Shoftim: Language and Translation

Devarim/Deuteronomy 18:13 contains a command to be “wholehearted [tamim]” with God. I found the same English word, “wholehearted,” used in seven different sources, two commentaries and all five Torah translations on which I regularly rely: Alter, Fox, Jewish Publication Society, modified JPS (The Torah: A Women’s Commentary) and Scherman (Stone Edition); see Source Materials for citation details.

Fox’s translation follows the Hebrew word order — “Wholehearted you shall be with YHVH your God!” — while others read as follows:

“You must [you shall, thou shalt] be wholehearted with [tetragrammaton*], your God.”

It is interesting to note, therefore, that there is less agreement on translation of the same word when it appears elsewhere. Several translators note that tamim [“whole-hearted”] is also used to describe Noah (Genesis/Breishit 6:9) and Abraham (Genesis/Breishit 17:1). Fox adds: “The identical word….ascribes animals fit for sacrifice in their purity and perfection.”

The Plaut notes, in addition, that tamim [wholehearted, blameless] is related to tam [simple]: “Israel is to have simple, undivided loyalty to God, unsullied by magic practices” (note to Devarim/Deuteronomy 18:13).

Surrounding verses reference diviners, soothsayers, incantations, etc., and this verse is cited as the proof-text for “How do we know that you must no consult astrologers?” (B. Pes 113b — Babylonian Talmud Pesachim [passover sacrifices]) — see Source Materials for link.

Noah: Genesis/Breishit 6:9

“Noah was a righteous man, he was blameless in his time, Noah walked with God.” — Alter
“Noah was a righteous, wholehearted man in his generation, in accord with God did Noah walk.” — Fox
“Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.” — JPS (Plaut, Plaut/Stein and TWC)
“Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God.” — Stone

Abraham, Breishit/Genesis 17:1

Abraham is told by God to…
“Walk in my presence and be blameless” — Alter
“Walk in my presence! Be wholehearted!” Fox
Walk in My ways and be blameless — JPS (Plaut, Plaut/Stein and TWC)
“Walk before me and be perfect.” — Stone

* For the tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God, JPS/Plaut and Alter both use “the LORD.” Plaut/Stein (modified from a newer JPS) uses “the Eternal.” Scherman/Stone uses “HASHEM” [the name]. Fox uses the English capitals YHWH. The modified JPS used in TWC uses the Hebrew letters yod-heh-vav-heh. (Because I cannot do Hebrew font, I copy that as YHWH, too, I’m afraid.)

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

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