A Translation Celebrating the Book of Genesis in LIPOGRAM
By Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser
WHAT: A lipogram is a composition from which the writer rejects all words that contain a certain letter or letters. “Initial Instructions” renders all of Genesis, translating directly from the Hebrew, without a single use of the letter E.
WHY: How very much the lipogram has in common with the Torah, which through its constraints and prohibitions compels its adherents to take no action for granted. Some choices and opportunities must simply be rejected – no matter how seemingly appropriate, common, desirable, or convenient they may be. Rather than emulate the habitual, the familiar morality of the majority, the Torah would have us embrace a refreshing, carefully crafted lifestyle of heightened consciousness. The resulting lifestyle is – LIKE A LIPOGRAM – distinctive. It, too, sets us apart from others – by virtue of its unusual discipline and demands. In no way cumbersome or lacking in acceptable options, the result is, rather, fine (at times effusive) poetry. We find in the discipline of the lipogram (as in a life infused with Torah) the beauty and the new freedom that results when we reject as our highest aspiration a life without constraints – the unbridled pursuit of ease… or, indeed, the unbridled pursuit of E’s.
NOTE ON NAMES AND NUMBERS: In an original lipogram, the author is free to select names on the basis of the lipogram’s constraints (Anton, Sally, Burton, Laura). This freedom is unavailable in a translation of Genesis, which includes such characters as Eve, Joseph, Israel, Rebecca, etc. So, too, place names: Egypt, Beth-El, Beer Sheva. Whenever possible, names are presented in their most common form: Adam, Sarah, Pharaoh…. At times a variant is used: Binjamin for Benjamin; Laya for Leah. Changing Ishmael to Ishmail approximates the Arabic cognate… The same method is applied to Israil. In cases where the effect is overly jarring, names are transliterated directly from Hebrew: Eve remains Chavah; Egypt is Mitzrayim. In some particularly difficult cases even transliteration calls for the letter E. A change in tense or form is used in such situations: Avimalach rather than Avimelech (meaning “God – my Father — ruled – rather than rules – as King). Numbers are spelled out whenever possible: two, four, thirty-six, etc. When necessary (as in all odd numbers), numerals are used: 1, 3, 7, and 12 occur frequently in the Biblical text.
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