Translatable but Debatable: The Human Resources Manager and Other Managers

If you’ve read A.B. Yehoshua’s novel שליחותו של הממונה על משאבי אנוש, or seen the remarkable movie of it, maybe like me you can sympathize slightly with the idea of an English translation that scraps the whole title.  Granted, the novel wound up with an English title that Yehoshua himself rightly describes as banal, A Woman in Jerusalem. But the Hebrew title makes a choice that cannot be made in English, ממונה instead of מנהל.  It’s a noun made from a passive verb form, and it hints at the character’s situation.  In the scheme of life, he is not running things; on the contrary, his job is something that befell him.

According to Babylon, a ממונה is a “commissioner, superior, appointee, gaffer, nominative, officer, prefect, curator; custodian, trustee, warden.”  You could also say “appointed administrator” (Ben-Yehuda’s Pocket Dictionary), “official” (Dov Ben Abba’s), “nominee, supervisor” (Carta), “overseer, deputy” (Dvir), “officer-in-charge, incumbent” (Alcalay), or “person in charge” (Morfix).  Alcalay tells us that the ממונה על ענייני הצירות is the chargé d’affaires, but unfortunately in English you can’t say “chargé de human resources” or even “human resources appointee.”  As an English translation, nothing passive seems to fit.  Oddly, I consulted nine dictionaries without finding the everyday word “manager,” which Hillel Halkin used for the character when he translated the novel.

The movie, by the way, makes do with the English title The Human Resources Manager, and even without the original lengthiness and without the passive word ממונה the phrase is still a bit haplessly awkward.

Another awkward job title to translate is סמנכ"ל.  Babylon simply says “assistant director general.”  Morfix provides “vice president” and “deputy director-general,” and when it defines מנכ"ל it points out that in English-speaking countries the מנכ"ל of a private company is called the CEO, managing director, or sometimes president, whereas a director general belongs to the public sector.

Morfix seems a bit equivocal about “president,” and indeed there are companies where the president is not the CEO, or even where several people are dignified with the title of president.  There is never more than one CEO nor more than one מנכ"ל as far as I know, so I believe “CEO” is the better translation.

With the compact abbreviation CEO for מנכ"ל, at first glance the compact abbreviation VP fits nicely for סמנכ"ל.  But can you be a vice president seated next to a CEO rather than next to a president?  Is it like being Sherlock Holmes and Sancho Panza?

As always, relevant comments are welcomed below.  The space is open to all, no membership required.  But if your comment is an invitation to a whole other discussion, please e-mail it to me at instead.