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

Introduction

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.

The “Revival” Period

Influenced by the rise of philological studies and historical linguistics, early-20th-century Hebrew writers and Zionist thinkers began writing about language as a natural, organic phenomenon. They often described Hebrew in anthropomorphic terms and turned to writing its history, including the history of its reliance on translation for the sake of self-maintenance. Ahad Ha’am 1912 (originally 1893) portrays Hebrew as a language whose evolution and survival depended on translation. Bialik 1935 (originally 1905) ponders the possible negative effects of translation on Hebrew’s independent development. Ben-Yehuda 1919 speculates that historical translations from the Hebrew, such as the Septuagint, both reflected and precipitated processes of self-estrangement among Jews.

  • Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginzburg). “Imitation and Assimilation.” In Selected Essays. Translated by Leon Simon, 107–124. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1912.

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    A prominent intellectual in the field of Hebrew literature and Jewish philosophy from the 1890s to the 1920s, Ahad Ha’am penned a number of essays about language and translation. This essay from 1893 discusses cultural and linguistic evolution through the prism of the translation. Originally published in Hebrew, the essay is considered a milestone in the development of Zionist thought. It argues that the Hebrew language and the Jewish spirit owe their survival to competitive acts of translation.

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  • Ben-Yehuda, Eliezer. Ad Eimatay Dibru Ivrit. New York: Kadima, 1919.

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    A lexicographer, Ben-Yehuda is often dubbed the “reviver” of the Hebrew language. His seminal work on the language’s long history consists of many references to translation, including an analysis of the Septuagint as a window into the historical moment when Hebrew ceased to be used by the modern Jewish nation’s imagined ancestors.

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  • Bialik, Hayim Nahman. “She’elat ha-Leshonot be-Yisrael.”

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    A lecture Bialik gave in Kovno in 1929, this text expands Bialik’s idea that language and literature are living organisms that can grow to become self-sufficient. Addressing the question of Hebrew-Yiddish bilingualism in Europe, Bialik praises monolingualism by discussing translation. He presents his theory on the Greek and Aramaic translation of Hebrew in history, encouraging his Jewish audience to cease relying on different forms of translation to develop their national consciousness.

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  • Bialik, Hayim Nahman. “Hevley Lashon.” In Kitvey Hayim Nahman Bialik. By Hayim Nahman Bialik, 211–223. Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1935.

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    A classical essay on the “revival” of Hebrew from 1905. Through a series of anthropomorphic metaphors, this essay by an admired Hebrew poet argues that translation may act as a weakening factor in the “life” of literatures and languages. Reacting to a surge in translations in the Hebrew literary field of its time, the essay calls for the prioritization of original creation and the composition of a new Hebrew dictionary.

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The Descriptive Approach

Since the 1970s, a group of Tel Aviv–based scholars have researched translations from and into Hebrew, taking what they have often dubbed a scientific and descriptive approach to cultural transfer. In the past three decades, some of these scholars have composed historical overviews based on their studies. Ben-Ari and Levin 2019 is a recent, brief, yet exhaustive exploration of traditions of translation in Hebrew culture. Toury 1995 and Toury 2002 recount the same history with an emphasis on empirical evidence from Hebrew case studies.

  • Ben-Ari, Nitsa, and Shaul Levin. “Traditions of Translation in Hebrew Culture.” In A World Atlas of Translation. Edited by Yves Gambier and Ubalso Stecconi, 193–214. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2019.

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    An encyclopedic survey of the use of translation in diglossic Jewish communities from the biblical period to what the authors call the post-diglossic age that began with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The final part touches on questions of repertoire, while underscoring the contribution that scholars of Hebrew literature have made to the broader academic field of translation studies.

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  • Toury, Gideon. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1995.

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    An unparalleled work of modern Hebrew literary historiography focused on the role played by translated works in driving and cementing poetic norms or modes of writing and storytelling across history. Special attention is given to the shifting dominance of specific languages in the canon of Hebrew translations, from German in the 19th century, through Russian in the early 20th century, to English in the second half of the 20th century.

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  • Toury, Gideon. “Introduction.” In Jewish Translation History: A Bibliography of Bibliographies and Studies. By Robert Singerman, ix–xxxi. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1075/btl.44Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An outline of Jewish translation history, highlighting the changing trends of translation into Hebrew from antiquity to the 21st century.

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Diglossia, Multiglossia, and Literature as a Polysystem

Scholars of Hebrew literature and translation history, including champions of the descriptive approach, have taken issue with the notion that Hebrew had died in antiquity and came back to life in the 20th century. At the same time, they have argued that translation enabled the reinvention of Hebrew as a vernacular, and its transition from existence in a diglossic state to independence. The majority of existing scholarship on diglossia and Modern Hebrew centers on Jewish history in Europe, paying special attention to the relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish. This is the case with Harshav 1993, which explains why the metaphor of a dead language is at once potent and inaccurate; Perry 1981, on “autotranslations” between Hebrew and Yiddish; and Even-Zohar 1990, which unfolds a general theory of literature as a “polysystem,” where original and translated works interact to form a canon. Studies of Hebrew diglossia or multiglossia in the Arab world offer a separate set of insights, underscoring Hebrew-Arabic intimacy. Hary 1992 shows why the term diglossia does not capture the linguistic state in which Jews in the Arabic-speaking world had lived for centuries, embracing the term multiglossia to survey the combined use of Hebrew and Arabic among Jews in Egypt in the 16th century and beyond. Weissbrod 1998 and Shohat 2017 are polemical works, seeking to locate previous discussions of Jewish diglossia, multiglossia, and linguistic difference in their social-political contexts. Weissbrod situates Harshav and Even-Zohar’s theories in the broader context of their work as members of the “Tel Aviv School of Poetics and Semiotics,” a school of literary analysis that sought to study literature as a scientific object and altered the reputation of translation studies by arguing that translation is not just a derivative act, but also a creative process. Shohat questions the very category of Judeo-Arabic, issuing a call for a less-Eurocentric approach to the study of Jewish languages and Hebrew translation history.

  • Even-Zohar, Itamar. “Polysystem Studies.” Poetics Today 11.1 (1990): 1–268.

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    A collection of articles elaborating Even-Zohar’s theory of literature as a “polysystem” in which original and translated works influence one another to generate new forms and conventions. Even-Zohar argues that translations should be studied not as derivative and therefore uninstructive literary works, but rather as central to literary evolution, especially in the case of “peripheral” or “marginal” languages and literatures.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin. Language in Time of Revolution. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520079588.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This book retells the story of the so-called revival of Hebrew as one of revolutionary vigor and ideological commitment. It shows how vast Jewish communities transformed themselves culturally and linguistically by adopting Hebrew as a spoken language, participating in the Zionist revolution, which Harshav depicts as one of many European revolutions affecting Jewish life in the 20th century.

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  • Hary, Benjamin. Multiglossia in Judeo-Arabic: With an Edition, Translation and Grammatical Study of the Cairene Purim Scroll. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1992.

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    A comprehensive study of language varieties in Judeo-Arabic, a category relating to the combined use of Arabic and Hebrew among Jews in the Arabic-speaking world. Implicitly touching on questions of translation, the book contains two critical editions (one in Hebrew and one in Judeo-Arabic) of the Purim Scroll of the Cairene Jewish Community, a text composed in 1524 to celebrate the salvation of the Jewish community in Cairo from Ahmad Pasha, an Egyptian governor.

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  • Perry, Menakhem. “Thematic and Structural Shifts in Autotranslations by Bilingual Hebrew-Yiddish Writers: The Case of Mendele Mokher Sforim.” Poetics Today 2.4 (1981): 181–192.

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    A formal analysis of self-translation from Yiddish into Hebrew and vice-versa, focusing on works by Mendele Mokher Sforim (pen name of S. Y. Abramovitsh), one of the most influential bilingual Hebrew and Yiddish writers of the early 20th century. Mendele’s “autotranslations” are read as a meeting point between two interdependent literary systems vying for artistic legitimacy.

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  • Shohat, Ella. “The Invention of Judeo-Arabic: Nation, Partition and the Linguistic Imaginary.” Interventions 19.2 (2017): 153–200.

