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A History of German Jewish Bible Translation$
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Abigail Gillman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226477695

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226477862.001.0001

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The First Wave: Jewish Enlightenment Bibles in Yiddish and German

The First Wave: Jewish Enlightenment Bibles in Yiddish and German

(p.15) Chapter One The First Wave: Jewish Enlightenment Bibles in Yiddish and German
A History of German Jewish Bible Translation

Abigail Gillman

University of Chicago Press

The Haskalah was a period of intense linguistic transition, and new translations of the Bible—German and Yiddish; Christian and Jewish—played a central role, above all, by rendering scripture in language that was “clear, correct, and beautiful.” Two Yiddish Bible translations printed in Amsterdam in 1678 and 1679, though not commercially successful, must be counted as the first modern Jewish translations in Ashkenaz and precursors of the monumental Mendelssohn translation of 1780-83. Amsterdam publishers Phoebus and Athias were likely inspired by the popularity of the much-admired Dutch States Bible and the Luther Bible; their translators, Yekuthiel Blitz and Joseph Witzenhausen, also borrowed from those Christian Bibles. Phoebus and Athias used fine paper, engraved title pages, and Rabbinic approbations. One century later, Moses Mendelssohn reinvented the modern Jewish vernacular Bible, producing a multifaceted work, known as the Be’ur, that exerted enormous influence. Like his Yiddish forerunners, and like his Christian contemporaries (Michaelis; Schmidt), Mendelssohn domesticated biblical Hebrew and syntax, but he also foregrounded the literary and poetic qualities of biblical Hebrew, as he had done years earlier when translating Hebrew poetry. Comparisons of the Prefaces, paratextual elements, and individual verses show how these first three modern Jewish translators balanced innovation with traditionalism.

Keywords:   Uri Phoebus, Joseph Athias, Jekuthiel Blitz, Joseph Witzenhausen, Moses Mendelssohn, Haskalah, Wertheim Bible, Luther Bible, Johann David Michaelis, Jehuda Halevi

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