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February 21, 1986 - Image 2

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Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-02-21

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2 Friday, February 21, 1986

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Translating As A Profession . . . Yiddish Gloriously Traced

Linguists in all categories will surely
share in the elation over the mobilization
for a movement to encourage translations.
At a time when language studies are
on a decline, the new movement should
serve to encourage language studies as
well as interest in the literatures of the
world in foreign languages.
Fund for the Translation of Jewish
Literature is the name under which the
new movement will function. It is spon-
sored by many notables. Its chairman, the
well-known scholar and author Lucy S.
Dawidowicz, introduces the project by stat-
ing that the Fund for the Translation of
Jewish Literature was established to
preserve "Jewish cultural continuity" by
commissioning and sponsoring the trans-
lation and publication of works of Jewish
literature.
The board of this fund includes many
notables, such as Martin Gilbert, biog-
rapher of Winston Churchill, whose The

Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe
During the Second World War has just

been published, Prof. Ruth R. Wisse of
McGill University and others. Gilbert's
many books include Jerusalem; The Re-
birth of a City, reviewed on this page Sept.
20.
Sponsoring the Library of Yiddish
Classics as its first project, the work an-
ticipated is already on a productive road.
The entire subject introduced by the
new movement draws attention to a gen-
eral theme of languages and translations.
Yiddish literature may benefit more ex-

tensively from such movements than other
literatures. Already Yiddish literary
classics are widely read in many languages
and their popularity is increasing.
The subject of language studies gener-
ally has a most interesting approach in an
article by Georg Hodos in the Suddeutsche
Zeitung, Munich, (Jan. 7) and reprinted in
the English translation in the German
Tribune, Hamburg. An earlier issue of the
German Tribune carried in an English
translation a most interesting essay on
Yiddish and its source, to be alluded to in
this discussion relating to translations.
Let there be recorded due recognition
of the values inherent in the German
Tribune. This Hamburg-published weekly
magazine consistently covers all issues of
world interest stemming from Germany. It
has published valuable data on the
Holocaust. It has revealed the conditions
during the last war, has exposed Nazis and
Nazism, never pulling punches. The value
of its services earns appreciation.
Undoubtedly relating to all foreign
language studies, the subject is interest-
ingly accounted for in the Hodos Sud-
deutsche Zeitung article: "German Studies
in the U.S.: A Tradition on the Decline."
Using Los Angeles as a basis, tracing the
background of a dominant German, listing
many of the most famous German writers
who had a role in a deep and devotional
interest in German, Hodos describes the
decline. He reveals: "The number of aca-
demic chairs was reduced, Ph.D. programs
were pruned. It was a vicious circle that by

the early 1980s had led to only eight per-
cent of U.S. universities insisting on
foreign language credits as an entry qual-
ification."

The fact is that this is applicable to all
languages. The era when Latin was com-
pulsory for university enrollment is gone.
Drawing upon the conditions especially af-
fecting the German language, Hodos
points to the following:
German studies have been a
particularly heavy loser. In the
mid-1960s there were still 50 stu-
dents at the German faculty of
Columbia University, New York,
and at least half a dozen PhDs a
year were awarded.
Today the faculty has a mere
six graduate students, and last
year not a single postgraduate
submitted a PhD thesis in German
studies.
The number of professors at
the faculty has declined from
seven to three, and those that re-
main must for the most part make
do with German language teaching
for a declining band of students for
whom German is a subsidiary sub-
ject.
Over the past 20 years students
of German at U.S. universities have
declined in number from 216,000 to
126,000 — a much steeper decline
than that of students of the other
four main modern languages

Liptzin On Author's Fascination With Bible

Aliyah to Israel may not have made
extensive progress in recent years, yet the
attraction of settlement in Israel from
scholarly ranks continues to some degree.
Many rabbis have made and are mak-
ing Israel their sanctified retirement
home. Additionally, Israel's universities
have magnetic power for American stu-
dents.
Scholarships in the Israeli univer-
sities have become a means for Zionists to
link the U.S. with Israel. The Zionist
Organization for Detroit has a program for
scholastic action that is bearing fruit in the
educational values provided for those
benefiting from such programs.
Especially notable in the sharing
scholarships by the U.S. and Israeli Jewish
communities is the settlement of eminent
scholars in the process of aliyah. Dr. Moshe
Davis, head of the Institute of Contempor-
ary Jewry headquartered at the Hebrew
University, continues to enrich Jewish
scholarship with his own writings and by
encouraging fellow scholars and aca-
demicians. His Sir Moses Montefiore:
American Jewry's Ideal, reviewed here re-
cently, evidenced the importance of his
work.
Prof. Sol Liptzin, who settled in Israel
in 1962 upon his retirement as professor
emeritus and former chairman of the de-
partment of Germanic and Slavic litera-
ture of the City University of New York,
now has to his credit, as author of a score of
books, a very notable study of the influence
of Bible characters and events upon the
most famous in world characters and
events upon the most famous in world lit-
erature.
Dr. Liptzin surely has an important
place among the American settlers in Is-
rael. His works on Yiddish, its history and
literature, among the importantly re-
searched works he has authored over a
period of more than 40 years, include hint
among the leaders in Jewish scholarly pur-
suits. He continued his writings and his

