Translatable But Debatable - Keruv קירוב

Translatable but Debatable

Even the six-volume Even Shoshan dictionary, which likes to quote scripture, couldn’t tell me where the expression קירוב לבבות comes from.  Maybe it comes all the way from והשיב לב אבות על בנים ולב בנים על אבותם (Malachi 4:6, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers”) but to me that looks too dissimilar.  Anyone know?

Alcalay defines קירוב לבבות as “making friends,” but Orthodox Jewish pages on the Internet tend to think of it as “outreach to bring people closer to Torah and mitzvot.”  The term “closer,” of course, is relative.  Yehudit Suissa, who runs a haredi-owned company that supplies software to hospitals of the Palestinian Authority, is quoted as saying, “We exemplify ‘kiruv levavot,’ the enhancing of positive relations among people, both inside and outside Israel.”

קירוב לבבות is a difficult phrase to translate because although distancing is a perfectly common verb in English, it doesn’t have a perfectly common opposite.  Author and peace activist Prof. Ada Aharoni has a novel called קירוב לבבות, in which Arab students gain an improved understanding of the Jewish condition, and in English she refers to the novel as Nearing Hearts. That’s fine because the hearts do approach, or near, one another, but I think that grammatically it doesn’t correspond perfectly to קירוב לבבות.  I think of קירוב לבבות not as something done by the hearts themselves but as something done by another agent — “bringing hearts together,” as it’s called in a news story about Jewish–Arab dialogue at HebrewUniversity.

Returning to Alcalay, we find a definition of the verb לקרב defined as “draw near” or “bring near.”  There’s certainly no law against defining one Hebrew word with more than one English word, but sometimes symmetry suffers.  The good men of King James pondered over עת להשליך אבנים ועת כנוס אבנים and came up with “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.”  They could have made a virtue out of two-word necessity and maintained the parallelism by writing “A time to cast stones away, and a time to gather stones together.”

Most everyday English dictionaries won’t give us a one-word verb for bringing things closer to one another, but a huge dictionary like Merriam-Webster’s Third New International provides two.

The Third New International gives us approach with both the meaning of coming closer (“We approached the city”) and the meaning of bringing something else closer (“He approached the drill to the work”).  It’s good to know there’s a dictionary that will back you up if you want that meaning, although ambiguity is a risk (Would the title Approaching Hearts refer to bringing hearts together, to hearts that are coming closer to one another, to someone or something else closer to hearts, or to hearts coming closer to someone or something else?) and if you can manage to make the meaning unambiguous in the context, it will still look funny to some non-readers of the big, big dictionary.

The other word in the Third New International is closen.  It means not only “to become close or more close (‘the closening bonds between two countries’) but also “to make close.”  It too could work as long as you avoid ambiguity and, as the British say, don’t frighten the horses.

As always, comments about the words in question are welcome below and suggestions for further translatable but debatable words are welcome at ]]

Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.