    DOI: 10.1080/1369801X.2016.1218785Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    If no translation is needed across two languages, should they be considered separate entities? This article grapples with the concept of linguistic belonging by questioning the linguistic category “Judeo-Arabic.” Usually defined as a Jewish dialect of Arabic whose writing system deploys Hebrew characters to spell Arabic words, Judeo-Arabic is an ideologically loaded term.

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  • Weissbrod, Rachel. “Translation Research in the Framework of the Tel Aviv School of Poetics and Semiotics.” Meta: Journal des Traducteurs/Meta: Translators’ Journal 43.1 (1998): 35–45.

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    An introduction to the local and global reach of the Tel Aviv School of Poetics and Semiotics and its members’ theories of translation.

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The Multilingual Turn in Hebrew Translation Studies

In the past few years a shift has occurred in the terminology and methodology of Hebrew translation studies. The term diglossia, borrowed from the field of linguistics, has largely been substituted by the term multilingualism, which designates a cultural rather than a narrowly linguistic condition of literary dependence and coexistence. Multilingualism also evokes its antonym, monolingualism, which marks both the fantasy and the reality of a community with a single language. Levy 2019 draws on postcolonial studies to repeat the claim that monolingualism is a conceit of modern nationalism, not so much a historical phenomenon as a philosophical and ideological paradigm. Brenner 2019 treats multilingualism as both a condition and a paradigm, tracing the translation and re-translation of popular Yiddish novels into Hebrew in Mandatory Palestine and Israel in the 1940s and 1950s. Gordinsky 2019 revisits poems by the influential Hebrew writer Yehuda Amichai through the lens of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s discussion of monolingualism and subjectivity. Norich, et al. 2016 is an anthology about the Jewish linguistic spectrum, containing a number of chapters on Hebrew translation in various historical periods.

  • Brenner, Naomi. “The Many Lives of Sabina: ‘Trashy’ Fiction and Multilingualism.” Dibur 7 (Fall 2019): 89–108.

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    Translated popular novels were an important site of Jewish multilingualism in Mandatory Palestine and later in Israel in the 1950s, when institutionalized attempts to enforce Hebrew monolingualism shaped language politics and literary canonization. Looking at both Hebrew and Yiddish texts and their circulation, the article doubts the complete “revival” of Hebrew in Israel.

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  • Gordinsky, Natasha. “Bitter Tongue: Yehuda Amichai’s Poetic Monolanguage.” arcadia 54.2 (2019): 212–230.

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    A reassessment of the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai’s work in light of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s long essay, “The Monolingualism of the Other.” The article shows how language functions in Amichai’s poetry not only as a medium, but also as a persistent question linked to the tension between selfhood and otherhood.

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  • Levy, Lital. “Accent and Silence in Literary Multilingualism: On Postarabic Poetics.” Dibur 7 (Fall 2019): 21–43.

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    An analysis of the representation of the Arabic language in Israeli-Hebrew literature, beginning with a summary of 21st-century scholarly writing on multilingualism.

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  • Norich, Anita, Joshua L. Miller, and Chana Kronfeld. Languages of Modern Jewish Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.8824672Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An anthology seeking to account for the Jewish linguistic spectrum and the position Hebrew occupies on it. Some chapters, notably chapter 2 on the Yiddish and Hebrew translations of Sigmund Freud’s work, tackle the question of Hebrew translation directly. Others, like chapter 5 about the English writer Israel Zangwill and chapter 8 on the Hebrew writer M. Y. Berdichevsky, grapple with the meaning and manifestation of multilingualism in the Jewish context.

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World Literature

The multilingual turn in Hebrew translation studies would not have transpired without previous studies of modernism in Hebrew, such as Feldman 1985 and Kronfeld 1996. These studies paved the way for scholars’ borrowing of methods and premises from the field of comparative literature, and from its subfield of world literature. The term world literature names not only the sum of all literary works published and read across the world, but also a disciplinary construct in departments of comparative literature, which emphasizes the advantages of studying literary works not as closed-off units belonging to a single linguistic tradition, but rather through the lens of their translation and circulation. Jacobs 2018 and Manor 2018 elaborate a theory of “translation poetics” in modern Hebrew literature, showing how the production and consumption of translation has inspired modern Hebrew verse. Pinsker 2011 argues that cosmopolitan sensibilities and constant geographical and linguistic transitions shaped the literature of the Hebrew “revival” period. It expands previous historiographical studies such as Abramson and Parfitt 1985, while emphasizing the Europeanness of Hebrew “revival” writers. Berdichevsky 2017 and Drori 2017 demonstrate how Hebrew writers at the turn of the 20th century account for questions of world literature and thereby anticipate present-day discussions of the term. All scholarly works in this section take into account essays on translation by Hebrew writers who grappled with the place of translation in their own work, and in the Hebrew literary field at large, such as Brenner 1978 and Goldberg 1950 and Goldberg 1966.

  • Abramson, Glenda, and Tudor Parfitt. The Great Transition: The Recovery of the Lost Centers of Modern Hebrew Literature. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985.

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    Translation is not a focus of this historiographical study of modern Hebrew literature, but geography is. Understanding the shifting geography of Hebrew literary creativity sheds light on the various multilingual conditions in which modern Hebrew literature has developed.

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  • Berdichevsky, Dina. “Measuring Distances: Hebrew Essayists Reading World Literature.” Prooftexts 36.1–2 (2017): 27–52.

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    On how the Hebrew writers and critics Leah Goldberg and Shlomo Grodzensky praised European literature and its translation while debating the very viability of a monolingual Jewish culture.

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  • Brenner, Yosef Hayim. “Me’olam sifruteinu.” In Kol kitve Y. H. Brenner. By Yosef Hayim Brenner, 237–259. Tel Aviv: Haqibuts Hameuhad, 1978.

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    Originally published in 1908, this Hebrew article reviews new original or translated publications in the Hebrew literary field in Europe. In an instructive passage on translation, Brenner, who was himself a Hebrew writer and translator, asks what kind of literary works are worthy of Hebrew translation.

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  • Drori, Danielle. “Literary Fortresses: Translation and World Literature in Y. H. Brenner’s Beyond the Borders and ‘From the World of Our Literature.’” Prooftexts 36.1–2 (2017): 190–216.

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    Like Berdichevsky 2017, this article engages a Hebrew response to the question of the location of Hebrew literature on the world literary map at the turn of the 20th century. It analyzes a Hebrew play whose protagonist is a Hebrew writer who embraces marginality and relinquishes the wish that his work be translated into other tongues.

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  • Feldman, Yael S. Modernism and Cultural Transfer: Gabriel Preil and the Tradition of Jewish Literary Bilingualism. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1985.

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    A monograph of the modernist poet Gabriel Preil, who wrote Hebrew verse in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Preil’s poetry was not only influenced by Yiddish modernist verse, but also an effective translation of it into Hebrew. Despite its focus on a single poet, this study lays the foundations for understanding the phenomenon of writing literature outside the confines of a fixed national, geographical, and linguistic identity.

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  • Goldberg, Leah. “Avraham Shlonsky ke-metargem shira.” In Yevul: Kovets le-divrei sifrut u-machshava ‘im yovel Avraham Shlonsky. By Leah Goldberg, 31–37. Merchaviya, Israel: Sifriyat po’alim, 1950.

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    A Hebrew poet, literary scholar, and translator, Goldberg pays tribute in this article to another Hebrew poet and translator, Avraham Shlonsky, who translated modern classics such as Alexander Pushkin’s Yvgeny Onegin. Goldberg defines poetry translation as a problem shared by all the literatures of the world, lauding Shlonsky for solving it by treating translation as a creative act.

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  • Goldberg, Leah. “Certain Aspects of Imitation and Translation in Poetry.” In Actes du IVe congrès de l’Association internationale de littérature comparée, Fribourg 1964, pp. 837–843. The Hague: Mouton, 1966.

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    In this conference paper, Goldberg reflects on the translation of Petrarch’s sonnets from a historical point of view, and from her own point of view as a translator. While not directly about Hebrew literature, the article is relevant to those interested in Goldberg as a Hebrew translator and translation theorist.

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  • Jacobs, Adriana X. Strange Cocktail: Translation and the Making of Modern Hebrew Poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.9813789Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study of four Hebrew poets, Esther Raab, Leah Goldberg, Avot Yeshurun, and Harold Schimmel, who turned to translation for creative inspiration. Each generated what the book characterizes as a “poetics of translation,” a far more common mode of writing in both Hebrew and other literary traditions than is usually acknowledged. The book places translation at the center of its discussion of Hebrew poetry.

