Our Bibles obscure the fact that some Hebrew original wording is difficult to translate with certainty. We, the readers, are left unaware that often faithful and hardworking translators are forced to make a decision from several available options present in the original text.
Here is just one example of the kind of challenge that translators often face. We read in Gen. 25:23:
“Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.”
When translated literally we read: “Two peoples are in your stomach” (שְׁנֵי גֹיִים בְּבִטְנֵךְ). “Two peoples will separate from you” (וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ). “One people over another will exercise strength (וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ). But it is the last portion of this verse that introduces a considerable ambiguity (וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר). Traditional translations render it as “the older will serve the younger”.
If the phrase is to be translated as “the older will serve the younger” than the word את (et) is missing before צָעִֽיר (tsair). Without את it is not clear if the younger will serve the older or, as liturgical Jewish singing practice implies, the other way around!
(Moreover, the opposite of “young” (צָעִֽיר) is “old”; not “great” (רַב) as the Hebrew verse actually says!)
It is, indeed, a great challenge to make a responsible translation decision when the Hebrew text has a built-in ambiguity. But could it be that translator’s practice of alerting us only to one choice obscures something that the original author intentionally left in the text? Probably so.