"Thou Shalt Not Kill" is a bad mistranslation? (attn: cmkeller)

In the “Conservative Contradictions” thread cmkeller wrote:

“And I won’t even get into what a royally bad mistranslation ‘thou shalt not kill’ is of the original Hebrew verse.”

You’ve piqued my curiosity, would you mind getting into it here?

From the context of your remark, I assume there were “clauses” to the statement, like “Thou shalt not kill, unless some dumb shvantz out there needs killing”, or something sort of like that.

As to whether this is (Great)debate-worthy, I’m sure there could be some debating about how valid certain points of view are given the fact that they are based on a mistranslation.

(On a side note, something I’ve always wondered is how one pronounces your 1st name. Is it like “Ky-um”?)

– Revtim

Well, I am not cmkeller, but most scholars believe that a better translation would be “Thou shalt not murder.” I am not an expert in ancient Hebrew, so I have no idea what it says. :slight_smile:

Okay, last things first: my name. The “CH” is a gutteral sort of sound that doesn’t really exist in English, only in borrowed German/Yiddish words…probably “Chutzpah” is the best-known of them. If you can pronounce Chutzpah properly, you know how the “CH” in Chaim is pronounced. Otherwise, you could use the “K” sound or the “H” sound…I’ve heard them both.

The rest of it sounds like “eye - im” (im as in him or Jim).

Now, “Thou shalt not kill.” The verse, in its original Hebrew, reads “Lo Tirtzach” (there’s that “CH” again!). “Lo” is “no” or “Don’t,” and the “Ti” at the beginning of the second word means “you.”

The rest is the verb root R-TZ-CH (all Hebrew verbs are composed of three-letter roots; the vowelization and added prefixes or suffixes tell you the subject and tense). It has the specific connotation of “personally malicious murder.” This obviously excludes:

[ul][li]Accidents (not murder)[/li][li]Execution (not caused by malice)[/li][li]War (not caused by personal malice, though possibly “national” malice)[/li][/ul]

There is a large passage toward the end of the book of Numbers which describes an accidental killer who is exiled to a city of refuge. It details a number of different cases in which one man causes another’s death, and, if it fits the definition of murder, it says “Rotzeach hu”, meaning “he is a murderer.” I’ll look it up and post chapter and verse later, hopefully.

There are other hebrew words to describe human-caused deaths that do not fit the definition of murder. “H-R-G” is one root word that denotes killing. “M-U-S” means death, and when used as a verb, means causing someone’s death. It is this form that is most often used in the context of executions.

Whew! Sorry for rambling. But the upshot of it is, not all human-causing-death-of-other-human is called, in Hebrew, “Retzichah.” There are very clearly written guidelines as to what kinds of acts fall under that category…defined elsewhere in the Torah.

Incidentally, the New International Version of the Bible translates Exodus 20:13 as “You shall not murder”, and the Today’s English Version (a.k.a. the Good News Bible) translates it as “Do not murder”.

The KJV, RSV, and NKJV all say “kill”.

Thanks for all the info CM! When I have more time I might post some more comments/questions.

the Hebrew for that one is translated into Don’t do unto others as you have done unto yourselves. not Do unto others as you would have done to yourselves. Big difference.

am i right Chaim?
my yeshiva days are long gone.

Are you speaking of Jesus “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and Hillel “What is hateful to you do not do unto your neighbor”?

no, i was referring to what i thought was a commandment “do not do unto others…”
-actually, i was hoping cmkeller would be able to clear it up, it was a question more than a statement, i am not up on my Judaic studies the way i was in my early youth.

but i realize i am mistaken, it is not one of the Decalogue, i thought it was on the second tablet about mans duty towards man, but it isn’t, my mistake.

though i remember something about that particular “commandment” in the old testament being mistranslated into the greek and then later on english.
so if anyone can, please clarify this for me…

Actually, carnivorousplant has it right.

“Do unto others” is a translation of the interpretation of Leviticus 19:19, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Talmudic sage Hillel explained that as meaning, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.” The more common phrasing of the “golden rule” comes from the Christian version of this interpretation.

Chaim Mattis Keller

‘Love your neighbor as yourself’
Does that mean that if you don’t like yourself it is okay not to like your neighbor also?
Is it possible to live by the ten commandments strictly?

It’s the red heifer that I have a problem with.

Hello. This is my first post on this board. An interesting topic, as is the one below on Judiasm and Christianity.

