This is a translation and summary of this document by Yuval Kafir in which he defends the “new” translation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings from its detractors, who prefer the “old” translation. Anything in [square brackets] is by me, the translator, Mark Shoulson. I have used {curly braces} for the one or two times wherein Kafir uses square brackets to annotate a quote. Some paragraphs and sections have been omitted.

Alas! The Aged and Good Translation!



As we know, there are two Hebrew editions of the book Lord of the Rings by Tolkien: the old translation by Ruth Livnit, and the new edition, which was created with Livnit’s translation as a base, by Emmanuel Lotem.

Since the old translation was published in 1979, and the new edition only came out in 1998, most Israeli Tolkien fans came to know Lord of the Rings via the old translation. Today [April 2002], the vast majority of websites dealing with J.R.R. Tolkien and his creation use terms from this translation. Most of them also include the unequivocal exhortation to read Lord of the Rings only in the old translation, and in no way to acquire or read the new translation, because in their opinion the old translation is preferable to it in its style and quality. In the old translation there are, indeed, many errors, the authors of these sites admit—but the new translation is no less faulty, they claim, and even falls short of the old translation’s mark in many fields.

But when one comes to check just what the mistakes are that were made in the two translations, and to compare them, it becomes clear that the quantity of errors, omissions, and distortions in old translation is infinitely greater than the quantity and severity of the errors in the new edition, to the extent that there are any. Fans of the old translation, I believe, are simply adhering to their “childhood teaching,” and refuse to judge the new translation fairly.

In this article I will detail some of the errors and shortcomings of the old translation, describe the main complaints which have been raised against the new edition, and I will show that the new edition is indeed a corrected and improved edition, and preferable to the old one.


How did I come to write this article? Well, it is no secret that I prefer the new edition to the old one. In fact, I was involved in its preparation. But even before that I believed that the old translation was an error-filled and inaccurate one. I started to suspect this while reading the book for the first time in Hebrew, and the extent of the inaccuracy became clear to me when I read the book in English two years later.

From the information available today in Israeli Tolkien sites on the web one would get the impression that the new edition is a defective and unworthy edition of Lord of the Rings. Since it is my opinion that the opposite was true, I wanted to balance the picture by presenting the two editions in a different light, and to try to convince the Hebrew reader that he would be better off reading the new Hebrew edition of this exemplary work (or the original, if his mastery of English is good!), if he wants to recognize truly the magical world of J.R.R. Tolkien.

A Little About Me:

My name is Yuval Kafir(?), born in 1966. I received The Fellowship of the Ring in Ruth Livnit’s translation for my Bar-Mitzvah, and fell in love with the book and Tolkien’s creation. Two years later my father brought me a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Silmarillion [in English] from London, and so began the tale of my disappointment with the old translation, especially when I discovered that the appendices had been missing from it.

Out of a fear that The Silmarillion’s fate would be like that of Lord of the Rings, I started working on a translation of that book at the same time (about age 15). I never finished that task, since after a few years I learned that Dr Emmanuel Lotem was working on a translation of The Silmarillion into Hebrew. I made contact with him, which led to my participation in the translation as an editor and advisor.

To my great joy, Emmanuel Lotem invited me to assist him also in editing the corrected edition of Lord of the Rings in Hebrew. I assisted him regarding several doubts, went over the corrected translation with a fine-toothed comb [lit. “with seven eyes (or fourteen, if glasses count as double)”], and was on the whole pleased with the result. Therefore, in several places in this article, when I adopt the first-person plural, I mean “we” as in Mr Lotem and myself. I permitted myself to use this plural in many places where I feel I was a partner to the act (or omission). In places where I was not a partner of where I do not agree with Emmanuel Lotem I did not join myself to him.


The Old Edition (Livnit Translation):

Before I begin a sketch of the shortcomings of the old Hebrew edition, I want to make it clear that I am not here to attack personally the translators of the edition (the translator of the poems Uriel Ofek (of blessed memory) and (distinguished for long life) Mrs. Ruth Livnit), or to deal with them in any personal manner at all. I am trying to deal only with the Hebrew translation of Lord of the Rings, and with the mistakes therein. I have no intent to discern why these mistakes were made, nor to claim, heaven forbid, malicious intent, negligence, or deception on the part of the translators. I only want to show that the errors exist, that they are many in number, and that they are fixed in the new edition.