Prof. Sol Liptzin

latest work, published toward the end of
1985, has special merit. His Biblical
Themes in World Literature (Ktav) em-
braces so many distinguished authors,
among them the most eminent, that Prof.
Liptzin could well call it his magnum opus.
Dr. Liptzin indicates how Bible
themes became the, titles for great works
by the most distinguished in literature.
There are 28 themes covered in as many
chapters, and their significance become
apparent in such works as "Joseph Thomas
Mann"; the Moses topic by Friedrich Schil-
ler; the dramatization of Samson, as bully
and hero, by Hans Sachs; the love of David
and Michal dramatized by David Pinski;
and many, many more incidents, episodes
and Bible personalities.
There is an afterword to the latest
Liptzin work by Elie Wiesel that adds par-
ticular interest to the Biblical Themes in
World Literature. Commenting on "the
Bible as a source of inspiration," Wiesel

calls "their characters dramatic, their
dramas timeless, their triumphs and de-
feats overwhelming." He commends "the
erudition, both Jewish and secular" of the
author, praising Dr. Liptzin's talent as
storyteller and literary commentator.
Thereupon, Wiesel wrote a partial summa-
tion of the noteworthy topicality of
Liptzin's anthologically superb work on
the Bible heroes: .
Cain's fascination for Col-
eridge and Schiller, Joseph's for
Thomas Mann, Moses as inter-
preted by Alfred de Vigny and
Freud, the relationship between
Ruth and Medea, Voltaire's pity
for King Saul, D. H. Lawrence's
dramatization of David — you
must read and reread these
analyses and studies in the chap-
ters of this admirable and enrich-
ing book.
Perhaps even more stimulat-
ing are the sections which the
author devotes to minor char-
acters of the Bible; for example,
Hagar, Sarah's servant, and
Asenath, Joseph's wife. Why are
they neglected in the Scriptures
and even in postbiblical commen-
taries? And why such fierce hostil-
ity to Lilith? And what explains
Jephthah's cruelty to his daugh-
ter?
or generations, writers and
p ojs, dramatists and painters,
composers and historians have
been drawn to these men and
women of the biblical realm, who,
although mortal and profoundly
human, have achieved some meas-
ures of immortality. Thanks to Sol
Liptzin, you will know better, and
perhaps yourself as well.
Dr. Liptzin adds to these evaluations
of the Bible characters an important chap-

/

Continued on Page 28

Dawidowicz

Gilbert

taught: French, Russian, Spanish
and Italian.
German faculties have been
wound up at 150 universities and
colleges, while half the 70 univer-
sities that still award German
studies degrees are in the same
position as Columbia. They have
no PhD students.
Applicable to the subject is Hodos'
quotation of what the New York Times
called the "linguistic arrogance of the
great power attitude that sought to elevate
English to the status of a universal lingua

franca."

This leads to a discussion of the status
of Yiddish, impressively treated in an arti-
cle by Knut Barrey in Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung fur Deutschland of
Frankfurt (Jan. 3) reprinted in an English
translation in the Hamburg German
Tribune (Jan. 19). In order fully to ap-
preciate this long essay, which is also re-
plete with Yiddish quotations and humor,
the heading on the article is vital to the
discussion. Here it is:

In a terrible Schlamassel, I
ask: 'Josef, hoste geganwet
majn mantl?"

In his fascinatingly instructive essay,
Barrey points out as the very outset of the
last war some 11-12 million of the world's
15-16 million Jews spoke Yiddish.
Barrey goes back to the origin of Yid-
dish and traces the many German words
that dominate Yiddish as well as the many
Yiddish terms that have crept into Ger-
man. The introductory is so explicit in Bar-
rey's analyses that it merits borrowing in a
certainty that it will fascinate all who are
re-introduced to the origin of Yiddish and
its status in relation to the German whence
much of the language was captured. Bar-
rey indicates:
It seems to have originated
among Jews on the upper and
middle Rhine in the 11th Century
AD and to have combined
medieval German dialect, Hebrew
words and expressions from shul
and the Torah and scraps of Old
French and Italian.
Centuries — and pogroms —
later, it moved with what was left
of the Jewish community to East-
ern Europe and now, in the wake of
the Nazi holocaust, its days are
arguably numbered.
Yiddish expressions are wide-
spread in German. All of us use
them, although few will be aware
that phrases such Hula and Bein-
bruch! are Yiddish.
To wish a skier Halsgand Bein-
brach (literally: "Break Your neck
and legsl") may seem toinake sense
in an upsidedown sort of way.
In reality the words are

Continued on Page 28

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