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  • Translation on the Margins: Hebrew-German-Yiddish Multilingualism in Avraham Ben Yitzhak and Yoel Hoffmann

One of the activities that took place on the margins of European modernism and constituted those margins as such was translation. Translation as a whole can be viewed as a marginal pursuit in a number of senses: for one, the work of the translator, as Laurence Venuti has claimed for the cases of American and British cultures, often tends to be marginal and “invisible,” aimed at producing a “fluent” and readable text that does not call attention to itself;1 translation has also been looked upon as marginal to original literary production in a particular language, a mere means to the end of enhancing the target language and its literature. In On the Margins of Modernism, Chana Kronfeld reminds us, however, that “theories of modernism that are modeled on belated, decentered, or linguistically minor practices may provide some insight into the processes that have become automatized or rendered imperceptible in the canonical center.”2 Translation that takes place between the center and periphery, between majority and minority languages, is just such a minor practice; studying it can provide numerous insights into the processes of literary creation and literary canonization.

Post-colonial translation studies has focused critical attention on translation as a practice that “shapes, and takes shape, within asymmetrical relations of power that operate under colonialism.”3 As regards the specific context of Jewish-Christian relations, Naomi Seidman has argued, that translation is “a negotiation of an unavoidably asymmetrical double-situatedness,” for Jews cannot be merely described as minority subjects of Christian Europe but also as those who possess a certain “cultural capital in the form of Hebrew and Jewish-exegetical knowledge.”4 Translation, for Seidman, is also a form of border crossing and “transformation” that often “unsettles the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish languages,” rather than functioning solely as “a significant technology of colonial domination.”5 In the case of Hebrew and Yiddish writing on European soil, Kronfeld has shown that while Jewish authors used and critiqued mainstream European modernisms, they did so in languages that could not be understood by the majority and that denied them “entry into the modernist canon.” Such acts of “modernist oppositionality” [End Page 109] were mediated through translation as a mode of transformation that firmly linked Hebrew and Yiddish to the languages of general European modernism and allowed for productive border-crossings between Jewish and non-Jewish cultures.6

A case in point is the early-twentieth-century poet Avraham Ben Yitzhak (né Avraham Sonne, 1883–1950), who is known for publishing a scant dozen intricately crafted modernist Hebrew poems, the last of which appeared in print in 1930. A native Yiddish and German speaker, Ben Yitzhak innovatively used Hebrew to create a thoroughly modernist poetry that draws heavily on biblical syntax and idiom. The poet’s archive reveals that throughout his career, he translated his own writing between German and Hebrew, initially composing poems through a process of translation into Hebrew but, in later years, varying the direction of translation.7 Ben Yitzhak also wrote notes to himself in both Hebrew and German, mixing the languages on the same page, sometimes even in mid-sentence.8 These hidden, marginalized translations are, I claim, what enabled him to transform Hebrew into an “instrument for minimalist, pared down expression” and thus to develop the poetic language for which he is remembered and studied today.9 The newness of the poet’s Hebrew idiom put it on equal footing with contemporary German impressionism and expressionism; in the words of the Hebrew writer Leah Goldberg, “[Ben Yitzhak] was the first Hebrew poet whose watch-hands showed not only the specific Jewish time, but the hour it was for world literature.”10 In order to create such modern-sounding Hebrew lyric, Ben Yitzhak not only drew on and transformed the language of Jewish prayer and biblical Psalm, but he also constantly wrote in other languages and translated himself and others between German and Hebrew. Furthermore, during his supposed “silent period,” beginning in the 1920s, when he almost entirely ceased publishing his work, Ben Yitzhak continued privately to write in Hebrew, German, and even, though far more rarely, in Yiddish.11

This essay pairs the early-twentieth-century poet Ben Yitzhak with the late-twentieth-century writer Yoel Hoffmann (b. 1937), whose writing openly plays with theme of (self-) translation. Ben Yitzhak and Hoffmann created their experimental literature from outside the “canonical center” (whether that center be European or Israeli), and they both attained a certain mythological status in the process.12 Hoffmann also translated five volumes of Chinese and Japanese Zen stories and Haiku poems into Hebrew and English. His writings are replete not only with allusions to East Asian traditions but with utterances in other languages (Yiddish, German, Arabic, and English) as well. While concealed self-translation and original writing in other languages formed the basis of Ben Yitzhak’s Hebrew production, Hoffmann makes his translations manifest by reproducing foreign phrases within his Hebrew works (either transliterated or reproduced in the original script) and translating them beside the main body of text. By positioning his Hebrew translations in the margins, directly adjacent to the foreign words, Hoffmann not only decenters the main text, but also makes awareness of translation a crucial component of the reading process. He further translates Hebrew—a hegemonic [End Page 110] tongue within the boundaries of the Israeli state—back into the idiom and worldview of the Central and Eastern European diaspora, thereby resisting the seduction of translation as a form of incorporation into Israeli society.

My juxtaposition of Ben Yitzhak and Hoffmann revolves not solely around the presence of translation on the hidden or actual margins of their texts, but also, and more deeply, around the specific languages and traditions among which they navigate. Both writers were educated in the German tongue and culture: Ben Yitzhak was born in Przemyśl, Galicia, but resided in Vienna for close to twenty years, and Hoffmann was born in Romania to German-speaking parents. Both arrived in Mandatory Palestine in 1938, although Hoffmann was an infant at the time. Hoffmann has drawn inspiration for his writings from his parents’ generation, which is also the generation of Ben Yitzhak. After the rise of Nazism and the emigration of many German Jews to Palestine, German literature and culture still remained a defining force for this generation. Hoffmann’s works feature dislocated immigrants unable to speak the local language, such as the Polish Jewish tailor in the 1938 Berlin of his story “Sefer Yosef” (The Book of Joseph.) His portraits of Jewish immigrants from Vienna and Berlin, as they appear both in the stories collected in The Book of Joseph (1988) and in his novels Bernhard (1989) and The Christ of Fish (1991), are reminiscent of the historical Ben Yitzhak: having only recently severed their ties with their Galician past, these Austrian Jewish characters are incapable of transforming themselves into Zionist pioneers and continue to converse in German and to consume German culture. Marginalized within their society, these German-speaking immigrants (yekkes) allow Hoffmann to expose the multilingual texture of life in immigrant-populated Palestine and later in Israel. Ben Yitzhak also lived out his last decades in Palestine/Israel in a German-speaking enclave, and he even continued to recite his published poems in German self-translation rather than in their “original” Hebrew.13

