Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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result was tha t many o f the translations were into Hebrew ra th e r
than from it — in contrast with ou r twentieth cen tu ry tendency to
the opposite, from Hebrew into o th e r con tempo rary languages in
o rd e r to assure au tho rs a wider readersh ip . Bu t regardless o f
w hether the direction be into o r from Hebrew , Maimonides’
qualifications fo r an acceptable translation as set down fo r the
benefit o f Samuel ibn T ibbon who was p rep a r ing to translate the
, are useful to this day: “T h e translator must first u n d e r ­
stand the content, and na rra te and explain tha t con ten t in the
language in which he is working. He will not escape changing the
o rd e r o f words o r tran sm itting phrases in single words, o r
elim inating vocables, o r add ing them, so tha t the work is well
o rd e red and expounded , and the language o f the transla to r will
follow the principles governing tha t language .”2
In the twentieth cen tury additional considerations have tended
to becloud the translation scene in an industrial-technological and
generally un-religiously o rien ted age. Modern western indu stri­
ally and scientifically o rien ted man has tended to ignore the
Juda ic roots as much as, if no t more than , the classical roots o f
western civilization. With biblical literature and the classics o f
Juda ism rapidly becoming
terra incognita,
a significant portion o f
m odern Hebrew litera tu re is also closed to non-Hebra ic readers.
T ranslations become exercises foredoomed to failure; they be­
come what m ight even be called “non-translations.”3
T he m ode rn reade r is in no position to apprecia te what is
significant about a particu lar literary work. He perceives tha t a
story at its first and literal level is more or less like any o the r one.
Nuances, hints, ironies, and symbols which have been worked
into a mosaic and constitute a sweeping commentary o f a time or
place or person o r persons, have been irretrievably lost. If, as has
Abraham S. Halkin, “Translation and Translators (Medieval),”
15 (1971), cols. 1318-1329.
3 Leon Yudkin has indicated several problem areas related to the translation o f
modern Hebrew literature. See his “The Translation o f Hebrew Literature Into
Foreign Languages — An Inter-Cultural Problem,”
Modem Hebrew Literature,
vol. 3, nos. 1-2 (1977), pp. 6-23.