A New Translation of a Classic Yiddish Story Attempts to One-Up Saul Bellow

For much of his career, Isaac Bashevis Singer carefully supervised the translation of his works from Yiddish to English, handpicking the translators and sometimes making significant changes in acknowledgment of his two very different audiences. But Singer first came to be known to the English-speaking public thanks to a 1953 translation over which he had no say whatsoever, done by Saul Bellow with the assistance of the Yiddish poet Eliezer Greenberg, of his short story “Gimple the Fool.” Julian Levinson reviews a new, stand-alone edition of the story, with an old-new translation:

The new, “definitive” edition contains Singer’s original Yiddish text together with Bellow’s version, alongside a new translation by David Stromberg and, remarkably, Singer himself. As Stromberg explains in the afterword, in 2006 he came upon a journal containing a dramatization of the story that Singer had produced in English in the YIVO archives. The play contained about 60 percent of the original story, and eventually, Stromberg realized that he could use Singer’s text as the basis for a new and more faithful translation of “Gimpl tam.” It is not clear precisely which parts of the new translation belong to Singer and which to Stromberg, but the results read smoothly, without any obvious seams.

Bellow knew full well that “Gimple the Simple” would be a more faithful translation of the story’s title—as the titular protagonist himself observes, he isn’t so much a fool as someone easily fooled—but wished to avoid the infelicitous rhyme. Levinson explains:

Tam, which entered Yiddish from biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, carries a range of meanings from innocent to guileless. In the Bible, both Jacob and Job—rather different characters, to be sure—are described by the word. Those familiar with the haggadah will recall that the third of the four sons who inquire about the seder is called tam, which is rendered in most English haggadahs as “simple.” Thus, Stromberg establishes a connection between Singer’s protagonist and this third son who asks his sincere, childlike question at every Passover seder.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Translation, Yiddish literature

Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security