The modernist Ben Yitzhak and post-modernist Hoffmann thus share, across a generational and cultural gap, a proclivity for mediating Hebrew through other languages, be it in the process of reconstructing (Ben Yitzhak) or deconstructing (Hoffmann) this tongue. As with Ben Yitzhak, the novelty of Hoffmann’s Hebrew idiom is, in part, a product of this translational dialogue with other languages. Hoffmann decelerates the reading process by rendering his Hebrew more foreign, while also “naturalizing” other languages into it. Hoffmann’s multilingual writing can be defined as “postmonolingual” in its struggle against the ideology of Hebrew monolingualism; it forces readers to pay heed to the way that Israeli Hebrew has incompletely digested other languages.14 Ben Yitzhak used self-translation, by contrast, to produce a minute corpus of Hebrew poems that revived and reworked a particular strand of biblical Hebrew, giving it a more modern sound than ever before. His Hebrew writings were adopted as canonical by the literary establishment in Israel (from Avraham Shlonsky through Natan Zach to Goldberg) and their emergence as translations or products of multilingual dialogue has remained for the most part an untold story.15 [End Page 111]

The Task of the Self-Translator

As an active Zionist and Hebraist until his resignation from a political career in 1921, Ben Yitzhak took many pains to acquire Hebrew and improve his command of the language’s syntax and pronunciation. He studied Hebrew in his adolescence also under the tutelage of Eliezer Meir Lipschütz, a Zionist scholar and educator from Lemberg (Lvov/Lviv) in Galicia who then immigrated to Palestine in 1910. In 1902 and 1903, Lipschütz read and commented on Ben Yitzhak’s Hebrew letters, correcting their style and content. He admonished his friend for allowing foreign idioms to express themselves in his writing, reproaching him that his Hebrew often struck an “imitative” note. An early advocate of the Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew, Lipschütz also wrote that Ben Yitzhak’s “knowledge and use of the Sephardic dialect still require much correction.”16

Lipschütz mediated and oversaw the publication of Ben Yitzhak’s first poems, including “Laylot ki yalbinu” (When Nights Grow White), which appeared in a 1912 issue of the journal Ha-‘ivri he-ḥadash (The New Hebrew.) A postcard exchange between the two—that represents one of the rare cases in which Ben Yitzhak’s response has been preserved—includes the entire poem in its German original and the negotiation of its translation. Lipschütz, who has written to inquire about the poem, can only imagine his friend composing a “German poem or its Hebrew translation” but in any case not creating an original composition in Hebrew. Ben Yitzhak replied that he has “not translated it into Hebrew and there is no need to and [Lipschütz] must not publish it.”17 He then jotted down the following German draft:

In diesen weissen Nächten die eine müde Welt sich träumt hört die Zeit in sich hinein— wie in den Nächten Quellen singen ihre Wesenheit. Und Zukunft und Vergangenheit lösen sich in Ewigkeit. Still wie dem Leben schweben Sterne es streift die Stirn dir ein Atem von Ewigkeit

In these white nights that a tired world dreams to itself time listens within — as in the nights sources sing their being. And future and past dissolve in eternity. Silent as life stars hang a breath of eternity touches your brow. [End Page 112]

The Hebrew poem was ultimately published following a process of rewriting. In his self-translation, Ben Yitzhak pared down the language of the German poem and rendered it more abstract by eliminating the similes (“silent as life”) in favor of Hebrew possessives and of a more condensed style. Most importantly, he replaced the final German lines with the single Hebrew line “ve-ruaḥ mi-neḥaḥim tefake” (and a wind flows from eternity), followed by a coda: “your eyes grow wide.” In both German and Hebrew versions, the breath or wind arrives from “eternity.” Through the German verb streifen (to touch) and the Hebrew verb le-fakot (to flow, as from a water source), Ben Yitzhak concretizes the eternal but invisible wind/breath, endowing eternity with a sense of presence and process. Alluding in Hebrew, with the evocation of ruaḥ (wind-breath-spirit) and the flow of water, to the first lines of Genesis, in which “God’s breath hover[s] over the waters,” Ben Yitzhak implicitly acknowledges the creative flow of language itself as well as the need to reform modern Hebrew from its very first sources. Still, this “rejuvenation” took place, for Ben Yitzhak, also in between languages, here in the flow between German and Hebrew.

In the history of German scriptural translations, as Seidman has written, “the most invisible dimension of the Bible—that of breath, or ‘spirit’” has had immense “political significance.”18 Luther’s all-important Bible translation promoted the mind-body or spirit (meaning)-letter dichotomy by divesting ruaḥ, in the first lines of Genesis, of its concrete sense of wind and breath, thereby retaining only the sense of spirit, Geist. When Ben Yitzhak uses the term Atem, rather than Geist or even wind, in conjunction with “eternity,” he implicitly confronts the Lutheran dichotomy, emphasizing the sensuous and intimate nature of the spiritual breath that touches the addressee’s forehead. Hence, with the reversal of the direction of European biblical translation by shifting from German back to Hebrew, Ben Yitzhak not only “thoroughly secularized the silences and gaps that mark biblical literature as a new model for modernism,” but also read the Lutheran Bible against the grain.19 The poet’s Hebrew ruaḥ continually brushed against the German Atem as it issued forth the ancient language in its modern form.

Ben Yitzhak’s later self-translations, such as that of the poem “Malkhut” (Royalty), no longer exhibit such a linear transposition from German into Hebrew. Instead, the poet constantly moved back and forth between the two languages, blurring as a result the distinction between original and translation.20 He also wrote several freestanding German poems that bear strong resemblances to his famous published Hebrew poems. For example, the undated and incomplete poem with the tentative title “Ein Ganzes?” (A Whole?) opens with a series of paradoxes, reminiscent of his well-known “Ashrey ha-zor‘im” (Happy Are They Who Sow), published in 1930 but drafted already in the mid-1920s if not earlier.

Wer’s als Ganzes nimmt Der nimmt es nicht Wer seinem Tode vorgelebt Hat den Tod in seinem Leben eingesammelt [End Page 113] Wer Gast war in der Welt Steht auf und lässt sie unbestellt In der Lichtjahre Sturmflut21

He who grasps it as a whole He does not grasp it He who modeled his life for death Collected death in his life He who was a guest in the world Rises and leaves it untilled In the light years of the tide flood

The first two lines of the German poem posit an aesthetics and ideology of incompleteness over and against any kind of illusive wholeness, which turns out to be nothing. Similarly, “Happy Are the Sowers,” as Kronfeld writes, “rejects the authoritative plenitude of New Testament allegory, sermon, and parable” through an “iconoclastic conflation” of Psalms and the New Testament.22 Reading the lines, “Happy are they who sow and shall not reap/for they shall wander afar,” Hannen Hever shows that a “paradoxical causality” underlies the Hebrew poem’s syntax: because the reapers “wander afar,” they are the happy who do not sow.23 The German poem also exhibits such paradoxical causality: the inability to “grasp it” results from the attempt to “grasp it as a whole.”

