Page 86 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
be he, and call him Father and he calls them my children. And all
their lives long they speak of the glory of Jerusalem and the glory of
the House and the glory of the High Priests and the altar, and of
those who offered the sacrifices and those who prepared the incense
and those who made the shew-bread.
“And whenever the Holy One, blessed be he, remembers his sons
who have been exiled among the nations, who have neither Temple nor
altar of atonement, nor High Priests nor Levites at their stations, nor
kings and princes, he at once is filled with pity and takes those boys
and girls in his arm and holds them to his heart and says to them,
Sons and daughters mine, do you remember the glory of Jerusalem
and the glory of Israel when the Temple still stood, and Israel still
possessed its splendour?”3
The translation of this extract represents a brave attempt. The
English reads well, the style is smooth and natural. But any
reader who is acquainted with the corpus of traditional Hebrew
literature will sense immediately the depth of association and
idea frequently reposing in a single word of the original, with
the English translation reflecting a mere shadow of the real sub-
stance. Such problems are among the most difficult in the whole
field of translation, and may well defy any attempt at adequate
But no less obstinate are the mental attitudes which both
languages reflect. Hebrew and English each employs a funda-
mentally different idiom for the expression of its concepts. This
factor is the result partly of the particular
mi l ieu
out of which
each language developed, partly of the philosophy of the Ian-
guage, which reflects but also helps to mould the character of the
people that uses it, and partly of the historical consciousness
inextricably embedded in any language. In other words, the
attempts which Hebrew and English make to express reality are
largely conditioned by the thought patterns which emerge from
their very nature. For that reason modes of expression which
sound quite natural in the one language frequently appear
grotesque in the other. Consider, for example, the following
passage from Lask’s translation of an historical story by Hazaz:
“He (the robber) turned his face towards him as he stood, then
lowered his voice and whispered to him angrily: ‘Ruin of the world!
Let me see your back, may tempest brand you! For otherwise, with
this .very sword I’ll get down to you and in two breaths you’ll find
yourself in the bosom of the righteousl Scatter your legs! Fly away to
Abaddon and don’t let your smell spread here! Get down to the Jordan
and wag your thighs there to better the world with the Kingdom of the
Almighty and in your beard fetch up some stinking fish to feed some
of the miserable and humble-spirited before they start their fast! Go,
you standard piece of piety, you perfection and vast righteousness'.”4
Now the translation of this fragment is both vivid and power-
ful, but it is not English—or rather, the words are English but the
8S. J. Agnon,
In the Heart of the Seas,
translated by I. M. Lask, New York,
1948, p. 65 f.
Jewish Quarterly,
Spring, 1957, p. 15.