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  • Kronfeld, Chana. On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520914131Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A pioneering work on modernism in Hebrew and Yiddish literatures, centering on the notion of marginality, which many modernist writers in several traditions explored and exalted. The book paved the way for later comparative studies of Hebrew modernism, such as Pinsker 2011, where the issue of translation is directly investigated.

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  • Manor, Dory. “‘Ajuster l’expression occidentale aux instruments d’une langue orientale’ Yakov Fichman et ‘l’horizon traductif’ de la génération de la renaissance de l’hébreu moderne .” Yod En ligne 21 (2018).

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    This French-language article by a prominent Israeli poet and translator argues that poets‑translators of the Hebrew “revival” period like Yaakov Fichman worked to modernize Hebrew verse and renew it through the use of European poetic traditions. Their cultural horizon was a translated one.

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  • Pinsker, Shachar. Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.

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    Rewriting the narrative of Hebrew literary revival in modernity, this book focuses on the cosmopolitan sensibilities and geographical restlessness of major Hebrew writers who have been co-opted into a Jewish national meta-narrative by Zionist historiographers. Part II pays special attention to Hebrew translations of works on love and sexuality and their imprint on modern Hebrew fiction.

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Translation and the Hebrew Haskalah

The Haskalah is often defined as the Jewish Enlightenment movement or the Jewish reaction to the European Enlightenment, stretching from the 18th century to the late 19th century. It may be figuratively construed, in this sense, as a continuous translation process—an intellectual and social transformation that subsisted on acts of adoption and interpretation (Pelli 2005). Proponents of the Haskalah absorbed and effectively disseminated the tenets of the Enlightenment movement: reason, scientific progress, and tolerance. They deployed various forms of translation, producing Hebrew adaptations and abridged versions of influential scientific and poetic works from the European canon. The early German phase of the Haskalah gave rise to a wave of Bible translations, which often presented themselves as opportunities to improve readers’ knowledge not only of the classical Hebrew text, but also of moral values at large (Gillman 2018, Gottlieb 2013). The later phase of the Haskalah in both Eastern Europe and the Muslim world marked a broader literary revolution. Frieden 2016, Khan 2017a, and Khan 2017b show how European proponents of the Haskalah translated and adapted popular and canonized European literary works into Hebrew, introducing Jewish readers to new genres. Parush and Brener 1995 explores the gendered aspects of literacy in the days of the Eastern European Haskalah. Levy 2009 criticizes and revises the Eurocentric descriptions of the Haskalah as a movement of translation, centering on literary circulation in Arab-Jewish spaces. It is worth noting that proponents of the Haskalah habitually used the Hebrew term haataqa, “copying” or “displacing,” to refer to the translation and adaptation of poetic and scientific texts from the world canon. They reserved the use of the terms tirgum and targum, now the conventional Hebrew words for the act and the product of translation, respectively, to the canon of biblical translation and interpretation to or in Aramaic. The term haataqa ceased denoting translation already in the early 20th century, with Hebrew writers no longer feeling the pressure to distinguish between biblical and other forms of translation. The term targum continues to denote both the Aramaic translation or interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and any other form of translation. This terminological shift overlapped with growing criticism of the Haskalah’s translation norms by Hebrew writers and readers in the early 20th century. One feature of the Haskalah’s translation norms was ample tampering with the original text, as Natkovich 2014 and Wolpe 2012 make clear.

  • Frieden, Ken. Travels in Translation: Sea Tales at the Source of Jewish Fiction. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2016.

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    A historiographical study of the Haskalah and its linguistic and literary legacy, this book proposes that the so-called revival of Hebrew literature started not with S. Y. Abramovitsh (better known by his pen name, Mendele Mokher Sforim), but rather with the multiple Hebrew and Yiddish translations and adaptations of sea travel narratives in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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  • Gillman, Abigail. “The First Wave: Jewish Enlightenment Bibles in Yiddish and German.” In A History of German Jewish Bible Translation. By Abigail Gillman, 15–85. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

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    A chapter in a book on Jewish Bible translations in the German-speaking world, which focuses on the linguistic transition that the Haskalah brought about from the late 17th to the late 18th century. That transition owed its potency to new German and Yiddish translations of the Hebrew Bible, whose translators aspired to use a “clear” language. To what extent were these translators, from Yekuthiel Blitz to Moses Mendelssohn, influenced by Christian traditions of Bible translation?

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  • Gottlieb, Michah. Faith, Reason and Politics: Essays on the History of Jewish Thought. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2013.

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    Chapter 3 of this study of Jewish approaches to the relationship between faith and reason (a primary issue in the writings of the Haskalah) comments on Mendelssohn’s translation of the Hebrew Bible into German. It argues that Mendelssohn believed he could create a hybrid Jewish-German identity through the translation, yet was promptly criticized for its production by rival Jewish intellectual communities in Europe.

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  • Khan, Lily. “The Book of Ruth and Song of Songs in the First Hebrew Translation of The Taming of the Shrew.” Multicultural Shakespeare 16.1 (2017a): 13–27.

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    A textual analysis of the earliest Hebrew rendition of a Shakespearean comedy, Judah Elkind’s Musar sorera (Berditchev, 1892). Elkind drew heavily on romantic imagery from the Hebrew Bible, thereby changing the comedy’s plot and characters in a manner reflective of the values of the Haskalah and its Hebrew readership.

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  • Khan, Lily. First Hebrew Shakespeare Translations: a Bilingual Edition and Commentary. London: UCL Press, 2017b.

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    A proponent of the Haskalah who converted to Christianity, Isaac Edward Salkinson became the Hebrew translator of Shakespeare’s Othello (Ithiel the Cushite of Venice in Hebrew) and Romeo and Juliet (Ram and Jael in Hebrew). This book contains Salkinson’s groundbreaking translations, their analysis, and their retranslation or “back translation” into English. The translated and retranslated versions of each play differ in meaningful ways from the original English, alluding heavily to Biblical, Rabbinic, and Medieval Hebrew texts.

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  • Levy, Lital. “Reorienting Hebrew Literary History: The View from the East.” Prooftexts 29.2 (2009): 127–172.

    DOI: 10.2979/pft.2009.29.2.127Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A revision of Hebrew literary historiography from a multilingual and global perspective. The article compares features of the Hebrew Haskalah and the Arabic Nahda, using Iraqi Jewish literature as a case study.

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  • Natkovich, Svetlana. “Elisha Ben Abuya, the Hebrew Faust: On the First Hebrew Translation of Faust within the Setting of the Maskilic Change in Self-Perception.” Naharaim 8.1 (2014): 48–73.

    DOI: 10.1515/naha-2014-0007Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Meir Halevi Letteris’s 1865 translation of Goethe’s Faust shows that proponents of the Haskalah perceived the act of translation as creative rather than derivative. They often Hebraized names and altered plots and themes, while adding Jewish perspectives (in this case, a comparison between Faust and the Talmudic story about the heretical sage Elisha Ben Abuya).

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  • Pelli, Moshe. In Search of Genre: Hebrew Enlightenment and Modernity. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005.

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    This study of modernization in the history of Hebrew literature argues that the redefinition of Judaism by proponents of the Haskalah inevitably involved translational transactions and the Hebraization of non-Hebrew genres. The book also accounts for the turn to Biblical Hebrew in literary works of the Haskalah.

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  • Parush, Iris, and Ann Brener. “The Politics of Literacy: Women and Foreign Languages in Jewish Society of 19th-Century Eastern Europe.” Modern Judaism 15.2 (1995): 183–206.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/15.2.183Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    On the social and political consequences of promoting Hebrew literacy in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. While proponents of the Haskalah urged Jewish men to deepen their knowledge of Hebrew, they often denied Jewish women access to the classical language. As a result, women steeped in Haskalah values frequently turned to the study of other languages. A relationship was thus established between women and multilingualism in Jewish societies.

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  • Wolpe, Rebecca. “Judaizing Robinson Crusoe: Maskilic Translations of Robinson Crusoe.” Jewish Culture and History 13.1 (2012): 42–67.