Yet, as the German poem progresses, the connections between the lines become more logical: because of the guest’s transient status in the world, it would follow that “he…rises and leaves it untilled.” The notion of an “untilled” world corresponds, moreover, to the Hebrew’s emphasis on the value of wandering instead of remaining and sowing. By not tilling, the guest also leaves no trace behind. Likewise, Ben Yitzhak depicts death, in the Hebrew poem, as the state of being “wrapped in the mantle of oblivion,” comparable to the erasure induced by light years of tide storm in the German poem. While the latter poem is not as systematically paradoxical and structured as the Hebrew one, it is nonetheless highly enigmatic, creating new linguistic configurations on the basis of German idioms such as “ein Feld bestellen” (tilling a field) or “vorleben” (setting one’s life as an example.)

As if to thematize its own denouncement of wholeness, the poem ends abruptly with a series of apostrophes:

O Schattensegel Oh ich Oh kleine Nacht Oh wieviele mal durchwacht Ein Herz bricht auf und legt sich hin.

O shadow sail Oh I Oh little night Oh how many times in vigil A heart breaks and lies down. [End Page 114]

In contradistinction to the anonymous “wer” (“he who” or “whosoever”) and to the use of the third person in “Happy Are They Who Sow,” an “I” appears at the end of the poem, along with a single heart. Furthermore, unlike the image of the collective “they” being “gathered into the heart of the world” at the end of the Hebrew poem, the singular “guest” in the German departs from the world, and the heart cannot continue its vigil. The German poem also makes a shift in scope, from the general statements of the first part to the more intimate scene of a “small” nighttime vigil. Ben Yitzhak rejects here the authoritative tone of parable and sermon in favor of a personal confession. The multiple and incomplete apostrophes that merely register a calling out, without describing or developing the object of the call, enhance the poem’s mood of desolation and its lack of closure. Rather than serving to constitute the voice’s “calling,” to establish it as “a poetical and prophetic voice” by alluding to the lyric tradition of apostrophe, these apostrophic “O”s perform the need to call out against all odds, without any certainty of a projected “you” or “muse.”24 They remind us also of the poem’s artifice, as does the asymmetrical rhyme pattern (“Welt” and “unbestellt,” “Nacht” and “durchwacht”), a poetic feature that Ben Yitzhak avoids altogether in the 1930 Hebrew poem. Remaining in draft form, this unknown German poetic counterpart to the published and well-received “Happy Are the Sowers” constituted a “shadow sail” of sorts, a ghostly poetic alternative that nonetheless enabled the ship of modernist Hebrew poetry to tentatively sail forth.

Ben Yitzhak typically used seafaring imagery in both Hebrew and German drafts to convey the loss of any sense of direction, of any “shore” or “goal.” In the unpublished German poem “Verworrene Welt” (Confused World), composed in the 1920s, he writes: “Whirling ship on the crystal poles / Fury of the sea that does not forget / Its breath” (Wirbelnder Schiff an kristallnen Polen/Grimm des Meeres das seinen Atem / Nicht vergessen.)25 His strong pull toward the Hebrew-Zionist pole notwithstanding, Ben Yitzhak never relinquished his own German breath, or “Atem,” the invisible but charged term that appeared in his early poetry and continued to resurface in his later writings. When the poem “Confused World” and others were discovered by the Czech Jewish journalist Robert Weltsch in 1950, following Ben Yitzhak’s death, Weltsch urged the German Zionist Georg Landauer to consider publishing them as well, since they are, “in part, very beautiful, and during his time in Vienna Sonne appears to have lived entirely in German lyric” (ganz in deutscher Lyrik gelebt.)26 This idea never came to fruition, and aside from the publication of the German version of the poem “Ha-layla ya‘avor sa‘ar” (A Storm Will Pass), Ben Yitzhak’s translational modernism is all but unknown.27

Among many beautiful German poems, Waltus also found a Yiddish one, which was not legible to him. Before Ben Yitzhak tried out Yiddish as a poetic possibility, he engaged, in the 1910s, in debates about the status of Yiddish as a Jewish language. Because Hebrew in the early twentieth century held the promise of “a unique aesthetic dignity and a unique historical resonance,” to quote Robert Alter, it was in many ways equivalent to German in prestige, even if it was more unwieldy and lacked an everyday register.28 Yiddish did not share the status of German and Hebrew, however; it represented, for [End Page 115] Zionists and many Central European Jews of the period, a stumbling block and relic of the past that must be overcome en route to true Jewish creativity and revival.29 In undated notes most likely composed in the 1910s, at a time when he was actively delivering lectures in Vienna on language revival and Hebrew literary culture, Ben Yitzhak feminized Yiddish, a not untypical gesture for his day and age, claiming that it lacks manliness or virility (gavrut) as well as individuality.30 Yiddish, he alleged, has never fought for “intellectual truth” or otherwise taken part in a real struggle to create.31 Yiddish poets were, moreover, “moon-stricken,” creating “sentimental” writing, “lacking in vigor” when they approached the topic of Judaism or memories of the Ḥeder (traditional Jewish elementary school for boys).32 Ben Yitzhak composed these statements at a time, however, when Yiddish authors “aspired to transcend the vernacular-native level and reach for the referential and mythological heights,” according to Dan Miron.33

Ben Yitzhak also attributed the limitations of Yiddish to its past origins in German, its “mother tongue.” On the one hand, Yiddish had changed so much over the centuries that it had become a “wall” or barrier (ḥoma), rather than a “bridge,” between the nation of Israel and the language of German culture.34 On the other hand, Yiddish had always remained “foreign” to the Jews themselves and therefore failed to become a language of expressive creativity— either this or else, every time they desired to renew the language, they were reminded of its German origins.35 According to this logic, because it is so distinct from German, Hebrew stands a better chance of serving as a bridge to European culture and the supposed internal integrity of this language would allow for its creative renewal. The rejection of Yiddish on these grounds also points to Ben Yitzhak’s conservative notion of language as deeply rooted in ancient literary traditions, as a vessel of the nation’s “spirit.”36 The only possible response to the negative force of Yiddish was, for Ben Yitzhak, a more vigorous commitment to Hebrew as the spiritual language of the Jewish nation: “Jewish [spiritual] poverty can be amended only through creation, through the creation of legal and social responsibility—Zionism— and through a new relationship to language, to our soul.”37 It was easier for Ben Yitzhak, at this point in his life, to bridge Zionism and European modernism than to accept his native Yiddish and the political and cultural alternatives it offered.

By the mid-1920s, Ben Yitzhak had revised his anti-Yiddish polemics of the early 1910s, as a Yiddish avant-garde developed in different centers across Europe (Di Khalyastre group in Warsaw and the Albatros journal in Berlin being two such examples.) A notebook dating to the years 1924 and 1925 includes the following unpunctuated Yiddish stanza:

Unter der zun royte peyres untern barg kvalen kile tife nakht iber mayn khoylem vayte velt far mayn trit

Under the sun red fruits under the mountain springs cool [End Page 116] deep night over my dream distant world before my footstep

The stanza concatenates four static images; devoid of verbs, the lines situate objects in spatial relationships to one another. The first two lines depict predictable locations (fruits under the sun, sources under the mountain), whereas the second, more abstract two lines invert our viewpoint, situating the night over the dream, and world before the speaker’s footstep. Ben Yitzhak uses loshen-koydesh words of Hebrew origin (peyres, khoylem)—rather than their Germanic equivalents (“frukht” and “troym”)—alternatingly in the end-line position with words like “footstep,” which he even spells in an equivalent manner to the German Tritt in his original text. Significantly, fruits and dreams express productivity and creativity, and the use of loshen-koydesh terms underscores Ben Yitzhak’s notion that the creative power of Yiddish originates in its Hebrew component rather than its Germanic one.

