September 9, 2011

Adonai Tz’va’ot: The Lord of “Hosts”?

Filed under: Judaism, Prayer — marcstober @ 12:49 pm

For the Family Service Siddur I wanted a translation for “Adonai Tzeva’ot” that people wouldn’t need an English dictionary to understand like the venerable yet archaic “Lord of Hosts.” Siddur Sim Shalom actually leaves it untranslated, so I posted a question for the creative people in the OpenSiddur Facebook Group:

Anyone have a favorite translation for “Adonai Tzevaot” in the Kedushah? “Hosts” always makes me think of the person who takes you to a table at a restaurant.

After getting responses from Aharon Varady and Shmueli Gonzales as well as posing a few alternatives to my daughter, Hannah, as a representative of the target age the latest draft has:

Holy, holy, holy is the God of heavenly forces.

This made me really think about this peak moment of the service, and how it represents the fullness of God in three ways: as a force throughout the universe, as something not here but “up there” (mim’komo=”His place”), and specifically as God of Israeli (Elohayich tziyon).

I think perhaps the important thing you are saying is that while צְבָאוֹת (tz’va’ot, tzevaot) literally means “armies,” the reference is to forces of the universe being imagined as armies, as opposed to the human armies of nations.

Indeed I would say that imagining God as the master of gravity, black holes, quantum physics, and other mysteries of the physical universe very much fits in with my own theology and seem analogous to how it was formerly used by people who looked at starts but didn’t have the Hubble Space Telescope. (Or NOVA on PBS.)

Which brings me back for “forces” as translation which could mean physical forces like gravity, as well as being a direct modern PC translation for army as in “Israeli Defense Forces.”

Note: The image above was drawn by Hannah and illustrates the page across from this passage in the Siddur.