    DOI: 10.1080/1462169X.2012.712885Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Surveying seven “Jewish translations” of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe published between 1784 and 1900, the article shows how each, including the Hebrew translation, reworks and alters the famous story to spread specific didactic and ideological values.

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Translation and Ideology

The act and products of translation are not only shaped by the ideological conditions surrounding them, but may themselves serve or reveal their creators’ cultural, political, and theological principles. The number of scholarly works on the use of translation as an ideological tool in the field of Hebrew literature has been growing steadily since the turn of the 21st century. Seidman 2006 is a comprehensive and incisive study of translation and power relations across the divide between Jews and Christians. It grapples with Hebrew’s special status in both Jewish and Christian communities, treating translation as a discursive act. Prioritizing translation narratives over linguistic analysis, Seidman’s study anticipated recent scholarly works tackling the relationship between translation and Jewish national ideologies from antiquity to modernity. Weissbrod 2008 surveys Hebrew translators’ strategies for translating racist terms and remarks. Barzilai 2020 and Drori 2019 grapple with the relationship between translation and Zionism, joining a longer list of works that closely examine the ties between Hebrew and the languages that have influenced its trajectory as a national Jewish language: Arabic, English, French, German, Ladino, Russian, Scandinavian languages, and Yiddish.

  • Barzilai, Maya. “Foreign Coins in Hebrew Gold: Yaakov Fichman and the Gendered Economics of Translation.” Dibur 8 (Spring 2020): 5–14.

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    Analyzing two essays on translation by the Hebrew writer Yaakov Fichman from 1913 and 1923, the article compares anti- and pro-translation positions in early-20th-century Hebrew literature and explores some of the metaphors used by Hebrew writers in the early 20th century to discuss translation as a tool for building a Hebrew-centric national identity. It uses contemporary theories of translation and nation formation and translation and global symbolic capital.

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  • Drori, Danielle. “A Translator against Translation: David Frishman and the Centrality of Translation in Early 20th Century Hebrew Literature and Jewish National Politics.” PaRDeS 25 (2019): 43–56.

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    A reading and contextualization of an anti-translation article by one of the most prolific Hebrew translators of the 20th century, David Frishman. In 1911, Frishman reacted negatively to the first Russian translation of poems by the popular Hebrew poet H. N. Bialik, yet failed to adhere to his own belief that literature and politics should never intermix.

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  • Seidman, Naomi. Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226745077.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Spanning centuries and languages, this study reconsiders Jewish-Christian relations through the lens of translation and translation through the lens of Jewish-Christian encounters. Hebrew words and the question of Hebrew’s translatability receive special attention in most of the book’s chapters, revealing a set of competing views of Hebrew as divine and earthly, and as universal and particular.

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  • Weissbrod, Rachel. “Coping with Racism in Hebrew Literary Translation.” Babel 54.2 (2008): 171–186.

    DOI: 10.1075/babel.54.2.06weiSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Citing theorists of cultural difference and colonialism such as Michel Foucault, Edward Said, Franz Fanon, and Homi K. Bhabha, and leaning on Gideon Toury’s theory of norms, this article analyzes both the Hebrew translation of racist themes and the use of racist terms in Hebrew translation.

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Hebrew and Arabic

Hebrew and Arabic have shared geographies and communities for centuries, with their relationship changing over the course of these centuries according to the political conditions in which they interacted or continue to interact. In the Middle Ages, many Jews were transmitters of Arabic literary and philosophical traditions, as suggested in Steinschneider, et al. 2013. Today, the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic is no longer marked by such creative symbiosis. The rise of Zionism during the first half of the 20th century and the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 led to a series of events that recast the relations between Hebrew and Arabic as antagonistic. The Israeli occupation of Palestine has turned Hebrew and Arabic, respectively, into a colonizing language and the language of colonized or enemy peoples (Hever and Kayyal 2016). Evri 2016 and Kayyal 2008 look at the relationship between the languages in the decades preceding Israel’s establishment. Abu Much 2020, Mor 2019, and Raizen 2020 dwell on the impact that Jewish nationalist ideologies and policies have had on Arabic-to-Hebrew and Hebrew-to-Arabic translations.

  • Abu Much, Huda. “Translation as a Double-Edged Sword: Copyright, Dialogue, and Normalization under Colonial Conditions.” Dibur 8 (Spring 2020): 55–67.

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    The story behind a 2018 anthology of Arabic short stories in Hebrew translation, whose Israeli publisher was never granted permission to reprint the stories in their new linguistic garb. While the publisher’s intention was to promote dialogue between Hebrew and Arabic cultures against the backdrop of political conflict, its failure to secure copyright attests to what the article’s author dubs an Orientalist and colonialist approach to Arabic literature.

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  • Evri, Yuval. “Translating the Arab-Jewish Tradition: From al-Andalus to Palestine/Land of Israel.” Rozenberg Quarterly 2016.

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    The vision of two Arab-Jewish scholars and translators who reckoned in their writing with their Andalusian legacy and the rise of Zionism, which espoused the idea of a Jewish return to the Land of Israel or modern Palestine. The historical presence of Hebrew in the Arab world is discussed in this essay as part of a broader analysis of modernization and language.

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  • Hever, Hannan, and Mahmoud Kayyal. Merhav sifruti aravi-ivri. Jerusalem: Van Leer, 2016.

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    An anthology of essays by Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel who took part in a research group investigating the encounters between Palestinian and Hebrew literatures in Israel-Palestine and beyond. Some chapters deal directly with translation as praxis, while others focus on theorizing the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic against the backdrop of competing claims and ideologies in Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Gaza.

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  • Kayyal, Mahmoud. “Salim Al Dawudi and the Beginnings of Translation into Arabic of Modern Hebrew Literature.” Target 20.1 (2008): 52–78.

    DOI: 10.1075/target.20.1.04kaySave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A double exploration of Arabic translations of modern Hebrew literature from the early 20th century, and of Arabic literary writings by Jewish intellectuals living in the Arab world at the time. The article begins with a discussion of the only Arabic translation of Avraham Mapu’s 1853 romantic tale Ahavat Tsiyon (Love of Zion), often dubbed the first Hebrew novel. It proceeds to a brief examination of the admiration some Jewish intellectuals from the Arab world felt toward the Arabic language.

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  • Mor, Liron. “Resistance into Incitement: Translation, Legislation, Early Detection, and the Palestinian Poet’s Intention.” Arab Studies Journal 27.1 (2019): 119–155.

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    In 2018, the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour was convicted of incitement to terror in an Israeli court, based on an Arabic poem she posted to social media and its Hebrew translation by the Israeli authorities for the purpose of the trial. This article analyzes the court’s discussions of the translated poem, showing how in the process of interpreting the translation, the court both assumed and constructed Tatour’s alleged intention to incite to violence.

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  • Raizen, Michal. “Hebrew-Arabic Translational Communities and the Recuperation of Arab-Jewish Literary Memory.” Dibur 8 (Spring 2020): 29–42.

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    Contemporary translations from Hebrew literature into the Arabic language (and vice versa) are relatively rare despite the geographical and linguistic proximity between Arabic and Hebrew. One recent exception is Nael Eltoukhy’s 2016 Arabic translation of Almog Behar’s 2010 Hebrew novel Tchahla ve-Hezkel (Rachel and Ezekiel). This article discusses this translation as “recuperative,” showing how it paves the way for Arab-Jewish memory to appear in Arabic and thereby breaks social and political taboos in the modern Middle East.

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  • Steinschneider, Moritz, Charles H. Manekin, Y. T. Langermann, and Hinrich Biesterfeldt. The Hebrew Translations of the Middle Ages and the Jews as Transmitters. Vol. 1. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2013.

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    An elaborate discussion of major Jewish writers and philosophers who wrote in Arabic in the Middle Ages: Moses Maimonides, Judah Halevi, and Solomon Ibn Gabirol. The English edition is a translation of an influential 19th-century study of Jews as transmitters of knowledge in Arabic-speaking locales in the medieval world.

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Hebrew and English

Jewish presence in the English-speaking world has for centuries occasioned a twofold interest: of English writers in Jews, and of Hebrew writers in the representation of Jewishness in English literature. The works in this section cover multiple facets of this interest in multiple contexts and historical moments, from Hebrew translations of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice or George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (Abend-David 2003 and Dekel 2007, respectively) to discussions of the role played by the United States in importing and exporting literature across the English-Hebrew divide (Asscher 2019, Ben-Ari 2002, Kaminsky 2012, Mintz 2001).