Around the same time, Ben Yitzhak composed a draft of an expressionist Yiddish poem that creates “reality anew within the soul-scape of the artist,” claiming for such “internal” events an “objective” status, to borrow Kronfeld’s description of this mode of modernism.38 This Yiddish poem stands in dialogue, moreover, with a posthumously published Hebrew draft, “Met ha-‘olam hitporer shildo” (The world has died and its bones turned to powder.) The two poems were written on opposite sides of the same page and dated in close proximity, the Hebrew poem being composed on November 30, 1925, and the Yiddish on December 1, 1925.39 Ben Yitzhak further noted that both were written in Zurichberg, Switzerland. The (day older) Yiddish poem revisits the Hebrew one, thus reversing the direction of Ben Yitzhak’s early translation discussed above, in which a German draft was reworked into a publishable Hebrew poem. Both Hebrew and Yiddish versions open with a proclamation concerning the death of the world. They end in similar fashion, with an image of the speaker’s heart continuing to “grow” or “beat,” in contrast to the cold heart of the “dead world”:

Met ha-‘olam hitporer shildo ‘ata eda avkat kokhavim aḥ<ronim> mutslaḥim hikta yeladim ba-sanverim …. met ha-‘olam hitkarer libo yashki‘akha tehomo me-ḥor el ḥor hah, pele ma gadal libi asher ya’adim peraḥav be-aḥarit ha-ḥalom.

Velt (vi) bistu shoyn avekgeshtorbn! Oy di farbn dayne, oysgeblaykht hern hert zikh shvaygn barg un yam shoyn oysgeglaykht [End Page 117] nor keynmol kum ikh nit aheym fun der levaye oyfn veg farlirt zikh geren nokh der letster nomen, ober oyfn breg fun zikorn brenen zvay malokhim groys un tayer vi far di oygn fun meshugoim

shtarker harts [vos klapst du nokh (narish harts vos klapst du nokh) (vos klapst du harts aleyn mit dir.

The world has died and its bones turned to powder now I know the dust of fi<nal> favorable stars blinded the children …. the world died its heart went cold its abyss will plunge you from depth to depth ah, a wonder how my heart has grown which reddens its flowers at the end of a dream.40

World (how) you have already died away! Oh, your colors, paled all that is heard is silence mountain and sea now leveled but never will I come home from the funeral the final name loses itself willingly on the way, but on the shore of memory two angles are burning great and precious as if before the eyes of the insane

Stronger heart [what are you still beating for (foolish heart, what are you still beating for (what are you, heart, beating with yourself alone. 41

Ben Yitzhak played with different endings to the Yiddish poem; the brackets and parentheses appear in the original. The Hebrew exclamation “ha” and the description of the expanded heart in the final stanza become in the Yiddish poem a full-fledged second person address to the heart, complementing the initial address to the world and expressing amazement at the heart’s continued beating despite the death of the world. Both poems depict a post-apocalyptic world at the “end of the dream,” suggesting that the ultimate catastrophe, the death of the world, has already taken place and now “mountain and sea are leveled.” In Hebrew, the poem revolves around the image of “stardust” and its blinding effect upon the children. The central image in Yiddish is also one of a blinding vision—“before the eyes of the insane” burn “two angels…great and precious.” The evocation of burning angels, possibly the angels of poesie, shira, as the vision or hallucination of the insane, transposes the image of [End Page 118] blinded children in Hebrew into an apocalyptic-revelatory register. Still, as in the above stand-alone stanza, “Under the sun,” Ben Yitzhak locates key loshnkoydesh words at the end position of lines—levaye (funeral), zikorn (memory), meshugoim (insane)—underscoring the presence of Hebrew within Yiddish at these moments of intense revelation.

The image of the heart that continues (foolishly) to beat at the end of both Yiddish and Hebrew poems also stands in dialogue with the breaking heart at the end of the German poetic draft “A Whole?” (“A heart breaks and lies down.”) Hence, in addition to the more obvious process of self-translation, Ben Yitzhak’s multilingual practice also entailed a constant reworking and recasting of similar imagery across poems in different languages. For instance, at “the end of the dream” in the Hebrew poem, the heart miraculously grows and even reddens its flowers, in contrast to the heart’s demise in the German poem. We, the belated readers of these drafts, are left to wonder whether Ben Yitzhak’s “dream” could have been one of unabashed multilingual creation. His linguistic “hearts” were indeed splintered and scattered across these different drafts, while his silence was publically heard, to be sure, only in Hebrew, not in the Yiddish of his apocalyptic visions.

Having eulogized Yiddish in the 1910s, hoping never to see it used for creative endeavors, Ben Yitzhak’s expressionist poem reveals that whereas Yiddish “never c[a]me home from the funeral,” it still nevertheless burned bright in its final glory. It is therefore all the more fascinating that, as Leah Goldberg reports, when Ben Yitzhak would tell stories of his childhood in Galicia he “frequently spiced his conversation with tales and anecdotes in a beautiful Yiddish, loving Sholem Aleichem in Yiddish, and only in Yiddish….”42 Living in Palestine, Yiddish became, in this third and final phase of the 1940s and early 1950s, an object of nostalgia and even love, a language associated above all with the poet’s childhood in Przemyśl and with prose writing, rather than avant-garde poetry. Ben Yitzhak’s belated acceptance of Yiddish was out of sync, however, with his surroundings in Palestine, where this language, as a reminder of the Eastern European past, was publically denied and derided.43 Hence, the translational poetic dialogue that took place among the poet’s writings in three languages was an asymmetrical one, in which German and Yiddish drafts invisibly subtended the production of a European Hebrew modernism. Writing in a context that takes the production of Israeli fiction for granted, Yoel Hoffmann explicitly and visibly forefronts the asymmetrical triangulation of German, Hebrew, and Yiddish in order to depict the complex linguistic dynamics of immigrant life in Zionist Palestine.

