minutia press.
Ella mitoch hevel tinokot

I know the title of this post is weird. It translates into "Except through the breath of children". I found out something this past week that set me to thinking. Our temple and many other temples and churches around the country observe a day to reflect on children's issues: protecting them, making sure they are safe, getting a good education, etc.

There is a web page for the Jewish version of that day, which mostly was on October 17. That was another Jewish holiday, so we moved the observance to November 14. In any case, I'm involved with the music at our temple, so I set to finding something the choir could sing for the observance. I liked the quote at the top of the page:

By the breath of children, G-d sustains the world

I started to look into this, and thought it would be good to get the original Hebrew. Rabbi Shaffner at Hillel was kind enough to provide it for me, and upon examination, I was startled at how much got lost in the translation.

The Hebrew in transliteration is: Eiyn haolam mitkayem ella mitoch hevel tinokot shel beit rabban. Translated, it goes something like: The world is not "held up" except through the breath of children (literally, babies) from the house of the rabbis.

The web site's translation is poetic, but the meaning of the phrase went much deeper. The big, heavy world is given structure and support, and would otherwise be chaotic and fall apart, by the breath of babies, who become educated (through the house of the rabbis). The image is that the breath of babies (weak though that might seem) is supporting the entire world. In truth, G-d isn't mentioned in the quote (G-d doesn't appear in the story of Purim either by the way).

I liked the quote so much I'm setting it to some music, SATB with piano and flute, and I'll post the results in the next few days to my web site.


I have always wondered how religion deals with things like this. The Bible has been translated many times, and it would seem that some things have to be lost along the way, as is obvious by the simple translation here.

Posted by: Nathan at October 27, 2003 8:52 PM