  • Abend-David, Dror. Scorned My Nation: A Comparison of Translations of The Merchant of Venice into German, Hebrew, and Yiddish. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.

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    A comparative study of translations and adaptations in three languages, including Hebrew, of Shakespeare’s famous play about a Jewish merchant. Each translation points to a set of social and political assumptions relating to Jews and their stereotypical perception by themselves and others.

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  • Asscher, Omri. Reading Israel, Reading America: The Politics of Translation between Jews. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019.

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    What can translated literature across the divide between American and Israeli Judaism teach us about what the writer Philip Roth has defined as the “drastically bifurcated legacy” of Jews in the post-Holocaust era? The book answers this question by describing the reception of Israeli literature in the United States and that of American Jewish literature in Israel.

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  • Ben-Ari, Nitsa. “The Double Conversion of Ben-Hur: a Case of Manipulative Translation.” Target 14.2 (2002): 263–301.

    DOI: 10.1075/target.14.2.05benSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Lew Wallace’s 1880 American novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has been translated into Hebrew many times, with each translation displaying a degree of ideological manipulation. Through a comparative analysis of scenes in the novel’s different versions, the article suggests that translation has served for centuries as an arena where Hebrew literati could articulate and rework their approach to Christianity.

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  • Dekel, Mikhal. “‘Who Taught This Foreign Woman about the Ways and Lives of the Jews?’: George Eliot and the Hebrew Renaissance.” ELH 74.4 (2007): 783–798.

    DOI: 10.1353/elh.2007.0032Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The prolific Hebrew writer, editor, and translator David Frishman created an abridged version of George Eliot’s famous novel Daniel Deronda at a time in which the meaning of Zionism was frequently debated in both English and Jewish societies. The article argues that Frishman’s translation influenced early Jewish national consciousness, while also contextualizing its omissions within a history of cultural tension and conflict between Jews and non-Jews in disparate parts of Europe and its colonies.

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  • Kaminsky, Inbar. “Jewish Mischief in the Land of Pranks: the Mistranslation of Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock into Hebrew.” Philip Roth Studies 8.2 (2012): 197–208.

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    Like Asscher 2019, this article treats the Hebrew translation of Philip Roth’s work as instructive in the study of the relationship between contemporary Israeli culture and Jewish-American literature. As Roth’s 1993 novel Operation Shylock: A Confession deals with questions of Jewish identity, its Hebrew rendering inevitably tampers with the answers it provides to the question of inhabiting multiple Jewish cultures and languages at once.

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  • Mintz, Alan. Translating Israel: Contemporary Hebrew Literature and Its Reception in America. Syracuse, NY: University of Syracuse Press, 2001.

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    On the English translation of, and reaction to, major works from the Israeli canon in the American-Jewish world. Dwelling on the close and sometimes conflictual relationship between Israeli and American Jews, Mintz asks why the American reception of modern Hebrew literature has differed from the warm welcome it has largely received in Europe. The translation of works by the Hebrew writers S. Y. Agnon, Aharon Appelfeld, Meir Shalev, A. B. Yehoshua, and more are analyzed here.

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Hebrew and French

Hebrew translations of French works date back to the days of Old French and medieval cultural exchange (Freudenthal and Mandosio 2014). In modernity, the Hebrew literary market has offered readers many French titles in translation (Aslanov 1999), and vice versa: the French literary market has been open to Hebrew literary works in translation (Sapiro 2013 and Shavit 2009). The following selection consists of two studies of French-to-Hebrew translations and two of Hebrew-to-French translators.

  • Aslanov, Cyril. “Les voix plurielles de la traduction de Camus en hébreu.” Meta 44.3 (1999): 448–468.

    DOI: 10.7202/001910arSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Albert Camus’s work has been translated into Hebrew more than once. This French-language article defines Camus as one of the best known authors in Israel while analyzing the translation methods of his translators. It identifies two extremes: literal translation and adaptation.

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  • Freudenthal, Gad, and Jean-Marc Mandosio. “Old French into Hebrew in Twelfth-Century Tsarfat: Medieval Hebrew Versions of Marbode’s Lapidary.” Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism 14.1 (2014): 11–187.

    DOI: 10.2979/aleph.14.1.11Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An extensive study of the Jewish reception of a medieval lapidary by Bishop Marbode of Rennes (b. 1035–d. 1123). Through textual analysis and comparison, the authors identify three Hebrew lapidaries based on Marbode’s and discuss what they define as a lost Hebrew translation of one of the many Old French versions of the lapidary.

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  • Sapiro, Gisèle. “Translation and Identity: Social Trajectories of the Translators of Hebrew Literature in French.” TTR 26.2 (2013): 59–82.

    DOI: 10.7202/1037132arSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    On the social and educational trajectories of Hebrew-to-French translators. The article delves into the national and the gender politics underlying the production of French translations from Hebrew literature in the 20th and 21st centuries, relying on in-depth interviews with translators and grappling with questions of individual and collective identity.

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  • Shavit, Zohar. “La réception de la littérature hébraïque en France.” Yod 14 (2009): 317–340.

    DOI: 10.4000/yod.416Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Tracing the history of the reception of Israeli literature in France, this article combines a host of methods to examine French readers’ interest in specific writers from Israel, in particular Amos Oz, A. B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman, whose liberal political views are often unfolded in their work. Through statistical data, the analysis of public commentary, and a survey of literary events, the article paints a detailed picture of the presence of translated modern Hebrew literature in a country much larger than Israel.

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Hebrew and German

As Eshel and Seelig 2017 suggest, the relationship between Hebrew and German has been both symbiotic and tense for centuries. Each item in this section attempts to reconcile the symbiosis and the tension, focusing on specific writers and translators. Ben-Ari 1992 uses children’s literature to expose the norms of German-to-Hebrew translation in the postwar era. Herskowitz 2018 asks how philosophical works by the Nazi German philosopher Martin Heidegger have been translated into Hebrew and received in Israel. Feldman, et al. 2010 looks at Hebrew translations of works by the Jewish poet Else Lasker-Schuler. Rokem 2013 is a study of Hebrew translations of Heinrich Heine’s work, and Seelig 2013 re-examines bilingualism through the case of the poet Ludwig Strauss.

  • Ben-Ari, Nitsa. “Didactic and Pedagogic Tendencies in the Norms Dictating the Translation of Children’s Literature: The Case of Postwar German-Hebrew Translations.” Poetics Today 13.1 (1992): 221–230.

    DOI: 10.2307/1772799Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Hebrew translators of German children’s literature have often made dogmatic choices about what young readers should or should not be told about German-Christian culture. An analysis of numerous examples and the dogmas and cultural and literary norms they divulge.

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  • Eshel, Amir, and Rachel Seelig. The German-Hebrew Dialogue: Studies of Encounter and Exchange. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110473384Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An anthology dedicated to the tense and often symbiotic relationship between German and Hebrew, divided into two parts. The first focuses on the presence of German in modernist Hebrew literature. The second delves into the recent shift in German-Hebrew encounters to show how artists and writers alike have existed in a space between these two languages following patterns of Israeli migration to Berlin and interest in Hebrew literature and Israeli art in Germany at large.

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  • Feldman, Dina, Miriam Shlesinger, and Itta Shedletzky. “Five Hebrew Translations of Else Lasker-Schuler’s Poem ‘An mein Kind.’” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender 19 (2010): 176–198.

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    A presentation and discussion of five translations from German into Hebrew of the Jewish German poet Else Lasker-Schuler’s poem “An mein Kind.” Three of the translations are by the prominent Hebrew poets Lea Goldberg, Yehuda Amichai, and Natan Zach, reflecting their separate aesthetic and ideological values. To assess each translation, the article makes use of the concepts of fidelity and transparency.

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  • Herskowitz, Daniel. “Heidegger in Hebrew: Translation, Politics, Reconciliation.” New German Critique 45.3 (2018): 97–128.

    DOI: 10.1215/0094033X-6977819Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A Nazi sympathizer, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger became a controversial figure in the post-WWII world in general, and in Jewish circles in particular. This article dwells on the Jewish reaction to Heidegger’s life and work by recounting the story behind the Hebrew translation of one of his philosophical treatises on art.