Negotiating Ivrit in Yoel Hoffmann’s Early Fiction

In The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature, Emily Apter writes:

Cast as an act of love, and as an act of disruption, translation becomes a means of repositioning the subject in the world and in history; a means of rendering self-knowledge foreign to itself; a way of denaturalizing citizens, taking them [End Page 119] out of the comfort zone of national space, daily ritual, and pre-given domestic arrangements.44

The writings of Hoffmann call into question the obviousness of the links between language, territory, and nation. Hoffmann renders self-knowledge foreign to itself in part by overturning the realist convention of representing speech and thought in other languages through direct Hebrew translation, using instead transliterations in his text alongside translations in the margins.45 Israel and Hebrew become, in Hoffmann’s works, sites of exile rather than homecoming, as the Hebrew translation is exiled, so to speak, to the margins of the text and the center or main part of the page depicts the multilingual havoc of the lives of Jewish immigrants to Palestine/Israel.

Forced to rely on the marginal translation, the readers experience, albeit to a lesser extent, the characters’ own sense of not belonging, of marginalization. In Michal Arbel’s apt analysis:

We, as readers, are positioned outside [of the text.] We rely on translations because we cannot translate, because we have only one language [i.e. Hebrew]…Because we are completely Israeli: the narrative is one of a minority addressing the reader who belongs to the majority. But, paradoxically, our external standpoint pulls the rug from under our feet, undermines the “homeland,” and exiles us to some degree.46

It is necessary, nonetheless, to distinguish between the different “minority” tongues that appear in these writings, particularly between Yiddish and German as Hoffmann mediates these languages through Hebrew. In the story “The Book of Joseph,” the Russian tailor Yosef Zilberman, having fled to Berlin after his wife is murdered in a pogrom, is treated by a German doctor who likes “the Jewish language” (ha-safa ha-yehudit), that is to say Yiddish, and believes that it is nothing but “old German.”47 Another tailor-character appears in the story “Ketskhen” (Kätzchen) published in the same 1988 collection but set in Mandatory Palestine, and he too converses in Yiddish and is thereby marked as Eastern European. “Kommen Sie herein af a gleizl te,” the tailor bids Ketskhen’s Viennese aunt. He stitches together the two languages, starting out in a formal German register with “please come inside” and ending in the informal Yiddish, “for a cup of tea.” In response, the aunt’s eyes harden up—they had previously softened when the tailor stated, in German, that “he had been to Vienna”— and she refuses with an apology, “es tut mir leid.” The tailor’s slippage into Yiddish is both an intimate gesture and a reminder of his lower status. The child-protagonist, Ketskhen—Kätzchen means little cat or kitten in German, and this nickname is also transliterated and Hebraized in the process—does not comprehend these linguistic dynamics and believes that his aunt is “sad” because “she did not want the tailor’s cup of tea.”48 What she does not desire, of course, is his Yiddish cup of tea.

The characters of “Ketskhen,” who all exist on the margins of the Zionist, Hebrew- and English-speaking world of pre-1948 Palestine, ironically use language to distinguish themselves from others, to divide up the world and [End Page 120] its objects. Ketskhen lives, by contrast, in a “private and primordial” multilingual continuum, where, as Ḥanah Hertsig has written, “different languages (German, Hebrew, Arabic) ‘are mixed up’ and likened to each other.”49 Hoffmann juxtaposes Ketskhen’s perspective with the harsher reality of language politics, where linguistic choices promote divisions according to class, race, and gender. Hoffmann’s marginal translations themselves exhibit a persistent asymmetry, for German is often the unmarked language in both “Kätzchen” and “The Book of Joseph,” whereas Yiddish is always marked as such with phrase “in Yiddish” prefacing every translation into Hebrew. The relationship between text and margins in Hoffmann’s writing thus enacts the notion of translation as a negotiation of asymmetrical double- or multiple-situatedness. With the marking of Yiddish as such, the translations in the margins suggest that for Hoffmann’s characters Yiddish was perceived as the “other” to German, itself the language of European foreignness in the Middle Eastern landscape. The Viennese Aunt Oppenheim’s supercilious attitude toward the tailor reveals her own insecurity in the Zionist, pre-statehood environment, which she soon after leaves to return to Vienna.

The same tailor also argues with the German-speaking Hungarian character Max over the Yiddish phrase “nu” and, more fundamentally, over the significance of Yiddish and its “trifling” utterances. When the tailor visits Max and drinks a bowl of soup, he states “nu, nu!” (well, well) to which Max angrily answers in German “nu nu ist gar nichts” (“nu nu is nothing at all.”) The tailor then asserts, in his Galician Yiddish dialect, “gurnisht iz gurnisht,” which Hoffmann translates in the margins: “In Yiddish—nothing is nothing.” Punning on the Yiddish idiom gurnisht mit gurnisht (nothing at all, or literally “nothing with nothing”), the tailor’s phrase implies that nothing is something or is itself. Max’s retort combines Yiddish and German: “nu nu ist gurnisht” (“nu nu is nothing”), an utterance that Hoffmann does not translate. The tailor reverts back to Hebrew, asking “what [Max has] got against [him] today.” Ketskhen’s uncle Arthur subsequently intervenes to assert, in German, that “nu nu ist etwas” (“nu nu is something”) and then that “nu” is “everything.”50

Unlike the story’s readers, the participants in this exchange have no need of a translator, for they clearly understand each other and interchangeably use German, Yiddish, and Hebrew, switching between languages even mid-sentence. This is not an exchange among equals, however, since Yiddish is the language of repetition and nonsense, whereas the philosophical “truth” that can redeem this supposed nonsense—“nu nu is everything”—is uttered in German. The multilingual exchange and the mock seriousness with which it is reported and translated in the margins affirm, nonetheless, the significance of the supposedly trifling and minute unit of meaning, “nu,” emblematic of Yiddish in general. By equating “nu nu” with “nothing,” Max dismisses the Yiddish language at large, but the tailor translates the German “gar nichts” back into “gurnisht,” voicing a tautology that reasserts Yiddish’s viability as an alternative to German. When Max concludes the banter by pronouncing in German that since “nu nu” is everything, “everything is nothing,” the tailor utters “nu nu” again. Coming full circle, the tailor’s utterance suggests that [End Page 121] the Yiddish “well well” encapsulates all the above equations and that it is the only adequate response to Max’s paradoxical conclusion that “everything is nothing.”