This sketch is only partial: I checked carefully only the first chapters of Fellowship of the Ring, and I also went over the first chapters of The Two Towers, and a few other places. I have no doubt that a more detailed examination of the whole book would reveal more mistakes, if a partial examination turned up so many errors in a few sample chapters. In fact, I won’t even detail here all the mistakes that I have already found.

Whenever I quote the old translation, I will be using the vocalization of the printed edition verbatim. In the new edition the vocalization of names is always “full,” and I have not found in it any errors—and therefore I will for the most part skip over it. In the old edition the vocalization is mainly partial.... [Partial pointing] is therefore not an error of omission on my part—that is how it is in print.


Flaws in the Book:

There are no Appendices: In the English edition of Lord of the Rings there were six appendices included with the book, and they contained much and varied information about the the world which Tolkien created. These appendices were not translated in the old translations, and even its fans who swear by the old translation admit that their lack is a substantial flaw.

In order to get a feeling for the extent of the loss, it is worthwhile to note that the appendices take up almost half the pages in the third volume of Lord of the Rings. (footnote: I remember well my moment of “discovery” of the appendices, when I bought the third volume in English, and even before I opened it I was surprised to see that it was thicker than the first volume—in the old Hebrew edition, the third volume was the thinnest. My surprise turned to shock when I saw what was in that sudden “thickness.”) We are talking here about dropping more than 10% of the content of the original book! In these appendices there is information on the history of the world of Lord of the Rings, (brief histories of Númenor, Gondor, Arnor, and Rohan, lists of dynasties of various kings, and more), details of important dates (including the events after the end of the events of Lord of the Rings and what befell the main characters!), family trees of the Hobbits, a description of their calendar, information on the chief languages, and also rules of pronunciation, transcription, and translation. All these are missing from the old edition, and it appears that the translators ignored them, although it is not clear why. It is, however, clear that had the translator read these appendices, especially Appendix E which contains the rules of pronunciation and transcription, several errors like “Tseleborn” and “Izildur” would have been prevented.

Moreover: we can determine with a high level of certainty that Ruth Livnit did not understand J.R.R. Tolkien’s world when she translated Lord of the Rings. One of the proofs is the faulty translation, in two places, of the word “Valar,” which describes the “gods”: in one place the word is translated as “rider” [The Two Towers, near the end of “Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit,” the phrase “May the Valar turn him aside” comes out more as “may [its] rider turn it aside.”]. In another place, as a place-name (“like great Oromë in battle upon Valar”, III,98). In the third place the source reads “while the thrones of the Valar endure,” which is translated “...and the throne of the Valar will be established forever!” (III,220). From here one could guess that “Valar” was a personal name in plural, and one could at least have fixed the “rider” translation in the previous volume, but this was not done.

Even in Appendix A, which is short and very succinct in this matter, the Valar are described as “guardians of the world”—not to mention The Silmarillion, which had already been published in English at the time when Livnit translated Lord of the Rings. In short, a large portion of the mistakes in the old translation would have been prevented if the translator had studied a little more in depth into Tolkien’s books before starting the task of translation.

The End of the Introduction is Missing: The last paragraph in the foreword to Lord of the Rings is supposed to be “A Note on the Records of the Shire,” and in it is an explanation of the writing of the Red Book of Westmarch, which is the putative source of Lord of the Rings. In the old translation this paragraph is omitted.

Faulty Maps: Many place-names are missing or have been moved from their locations in the map of the Shire attached to the first volume in the old translation. Bywater, Hobbiton, The Hill—all these have been moved from their correct positions. Overhill is missing entirely, as is Haysend, the name of Stockbrook and many other place-names. Newbury in Buckland has changed to Norbury (which is the English name of Fornost, the northern royal city, which is in fact located far north of the Shire).

In the map of the Shire in the new edition the name of Waymoot west of Hobbiton has been dropped, but other than that the map is faithful to the source.

Also the big maps look like they were copied on a cheap photocopier and then fixed up with Tip-Ex. The full map of Middle Earth was attached only to the first volume, while the second and third volumes included parts not necessarily relevant for those volumes. Thus for example a map of the Shire was attached to the second volume, even though that is the only volume in which no event occurring in the Shire is mentioned.

In fairness, it should be noted that specifically regarding the big map there is no clear advantage to the new edition, due to printing problems. It is true that in this edition the map was redrawn afresh, the names were fixed, and use of two colors was made—but in the printing the red was moved relative to the black. More than that, the whole map was printed on two facing pages, and also on the join between the pages. The result is a map that is not necessarily more readable than that of the old edition, unfortunately. This is not the case regarding the map of the Shire or the big map of Gondor and Mordor, which are definitely preferable in the new edition. Only the big map is flawed.

