Academic journal article Shofar

The Publication and Dissemination of the Yehoash Bible, 1922–1942

Academic journal article Shofar

The Publication and Dissemination of the Yehoash Bible, 1922–1942

Article excerpt

At the Czernowitz Conference on the Yiddish Language in 1908, Isaac L. Peretz called for "the translation into Yiddish of all our cultural treasures from our free, golden past, primarily the translation into Yiddish of the Bible."1 As Peretz was speaking these words, a translation attempt was already underway on the other side of the Atlantic. The famed Russian-American translator and poet Solomon Bloomgarden (1870-1927), better known by his pen name Yehoash, published his Yiddish translation of the books of Isaiah, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Ruth in 1911. However, Yehoash, who had immigrated to America in 1890 and was described in a 1923 New York Times book review as the "greatest living poet" of the Yiddish language,2 was unsatisfied with these translations. He redoubled his translation efforts, relocating with his wife, Flora, and daughter, Evlin (Chava), to Palestine in 1913. There, he intended to "absorb into his sensitive soul the atmosphere of the country which produced the Bible," as well as learn classical Arabic and Syriac, which contributed to his linguistic understanding of the Hebrew Bible text."3 (Alternative reasons for the trip included Yehoash's long-held dream of living in the Land of Israel, and the need to improve his fragile health, a result of previously suffering from tuberculosis.)4 The outbreak of the First World War forced the Bloomgardens to leave Palestine, and they returned to the United States in 1915. Back in New York, in addition to publishing a lengthy, three-part memoir about his journey, "From New York to Rehovot and Back" (1917), Yehoash continued and at last completed his Yiddish Bible translation. Critics hailed the work as a masterpiece, the first modern, literary translation of the Bible into Yiddish, and this Bible translation remains the project for which Yehoash is best remembered today.

The Yehoash Bible went through three main stages of publication and dissemination, mostly during the interwar period: partial serialization in the Yiddish-language New York daily newspaper Der Tog (1922-1925); appearance in book form (Yiddish only), first as an eight-volume set released incrementally from 1927 to 1937, then as a two-volume set (1938); and, finally, the release of a two-volume, bilingual Hebrew-Yiddish edition in February 1940 (reprinted in 1942, 1946, and 1957). The work of publication and dissemination ultimately turned out to be a family affair. Yehoash himself only lived to see the first two Yiddish volumes of his translation (the Pentateuch) in book form. After his death, his widow continued the work of editing and seeing the books to print. Flora Bloomgarden-or Flora Yehoash, as she was also known-edited and released an additional four volumes (two volumes of the Early Prophets, two volumes of the Later Prophets) before she too passed away in 1934. Following Flora's death, the Bloomgardens' only child, Evlin, took over the reins of the organization responsible for continuing her father's legacy, the Yehoash Publication Society, wresting it legally from the hands of its indifferent stockholders. She renamed the operation the Yehoash Farlag Gezelshaft, an exact Yiddish translation of its original name (hereafter referred to as the YFG).5 Over the next seven years, she and her husband, Ben Dworkin, tried, dedicatedly and often desperately, to complete the work that her parents had left unfinished.

Recently, scholars have explored Yehoash's literary and cultural motivations for his Bible translation work, noting that the translation was intended to contribute to a burgeoning "modern secular Jewish culture" as well as to make the Bible accessible to the Yiddish-speaking masses.6 Shlomo Berger has argued that Yehoash "wish[ed] to be modern, secular, and progressive, and nevertheless [felt] that Yiddish could not escape its religious Jewish past," describing the translator's approach as an "an act of poetic betrayal."7 Ultimately, Yehoash not only preserved a significant number of Hebrew words within the Yiddish translation, but he also "did not do away with religious writings or Yiddish dialects. …

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