This article examines how students and teachers at a non-Orthodox Jewish day school in New York City negotiate the use of translation within the context of an institutionalized language policy that stresses the use of a sacred language over that of the vernacular. Specifically, this paper analyzes the negotiation of a Hebrew-only policy through the ethnographic examination of language choices during activities surrounding scripture study and prayer.
The ethnographic data reveal not only how the translating choices were linked with the discourses of authenticity, intentionality, and affect, but also how the language policy was challenged in daily classroom practices. A key finding is that choices to translate from the sacred language, Hebrew, to the vernacular, English, were neither ideologically neutral nor simply limited to the linguistic sphere of rendering a sacred text comprehensible. Rather, they offer insight into the ways in which translation practices reflect broader questions regarding religious socialization and cultural hybridization within the American context.