Page 94 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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86
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
A Linguistic Genius
As previously indicated, we have dealt here only with the peaks
of Mendele’s creativity. He wrote a considerable number of lesser
narratives, and poetry (
Yudel,
a history of the Jews in verse,
translations of the
zemirot,
etc.). He devoted considerable time
to translation, primarily into Hebrew. For about ten years (the
1860’s), he worked on a translation from the German of Professor
Lentz’s three volumes,
Toldot Hateva,
and as a result became
an innovator in Hebrew terminology. His greatest contribution
to Hebrew and Hebrew literature consisted of translating his
works into Hebrew and writing a number of stories in that lan­
guage. His works in Hebrew are not direct translations, but
rewritten versions of the Yiddish original. In the process of this
work he created his own Hebrew. In his youth he wrote like all
the
maskilim
—in Biblical Hebrew. Later, however, his Hebrew
included the riches of the Mishnah, the Midrash and the Middle
Ages, and occasional expressions from the Talmud. It combined
into an alloy which enabled him to depict a way of life and to
describe characters with the same facility one finds in his Yiddish
works. Peretz said that Mendele’s Hebrew was such as “ the people
would have spoken if they had spoken Hebrew.” In this respect
Bialik was Mendele’s disciple. He asserted that Mendele created
the form for both Yiddish and Hebrew prose. Actually, Mendele
was a force in the process of transforming Hebrew into a spoken
language. It is remarkable that one man possessed so much
purely linguistic genius.