Naomi Seidman

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online October 2013 | | DOI:

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Given the text-centered nature of Judaism and the multilingualism of Jewish culture, it is no surprise that translation has been an important dimension of Jewish literary activity. The Greek translation of the Pentateuch, initially done by Hellenistic Jews even before the canonization of the Bible, is considered the first major translation initiative in Western culture, and Jewish translators and exegesis played an important role in Bible translation throughout its long history. Jews have been significant participants in translation enterprises beyond the Bible. In medieval Iberia, Jews were prominent among the translators who reworked scientific and philosophical texts from Arabic (often translations from Greek) into Latin or Castilian, making available important classical works that had been lost to Christian Europe. The translation of scientific and philosophical concepts from classical Greek and medieval Arabic also enriched and enlarged medieval Hebrew. Medieval and early modern Ashkenaz communities were also centers of translational activity, with Yiddish adaptations not only of the Bible and traditional sources but also of secular non-Jewish epics and romances that were “Judaized” for a Jewish readership. Translations of world literature similarly aided the emergence of modern Jewish literature in the 18th and 19th centuries, with translation helping fill gaps in Jewish literature and introducing Jews to European literary and cultural models. Jews have also been important contributors to Christian translation: translations have sometimes aimed to “expose” Jewish secrets, while missionaries have evangelized Jews through translations of Christian sources in Jewish languages. Despite the centrality of Jews to translation, the best-known programmatic statements about translation (Cicero, Augustine, Jerome, Luther, and Schleiermacher) have emerged from a non-Jewish perspective, although the Prologue to Ben Sirach and a few statements in the Talmud show a significant awareness of the difficulties of translation. In modern translation discourse, though, Jewish and even “rabbinic” approaches to language and translation have become much better known, with Benjamin, Derrida, Levinas, and George Steiner championing Jewish alternatives to mainstream perspectives. Most recently, an important school of translation theory, with some international impact, has arisen in Tel Aviv, often testing its theories with Jewish examples (although the theory is not “Jewish,” per se). These factors have combined to make Jewish translation increasingly visible as a field of study.

Article.  11521 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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