In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Traditions of Translation in Hebrew Literature

  • Introduction
  • Diglossia, Multiglossia, and Literature as a Polysystem
  • Translation and the Hebrew Haskalah
  • Translation and Nation Formation in the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine and in Israel
  • The Different Hebrews
  • The Publication of Modern Hebrew Literature in Translation
  • Translation and Hebrew Education

Jewish Studies Traditions of Translation in Hebrew Literature
Danielle Drori
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 November 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0219


The centrality of translation in the history of Hebrew literature cannot be overstated. Scholars of Hebrew translation history often attribute the fact that Hebrew writers have steadily relied on translation for enriching and sustaining the Hebrew literary canon to Hebrew’s long-standing existence in a state of diglossia or multiglossia: a condition in which a community habitually uses two or more languages or several forms of the same language for different purposes. Jewish communities from antiquity to the present have generally used Hebrew alongside other tongues, even after Hebrew’s reinvention as a modern vernacular, its so-called revival, in the 20th century. It is possible that Hebrew served as a vernacular in antiquity, but sufficient proof of this possibility has never surfaced. Nevertheless, in late-19th-century Eastern Europe, Jewish thinkers and lexicographers began promoting the idea of resuscitating Hebrew. They often articulated this goal through the metaphor and practice of translation, borrowing from European cultures the notion that every modern nation is defined by a shared vernacular, while also translating into Hebrew a cornucopia of texts—scientific, poetic, journalistic, and philosophical. This enabled those late-19th- and early-20th-century Jewish thinkers to enrich, expand, and test the limits of Hebrew in a modern context. If the modern Hebrew literary canon includes the Hebrew Bible, as many Hebrew writers and scholars believe, then it consists of the most frequently translated and widely circulated text in the world. Yet Biblical Hebrew differs from later formations of the language, and traditions of biblical translation in and outside the Jewish world call for separate bibliographies. The following bibliography focuses on central theoretical questions relating to traditions of translation in Hebrew literature, foregrounding the intensifying debates on Hebrew’s spiritual and national status from the 19th century onward. Translation has often served as a unique arena for such debates, acting as a vehicle for transforming Hebrew literature from within, while allowing for its venturing out. It has frequently allowed its practitioners to define the imaginary boundaries of Hebrew literature and delineate the contours of Hebrew culture as primarily Jewish-national.

Historical Overviews

Overviews of the role and uses of translation in the field of Hebrew literature can be divided into two groups. One comprises essays that date back to the late 19th or early 20th century, when a number of Eastern European Jewish thinkers, proponents of the Hebrew “revival” movement, turned to the history of Hebrew as part of a broader attempt to define and foster Jewish national consciousness. The second includes detailed scholarly works that take a descriptive rather than a prescriptive approach to translation as an innovation mechanism in Hebrew literature.

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