Hoffmann uses, not coincidently, an utterance, nu, that has become part of everyday Hebrew speech in Israel—it signals impatience and the desire for the addressee to hurry up; it can also suggest skepticism on the speaker’s part. Hoffmann defamiliarizes the commonplace nu via this re-association with Yiddish and through the entire exchange. He also does not use in Hebrew the standardized Yiddish spelling of gurnisht (“inline graphic”), but instead transliterates the word into Hebrew (“inline graphic”).51 In this manner Hoffmann maintains the specific regional Yiddish pronunciation for the Hebrew reader while at the same time creating a new Yiddish-Hebrew combination, a third language as it were. The artificiality of this choice contributes to the overall linguistic estrangement in Hoffmann’s writing. In Michal Arabel’s words, “Hebrew is a foreign tongue [in “Ketskhen”] since it is foreign to those closest to Ketskhen and to him as well…they speak a Hebrew of foreigners.” Hoffmann pits the idea of Hebrew as a foreign tongue over and against Zionist Hebrew, used in the story by members of the Kibbutz as a violent means of enforcing a single world view and ignoring “the infinite multiplicity of languages.”52

Still, Hoffmann recognizes and plays with the predominance of Hebrew and its writing system in his characters’ world and in his own writing. At the end of the scene described above, the tailor’s “nu nu” reminds Ketskhen of his deceased mother’s German utterance “ja, ja,” and the boy is “filled with affection for the tailor.”53 Transliterating the entire exchange into Hebrew letters, Hoffmann levels out the different languages and treats them as “Jewish” tongues, thereby setting the stage for Ketskhen’s associative leap between Yiddish and German. The decision to transpose all the languages of this story into Hebrew letters, to filter the multiplicity of languages through one pronunciation/transliteration system, supports the overall focalization of the story from the perspective of the child Ketskhen. This formal choice also demonstrates what Jacques Derrida has called the contradictory, even mad, law of translation according to which the following two axioms can coexist: “we only ever speak one language,” but “we never only speak one language.” Interpolated into Hebrew, the “monolingualism of the other,” Hoffmann’s protagonists never speak only one language, while his text speaks only one language.54

Already on the first page, for instance, the informal German command “komm” (come) typographically resembles in transliteration the Hebrew imperative “kum” (rise.) Despite his use of diacritical markers, this resemblance is heightened when Hoffmann immediately writes that Ketskhen’s uncle rises to his feet after uttering “komm.”55 At a later point in the story, Ketskhen escapes the Kibbutz and runs after an old Arab, falling asleep in his tent. The man wakes him up with the word “kom,” which Hoffmann translates, “in Arabic—get up, in German—come.” The German and Arabic words are both typographically and acoustically identical (unlike the Hebrew kum), and they enable the conflation, in Ketskhen’s imagination, of his uncle Arthur and the man: “‘The old man,’ thought Ketskhen, ‘is a kind of Uncle Arthur. Sometimes [End Page 122] he talks in Uncle Arthur’s language and sometimes in another language.” When the man asks Ketskhen in Arabic “what is your name?” (shu ismak), the boy does not need any translation and immediately responds correctly.56 Like Ketskhen himself, the reader is made to feel at times as though the transliterated foreign languages are Hebrew and that translations are unnecessary, or can become transparent. Furthermore, Hoffmann turns the foreign German into a local tongue through its conflation with Arabic, in contrast to the alienated status of Zionist Hebrew.

In general, Hoffmann makes language differences both palpably present and transparent, and he underscores this paradoxical duality in a passage concerning the difference between Hebrew and German. Toward the end of the story, Ketskhen is reunited with his father, Ernst, and the two escape from the institution for the mentally ill into which Ernst has been admitted. The father then declares: “‘Before my eyes…there is glass and a bird pecking at it all the time.’” Ketskhen visualizes this statement and the image and sound of the bird “emerged in German”; translating the father’s words into an image, the boy wonders why this “picture needed a language to draw itself.” He then surmises, “‘[i]f Ernst could talk in Hebrew…he would not see the glass because of its transparency, and the bird would have flown elsewhere.’” Ketskhen decides to ask his father directly, but he does so in German: “‘Vater… warum sprichts du nicht Ivrit?” (Father, why do you not speak Ivrit [Hebrew?]) The father echoes the word “Ivrit,” which sounds “like German in his mouth.” He then recites the first verse of Genesis “in a strange melody,” possibly in an Ashkenazic intonation that diverges from the Sephardic pronunciation adopted by twentieth-century Hebrew-speakers. Filled with a “fear that his father would leave him,” Ketskhen exclaims that he too has a glass with a bird pecking at it before his eyes.57

According to this passage, there is no pre-linguistic reality, and pictures need words to draw themselves in our mind; therefore, the question of which language one uses to think and speak is all the more crucial. The bird pecking at the glass, suggestive of a constant linguistic mediation and disturbance, threatens the German viewer/speaker with blindness, intimating the potential for madness as well. The use of German in Palestine imposes a life of intransparency and negotiation, whereas the use of Hebrew, Ketskhen imagines, would allow his father to avoid this linguistic impasse and regain his sanity. For Ernst, however, even the word for the Hebrew tongue, Ivrit, is pronounced in German, and the Bible can be recited only in a diasporic dialect. Ketskhen’s question applies to Hoffmann’s text as a whole—why do you not speak a transparent Ivrit?—for Hoffmann could easily have used a more homogenous Hebrew and done away with all the pecking birds in the text and its margins that prevent his text from being more readable. As in Ernst’s case, Hoffmann’s Ivrit is a foreign-sounding tongue. It is his only language, yet it is also not his, to echo Derrida’s statement regarding his “native” French.58 Ancient Hebrew, the language of biblical creation, must be distinguished from modern Hebrew, the story implies, rather than treated as one of two endpoints in a continuous whole, in line with Zionist ideology. The readers of [End Page 123] Ketskhen” and other works by Hoffmann encounter a multivalent text that wavers between transparency and opacity, a text that requires them to use the lens of marginal translation as they attempt to draw pictures on the basis of multiple languages.

For Ben Yitzhak, translation and rewriting served as productive minor practices, rather than mere scaffolding for monolingual creativity and creation. Similarly, Hoffmann’s characters not only go mad in translation but also thrive on translation, using it creatively to adapt in Hebrew. In the 1989 book Bernhard, the protagonist happily thinks to himself: “‘Stolpern’ is ‘lim‘od’ [to trip.] ‘Lim’ is like ‘limon’ [lemon.] ‘Od’ is ‘noch’ [more.] ‘More lemon’ in reverse ‘limon od, ’ but without… ‘on.’”59 Bernhard not only translates from German into Hebrew, but he also tries to make sense of the Hebrew sounds and to remember the verb pronunciation, using simpler nouns like “lemon.” He trips over the Hebrew word lim‘od but also reconfigures it in the process, breaking it into components that are then rearranged. As readers, we also trip over the foreign words, like “stolpern,” that are embedded in Hoffmann’s Hebrew text, and we must reassemble them with the help of the surrounding context and the margins. Hoffmann renews modern Hebrew in the process, creating fresh associations with foreign tongues as well as internal associations with other Hebrew words, revitalizing lim‘od with a newly acquired lemony fragrance. The diasporic and alienated condition of Hoffmann’s protagonist—like that of the historical Ben Yitzhak vis-à-vis the sphere of Hebrew letters—becomes a privileged position for multilingual experimentation and cultural critique.

