www.brichto.com: the home of Sidney Brichto's translations, books and articles
April 28 2000 by Simon Rocker
"THIS IS exciting stuff," said Rabbi Dr Sidney Brichto, grinning broadly. "It's like the wild west."
The former director of the Union of liberal and Progressive Syna-gogues was enthusing over the Book of Judges, which he in the middle of translating.
It's part of an ambitious attempt to produce a popular English version of the whole Bible. And "whole" means the New Testament also - he is probably the first rabbi to tackle it.
"I wanted to go for a universal audience," Rabbi Brichto explained. "The Bible is seen by most people as both the Old and the New.
"I would like Jews to read the New Testament - and Christians to read the New Testament from a Jewish perspective."
The first four of the projected 16 volumes are ready to hit the bookshops next month, covering Genesis, the five Megilot (Ecclesiastes, Esther, the Song of Songs, Ruth and Lamentations), the books of Samuel and the Gospel of Luke.
He anticipates the entire project taking up to four years.
His aim is simple - to "get people to read it." For despite the Bible's massive impact on Western civilisa-tion, it nowadays remains a closed book to many.
Rabbi Brichto's translations app-ear in the format of paperback clas-sics and he's taken some imaginative liberties, producing Genesis as an epic poem, or rendering the Song of Songs as a dramatic poem with dif-ferent characters.
He occasionally adds the odd pas-sage of his own - always identified in bold print - if he feels the narra-tive requires continuity.
Explained Rabbi Brichto, a Bible-lover since childhood: "My passion for it has nothing to do with whether it is literally true or historical factual. It has to do with the fact that it [com-prises] the greatest classics of moral genius ever written. For me, I'm talk-ing about the Old Testament. The New Testament is also full of genius. But it's also Jewish.
"I don't believe we should distance ourselves from the works of Jewish boys!"
As to why he felt the New Testament should be read by Jews, Rabbi Brichto argued: "If the Catholics are accepting the validity of the Jewish Covenant, then we Jews -have to accept the validity of their Covenant.
"It doesn't mean we have to believe in it, but we have to' seek to understand what it means to them. Because they converted the world...
"Christianity took hold because there were some aspects of human psychology which needed Christianity and the only way the Jewish ethical message could be given to the world as it was then 'was through the imagery of Christianity. And it still has the moral ethic of Judaism."
Jesus and Paul were "among the greatest Jewish contributors to West-ern civilisation," he pointed out. "They, were no less Jewish than Spinoza, Marx and Freud [who] also in the end rejected Judaism. But we're proud of them because they all made enormous contributions to the welfare of human society."
On the other hand, "Christians need a proper presentation of their own scriptures."
In Rabbi Brichto's view, they often missed the nuances in the story of Jesus through lack of knowledge of the historical Jewish background.
He is unafraid to make his own moral points, too.
"When Peter says to the Jews that they acted in innocence when they handed Jesus over to the Romans, because they didn't know God intended it, I have a footnote saying that if these verses had been given more consideration than the verses of the Passion, many Jewish 'lives would have been saved."
His literary venture was inspired, in particular, by his late brother, Professor Chanan Brichto, a Bible scholar at the Hebrew Union College, the Progressive rabbinical training institute in Cincinnati.
But the suggestion that he attempt a translation was actually prompted by a young man from the publishing world, at whose wedding Rabbi Brichto officiated.
The groom knew little about Judaism and went to see Rabbi Brichto after the marriage to find out more.
"He asked what books he should read. And I said 'Why not start with the Bible?' He looked surprised.
"I said it was wonderful but it was a pity because no one reads it today. 'It's the best-seller least read,' I told him.
"And he said 'That sounds like a good title for a book."'