In addition to this, the name of the Kingdom of Angmar was dropped from the big map in the new edition, although the names of Arthedain, Rhudaur and Cardolan were added, and other details which were missing in the old map. In the old map also the name "Hoarwell" is not mentioned, while the river Greyflood became "The Great River"—a name which is specific to the river Anduin.

The Name of the Third Volume: The third volume’s title is The Return of the King [shuvo shel hamelekh] in the old edition, but in the page headers it shows as When the King Returns [b’shuv hamelekh. Either is actually an okay translation]. A small detail, true, but it would seem to demonstrate a lack of proofreading.


Errors in Names:

In this case we made a distinction in the new edition between names from the Shire (whose pronunciation is like that of modern English in all respects—for instance, Buckland is Bahklend) and names of the Rohirrim (whose pronunciation leans more toward old English—for example Mundburg is Moondboorg). This relies on the advice of Tolkien himself, who explained that the Rohirric names are in origin Old English names.

Words Conflicting with the Style

One of the complaints against the new edition is that there are “stylistically surprising changes.” And yet it is in the old edition, which is mostly written in flowery Hebrew, that one can find instances of jarring style due to the use of words and terms which do not belong in a translation like this. Here are a few examples:

Mistakes in Hebrew, and “Heblish”

Another complaint against the new edition is that it suffers from too literal a translation, that is that it adheres to the English original to the extent that it spoils the Hebrew. Here are some examples of literal translation in the old version:

Lack of Consistency

Ignoring Repetitions

In several cases in LotR there are sentences or ideas which repeat themselves in different places. Some of these were translated in an inconsistent manner, such that the reader misses the repetition, and all it implies.


Translations of the Poems

In addition to the mistakes listed in this article which have their origin in the translations of the poems (and I have by no means listed all of them), there are several other problems with the translations of the poems in the old edition.

Mistakes of Translation

Corruption of the Source

Faults of Style

In the English original, there are clear differences in style between the speaking mannerisms of the various characters. For example, Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Gollum, Uglúk—each of them has a distinct speaking style, different from the others. Aragorn speaks standard and “high” English, with rarer words and a higher register. Frodo also speaks standard and clean English, but not as high as Aragorn’s. Sam Gamgee uses folk expressions more, although the English from him is also standard most of the time. Uglúk uses very simple, basic language most of the time, while Gollum corrupts his speech many times.

But in the old edition, there is no hint of these differences in style—even Gollum’s corrupted speech is mostly corrected to proper Hebrew! It is hard to show examples of these things, especially because we are dealing with a word-stock which is different in “feel” from the language spoken by the characters, but even so I will bring a few quotes from The Two Towers that demonstrate what I mean:

As someone who is not an expert on literature or languages, it may be that I was a little too hard in harping on the above examples. But this one thing is clear: someone who reads the words of the village hobbits, or even those of Uglúk or Gollum, in the old Hebrew edition, gets the impression that all these cases deal with educated and formal people, or at least a formal description, and a bit puffed-up. Someone who reads these words in the English original sees immediately that before him are simple villagers, an ordinary person, a rude soldier or a pathetic and low creature, according to the situation—without even needing to pay attention to the content of the words. The style and relative standing just scream out from the speech-style.


The New Edition (“The Lotem Translation”)

Since this article deals with which Hebrew translation of LotR is the more correct (or the less wrong), I will begin by saying that in the new Hebrew edition of LotR all the errors and misinterpretations listed above were fixed, along with many others which I did not note.

And still, as I wrote in the introduction, it is possible to find on Israeli websites several articles which claim that the new translation (edited by Emmanuel Lotem) is an inaccurate and careless edition. I will plainly say: there are indeed, to my knowledge (and to my great consternation) mistakes in the new edition. There is room to improve it. But despite that, the new edition is more correct and accurate than the old one, and this is due to two main reasons:

First, almost all the “mistakes” found in the new edition are a matter of interpretation and style. Only a few of them are “factual” errors, of the more severe sorts that I listed above (factually incorrect translation, misunderstanding of the original, omissions, or corruption of the original). All the rest are, for the most part, a matter of taste and preference.

Second, even if we will say, for the sake of argument, that “mistakes” of interpretation are as important as mistakes of understanding the source and translating it—still, a full list of the mistakes in the new edition would not even be half as long as the partial list of mistakes in the old edition, shown above.

