteration instead
מצות עשה – “A ‘Thou shalt’ commandment” (שהזמן גרמא – “that is caused by time”)
מצות לא תעשה – “A ‘Thou shalt not’ commandment”
נידה – Do not translate; use transliteration instead
תיובתא ד___ תיובתא – “This refutes ____; and he is refuted!”
תיקו – “Teiku – we cannot answer it.”
תקנה – usually consider translating this in the sense of “repair,” such as “How can this be fixed?”