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A History of German Jewish Bible Translation

Between 1780 and 1937, Jews in Germany produced numerous new translations of the Hebrew Bible into German. Intended for Jews who were trilingual, reading Yiddish, Hebrew, and German, they were meant less for religious use than to promote educational and cultural goals. Not only did translations give Jews vernacular access to their scripture without Christian intervention, but they also helped showcase the Hebrew Bible as a work of literature and the foundational text of modern Jewish identity.

This book is the first in English to offer a close analysis of German Jewish translations as part of a larger cultural project. Looking at four distinct waves of translations, Abigail Gillman juxtaposes translations within each that sought to achieve similar goals through differing means. As she details the history of successive translations, we gain new insight into the opportunities and problems the Bible posed for different generations and gain a new perspective on modern German Jewish history.

320 pages | 31 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017 

History: European History

Jewish Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: Germanic Languages

Philosophy: Logic and Philosophy of Language

Religion: Judaism


"In this fascinating book Gillman provides the first comprehensive overview of this phenomenon in English, tracing the development of the translations in the context of the Haskalah, Science of Judaism, modern Jewish denominations, and modernist aesthetics. . . . The book can be highly recommended to anyone interested in the reception of the Bible and in German Jewish history and culture."

Journal of Modern Jewish Studies

A History of German Jewish Bible Translation is important because the subject of Bible translations is a key to the mentalité of German Jewry since Moses Mendelssohn. With a novel handle on a complex body of literature, Professor Gillman has crafted an original conceptual grid to overcome the atomized character of eleven distinct translations that, until now, have defied treatment by a single scholar. Gillman’s goal is not to discuss all translations, but rather to highlight the endless effort by German Jews to cultivate their religious identity in a Christian body politic deeply ambivalent about their integration.”

Ismar Schorsch, Jewish Theological Seminary

“Abigail Gillman’s work is a major scholarly achievement, indeed probably the most comprehensive study to date of the 170-year tradition of Jewish Bible translations into German. Gillman’s history is at the same time an important contribution to our understanding of the unique German-Jewish encounter in modernity, that is, of the philosophical, literary, cultural, and linguistic junction that brought to the world the likes of Moses Mendelssohn, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Else Lasker-Schüler, Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem, Nelly Sachs, and Paul Celan, to name only a few luminaries. I am hard pressed to think of another book that brings together such a thorough consideration of Biblical translation across languages and cultures.”

Amir Eshel, Stanford University

"Abigail Gilman’s…is the first full-fledged book to offer a history of German Jewish bible translation as a whole…Gillman’s discussion seems to leave little untouched: from comparative textual analysis, through the paratextual level of introductions, commentary, and visual aspects, on to the biographies of the translator, their cultural environment, both Jewish and (too often neglected in previous studies) Christian, up to the contemporary reception and later legacies."

Ran HaCohen | Shofar

“…without doubt one of the most learned and eloquent books in her interdisciplinary field and one of the most profound reflections on the Jewish encounter with modernity. It is a multi-layered book that will excite the novice and the expert alike, and that will speak to us for time to come. Finally, it is a book that resembles an intricate work of art deserving nothing less than the title of a masterpiece.”

Asher D. Biemann | The German Quarterly

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Introduction. The German Jewish Bible in Context

1. The First Wave: Jewish Enlightenment Bibles in Yiddish and German

Introduction: Translation Revolution
First Steps to Culture: Title Pages of Blitz and Witzenhausen Bibles (1678, 1679)
The Story of the Blitz and Witzenhausen Bibles
From Yiddish to German: A New Genealogy
First Impressions: Mendelssohn’s Page Layout
Mendelssohn’s First Steps: Translating Jehuda Halevi and Biblical Poetry
Mendelssohn’s Christian Contexts
Verse Comparisons: An Idiom in Formation
Excursus on Mendelssohn’s Commentary: Explaining the Ways of Language
Apologias: The Religious Mandate of the Modern Translator
Manifestos: The Jewish Translator as Modern Author
Conclusion: Reframing the Legacy

2. The Second Wave: Emergence of a Bible Industry

Introduction: That Red, Red Stuff
Contexts of the Second Wave
Moving Beyond Mendelssohn
The New Hebraism: The Bibles of Joseph Johlson and Leopold Zunz
Reception of the Johlson and Zunz Bibles
Gotthold Salomon’s Volks- und Schulbibel
Salomon Herxheimer’s Bible: A Be’ur for Jews and Christians
Legacies of the Second Wave

3. The Third Wave: The Bible as Gesamtkunstwerk

Introduction: Redesigning the German Jewish Bible
Contexts of the Third Wave
Philippson and Hirsch: Biographies
Philippson and Hirsch: Mission Statements
Philippson: Unifying the Hebrew Bible
Philippson: Picturing the National Story
Commentary of Philippson and Hirsch
Hirsch’s Phonetic System: Explaining the Bible from Within
Hirsch versus the Orthodox Bible Society
Philippson and Hirsch: Menorah
Legacies of the Third Wave

4. The Fourth Wave: Reimagining the German Jewish Bible

Introduction: Reframing the History
A Friendship in Letters: Buber and Pappenheim (1916–1936)
Educators with Many Pedagogies: Buber, Pappenheim, Rosenzweig
Rosenzweig and Jehuda Halevi: First Steps to Translation
Buber’s Creative Retellings
Luther and Torzcyner: Stepping-Stones of the Buber-Rosenzweig Bible
Pappenheim’s Yiddish Tanach
Excursus: The Tsene-Rene, Then and Now
Mission Statements: Bibles for People Today
Methodological Consensus in the Fourth Wave
Methodological Dissensus in the Fourth Wave
The Limits of Reimagination
Legacies of the Fourth Wave: A Female Moses and Jewish Luther

Epilogue: Ma shemo? The Name of God in the German Jewish Bible


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