I am not intending here to answer all the complaints against the new edition (footnote: in particular, I do not intend to deal with the pseudonym “Lotem’s Deep” [as in Helm’s], who attributes malicious intent and hidden motives to Mr Lotem (and thus by implication to me—his partner-in-crime), apart from dealing with the word “Deep” itself), but I will definitely sketch to the best of my ability those which were raised in the appendix to the “Petition for the Return of the Livnit Translation to the Shelves." This appendix (“The Appendix to the Petition” hereafter) purports to detail the main points of the mistakes in the new edition, and in its words “to refute... the claim of greater accuracy of the new edition and its claim of being free of errors”; I will describe, thus, the errors which the appendix to the petition lists.

In this overview it is possible that I will repeat things that were already said: Emmanuel Lotem added an Afterword to LotR (in RotK, after Appendix F), in which he described the considerations and goals which he had in coming to translate the names and expressions of LotR—goals and considerations in which he involved me more than once. I fervently urge you to read both the Afterword and Appendix F of RotK, in order to get the full picture. In particular, Emmanuel Lotem never claimed that the new edition is completely free of errors: everyone makes mistakes.

Faulty Transliteration of Old English Words

As explained in the Afterword of the new edition, we chose to translate most of the Rohorric names to their Old English forms, as Tolkien mentions in his “Translator’s Guide.” One of the claims is that some of this work was done incorrectly. To my dismay, it seems that in some cases our critics are correct.

Names Beginning with “I”

In the new edition, all the names originating in Sindarin starting with the vowel i were written with y in the beginning: yisildur, yithilien, etc. The claim is that we should have written (and pronounced) ʾisildur, ʾithilien, and so on.

Here I am of two minds: on one hand, the correct pronunciation is indeed closer, IMO, to ʾisildur. The sound in the beginning of the word is like the syllable at the start of Israel [in English], not Yiddish. To be sure, the difference in pronunciation of the initial consonant is not great. Emmanuel Lotem continues and claims that from the standpoint of the shape of the word—a consideration which was almost as important to Tolkien as its pronunciation—the spelling without the ALEF is more æsthetic. I am inclined to agree, although I prefer accuracy over æsthetics in such situations. [trans. note: the claim of æsthetics is valid: ALEF is a big honkin’ letter]

In the continuation of the same paragraph in the appendix to the petition is the complaint that the spelling Nimrays and Anduyn is incorrect, and it should have been Nimraʾis and Anduʾin. This complaint is incorrect. In the source it is Nimrais, Anduin. Tolkien wrote explicitly that the combinations ai, ei, oi, ui, au are to be pronounced as in the words rye, grey, boy, ruin, loud respectively. The word rye is not raʾi but rai, and ruin is not ruʾin but ruyn—therefore the transliteration in the new edition is correct.

Although without vowel-points one could write nimraʾis in order to emphasize the a syllable, when the word is vocalized, the ALEF is liable to add an unwanted “stop” between the vowels a and i. Tolkien established that such a combination is a diphthong—a combination of vowels that are to be pronounced with a smooth transition between them (with no stop) as a single syllable: Nim-rais, not Nim-ra-is; An-duin, not An-du-in.

Errors in the Index of Names

The complaint has been made that the index of names in the new edition contains “many errors.” Indeed, some errors have cropped up in it, but Emmanuel Lotem admits at the outset that he is not certain of all the interpretations, and that he was helped with whatever he could find (RotK, p.416). Moreover, not all the mistakes listed in the appendix to the petition are actually mistakes!

In fairness, we should note that there are no errors at all in the Index of Names in the old edition, for the simple reason that the Index of Names was not translated in it at all. As we all know, one who does not, errs not.


In the Appendix to the Petition, its authors complain that Lotem “invented” new translations in places where there was no need for such, and in doing so acted against the clear instructions in the Translator’s Guide which Tolkien wrote: for example ʿeitzan instead of “Ent,” nafil instead of “Oliphaunt,” and more.

