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Translating legal documents in Israel? Here's what you need to know

Sometimes, people wonder what I do for a living here in Israel.

Even more weirdly, sometimes they don't. I guess they assume I make a living blogging or writing children's books. But no, or at least, not yet. Which may be why you don't hear from me here so often!

A lot of what I do these days is translation. (You can find out more on my site:
I translate a whole bunch of stuff: kids' books, academic documents, and these days, a whole lot of CVs. Oh, and from Hebrew to English only.

Many people assume I translate both ways, which baffles me. I'm great at writing in English (in my humble opinion), but I can't imagine my writing in Hebrew ever progressing beyond the most basic level.

Sometimes people ask if I provide "legal translation," not meaning legal documents (which I don't do; you need a specialist in the legal system for that), but legally certified translations that you can use for purposes like immigration or other legal-related things.

The short answer is that what they want is probably a NOTARIZED translation, and I can't do that because I'm not a notary. And because in Israel notaries must be lawyers, it will probably cost a whole lot more for translation even if you do find a notary to do it. Fortunately, there is another way.



The first thing to know about legal translations and notarized translations is that Israel doesn't (yet!) have an official certification or recognition system for translators. So if you need a translation for official purposes, the process involves finding:
a) a translator you trust, and
b) an Israeli notary who speaks both Hebrew and English reasonably well.

As a translator, I've been through the process of translation for notarization before, and it's not that complicated:

  1. I do the translation.
  2. The bilingual notary compares the translation with the original document. He/she can request changes to the translated document(s) (e.g., if I've made a small mistake or used one word where they'd prefer another to be used). Some are pickier than others. :-)
  3. Once the notary is satisfied with the translation, they add their seal to the translated document. At that point, it's kosher to use for legal purposes.

Remember: I'm not a lawyer or notary in either language, so don’t take my word for it! I strongly suggest that before you do anything, if you need everything to be completely legal, you find an English-speaking notary first and verify the steps required.

Nefesh b'Nefesh has some listings on their site for notaries who do translation (in general, for translation the other way, from English to Hebrew, which you may need to have advanced degrees and certifications from abroad recognized here), but again, paying a notary to translate may not be necessary if you can find a bilingual notary who's willing to work with your own translator. (some of these notaries do offer the translation part free for NbN olim, so do check it out!)

But the most important takeaway here is to be very careful if you’re looking for translation services in Israel. There is no recognized, official, or legal "certificate of translation" or "translator's certificate" that is valid here, that I know of. Some translators may say they provide such a thing, but I doubt it's legally valid, so be very careful.

Even membership in the Israel Translators’ Association is no guarantee that an individual is a great or even decent translator, since at the moment there are no criteria for membership other than paying the fee. They’re currently working on creating certification standards, but they’re not yet fully in place. That means there are NO organizations out there that test whether you're a good translator for legal purposes -- or at least, not yet.

One more thing about translation – even if you’re very good at reading the target language, it’s always a good idea to have a native speaker vet any translation before you run with it. A few Israeli clients have been surprised or even upset that I would suggest such a thing. “If you’re any good, why would you need your translation to be checked by a native English speaker?!?”

I am good. But I’m not perfect, and mistakes do slip in. Plus, there’s often more than one way to word something. And if it’s not my native language, I may not pick up on those problems.

In English, I’m preternaturally good at spotting typos – they just leap off the page and attack me right in the brain. But they don’t in Hebrew, even though my spelling is great. Native speakers can see errors and problems that we as second-language speakers may never be able to pick up. So when I have stuff translated into Hebrew (I’ve had great luck finding Hebrew translators on Fiverr), I often have a native Israeli Hebrew speaker check it over just to be sure.

Translation can be a hassle, especially when it’s just one step in a long, complicated bureaucratic process – or the thing standing in the way of you getting the job you want. I think my main calling as a translator is to make the process as easy and user-friendly as possible. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have:

Or, you know, just share your fun or frustrating translation experiences in the comments section below!!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


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