Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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AMER I CAN CLAS S I CS IN
HEBREW T R A N S L A T I O N
B y E i s ig
S
il b e r s c h l a g
F
o r
t h e
p a s t
two hundred years four literatures—German,
Russian, English, American—effected a sea-change in Hebrew
literature. Since the first center of enlightenment happened to
be in Germany, German models confronted the Hebrew writer
between the middle of the eighteenth and the middle of the
nineteen th century. As late as 1859 Abraham Mapu, the father
of the Hebrew novel, published a French primer under the
German title
Der Hausfrancose
(sic)! And through German
transliteration of French words in Hebrew script he endeavored
to teach correct French pronunciation.
W ith the accession of Alexander II to the throne of Russia,
the Russian factor predominated in Hebrew literature . T h e
liberalizing reforms of the czar, especially the emancipation of
the serfs, created a receptive mood for Russian culture. T h e
great writers who flourished during his reign and the reign of
his son Alexander I I I—Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy—exerted
a powerful influence on contemporary Hebrew writers.
From the beginning of the twentieth century English and
American literatures played a significant role in Hebrew litera­
ture. T h e reasons are self-evident: the establishment of a minor
center of Hebrew literature in America and the re-establishment
of a major center of Hebrew literature in former Palestine under
the mandatory government. But English as well as American
classics—and the word is used loosely to denote works of con­
ceded excellence or established fame—exercised a powerful pull
on Hebrew writers before the present century. Already toward
the end of the eighteenth century Mendel Lefin of Satanov
(1749-1826) was attracted to the writings of Benjamin Franklin.
Like all Hebrew writers in the period of enlightenment, he
had a passion for ethics. And Franklin was no t only a statesman
bu t an au tho r w ith a moral stance and with an in terna tional
reputation .
Mendel Lefin must have heard about Franklin in Berlin
where he spent two years of his life: from 1780 to 1782. In 1780
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