A History of German Jewish Bible Translation

A History of German Jewish Bible Translation

Abigail Gillman

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226477695

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Between 1780 and 1937, Jews in Germany produced numerous new translations of the Hebrew Bible into German. Intended for Jews who were trilingual, reading Yiddish, Hebrew, and German, they were meant less for religious use than to promote educational and cultural goals. Not only did translations give Jews vernacular access to their scripture without Christian intervention, but they also helped showcase the Hebrew Bible as a work of literature and the foundational text of modern Jewish identity. Although the translators were major figures, these translations have received scant attention. This book is the first in English to offer a close analysis of German Jewish translations as part of a larger cultural project. It focuses on four distinct waves of translation in historical context, describing each translator's priorities and methods and examining sample verses in each work. It argues that German Jewish Bible translation was a religious enterprise, undertaken in dialogue with Christian translation practices and with culture, aesthetics, and contemporary views of language. Modern German Jewish translations had roots in the pre-modern Yiddish translation tradition in Ashkenaz; they were influenced by Luther and, equally, by those who rejected Luther’s approach. Over three centuries, translations in the German Jewish context responded to multiple uses of translation in the majority culture. Studying the history of successive translations provides new insight into the opportunities and problems the Bible posed for different generations and a new perspective on modern German Jewish history.