As Mr. CarniverousPlant has intimated, traditional Judiasm calls for us to obey not just the decalogue, but a total of 613 mitzvot or laws. Actually, women are only required to obey fewer, since they have a higher spirituality than men but I subsribe to the egalatarian conservative movement.

Ten should not be that hard. :slight_smile:

Leah Channah, what is the egalatarian conservative movement?

With there being 613 laws I can’t help but think that religion is nothing but a control mechanism. Yes I am an atheist and a cynic!

As long as we’re on the subject of interpretation of the commandments, what is considered the exact meaning of “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neightbor”? It sounds like it is referrring to a more restricted situation than a simple “don’t lie”, perhaps referring specifically to harmful lies or lies in a formal situation, like testifying in some sort of court.

Let me answer this in reverse order. :slight_smile: Corrections welcome, but this is how I understand it:

The torah, which contains our 613 laws, is a blueprint for how to live our lives. I suppose you could see it as a control mechanism, and that is your right. I see it as the cement that has kept Judiasm alive for 5,000 years, in spite of being persecuted in every generation. It took the world from paganism and human sacrifice to the worship of one G-d, regardless of the form in which you see him/her. The laws that you apparently object to defines us, and keeps us who we are. A lighthearted example: you know how we Jewish mothers like to encourage people to eat? Well, the word that comes in the exact middle of the Torah is the Hebrew word for “stomach”.

There is of course, a lot more, but you get the picture. Besides, this is just for discussion. I’m not trying to change your mind!

Traditional Jews still live by the written law. Conservative Jews add the oral traditions to the written law and make some adjustments for the technology and lifestyle offered by modern times. Egaltarian Conservative Jews offer men and women equal opportunity to follow the mitzvot, if they should so choose.

Hope that answers your question. :slight_smile:

I don’t quite understand how laws are interepted as control only as it applies to religion (any religion). Do you not have laws that govern your behavior at work? In public? While driving? Even in the privacy of your home? And they aren’t universal. In Chicago if you’ve got a little something in your throat you can hock it up and spit it out in the street, but do that in Singapore and face a fine or jail time. In Europe, it is rather common to have alcohol with a meal, so there the drinking age is significantly lower, while here in the USA a man can fight and die for his country but not go in and have a beer at the local tavern. So a religion has it’s own laws too. And just as someone who becomes a citizen of a country must follow those country’s laws, so must a person who has faith and practices a relgion.

Well, there is my 2 cents.

By cmkeller:


Well, that looks to me like this:

  1. You shouldn’t punish someone too harshly for accidentally causing someone else’s death.

  2. & 3) There was no way the Hebrews were going to restrict themselves from executions or war. Executions were a commonly-accepted form of punishment and they needed to make war on whomever was occupying the Promised Land. They had to say it was all right to kill under certain, pre-approved circumstances.

What I’m trying to say here is that learning what the text REALLY says does not make it any more certain that the Ten Commandments were written by God. It sounds to me more like they were trying to justify the wars they fought by saying “God says it’s all right for us to kill you. You’re living on the land He promised us. He also says you’re evil.”

(Oh, and I think it’s very likely that the story of how the Hebrews got the TC was written long after the fact. The people had probably been asking the priests over and over where the laws came from and this was the story they cooked up, borrowing a few details from the legends of King Sargon, who also is supposed to have been abandoned after birth and placed in a river in a small boat. What I find amusing is that it’s possible the people knew the real story [some person, a patriarch, wrote them himself] but didn’t find it entertaining enough and preferred the direct-from-God version. Heck, there’s no real evidence Moses ever actually existed.)


Another mistranslation I remember is the phrase, “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men” actually translates as, “Peace on Earth to Men of Good Will”, which is a very different sentiment, almost opposite in meaning (one is inclusive, the other exclusive).

The infinite worth of human life is based on the concept that man is created in the image of G-d. G-d alone gives life and He alone may take it away. The intentional killing of any human being, aside from capitol punishment legally imposed by a judicial tribunal, or in a war for the defence of national and human rights, is forbidden. Hebrew law carefully distinguishes homicide from willful murder. It saves the involuntary slayer of his fellow man from vendetta and does not permit composition or money-fine, for the life of the murderer. Jewish ethics enlarges the notion of murder so as to include both the doing of anything by which the health and well being of a fellow man is undermined, and the omission of any act by which his fellow man could be saved in peril, distress or despair.