Choosing a Tanach (and How Many Dips to Serve)

Real questions, submitted by actual OU Torah followers, with their real answers. NOTE: For questions of practical halacha, please consult your own rabbi for guidance.

Q. Hi there, is there an English translation to the Tanach that you could recommend? My plan is to learn Hebrew so I can learn and read directly from the Tanach, but in the meantime, I would like to know what is the closest thing/best alternative you could recommend that is in English that I can purchase?

A. There are a number of excellent translations worth looking into, with a variety of features and in a variety of sizes and price ranges, including XXXXXXX, YYYYYYYYY and ZZZZZZZZZ, among others.

Q. What are the differences between them? Which one would you say is as closely verbatim text to the Hebrew Tanach? If you had to suggest one.

A. The differences are more in the bells and whistles – commentaries, maps, things like that – and if you go for a one volume edition or a multivolume set. They're all excellent (and accurate) translations but I wouldn't call any of them "verbatim" because idiom always has to be translated between languages to be understood. For example, there's a Yiddish expression, "hock mir nit kein chynek." If I translate that literally, it means, "Don't bang me a tea kettle." If I said that to you in English, it wouldn't make any sense. I would have to give you its meaning, which is "Don't give me a hard time." No translation can have a direct word-for-word correspondence and hope to make sense.

I suggest that you take a look at samples online and see what speaks to you. XXXXXXXX might be best as a "starter" Tanach.

Q. That makes sense, thank you for the analogy! Is there a version that doesn't have added commentary?

A. They're all going to have some commentary but like I said, XXXXXXXXX is in one volume, so it clearly has less emphasis on commentary than, say, a three-volume set. But some commentary is going to be necessary; just translating the text into English isn't going to explain all the details to you. For example, if I told you, "Joe traveled from Monkeyton to Eagleburg," you might understand the words but perhaps you need more context to fully appreciate the situation. Is that the next town over or did he make a six-week journey? If I tell you, "Sally paid 65 zaza for her sweater," is that an hour's wages or six months of her salary? These are just a few basic examples; there's a lot in Tanach that really requires explanation beyond translation, so commentary can be really helpful.

Q. Ohhh, I see. I understand. Thank you so much for your help! You have been very informative and it was much needed.


The following may be the most controversial answer I've ever given.

Q. How many dip options am I supposed to present to my Shabbos guests?

A. There's no halacha about such a thing. Speaking as a guest, if a hostess served two dips, I'd find it sufficient, and three would be ample. I, personally, would find four or more to be excessive, unless there were something like a dozen people around the table. But I don't think there are any rules, per se. 

When my wife came home, I asked her and she thought my answer was a good rule of thumb. What do you think? Let us know at

Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on