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  • Rokem, Na’ama. Prosaic Conditions: Heinrich Heine and the Spaces of Zionist Literature. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv47w77jSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    On the German poet’s Heinrich Heine’s influence on the Hebrew writers who translated and adapted his work. This study of the Hebrew Heine argues that early-20th-century Hebrew prose fiction would not have taken the same shape if it were not for Jewish writers’ engagement with Heine’s work.

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  • Seelig, Rachel. “The Middleman: Ludwig Strauss’s German-Hebrew Bilingualism.” Prooftexts 33.1 (2013): 76–104.

    DOI: 10.2979/prooftexts.33.1.76Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An analysis of Ludwig Strauss’ German-Hebrew bilingualism, focusing on a poem from the 1930s whose subject is the bay of Haifa. The poem has both a German and a Hebrew version, and their comparison reveals Strauss’s struggle to reconcile competing cultural ideologies after migrating to the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine.

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Hebrew and Ladino

Also known as Judeo-Spanish, Ladino is the language of some Jewish communities whose origins can be traced back to premodern Spain (Sephardic communities). Schwarzwald 1993 analyzes old Ladino translations of classical Hebrew works, while Balbuena 2016 devotes a chapter in her book on Sephardic communities to contemporary bilingual Hebrew-Ladino poetry.

  • Balbuena, Monique. Homeless Tongues: Poetry and Languages of the Sephardic Diaspora. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvqsdwwcSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A pioneering study of 20th-century Sephardic (or Spanish-Jewish) poetry, with a chapter dedicated to the Israeli poet Margalit Matitiahu. Matitiahu writes in both Hebrew and Ladino, often presenting the same poem in each of the languages side-by-side. Balbuena discusses the ideology behind this presentation and the potential or limits of self-translation and bilingual writing in the Spanish-Jewish context.

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  • Schwarzwald, Ora. “Mixed Translation Patterns: The Ladino Translation of Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew Verbs.” Target 5.1 (1993): 71–88.

    DOI: 10.1075/target.5.1.06schSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A linguistic analysis of Ladino translations of Biblical and Mishnaic verb forms, focusing on a text known as Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). Using the metaphors of “language layers” and “free translation,” the article offers insight into the ways whereby some Sephardic Jewish communities have used Ladino in liturgical contexts in varying locales from the 16th century onward. Differences in the perceived sanctity of each language involved in these translations dictated their composition.

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Hebrew and Russian

Russian is not only a language with a meaningful impact on 20th-century Hebrew literature, but also the tongue of a vast community in present-day Israel. As a result, scholars of Russian and Hebrew literature, like the two represented in this section, have been able to untangle the multiple links between the Hebrew canon and Russian literature.

  • Lapidus, Rina. Between Snow and Desert Heat: Russian Influences on Hebrew Literature, 1870–1970. Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College, 2003.

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    Each chapter in this study of the relationship between 20th-century Hebrew writers and the Russian literary canon is dedicated to a different author whose work may only be fully understood when examined through the prism of Russian culture. Represented in the study are the Hebrew authors Y. H. Brenner, Isaiah Bershadsky, Mendele Mokher Seforim, Y. D. Berkowitz, Hayyim Lensky, Hayyim Hazaz, Saul Tchernichowsky, and Alexander Penn.

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  • Ronell, Anna Petrov. “Reading Gnessin’s Sideways in Its Russian Context.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 3.2 (2004): 167–182.

    DOI: 10.1080/1472588042000225839Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Criticizing previous interpretations of the Hebrew writer Uri Nissan Gnessin’s novella Sideways, this article argues that no reading of the story is complete without taking into account Gnessin’s debt to the Russian literature of his time. This Hebrew writer, the article argues, was no less interested in the fate of Russian literature than he was in that of Hebrew.

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Hebrew and Scandinavian Languages

While few Hebrew writers and readers at the turn of the 20th century could count Norwegian and Danish among the tongues they knew well, Scandinavian literary works, as Mazor 1986 shows, were consumed by Hebrew writers and readers in translation. The translation of some Scandinavian novels in the first half of the 20th century, as Grumberg 2017 shows, served explicit ideological needs.

  • Grumberg, Karen. “Between the World and the Yishuv: The Translation of Knut Hamsun’s Markens Grøde as a Zionist Sacred Text.” Prooftexts 36.1–2 (2017): 111–136.

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    On the ideological influence of a translated Norwegian novel on Hebrew readers in Mandatory Palestine. The article argues that the Hebrew translation of Knut Hamsun’s Norwegian novel Markens Grøde helped Labor Zionists hone their ideology.

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  • Mazor, Yair. “Between Hebrew and Scandinavian Literature: Where Oscillating Structures Become Osculation Points.” Modern Judaism 6.1 (1986): 51–77.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/6.1.51Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A formalist study of the influence that Scandinavian writers had on the Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon. Inspired by descriptive translation studies, the article compares themes and motifs in early-20th-century Scandinavian and Hebrew canonical literary works.

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Hebrew and Yiddish

Some scholars have used metaphors of kinship to describe the relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish (Waldinger 2006), while others have analyzed such metaphors to account for their use value (Seidman 1997). Few have disputed the intimate relationship between the languages, which came to be seen as competing Jewish national languages by some European Jews in the early 20th century and beyond. Brenner 2019 and Norich 2013 look at Hebrew translations of Yiddish works, whereas Werses 1996 and Herskovitz 2020 focus more on Hebrew-Yiddish bilingual writers.

  • Brenner, Naomi. “David Bergelson in Hebrew: Translation as Literary Memorization.” Prooftexts 37.3 (2019): 642–665.

    DOI: 10.2979/prooftexts.37.3.17Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Argues that some Hebrew translations from Yiddish literature in the wake of World War II became sites of memorialization and mourning. Such was the case of David Bergelson’s Yiddish stories in Hebrew translation, which were curated and produced with the goal of commemorating European Jewish life prior to WWII.

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  • Herskovitz, Yaakov. “The Façade of Hebraism: Aharon Reuveni and the Search for Monolingualism.” Jewish Social Studies 25.3 (2020): 71–102.

    DOI: 10.2979/jewisocistud.25.3.03Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    On Aharon Reuveni’s self-translation between Yiddish and Hebrew in his WWI trilogy Ad Yerushalayim (To Jerusalem). Reuveni’s novels should be read as “double texts,” as they were written in Yiddish and promptly translated into Hebrew.

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  • Norich, Anita. Writing in Tongues: Translating Yiddish in the Twentieth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013.

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    A historical-ethical engagement with translations of modern Yiddish literature into English, Hebrew, and Russian. Hebrew figures in this detailed discussion of works by Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Yankev Glatshteyn as contained within Yiddish, on the one hand, and a vehicle for unsubtle criticism of the European language, on the other. Particularly instructive for those interested in Hebrew culture is the analysis in chapter 2 of Hebrew translations and adaptations of Sholem Aleichem’s Fiddler on the Roof.

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  • Seidman, Naomi. A Marriage Made in Heaven: the Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520311800Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An analysis of the phenomenon of Hebrew-Yiddish internal bilingualism through the lens of gender. The opposition between femininity and masculinity has framed modern Hebrew and Yiddish language politics no less than the opposition between the primary and holy (Hebrew) and the mundane and derivative (Yiddish). Through analyses of works by bilingual authors, from Mendele (S. Y. Abramovitsh) to Dvora Baron, the book tells the story of the Hebrew-Yiddish language wars.

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  • Waldinger, Albert. “Sholem Aleichem in Tel Aviv: Classic Yiddish Fiction in Hebrew.” Babel 52.2 (2006): 101–123.

    DOI: 10.1075/babel.52.2.01walSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Using the metaphors of kinship and sisterhood, this article describes the Hebrew translations of Sholem Aleichem’s Yiddish works as uniquely positioned on the map of Jewish literature. The Yiddish writer’s fictional creations posed specific challenges to Hebrew translators, who often feared that Hebrew lacked the right register for conveying the Yiddish texts’ nuances.

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  • Werses, Samuel. Mi-lashon el Lashon: Yetsirot ve-gilgulehen Be-sifrutenu. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996.

