16 Dec 2009

As the annual Torah cycle begins its second book, Shemot or Exodus, the Orthodox Union’s new and increasingly popular Shnayim Mikra program, in which each weekly portion is studied online aliyah by aliyah, will add a component of Targum Onkelos, the Aramaic translation/commentary on the Five Books of Moses, to its variety of study materials. The program can be accessed at www.ouradio.org/mikra.
Parshat Shemot will be read in synagogues on Saturday, January 9; the Targum Onkelos materials will be posted by Friday, January 1, to allow prior study.
The OU’s Shnayim Mikra program derives its name from “Shnayim Mikra v’Echad Targum,” “the text twice and the translation once,” the requirement to read each Torah portion twice in the original Hebrew and once in the Targum. Now, select commentaries from the Targum will be added under the heading of “V’Echad Targum,” to further enhance one’s understanding of the parsha.
The Targum is popularly attributed to a second-century convert named Onkelos, often identified as Aquilas, the nephew of the emperor Titus. According to Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, Associate Director of the OU’s Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services and the coordinator of the program, “Along with Rashi, Targum Onkelos is considered the commentary par excellence on the Torah. It is much more than mere translation; Onkelos sheds new light on the meaning of the verses. The commentary to be provided will explain some of Targum Onkelos’ novel interpretations, so people can work them into their learning and gain an understanding of and appreciation for what exactly Onkelos does.”
Targum Onkelos was added to the program when Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, co-author with Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin of the five-volume “Onkelos on the Torah: Understanding the Bible Text” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem/New York) contacted Rabbi Abramowitz about incorporating material from their heavily-annotated work into the program to encourage people to study Onkelos and thus to fulfill the obligation of Shnayim Mikra to the fullest. (Four volumes have already been published. The fifth is scheduled for release in Spring 2010.)
“We asked ourselves,” Rabbi Drazin explained, “why it was that the Talmudic sages mandated the weekly review of the Pentateuch through the eyes of this translator? Why did so many of the greatest Jewish commentators – Rashi, Nachmanides and Maimonides among them – rely on Onkelos for their understanding of the Torah? What we discovered was that, despite the proliferation of midrashic works and commentaries, and notwithstanding the exegetical creativity of countless expositors, they felt that it was necessary for all those who love Torah to understand its p’shat, the literal meaning of Scripture. Onkelos was designated as the translator who is most reliable for an understanding of the p’shat.”
“But we discovered,” Rabbi Wagner added, “that despite the literalness of Onkelos, he veered from the p’shat more than 10,000 times in the Pentateuch. While he eschewed including legendary material in his translation, or theology, or halachic decisions, he was so anxious to have his reading audience understand and appreciate Torah that he clarified verses, even if it meant straying from their literal translation. With the addition of this new feature to the OU’s Shnayim Mikra program, we feel that participants will learn why Onkelos was so highly regarded, and will be enriched by the many contributions he made to understanding the biblical text.”
The Onkelos material will add to what has quickly become a popular OU Torah program, which already accounts for almost six percent of the unique traffic on OU Radio.
As for why the new material is being added to the Shnayim Mikra program starting with parshat Shemot, Rabbi Abramowitz said, “Not only does the start of a new book provide us with a nice, clean segue, the word Shemot in Hebrew is an anagram for Shnayim Mikra V’echad Targum.”
For further information on the OU’s Shnayim Mikra program, contact Rabbi Abramowitz at jacka@ou.org.