Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Chaim Mintz
When studying Tanach (the written Torah) or searching online for a source or translation, can I use commentaries written by non-Jews or non-religious Jews?
Rabbi Chaim Mintz responds:
The Oral Torah – The Only Accurate Path
Commentaries written by non-Jews or non-religious Jews are full of inaccuracies, and should certainly not be used. When our ancestors stood at Mount Sinai and received the Written Torah from Hashem (God), they received the Oral Torah along with it, which explains and elucidates the meaning of the Written Torah. This knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation until today. None of this was ever open for debate and, throughout the generations, anyone who attempted to change this tradition even one iota was excommunicated.
Before we accept any explanation, we must be sure that it is based on and within the parameters and the boundaries of this tradition. For this reason, only works that are written by people who follow our mesorah (tradition), and are faithful to our tradition and the true meaning of the Torah, may be used. Works written by non-Jews or non-religious Jews are not faithful to our tradition, are replete with errors, and are not to be trusted.
Non-Jewish Commentaries Written with An Agenda
Furthermore, many of these works were written with an agenda, such as to bring proofs to other religions, and they distort the translation to fit this agenda. For example, the Prophets are full of references to future events, including the coming of Mashiach (Messiah). But these translations and commentaries falsely translate and explain them to be referring to other events to be used as proofs to their religions and beliefs.
Let me share a story that illustrates how an inaccurate translation can completely distort the meaning of the words of the Torah. I was once at a farm buying some produce, and the proud farmer was eager to show me the various farm animals he owned. When we passed the pigpen, he made a point of telling me how clean his pigs were, but I couldn’t imagine why in the world he felt the need to point this out. It wasn’t until I was driving away that it finally hit me.
A Twisted Bible Translation
The Torah writes that we are not allowed to eat pigs because they are “tamei – impure.” This farmer must have read one of the Bible translations that translates the word tamei as “unclean,” and understood this to mean that they are forbidden because they are “dirty” animals. He therefore made a point to tell me that his pigs were clean and should be permitted. But this is completely inaccurate, as the word tamei has nothing to do with hygiene, and as clean as the pigs may be, we are still forbidden to eat them.
While some translate tamei as spiritually impure, its true meaning is “blocked,” i.e., something that causes an obstruction in our connection to Hashem. We find this meaning in Parshat Toldot. The Torah writes about the wells dug by Avraham Avinu (our patriarch Abraham) – “sitmum Plishtim – the Philistines stuffed them” which Targum Onkelos translates tamonun, which is similar to the word tamei.
Similarly, Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, deemed certain animals not kosher, since they are tamei, something that causes an obstruction in our connection to Hashem. Here is a clear example of a ridiculous and incorrect translation, which was the source of much confusion. So it is definitely wrong to use elucidations or translations taken from sources that are not based on tradition.
In short: Commentaries written by non-Jews or non-religious Jews should not be used, as they do not follow our tradition and are full of inaccuracies.