The Talmud (Megillah 9a-b) relates that King Ptolemy II, the Greek king who ruled Egypt, placed 72 Jewish elders into 72 separate rooms and instructed each of them (individually) to translate the Torah into Greek. Translating any text from one language to another is challenging, as every tongue has its own grammatical rules and subtle nuances. The Torah, with its often esoteric language and multiple meanings, is particularly challenging to translate. Hence it is considered a most significant miracle then that each scholar was Divinely inspired to employ the exact same wording and phraseology in the translation, especially with difficult to translate terms such as B’reishit bara Eh’loh’kim - “In the beginning God created.”
The creation of what came to be known as the Septuagint, around the 3rd century B.C.E., finally made the Torah available to Jews not educated in their heritage (yes, even then--it is said that most of the Jews of Alexandria did not know Hebrew). Like many things in history, this translation was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it made the Torah available to the non-Hebrew speaker looking to learn about his/her heritage. However, it also made the holy text available to non-Jews who were eager to mock and revile the Jewish people, as well as to those who wanted to use the newly translated Torah to lead Jews to a new faith.
While a miracle occurred during the act of translation, the 8th of Tevet (yesterday), which is the anniversary of this event, is considered a sad day in Jewish history and is, in fact, listed as a fast day for the righteous.
NOTE: Tomorrow is a public fast day, the Tenth of Tevet. The fast begins at sunrise and ends after nightfall.
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.