In a public lecture on her (joint) translation of the poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch, Kronfeld argued for the inseparability of the poetics and politics of translation, particularly when the “translation project moves from a minoritarian language like Hebrew…to a majoritarian language like English.” Rather than allowing English to “erase” or “defang” the political edge of Hebrew writing, Kronfeld pushes English “beyond its comfort level” in order to convey the ironic, sarcastic, or macabre tone of the original Hebrew.60 Well aware of the power invested in the practice of translation, despite its relative invisibility, Ben Yitzhak and Hoffmann have used translation to revisit the language ideologies surrounding the construction of Hebrew as a majoritarian language, as a modern national tongue. In the work of both writers, translation becomes a means of disavowing the monolingual paradigm and ironizing language politics. They further triangulated German and Hebrew through Yiddish, thereby recognizing the latter language’s propensity for both avant-garde poetry and philosophical insight.

Ben Yitzhak and Hoffmann have used translation and rewriting, be it hidden or overt, to push Hebrew itself beyond its comfort zone, whether this meant recasting it as a highly secularized, minimalist means of modernist expression or rendering it unfamiliar and opaque via transliteration and word-play. Having published his early works during the First Intifada, Hoffmann [End Page 124] both exposes and resists the aggressive predominance of Hebrew by evoking the past multilingualism of the country’s immigrant society, while also alluding to its present state of linguistic disarray. His marked Yiddish is ultimately the “Zen koan” tongue that, perhaps nostalgically, can counter both German elitism and Hebrew alienation. Before Ben Yitzhak could adopt such a position towards his “lost” Yiddish tongue, he would first utterly reject and denigrate it for the sake of Hebrew’s “revival”; later on, however, he began using Yiddish in his unpublished post-war poetic experimentation. The asymmetrical and always shifting terrain of Hebrew-Yiddish-German relations in the published and unpublished oeuvres of both writers suggests that we should not attempt to “grasp” their writings as a thematic or linguistic “whole” that must be reassembled. Their texts reveal, rather, a very poetics of incompleteness, the most salient illustration of which is perhaps to be found in their constant translation from and into the margins. [End Page 125]

Maya Barzilai
The University of Michigan
Maya Barzilai

Maya Barzilai is Assistant Professor of Hebrew Literature and Jewish Culture at the University of Michigan. She received her PhD in comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley in 2009, and was fortunate to have Chana Kronfeld serve as a member of her dissertation committee. Under Kronfeld’s tutelage, she studied Hebrew and Yiddish modernisms as well as lyric theory, and she benefited immensely from Kronfeld’s rigorous, astute, and generous mentorship and readership. Barzilai is currently completing her book manuscript, “The Golem Condition: Imagining Creation in an Age of War,” and has published essays on Hebrew literature and German-Hebrew translation in Comparative Literature, Prooftexts, and Naharaim.


1. “The translator’s invisibility is thus a weird self-annihilation, a way of conceiving and practicing translation that undoubtedly reinforces its marginal status….” Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation (New York: Routledge, 2008), 7.

2. Chana Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 5.

3. Tejaswini Niranjana, Siting Translation: History, Post-Structuralism, and the Colonial Context (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 2.

4. Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), 9, 8.

5. Seidman, Faithful Renderings, 10. Niranjana, Siting Translation, 21. In his memoir concerning “Dr. Sonne,” Elias Canetti relates that Ben Yitzhak could “quote any passage from any book [of the Bible] verbatim, and translate it without hesitation into a supremely beautiful German that struck [him] as the language of a poet.” Elias Canetti, The Play of the Eyes, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986), 142.

6. Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism, 16–17.

7. The 1910 poem “Mizmor” (Psalm) originated in the German poem “Gesang” (Song), and the Hebrew was in turn translated by Ben Yitzhak back into German in 1915 as “Dem Dichter” (For the Poet.); Central Zionist Archive (hereafter CZA), A165/22, A165/5.

8. In addition to poetry, Ben Yitzhak wrote short prose, essays, notes, and even a film script in German, suggesting that while he did not publish very much in this language it served as an important tool for creative experimentation. CZA, A165/5. See also Maya Barzilai, “A Poetics of Statelessness: Avraham Ben Yitzhak after World War I,” Naharaim: Journal for German-Jewish Literature and Cultural History, forthcoming.

9. Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism, 16.

10. Leah Goldberg, Pegisha ‘im meshorer: al Avraham Ben Yitzhak Sonne (Merḥavya: Sifriyat po‘alim, 1952), 57.

11. Ben Yitzhak’s archive contains not only self-translations but also translations of works by others. His translations of Friedrich Nietzsche and Rainer Maria Rilke were published in Hebrew and translated into English, whereas his translations of Ḥaim Naḥman Bialik into German have never been printed. See Avraham Ben Yitzhak, Kol ha-shirim, ed. Hannan Hever (Tel Aviv: Ha-kibbutz ha-me’uhad, 1992), 59–60.

12. The two writers also exhibit(ed) reclusive tendencies, avoiding the limelight of fame and publicity. As Goldberg relates, Ben Yitzhak refused to publish anything under his name already when living in Vienna and continued this refusal after arriving in Palestine. He would deliver spontaneous oral “lectures” on various topics like Russian poetry or contemporary classical music, agreeing to have his ideas printed in the pages of another scholar’s book without receiving any recognition. Goldberg, Pegisha im meshorer, 51–52. Hoffmann, in turn, refuses to promote his books in the media or to expose himself in any way. He has never provided an interview to a journalist or revealed any details about his personal life.

13. As Tuvia Rübner writes, Sonne would meet on a weekly basis with a group of German-speaking acquaintances, including Martin Buber, at a café in the Reḥavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, where he would reminisce about Vienna and Viennese writers. The writer Werner Kraft also reported to Rübner that once, in private, Sonne recited to him part of a poem in German that ended with the image of someone holding the sun in his hand, and this was his own Hebrew poem “Mizmor,” although he never mentioned the name of the author. Tuvia Rübner, “Ha-tamid bli omer: al Avraham Ben Yitzhak,” Meḥkarei yerushalayim be-sifrut ‘ivrit 9(1986): 311–323, esp. 313.

14. Yasemin Yildiz has coined the term “postmonolingual” to designate the period following the “monolingual paradigm” that emerged in German letters in the late eighteenth century. The term also suggests, as in the case of Hoffmann, a critical “struggle against the monolingual paradigm.” Yasemin Yildiz, Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 4. For a fascinating discussion of the ambivalent relationship toward non-Jewish European languages among Zionists in Palestine see also Liora Halperin, “Other Tongues: The Place of Lo‘azit in Hebrew Culture,” in Reflections on Knowledge and Language in Middle Eastern Societies, ed. Bruno De Nicola, Yonatan Mendel, and Husain Qutbuddin (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010.) [End Page 126]

15. Hannan Hever has discussed the existence of German originals and translation for several of Ben Yitzhak’s well-known Hebrew poems, as well as translations from and into German of other poets. He even notes that “in Vienna the possibility of becoming a bilingual poet also presented itself” to Ben Yitzhak. See Ben Yitzhak, Kol ha-shirim, 85–86; Hannan Hever, Periḥat ha-dumiya: shirat Avraham Ben Yitzhak (Tel Aviv: ha-kibbutz ha-me’uhad, 1993), 11–12.

