Page 77 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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TARNOR / ON TRANSLATING HEBREW
69
successfully used, they fulfill two impo rtan t functions: 1) they
help correc t linguistic and cu ltural m isunderstandings and dis­
crepancies; and 2) they can add information generally useful in
unders tand ing the historical and cultural backg round .13
On page 286, Halkin translated well: “As if you could bring a
corpse back to life.” But it is un fa ir to ignore the presence o f the
religious trad ition in B renne r which he had long denied and
rejected and which, nevertheless, clung to him. Esther is m ou rn ­
ing the dea th o f h e r younger sister Miriam, lacerating herse lf with
accusations o f guilt. M iriam’s landlady describes the scene to the
neighborhood gossips and comments on E sther’s screams: “As if
you could b ring a corpse back to life by screaming.” I t is an act o f
futility in the eyes o f the sympathetic yet uninvolved outsider.
T he phrase is im po rtan t because of the irony presen t and
implied. We find it used in the morning prayers, in the siddur; it
was borrowed
from Berakhot
60b: “My God, the soul which Thou
hast placed in me . . . ” T he passage ends with the blessing:
“Blessed a r t T hou . . . who restorest the souls o f the dead .” T he
“dead” are the righteous who, before going to sleep, have placed
themselves in the ir C rea to r’s hands for safekeeping du r ing the
night. T he restoration o f the souls to the bodies takes place upon
awakening to the light o f the new day. B renne r’s use o f the phrase
as a hopeless, impossible task, in the landlady’s comment on
Esther’s screams o f guilt, is a masterful piece o f irony. Nothing o f
this is conveyed by Halkin’s simple translation, unaccompanied
by an elucidating footnote. And this is not an isolated example. It
is a common failing o f this and many translations from the He­
brew.
T he biblical presence in modern Hebrew literature has been
universally recognized from the Haskalah period to the present.
Unfortunately , after this initial obeisance to the Hebrew classic, it
is generally ignored by ou r secular, scientifically oriented age.
After all, it’s the idea, the content, tha t matters and not the form
— so the argum en t goes.
One final example. On page 146, B renne r is translated as
follows: “In his Bible it was written:
And it was very good - it
was
Life. Life was good, the only good . . . ” O u r mythical Mr. Average
Intelligent Reader, it is assumed, is sufficiently familiar with the
Bible to recall the echo o f Genesis 1:31 here: “And God saw all
that He had made was very good . . .” [My trans. — N.T.] Let us
13 Nida, pp. 238-9.