7 July 08 | Chad W. Post

Jeff Waxman brought my attention to an article in the June issue of Commentary by Hillel Halkin entitled “The Translator’s Paradox.”

It’s primarily about the relationship between Hebrew and Jews, about how translation is aided the demise of Hebrew as the primary language of Jews:

Matti Megged and I were, unwittingly, at the front edge of a wave that has changed Diaspora Jewish life, preeminently in the United States. But the change has not been all for the better. It has contributed to the loss of Hebrew as the international language of the Jewish people. [. . .]

English has become the new international language of the Jews because it has become the international language of everyone. But it has been aided in its displacement of Hebrew by Jewish assimilation, which has deprived millions of Jewish children of the Hebrew they once acquired as part of a religious upbringing. Although a functional literacy in Hebrew was very far from universal in traditional Jewish communities, it was the defining mark of a Jewish education and the aspiration of every Jew.

In terms of translation, Halkin sees both sides of this practice:

Translation is double-edged. It is the great go-between of humanity, the international hawker of cultural wares, the oldest and most powerful of all globalizing forces. But it is also a golden calf, a false representation. It reveals and thus conceals. It clarifies and so obscures. It betrays our secrets to mankind.

Living in translation has its advantages for the Jewish people: it facilitates communication among them, disseminates Jewish culture, creates a new Jewish literacy to replace the old one that has been lost. Yet it dilutes the culture it disseminates, weakens Jewish distinctiveness, puts Jews at a remove from themselves. It makes them vulnerably transparent to the outside world. A people’s language is its private home; in it, it can pursue its own business, conduct its own quarrels, make its own jokes, let down its hair; it can be itself without fear of eavesdroppers. One can argue in a Jewish language about Judaism, about Zionism, about any aspect of Jewish life, but one argues in a language, not about it; the language itself belongs to all. Precisely because it is neutral, language has always been the strongest of communal bonds, the magic circle that no interloper could cross.

Some of his claims might be a bit broad, but on the whole, this is pretty interesting. (As is his comment that “it is not uncommon today for leading Israeli writers to sign translation contracts with American or European publishers even before they begin work on a book.”) This piece echoes some of the sentiments in Esther Allen’s essay in To Be Translated or Not To Be, although Halkin puts more emphasis on the process of translation than I think she would.

Comments are disabled for this article.
I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >