New website translates Bible, religious texts into Spanish

Most Spanish-language versions of the Bible are based on Christian translations, and the text is heavily influenced by their theology.

Rabbi Shmuel Kornblit (front row, far left) with Jewish studies teachers from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay at Herzog College. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Shmuel Kornblit (front row, far left) with Jewish studies teachers from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay at Herzog College.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sara Winkowski, from Uruguay, is an English-Spanish translator and life president of the International Council of Jewish Women, which has affiliated women’s organizations in 35 countries, including Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Ecuador, Panama and Cuba. Since 2009, she has been voluntarily translating Jewish educational materials with a feminist perspective into Spanish for the ICJW website.
“Translating religious articles has always been very difficult because, apart from a Torah website by Chabad, I had no Spanish resources to draw on,” she says. “I used the Catholic Bible and had to try and make it sound more Jewish by changing some of the words. References to other Jewish texts were also very difficult to translate, and I used to spend many hours trying to make my Spanish translations as exact as possible.”
Winkowski is excited that there is now an online Spanish translation of the Bible that she can cut and paste into her articles. Rabbi Shmuel Kornblit, the architect of this new biblical website in Spanish, is proud that his 12-year long project has finally become real, so that Spanish-speaking Jews around the world can finally access the complete Tanach and its commentaries in Spanish.
Secret Spanish Bibles
The first printed Spanish translation of the Bible was the Ferrara Bible, published in 1553 with funding from Dona Gracia Mendes, who encouraged the printing of various Hebrew books in Spanish for the benefit of Jews living in exile or as Hidden Jews during the Inquisition. Most Spanish-language versions of the Bible are based on Christian translations, and the text is heavily influenced by their theology. For example, their interpretation of the prophecies of Isaiah were translated using the Spanish words for “virgin” and “Christ,” using an unacceptable version of G-d’s name, which make them problematic for Jewish students.
The Bible is clearly the seminal text for Jewish education, but even today there is a shortage of Spanish language Bibles. Various translations have been produced by Jewish scholars and Hebraists over the years, but they are not accessible online to Jewish Studies teachers, who need digital versions of Jewish texts to incorporate into source sheets and lesson plans. Kornblit explains: “Teachers in Argentina have told me that they hesitate to set homework that might require their students to log onto Christian websites to find Bible texts in Spanish.”
Searching for Spanish Jewish education
Kornblit was born and educated in Argentina. Preparing for his bar mitzvah at his local Conservative synagogue at Kehillat Herzliya in Buenos Aires in 1984, he learned his Torah portion from a cassette recording and a phonetic transliteration because he could not read Hebrew. By the time he was 16, Shmuel had taught himself to read Hebrew and decided to move to Israel with the Youth Aliyah program. As he graduated from high school to yeshiva, and from Bnei Akiva’s Garin Nachal to the IDF, Kornblit met many other kids from Spanish-speaking countries. He set up the Masuah organization in 1996 to support his fellow Olim, and opened the first Spanish-language post-high school Zionist yeshiva program at Yeshivat HaKotel in the Old City in 2001.
Returning to Latin America as a shaliach (emissary) for Bnei Akiva and later for the Jewish Agency, Kornblit was determined to find ancient and modern Jewish texts in Spanish that could be used to improve formal and informal Jewish education resources. He managed to track down clear printed translations of the entire Bible in Spanish and, with permission from the publishers, started the painstaking work of digitizing the pages for use on the internet.
The Jewish language barrier
“It is difficult for English-speakers to imagine what life is like for Jews who cannot understand Hebrew and do not have access to core religious texts in their own language,” Kornblit says. “Hebrew language education in Latin American schools has declined over the past 20 years with the increased pressure to study English.”