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    While not explicitly focused on ideological questions, this comprehensive study of bilingual writers in the Yiddish and Hebrew fields tackles both the work of specific writers (Berdichevsky, Mendele, S. Ben-Tsiyon and others) and the Hebrew-Yiddish language wars of the early 20th century.

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Translation and Nation Formation in the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine and in Israel

Translated literature makes up a large part of the Israeli literary market today. Around 15 percent of all Hebrew titles published annually are translations from various languages, chiefly English. Translations from Modern Hebrew into other languages are scarcer, yet their number has been rising steadily in the past few decades. Studies of the function of literary translation in the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine throughout the first half of the 20th century, and in Israel since its founding in 1948, have focused on questions of repertoire, aesthetic preferences, and censorship. Shavit, et al. 1998 is an example of the rich body of research Shavit and her students have produced on the Hebrew literary landscape in the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine and in Israel. Shavit 1981 is another such example, centering on the translation of children’s literature. Ben-Ari 2006 illuminates other, more hidden facets of the same literary landscape, recording the ways in which translated literature exposed social norms and inhibitions in Jewish and Israeli cultures in the 20th century. Goldman 2007 narrates a tale of translation and misunderstanding between an Anglican priest and a Hebrew writer in Jerusalem of the 1920s. Mirsky 1978 and Sandbank 2017 are paeans to translation by two major literary figures in Israel. Shohat 2004 is a sobering look into the translation and reception of Edward Said’s work in Israel. Sela-Sheffy 2008 is a meta-analysis of Israeli translators’ strategies of self-branding and self-promotion.

  • Ben-Ari, Nitsa. “Suppression of the Erotic: Puritan Translations in Israel 1930–1980.” Massachusetts Review 47.3 (2006): 511–535.

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    Starting from the adoption of the Mandatory British Obscenity Law in 1936 and ending with the 1977 upheaval in Israeli parliamentary politics, the article analyzes the puritanical tendencies of Hebrew translators and weighs their impact on the discourse of pornography in Israel.

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  • Goldman, Shalom. “The Rev. Herbert Danby (1889-1953): Hebrew Scholar, Zionist, Christian Missionary.” Modern Judaism 27.2 (2007): 219–220.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/kjm002Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The story behind the English translation of Yosef Klasuner’s Hebrew biography of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jewish writer collaborated with his translator, an Anglican priest, without fully admitting to the latter’s missionary hopes and the limits of his enthusiastic approach to Zionism.

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  • Mirsky, Nili. “Ha-territoriya ha-shlishit: Hirhurim lo akademaim al tirgum.” Siman Keriah 8 (1978): 306–311.

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    Titled, tellingly, “The Third Territory: Some Non-Academic Musings on the Problem of Literary Translation,” this short Hebrew article by a major Hebrew translator of German and Russian literatures offers an overview of the various expectations readers impose on translated texts and the possibilities and impossibilities of literary translation. Elaborating on statements by J. L. Borges, J. W. Goethe, and Vladimir Nabokov, the article at once articulates and resolves the frustrations and pleasures underlying the act of translation.

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  • Sandbank, Shimon. Laasot shir mi-shir: Masot al tirgum shirah. Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 2017.

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    Essays on translating poetry by a prominent Israeli poet and translator, considering other poets, translators, and scholars of translation, notably Shimon Halkin, Dahlia Ravikovich, Meir Wiseltir, and Nitsa Ben-Ari. Includes an analysis of Walter Benjamin’s famous essay on translation, “The Translator’s Task.” Sandbank’s self-reflective observations illustrate how translators like him came to play a formative role in building a national literary culture in Israel.

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  • Sela-Sheffy, Rakefet. “The Translators’ Personae: Marketing Translatorial Images as Pursuit of Capital.” Meta 53.3 (2008): 609–622.

    DOI: 10.7202/019242arSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    On the self-image of Israeli literary translators and their understanding of their own field. Rethinking the common notions of the translator’s invisibility and submissive faithfulness, the article dwells on self-promotion in the world of contemporary Hebrew literary translation.

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  • Shavit, Zohar. “Translation of Children’s Literature as a Function of Its Position in the Literary Polysystem.” Poetics Today 2.4 (Summer-Autumn 1981): 171–179.

    DOI: 10.2307/1772495Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Translations of children’s literature tend to be more “liberal” or “permissive” than those of other literary forms or genres. Their trends and patterns often point to their creators’ broader understanding of what literature is and what the needs of its various consumers are. In Hebrew, translations and adaptations of literature for children, including abridged and tampered-with versions of English Victorian novels, have largely used an elevated linguistic register and assumed a didactic style.

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  • Shavit, Zohar, André Clas, and Francine Kaufmann. “The Status of Translated Literature in the Creation of Hebrew Literature in Pre-State Israel (the Yishuv Period).” Meta 43.1 (1998): 46–53.

    DOI: 10.7202/004128arSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Translated literature helped crystallize original Hebrew culture in the first half of the 20th century, especially in the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine, where a small and heterogeneous society attempted to define itself in a new-to-it geography. As homogeneity was established and forms of self-sufficiency instated, translated literature no longer filled the functions it used to fill. Demands for better original literature ensued, mirroring the larger story of a Jewish quest for independence in Mandatory Palestine.

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  • Shohat, Ella. “The “Postcolonial” in Translation: Reading Said in Hebrew.” Journal of Palestine Studies 33.3 (2004): 55–75.

    DOI: 10.1525/jps.2004.33.3.055Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    What happens to debates about orientalism, postcolonialism, and post-Zionism, as they travel between the United States and Israel? If one is to judge by the translation of Edward Said’s work into Hebrew and its reception in Israel, the critical view of colonialism and Zionism may be at once incorporated into local academic discussions in Israel and partly ignored. The article shows how only some of Said’s ideas about the East-West divide have been applied to Israeli phenomena.

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The Different Hebrews

Scholars of the Hebrew language have long divided it into periods, dialects, and sociolects, including Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinic or Mishnaic Hebrew, Medieval Hebrew, and Modern or Israeli Hebrew. Based on both chronology and syntactic variation, the division has cultural in addition to linguistic ramifications. If all these Hebrews differ significantly from one another, then a Hebrew-Hebrew translation is possible. Moreover, a translator from Israeli Hebrew literature may not be able to translate Biblical, Rabbinic, or Medieval Hebrew texts, and vice versa. Complicating matters further is the fact that modern Hebrew writers often allude to the Hebrew Bible, consciously or not, requiring translators to pay particular attention to intertextual references. From discussions of what can be gleaned from the Septuagint about the genesis of Hebrew (Carr 2011) to polemics against the use of the term Hebrew to refer to the official language of the State of Israel (Karas 2020, Zuckermann 2006), scholars have frequently highlighted the ties between translation and Hebrew’s internal division. The following items make up an eclectic, incomprehensive list of sources on Hebrew translation, highlighting internal differences and language evolution.

  • Arad, Maya. “Al tirgumo shel Y. H. Brenner le-ha-het ve-onsho.” In Misaviv lanequda: mehqarim hadashim al M. Y. Berdichevsky, Y. H. Brenner ve-A. D. Gordon. Edited by Avner Holtzman, Gideon Katz, and Shalom Ratsabi, 209–219. Beer Sheva, Israel: Ben-Gurion Institute, 2008.

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    A contemporary Hebrew novelist makes the case for preserving and reprinting the first Hebrew translations of literary classics. Analyzing the first Hebrew translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Russian novel Crime and Punishment, executed by the Hebrew writer Y. H. Brenner at the turn of the 20th century, this Hebrew article asks why later translations of literary works often come to replace older translations. The answer points at the relationship between translation and changing linguistic and literary conventions over time.

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  • Carr, David M. The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199742608.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Searching for clues regarding the “pre-stages” of the Hebrew Bible and its language, this study offers an account of the Bible’s formation through new analyses of the Septuagint and manuscript evidence from Qumran. It seeks to answer the question of how Hebrew literary textuality first emerged, eventually suggesting that the conventional periodization of the biblical text lacks reference to the pre-exilic period in Israelite history.

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  • Karas, Hilla. “Intelligibility and the Reception of Translations.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 28.1 (2020): 24–42.

    DOI: 10.1080/0907676X.2019.1612929Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    What happens when biblical Hebrew is translated into Modern Hebrew in present-day Israel? The article discusses the reception of Tanakh Ram, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into contemporary Hebrew, through the lens of intelligibility. The author defines the translation as “intralingual,” dwelling not on its religious implications but rather on reactions to it. The article shows how the very use of the term translation came under attack with the publication of Tanakh Ram in Israel.