16. CZA, A126/26.

17. Ben Yitzhak’s response to Lipschütz is found in the Avraham Schwadron (Sharon) Archive, the Jewish National and University Library, ARC. 4º 1215. All translations from German and Yiddish are mine unless otherwise noted.

18. Seidman, Faithful Renderings, 181.

19. Canetti recalls that Sonne had many objections to Martin Buber’s translation of the Bible, in collaboration with Franz Rosenzweig. Nonetheless, with regard to ruaḥ, Buber contended in a manner reminiscent of Ben Yitzhak’s use of the term that it “denotes not one of the two meanings but both together and undivided: the primordial surging from God, which takes on a natural form in ‘wind,’ a psychological form in ‘spirit.’” Canetti, The Play of the Eyes, 142, 146–147; Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Scripture and Translation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 86–87.

20. One draft of the poem “Malkhut” contains both a Hebrew and a German version on the same page, so that it becomes difficult to determine which version came first. CZA, A165/5.

21. CZA, A165/5.

22. Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism, 239 n. 23.

23. Hever, Periḥat ha-dumiya, 152–153; Dan Pagis, “Happy Are They Who Sow ” in The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself, ed. Stanley Burnshaw, et al. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.)

24. Jonathan Culler, “Apostrophe,” in The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 142–143.

25. CZA, A165/22. Emphasis added. The theme of the storm at sea recurs in a short Hebrew draft: “To Anka//Why stray after my sail,/yellow butterfly, with silken wings/I’ve neither shore nor goal,/and my mast has been snapped by the storm.” Avraham Ben Yitzhak, Collected Poems, trans. Peter Cole (Jerusalem: Ibis, 2003), 58–59.

26. CZA, A165/19.

27. Hannan Hever, “Reshito tisge: ‘iyun be-shirav ha-rishonim shel Avraham Ben Yitzhak le-or ḥomer min ha-arkhiyon,” Siman kri’a 12/13(1981): 393–442, esp. 406.

28. Robert Alter, The Invention of Hebrew Prose: Modern Fiction and the Language of Realism (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 13.

29. In an essay published after the death of S. Y. Abramovitch (Mendele Mokher Sforim), Ben Yitzhak does not regard Abramovitch as a bilingual, Yiddish-Hebrew author, but as one who left behind, even banished, the “gesticulations” and “temptations” of the “folk” and fully adopted the clear-cut, enduring lines of Hebrew. Abraham Sonne, “Ein Wort über Mendele,” Der Jude 3(1918–1919): 239–242, esp. 240.

30. According to Seidman, while the “myth of Yiddish femininity” is a product of the formation of a large body of Yiddish literature addressed to women, already in the mid-nineteenth century this myth “had taken on a powerful independent existence out of all proportion to the circumstances of Yiddish literary history.” For an analysis of the Hebrew-Yiddish sexual-linguistic system in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, see Naomi Seidman, A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.)

31.Safa she-me‘olam lo nilḥama be‘ad emet maḥshavtit eyna ḥazaka eyna gavrutit” (A language that has not fought for intellectual truth is not strong is not masculine.) CZA, A165/3.

32. CZA, A165/4.

33. Dan Miron, From Continuity to Contiguity: Toward a New Jewish Literary Thinking (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 486.

34. CZA, A165/26.

35. CZA, A165/5.

36. An influential article by Ben Yitzhak’s mentor, Lipschütz, summarizes this approach to the Hebrew language. He claims that Hebrew was never a dead language, but instead was the “spiritual bearer of [Jewish] folklore” so that the “common psychological life of Jews in the diaspora was always Hebrew.” E. M. Lipschütz, “Vom lebendigen Hebräisch,” Der Jude 3(1918/1919): 228–239, esp. 230–231.

37. CZA, A165/4.

38. Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism, 179. [End Page 127]

39. CZA, A165/22.

40. Ben Yitzhak, Collected Poems, 60–61.

41. CZA A165/22; I am grateful to Michael Krutikov, Chana Kronfeld, and Robert Adler Peckerar for their insightful comments on the poem and its translation.

42. Goldberg, Pegisha im meshorer, 16.

43. Yael Chaver has documented and analyzed the extensive cultural production in Yiddish within the boundaries of the Jewish Yishuv in pre-statehood Palestine, despite “official denial” and general ambivalence, including nineteen Yiddish literary magazines and scores of works of poetry and fiction. See Yael Chaver, What Must Be Forgotten: The Survival of Yiddish in Zionist Palestine (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004), xv.

44. Emily S. Apter, The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 6.

45. Neta Stahl has compared the layout of Hoffmann’s text to the Talmudic style of commentary, where the main central text is surrounded by interpretations and commentaries. If Hoffmann had this scriptural tradition in mind on the typographical level, it should be noted that only translations appear in his margins and they do not take up all the space, leaving a large white frame around the text. Neta Stahl, “‘Not Being at One’s Home’: Yoel Hoffmann and the Formal Representation of Otherness,” Prooftexts 30(2010): 217–237, esp. 221.

46. Michal Arbel, “Matsav ha-tirgum ke-matsav shel galut: ‘Ketskehn’ le-Yoel Hoffmann,” Mozna’im 65.2(2001): 38–42, esp. 38.

47. Yoel Hoffmann, “Sefer Yosef,” in Sefer Yosef (Jerusalem: Keter, 1988), 58.

48. “Ketskhen,” in Sefer Yosef (Jerusalem: Keter, 1988), 26; “Katschen,” in Katschen & The Book of Joseph (New York: New Directions, 1999), 123.

49. Ḥanah Hertsig, Ha-shem ha-perati: masot al Yaakov Shabtai, Yehoshua Kenaz, Yoel Hoffmann (Tel Aviv: Ha-kitbuts ha-me’uḥad, 1994), 123.

50. Hoffmann, “Ketskhen,” 22–23; “Katschen,” 118.

51. In the 1989 novel Bernhard, Hoffmann at times uses the original Yiddish spelling as at the end of section 64, where he represents the speech of Hertsog’s wife in the original Yiddish without producing a translation in the margins.

52. Arbel, “Matsav ha-tirgum ke-matsav shel galut,” 38–39.

53. Hoffmann, “Ketskhen,” 23; “Katschen,” 118.

54. Jacques Derrida, The Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 10.

55. Hoffmann, “Ketskhen,” 9; “Katschen,” 97.

56. Hoffman, “Ketskhen,” 32; “Katschen,” 134.

57. In the English translation, the phrase is transliterated as follows: “Be-reyshis boro elohim es hashamayim ve-es ho-orets.” Hoffmann, “Ketskhen,” 44–45; “Katschen,” 153–154. (Amendment is mine.)

58. Derrida, The Monolingualism of the Other, 2.

59. Yoel Hoffmann, Bernhart (Jerusalem: Keter, 1919), 74.

60. “Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld on Dahlia Ravikovitch,” Center for the Art of Translation, [End Page 128]

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