Kornblit set out to scan and digitize all 2,500 printed pages of his Spanish Bible. Together with several volunteers, over a period of three years, he carefully checked and corrected the scanned text, updating the translation into modern Spanish. He took his project to Herzog College in Alon Shvut, whose Director of Bible Initiatives, Rabbi Dr. Shuki Reiss, encouraged Kornblit to expand his vision by including commentaries, podcasts, explanations and maps in Spanish. Herzog College’s Hebrew and English website became the basis for their third “Google of Tanakh” website in Spanish.
Digital Tanach resources
Launched in November 2020, the site ( includes translations and maps for each of the 929 chapters of the Tanach. Kornblit and his team continue to create and collect articles, commentaries and podcasts in Spanish to add to the site, following a similar model to the 929 Tanakh project. It has been greeted with great enthusiasm by Jewish teachers in 80 Jewish schools across Latin America and by the 23,000 followers on the Facebook page “Google del Tanaj”.
Welcoming the launch of the new Spanish website, Herzog College President Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes said: “The Tanakh connects all the Jews in the world, and it is crucial that every Jew has access to and a connection with our foundational text. I believe that our Spanish Tanakh website will be more influential than our Hebrew language website, because there are many more Spanish speakers in the world than Hebrew speakers, and there is no other online version of the Bible in Spanish that is true to Jewish values.”
Kornblit says his search for a Jewish alternative to the Christian Bible translation has now come full circle: “It’s ironic that the new Herzog Spanish Tanach website also gets a lot of hits and inquiries from Christians who are great friends of Israel. They are also excited to be able to have online access to an authentic Jewish version of the Bible in Spanish. They tell us that they are looking forward to visiting Israel when it becomes possible post-corona!”
Bringing the Tanach to life
Kornblit has commissioned Spanish-speaking rabbis and public figures to contribute to the online library of audio recordings in Spanish, including Shaul Hochberger, long-time radio presenter for Argentina’s Jewish radio station Radio Jai and until recently Israel’s Kan Broadcasting Spanish Network. The latest layer of the project is a series of videos, currently being filmed all over Israel by Spanish-speaking tour guides, which tell Bible stories in Spanish in the locations where they actually took place.
This new resource is already being used extensively by Jewish schools in Latin America, together with Herzog’s “Hainu Kejolmim” app (“Like Dreamers” in Spanish). This is one of the first Spanish-language Jewish education apps, designed to engage teens with Jewish learning by emphasizing contemporary ethical and Zionist messages in Jewish texts that are relevant to them today.
Says Kornblit: “In high schools most kids are only offered two hours a week of Jewish Studies, so this app is a great way to put more Jewish texts in their hands and encourage them to think about their Jewish identity while they are sitting on the bus or relaxing at home.” The “Hainu Kejolmim” app was developed by Herzog College’s ed-tech team in Hebrew, and it is currently being translated into English for the North American community.
In conjunction with Herzog College, the Spanish Tanach website project is supported by Argentina’s Asociación Mutual Israelita (AMIA). The director of their community education committee, Ariel Cohen Imach, says: “The Rabbis tell us that the Torah was given in a language that humans can understand, and we decided to translate it into today’s digital language to enable multi-sensory learning. Thanks to this project, Spanish-speaking Jews around the world can now experience their Bible heritage by logging on, listening in, and taking virtual tours of the land of the Bible. AMIA is proud to be a partner in the realization of this project.”
Training Jewish educators in Latin America
Through its partnership with the energetic Kornblit, Herzog College has become more involved in facilitating and support Jewish education in Latin America. As Israel’s largest religious Zionist teacher training college, Herzog started offering courses in Spanish for Jewish educators in 2017, and now partners with Israel’s Education Ministry to offer Rimonim online teacher training programs in Spanish and English. Their online professional development and teacher training courses include Jewish school teachers from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela.
“We opened our latest Spanish Rimonim teacher training courses in February 2020, expecting 22 teachers to join, but 63 signed up! There is clearly a massive thirst for Jewish education in Latin American countries, and we’re proud to be part of this renaissance,” says Kornblit.■