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  • Kronfeld, Chana. The Full Severity of Compassion: the Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016.

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    Several chapters in this monographic study of the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai’s work contain reflections on the translation and reception of his poems in Israel and the English-speaking world. Written by one of Amichai’s English translators, the book addresses a host of questions on Hebrew-English translation and Hebrew-Hebrew intertextuality.

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  • Schor, Esther. “Beyond Translation: the Dream of a Universal Language.” Raritan 32.1 (2012): 72–95, 197.

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    The creators and users of constructed languages, such as Esperanto, have imagined a world without translation. Nonetheless, their stories shed light on the persistence of translation, as well as on historical projects of language revival. The article takes seriously the proposition advanced in Zuckermann 2006, to replace the term Modern Hebrew with the term Israeli Hebrew, spelling out its political stakes.

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  • Zuckermann, Ghil’Ad. “A New Vision for Israeli Hebrew: Theoretical and Practical Implications of Analyzing Israel’s Main Language as a Semi-Engineered Semito-European Hybrid Language.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 5.1 (2006): 57–71.

    DOI: 10.1080/14725880500511175Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This work argues that the language spoken in Israel today is a semi‐engineered Semito‐European “hybrid language.” Its complexity deserves recognition rather than oversight, while the shifting trends in studying it reflect the changes that the field of linguistics has undergone in the past few decades.

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The Publication of Modern Hebrew Literature in Translation

In 1962, the Israeli Ministry of Culture founded the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature (ITHL). The Institute provides marketing and financial aid opportunities to Hebrew writers and translators in synergy with publishing houses around the world. It produces an annual catalogue of new books from Israel whose translation rights have been sold or are pending. It also regularly updates its virtual index of Hebrew writers, which contains information about new publications and translations from the Hebrew. Goldberg 1979 is an example of such a bibliography, composed by the Institute prior to the age of accessible virtual search engines. Goell 1968 is an even earlier bibliography, published by the World Zionist Organization and focused exclusively on Hebrew literature in English translation. Most bibliographies suggest that some literary markets, notably the English, the French, and the German, have been more receptive of Hebrew literature compared to others. Yudkin 1988 is a monographic English bibliography and exegesis of works by the Hebrew writer and Nobel Laureate S. Y. Agnon. Halevi-Wise 2018 is a study of Hebrew literary circulation across borders using electronic data analytics tools.

  • Goell, Yohai. Bibliography of Modern Hebrew Literature in English Translation. Jerusalem and New York: Executive of the World Zionist Organization, 1968.

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    A list of works from the Hebrew literary canon in English translation. Published by the World Zionist Organization, this bibliography evidently ascribes to literature the power to disseminate ideology, especially as it sets out to cross linguistic borders.

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  • Goldberg, I. Bibliography of Modern Hebrew Literature in Translation. Tel Aviv: Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, 1979.

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    A now-dated yet instructive report by the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, an arm of the Israeli Ministry of Culture designed to promote, as well compile information on, existing and new translations of Hebrew literary works into the world’s languages. Since 1979, the Institute has published many reports whose structures vary.

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  • Halevi-Wise, Yael, with Madeleine Gottesman. “Hebrew Literature in the ‘World Republic of Letters’: Translation and Reception, 1918–2018.” Israel Studies Review 33.2 (2018): 1–25.

    DOI: 10.3167/isr.2018.330202Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Mining data from electronic sources—from digitized books, journals, and newspapers, to publishing statistics—this article paints a large-scale picture of Hebrew literature as a commodity in an international literary market. It further investigates not only the circulation of Hebrew literature beyond any fixed, national borders, but also its shifting perception as Jewish, Israeli, or global.

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  • Patterson, David. Hebrew Literature: The Art of the Translator. London: Jewish Book Council, 1958.

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    The writer of this work was one of the founders of a center for Hebrew and Jewish studies at Oxford University. His extensive studies of modern Hebrew literature often touch on translation, but this work, published only ten years after the establishment of Israel and its naming of Hebrew as one of its official languages, is dedicated exclusively to the discussion of Hebrew translation practices.

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  • Yudkin, Leon I. Agnon: Texts and Contexts in English Translation, a Multi-disciplinary Curriculum, Bibliographies, and Selected Syllabi. New York: M. Wiener, 1988.

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    An anthology of scholarly and bibliographic articles on the Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon. The first part consists of articles about Agnon’s language, including one by the author’s daughter, an editor of her father’s work. The second is a series of studies of some of Agnon’s novels and stories, including a meditation on translation by the translator of the novel Sippur Pashut (A Simple Story). The third and final part offers a twenty-page bibliography of Agnon’s work in translation.

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Translation and Hebrew Education

Translation has always served as a strategic tool for enabling Hebrew literacy and education, from the use of Aramaic as a vehicle for biblical translation to practices of simultaneous interpretation in Jewish educational institutions like the heder or the yeshiva and modern synagogues, where prayer books are often multilingual. Scholarly engagement with the intersection of translation and Hebrew education can be divided into two groups: historical and anthropological studies of the promotion of Hebrew literacy and speaking knowledge (Golden 2001, Halperin 2015, Parush 2008), and educators’ reflections on their work as Hebrew teachers and literary critics in and through translation (Roskies 2004, Sokoloff and Berg 2018).

  • Golden, Deborah. “‘Now, Like Real Israelis, Let’s Stand Up and Sing’: Teaching the National Language to Russian Newcomers in Israel.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 32.1 (2001): 52–79.

    DOI: 10.1525/aeq.2001.32.1.52Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An anthropological study of Hebrew language classes (ulpan) offered by the State of Israel to newly arrived Jewish migrants. The enterprise of the ulpan (or, in plural, ulpanim) has proven highly effective, based as it has always been on immersion and a push for colloquial language proficiency. The article implicitly answers the question of the ulpanim’s success, while recording the response of a group of migrants from Russia to attempts of ideological indoctrination in the Hebrew classroom.

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  • Halperin, Liora. Babel in Zion: Jews, Nationalism, and Language Diversity in Palestine, 1920–1948. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

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    An exhaustive and illustrative account of how Hebrew vernacularization was being promoted and enforced in the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine. What had often and deliberately been described as a much-anticipated “revival” of the language is here broken down to the hard reality of ideological conflicts, the striving for resources, and the yearning and tendency of many Jews to continue speaking, reading, and writing multiple languages other than Hebrew. The transition from and into Hebrew, a practice of self-translation or administered translation, animates the historical narrative.

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  • Parush, Iris. “Gender, Penmanship and the Primacy of Speech over Writing in the Jewish Society of Galicia and Eastern Europe in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century.” Nashim 16 (2008): 29–66.

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    Using Plato’s millenia-old discussion of the difference between writing and speech, as well as the French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s interpretation of Plato’s work, the article theorizes the prioritization of speech over writing in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe at the time of the Haskalah. Its final part is dedicated to a discussion of the difference in Hebrew education among Jewish women and men, and its implications on issues of literacy and translation.

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  • Roskies, David. “The Task of the Jewish Translator: A Valedictory Address.” Prooftexts 24.3 (2004): 263–272.

    DOI: 10.2979/pft.2004.24.3.263Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A scholar, editor, and translator plays with the figurative and literal meanings of translating Jewish cultures into an American scholarly idiom. Published in the influential journal Prooftexts, this article addresses the specific challenges the journal itself has faced since its founding. An illuminating passage dwells on the difficulties of translating and transliterating the phrase Erets Israel, which may relate to the biblical Land of Israel, Palestine, Mandatory Palestine, or Zionist Palestine.

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  • Sokoloff, Naomi B., and Nancy E. Berg. What We Talk about When We Talk about Hebrew (and What It Means to Americans). Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018.

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    In this anthology, writers use the first person to explore what it means to teach and learn Modern Hebrew in the United States and the rest of the world today. They answer anthropological, historical, and literary questions about Hebrew higher education outside Israel, the marketing of Hebrew works, and the gains and losses of translation. Especially relevant to those interested in translation and Hebrew education are Adriana Jacobs’s and Adam Rovner’s articles on analyzing Hebrew literature alongside non-native readers.

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