Saturday, August 7, 2010

I am deeply chagrined

I am deeply chagrined at the conduct of the New York Times. They failed to print the self-explanatory letter below, leaving uncorrected a significant error in the use of the mama loshen.

To the Editor:

Dominque Browning's review of The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman contains this serious misstatement about a character in the novel: "Rabbi Helfgott (whose name handily translates a 'With the Help of God')." Whether in Yiddish or German, Helfgott does not translate thus. In German, it appears to be the imperative "Help God," because helf is the root of the irregular verb helfen, to help. In Yiddish, the tenor and cadence of the voice, and the accompanying hand movements while speaking must be considered when offering a translation, but, even in simple black and white, Helfgott does not mean With the Help of God. One might say Gott zu helfn to convey that meaning.

Note that Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot, who has appeared at Lincoln Center and other secular venues along with many orthodox synagogues around the world, considers his name "literally translated as someone who helps G-d."

Alan Gotthelf

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