And yet Tolkien was not consistent and unambiguous as one might think from these complaints; already in the introduction to the Guide, Tolkien writes: “But of course, the translator is permitted to invent a name in another language, which is fitting as regards its meaning and/or topography: not all the names in the Common Tongue are exact translations of names in other languages {that is, the Elvish Languages}.” [back-translated from the Hebrew] More than that: the Guide is intended, at the outset, for translators to European languages. (And also in all his letters relating to translations of LotR Tolkien dealt exclusively with European translations.) Thus, for example, in the case of word “Oliphaunt,” Tolkien sought to preserve it because it is reminiscent of the word “Elephant”—he never considered that this word might be completely foreign to the language of the translation (further explanation on this infra, under the expression nafil). On the other side, Tolkien requested that the names “Baggins,” “Merry,” and also “Sackville-Baggins” be translated [they are not translated in either Hebrew version, but transliterated]. But for all that we tried to find a Hebrew counterpart for these names, we felt that the outcome would be absurd: Bilbo Ben-Sak [son of a bag]? Or maybe Saknai? Or Tikani? And what of Meriadoc, would he not be Simcha [“happiness,” an acceptable Hebrew male name, though it sounds feminine] or maybe Sason [“rejoicing”], of the Brandybucks?

Therefore, in some of the places where Tolkien wrote “Retain” (i.e. leave as it is) regarding certain expressions, but at the same time described the meaning of the same expressions in Old or Modern English, we decided nevertheless to bestow a Hebrew form to the names—in order that they should not be completely devoid of Hebrew associations. Conversely, we chose not to translate the English expressions from the Shire and Bree, even though Tolkien noted in the Guide that most of them should be translated.

Incidentally, Emmanuel Lotem expounded on these doubts of ours (mostly his own doubts, of course) in detail in the Afterword of LotR, on pp.411-412 of RotK. I have reiterated their essential points here out of a desire for completeness in this article. Their basic message is this: the Guide was written out of consideration for European languages, and for cultural and linguistic associations of the peoples of Europe. Had we fulfilled the instructions of the Guide precisely, a ridiculous translation would have resulted, we believe. Therefore, we learned it, we were aided by it, but we did not blindly follow its instructions. Attempting to attack us on this point, without admitting that the Guide simply is not applicable to a Hebrew translation, is laying bare a half-truth.

Now I will deal with the disputed expressions individually:

....[discussion of details of word-choice that doesn’t really translate]

Superfluous Changes

In the Appendix to the Petition it says that Emmanuel Lotem received a mandate to correct the old Hebrew edition, but contrary to that he instituted a series of changes which appear superfluous.

In fact, Emmanuel Lotem was chosen to edit the old translation. The “mandate” of an editor is actually unlimited, and “corrections” are not just corrections of clear errors, but also, sometimes, stylistic corrections, changes of terminology, and more—in fact, anything that the editor sees fit to change and to improve. Here are the examples brought in the Appendix to the Petition:


As I wrote in the introduction to the article, my aim was to show that the new Hebrew edition of LotR is indeed a more correct and precise edition than the old translation by Ruth Livnit.

I have shown that there are many serious mistakes in the old edition, and that all of them have been fixed in the new edition.

More than that, I have dealt with the “distortions” and the mistakes in the new edition. A few of the complaints are indeed justified; but most of them are not at all errors, but matters of style and taste. As regards correct or incorrect translation, there are not many places where it can be clearly shown that the new edition is incorrect. The old edition, on the contrary, has many such places.

The one advantage of the old edition, I believe, is its sentimental and nostalgic value: a whole generation of Israeli Tolkienists grew up on this translation, and became accustomed to its sounds, terms, and expressions—even to its errors (there are several serious Tolkienists who still write Izildur or Gamggee despite the fact that they know that this is an incorrect transcription—just out of many years of habit). And still, that does not make it more accurate or correct than the new edition.

“Yes, But...”

Someone will say, “Yes, but despite all that you’ve said here, the old edition is still preferable to me over the new one.”

I have no problem with such an approach, truth be told—so long as it is not based on the reason “because the new edition is also wrong and distorted.” This reason simply does not apply, as I have shown in this article. One can come and claim that the old edition is more “fluent” or more “readable” or that you prefer to read about Izildur and Tseleborn, so long as you aren’t confronted with ʿeitzanim or gamdaʾim. A matter of taste, completely. Like Samwise said, the Lotem edition sticks in your craw, and the Livnit translation sticks in mine..

I cannot, or I do not want, to argue with someone who claims that the old translation of the poetry sounds much better to him than the new long translation, or that Lotem’s choice of terms grates on his ears. There are many readers (including me) who prefer gamdaʾim and ʿalfim to g’madim, nanasim [another word for "dwarfs, midgets"], and b’nei-lilit, and to whom the style of the new edition is the beloved one. In any case, there is no doubt that Dr Lotem produced a Hebrew edition of LotR which is more correct and more faithful to the original than the aged and good translation, alas!