Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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ROTH ----GREAT JEWISH BOOKS: OLD AND NEW
7
I think I can fairly dodge the issues raised by that interesting,
but not necessarily sound, theory, for two reasons. The first is that
tomorrow you will have the opportunity of listening to a special
lecture on Hebrew literature. The second is that, for all our interest
in Hebrew, we are most of us (regrettably) not Hebrew scholars.
I t is therefore just the translation from the Hebrew into English
rather than the repatriation (as it were) of the English, or whatever
language it may be, into Hebrew, which is important for us. I
shall then, if I may, beat a retreat, using as a smoke-screen the old
Rabbinic dictum on the Shema, the “Hear O Israel” . . . “Hear in
whatever language you
can
hear;” and turn to the possibilities
offered by translation.
Translations are of two kinds. We may start with a glance at
the easier and more obvious.
And first let us express our gratitude to the men who have
labored so successfully that we have now, in addition to Humash,
a Bible, Prayer Book and Mahzor, Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud,
Zohar, and a whole series (in extract) of Jewish philosophers, in
English dress for English readers. This work has been done for
Anglo-Jewry in our own day and is just cause for pride. Nor should
we forget the Schiff Library published in the United States by the
Jewish Publication Society of America. These pocket volumes,
modelled on the Loeb series of Greek and Latin Classics, offer in
admirable form editions of some typical Rabbinic texts and of
some poets and moralists of the later period, in both the Hebrew
original and English translation. I need only instance the delight-
ful Zangwill
Gabirol
, the Nina Salaman
Jehudah Halevi
, the Israel
Abrahams
Hebrew Ethical Wills,
in witness of the vigor and
attractiveness of the English side; whilst the names of Brody,
Malter, and Davidson on the Hebrew side are sufficient to quieten
(I do not say silence) the suspicions of the experts. This series, so
admirably planned, so carefully executed and so charmingly pro-
duced, has one fault only: it stopped almost as soon as it started
and comprises no more than about twenty volumes.
I said it has one fault only. I was wrong. I t has two; and I
feel so strongly about the value of this series, and of the more
ambitious Rabinowitz series inaugurated by Yale, and of the
versions of the classical literature made in this country which I
mentioned to start with, that I ’m going to risk a ride on an old
and favorite hobby-horse and be, for a moment, apparently —
but not really — ungrateful.
You will remember my opening text from Mr. E. M. Forster:
“Books have to be read (worse luck . . .); it is the only way of
discovering what they contain.” May I add the rider that, if books