Tenth of Teves
(Based on a lecture by Rabbi Berel Wein)
The Talmud (Megillah 9b) tells how King Ptolemy (died 246 BCE ) placed 72 Jewish scholars in different rooms and told them to translate the Torah. In an act of Divine Providence the 72 translations all matched each other.
The translation became known as the Septuagint, which means “the 70” in Greek – in reference to the general amount of scholars who translated it. This is the basic translation of the Bible that much of the non-Jewish world has today.
Despite advantages to teaching the non-Jewish world the Written Torah, the Torah Sages did not welcome the opportunity. “The day when the Torah was written in Greek was as unfortunate for Israel as the day of the Golden Calf” (Soferim 1:7). They even decreed that the day the Septuagint was completed, the eighth day of the month of Teves (in the winter), was to be marked on the Jewish calendar as “a day of darkness” (Megillas Taanis).
It was combined with two other tragedies around that date – the death of Ezra and the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem – and decreed a public fast day (Asara B’Teves, “the Tenth of Teves”). Perhaps the reason was because they saw that the translation would open the door for usurpers and new religions claiming to supplant or succeed the Torah.
Mistranslation of the “Virgin Birth”
History has proven the Sages right for their ambivalence about translating the Torah into a language that the masses could read. There are numerous examples, but perhaps the most famous is the mistranslation that led to the Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth.