Last Word

Translating and Remembering Chaim Grade

This past year marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of Vilna's greatest sons, the Yiddish poet and novelist, Chaim Grade. Born in Vilna in 1910, Grade died in New York as an old man, at the relatively young age of 72.

I translated three of Grade's most important books. In doing so, I came to understand that this actually required knowledge of four languages: not only Yiddish and English, but also Hebrew and Jewish. By Jewish I mean knowledge of the cycle of Jewish life from birth and bris through bar mitzvah, wedding, and end of life; the Shabbes and the calendar of Jewish holidays; a familiarity with Jewish liturgy, ritual, and customs; and a working knowledge of some of the basic texts of Yiddishkeyt.

Let me make an analogy. In addition to knowing English, a translator of Hamlet into Greek has to know Englishkeyt in order to understand what Hamlet means when he tells Ophelia, "Get thee to a nunnery." Otherwise he'll translate it as if it said: "Get thee to a Catholic convent," which would just show that Shakespearean English is Greek to him. Those who know Englishkeyt know that "nunnery" here means just the opposite—a brothel.

This article is locked

Subscribe now for immediate and unlimited access to Web + Print + App + Archive
  • Already a subscriber? Log in to continue reading.
  • Not quite ready to subscribe? Register now for your choice of 3 FREE articles per quarter.
  • Already a registered user? Log in here.


No comments yet.

Want to post a comment? Please register or log in.

Most Read

What Jesus Wasn’t: Zealot

When Fox News' Lauren Green asked Reza. . .

Conservative Judaism: A Requiem

In 1971, 41 percent of American Jews. . .

Editors' Picks

Everything Is PR

Peter Pomerantsev’s narrative of. . .

Learning from History

Jonathan Sarna looks back at a time when. . .

Hollywood and the Nazis

In their dealings with Germany in the. . .

In The Next JRB

  • Steven E. Aschheim on Saul Friedländer
  • Ruth R. Wisse on the Yiddish poems of Celia Dropkin
  • Adam Kirsch on Isaac Deutscher’s Non-Jewish Jew
  • And more...
Copyright © 2017 Jewish Review of Books. All Rights Reserved. | Site by W&B