Page 155 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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NILLI COHEN
The Institute for the Translation
of Hebrew Literature
L
it e r a r y
t r a n s l a t i o n
is a notoriously difficult job. Such ele­
ments o f a literary work as the tex tu re and rhythm o f its language,
its literary and historical connotations, o r its cultural and
folkloristic background, are never easy to preserve when taken
out o f the ir linguistic context. T ransla ting Hebrew literature is all
the h arde r , primarily owing to the great disparity between the
Semitic and Indo-European languages. Furtherm o re , today’s
Hebrew comprehends, besides contemporary Israeli features, an
intricate struc tu re o f biblical, mishnaic, medieval and la ter levels,
sometimes to the extent o f requ iring footnotes — a disruptive ele­
ment in any work o f fiction.
Ano ther problem facing the Hebrew writer who wishes to pub­
lish his work abroad is tha t foreign publishing houses have no
Hebrew readers. It follows tha t they will only decide whether to
accept a work for publication if it is submitted in translation —
either o f the complete work, o r in some cases at least o f part.
Being aware o f the difficulty o f translating any literary work,
most publishers are reluctant to commit themselves before hav­
ing received the complete translation and considered whether it
“comes off.” Unlike those writing in the wider-known languages,
therefore, the Hebrew au tho r is obliged to invest considerable
sums in having a translation made, without any certainty that the
work will eventually be published, o r even tha t the finished
product, i.e., the translation, will justify the expense. Even then,
to be sure, there will be as many opinions about the translation’s
worth, its faithfulness to the original, and its merit as an inde­
penden t work, as there are experts to judge it.
It was with all the above in mind that the Institute for the
Translation o f Hebrew L itera ture was founded ju s t over twenty
years ago. T he idea was proposed by the then newly created
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