How Hebrew Fiction Learned to Talk

With the birth of modern Hebrew literature in the 19th century, writers had little to draw upon when composing dialogue in a language that had not been used for everyday speech in nearly two millennia. The late Alan Mintz sums up the problem in a posthumously published essay:

Even once the main producers and institutions of Hebrew literature had been transferred to Palestine by the mid-1920s and Hebrew had become the official medium of the yishuv, the number of people speaking it on a day-to-day basis in their private lives was quite small. At home, most people spoke Yiddish or Russian or Polish, because being “at home” in Hebrew remained an unnatural thing. No greater proponent of the Hebrew renaissance than Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik famously quipped: Hebreyish redt men; yidish redt zikh (“One speaks Hebrew; Yiddish speaks itself”). The real naturalization of Hebrew began with the children born to these immigrants, especially those who grew up in agricultural settlements and youth movements.

Surveying attempts to create lifelike dialogue in this ancient language, Mintz looks to the writings of S.Y. Abramovitsh, better known by his pen name Mendele Moykher Sforim. Abramovitsh made his reputation writing in Yiddish, but authored many Hebrew stories as well. In these, he—like many other writers—put Hebrew into the mouths of shtetl characters who, in real life, would have spoken Yiddish:

Abramovitsh’s approach to rendering a Yiddish conversation in Hebrew might be called preemptive compensation. He seems intuitively to understand that it makes no sense to try to imitate the timbre, syntax, and intonation of Yiddish speech. . . . Instead of a wan simulacrum, Abramovitsh chooses a different mode altogether: rabbinic Hebrew. In a departure from his [Haskalah] predecessors and from his own early practice, he abandons biblical Hebrew and shifts into [the] distinct syntax and semantics [of the Hebrew portions of the Talmud].

And yet. Abramovitsh’s switching out Yiddish for rabbinic Hebrew implies a provocative possibility. Is there perhaps some deeper link between these two languages, if for the moment we consider rabbinic Hebrew as a language separate from biblical Hebrew? We think of as fundamental to Yiddish speech that a sentence has the tonality and shape of a question. But is it not possible that the provenance of this phenomenon is in truth the give-and-take of talmudic argument? If Yiddish is indeed drinking deeply from that well, then what Abramovitsh is doing is not translating so much as using as an equivalent language system, one that provided the original source for some of Yiddish’s essential features.

Read more at In geveb

More about: Hebrew, Hebrew literature, Israeli literature, Mendele Mokher Seforim, Talmud, Yiddish

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University