Robinson Crusoe’s Many Jewish Incarnations

First published in 1719, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was translated into numerous Jewish languages between 1784 and the early 20th century: Judeo-German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic (in Tunisia), and Ladino. In some of these languages, it was translated multiple times, and many of the translators took liberties with the text, sometimes working not from the English original but from an  18th-century German adaptation. Perhaps the most transformed, writes Chen Malul, was Yosef Vitlin’s Yiddish version:

[Vitlin’s] is probably the most successful Jewish adaptation of the novel in the 19th century; we have much evidence of its great popularity. . . . The book’s title translates as “Robinson: The History of Alter Leyb: A True and Wonderful Story for Entertainment and Education.” . . .  A rich Jewish merchant from Lemberg (Lviv), Alter Leyb starts out as a drunk transgressor. As the story unfolds, the translator takes several opportunities to teach readers about the basics of sailing—how to use an anchor and what a lighthouse is—while also offering instruction in Jewish law.

Alter Leyb isn’t the only character with Jewish characteristics; his companion, named Friday in the original novel, is called Shabbos (Sabbath) here. Shabbos teaches Alter how to light a fire quickly and Alter teaches Shabbos about monotheism, the Torah, and the Sabbath customs. Seeing as Alter Leyb’s prayers are answered time and again throughout the novel, it’s hard to say which of the two benefited more from their friendship. The story concludes with a good Jewish ending: Torah study, proper spouses for Alter and Shabbos, and lives lived happily ever after with plenty of cute children all around.

Read more at The Librarians

More about: English literature, Jewish language, Ladino, Translation, Yiddish

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship