Page 144 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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138
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
first major
English-Hebrew Dictionary
with Israel Efros and Judah
Ibn Shmuel Kaufman. First published in 1929, it reached the
thirty-second printing in less than forty years. It is still a useful
compendium for translators: the two co-editors who survived
Silkiner updated it in 1960 with a supplement which reached its
ninth printing in 1966. The
Dictionary
received some critical
brickbats in Israel: It included words which were no longer cur­
rent in modern Hebrew, such as the Aramaic
asya
for doctor. The
mockers had an easy time in ridiculing the
Dictionary
with its
translations of selected texts in English into the rarer vocables of
Hebrew which the editors generously supplied alongside the
more common Hebrew words.
The Lithuanian immigrant who came to America in 1904 im­
pressed his personality on Hebrew literature. An adventurer in
the realm of literary themes and a gentle inventor of imaginary
protagonists in Spain and in former Palestine, he led an unadven­
turous life in the New World. As a Hebrew teacher in a Talmud
Torah in New York, he applied himself conscientiously to his
pedagogical tasks and published, in cooperation with colleagues,
popular Hebrew Readers for elementary students. Later, as an
instructor in Bible at the Teachers’ Institute o f the Jewish
Theological Seminary in New York, he added lustre to that re­
nowned institution.
As an athlete of biblicism — to paraphrase the designation “an
athlete of liberty,”
athlete de la liberte,
which has been applied to
Benjamin Constant, the Swiss lover of Mme de Stael — Silkiner
used the vocabulary and the atmosphere of the Bible in novel
patterns. With greater depth than the architects of the Haskalah,
the Jewish enlightenment, he penetrated into the very marrow of
biblical rhetoric. Not the creation of mosaics out of pebbles of
biblical phrases engaged his creative powers but the transforma­
tion of the biblical idiom into a modern idiom. Yet he preserved
the ancientness of the original — harsh and inexorable at times —
in the softer accents of his imitative strength. Had he been able to
fashion the heap of his literary fragments into the potential ex­
panse of his inspiration, he would have become the major Hebrew
poet in America. But that was not to be. And this is the tragic tale
of the actual poet who was less than Silkiner “the potential poet.”