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R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, JTS and Different Translations

Dr. Meir Hildesheimer has written about R. Samson Raphael Hirsch at Seforim. An ironic bibliographical note, which I always found interesting, is that the translator into English of Hirsch’s The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel: Being a Spiritual Presentation of the Principles of Judaism, was none other than R. Dr. Bernard Drachman, a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and at one time the dean of JTS. His affiliation with JTS was apparently OK for the first edition of The Nineteen Letters published by Funk & Wagnalls in 1899, as it was for the 1942 reprint by Bloch Publishing, but when it was later reprinted by Feldheim, this was omitted.

The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel ... - Google Book Search-1.jpg
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An additional difference between the Feldheim edition and the original Drachman, is that the translation is different. I took a quick look at the first two pages, and notice some of the differences which I will italicize and bold.

F & W/Bloch edition Feldheim 1959 edition, see update below
My Dear Naphtali:
When, recently, on the
occasion of your trip through
the town of my residence
,
we were privileged to meet
again, after many years of
separation, for a short fleeting
hour, you did not imagine,
my dear Naphtali, what interest
the subject of our conversation had-and,
indeed, still has-for me.
You found me so changed in my
religious views and practices that,
despite your habitual tolerance,
you could not suppress the questions
which rose, as it were, spontaneously
to your lips, “Since when?” and “Why?”
As answer I gave you a whole series of
accusations against Judaism,
concerning which my eyes
had been opened
by reading and
contact with the world since I had
left home and parents.

You showed me that the only
sources of my knowledge were,
on the one hand, the mechanical
practice of parental customs and
a few imperfect and undigested
fragments of the Bible and Talmud
acquired from Polish teachers,
and on the other hand, Christian writers
,
modern reformers, and especially
that view of life which
our present age has brought forth,
and which has,
as its chief endeavor,
the suppression of the inner
voice of conscience
in favor of the external demands
of comfort and ease.
My Dear Naphtali:
When, recently, we met again
after many years of separation
you did not imagine what
interest the subject of our
conversation had for me.
You found me so changed in my
religious views and practices that,
despite your usual tolerance,
you could not help asking
“Since when?” and “Why?”
I answered you with a
whole series of accusations
against Judaism, based
upon my reading and contact
with the world since I
had left home and my parents.

You pointed to the only sources
of my knowledge; the mechanical
practice of parental customs,
a few fragments of the Bible
and Talmud taught me
in an old-fashioned
Cheder
, the writings of certain
Christian authors and reformers,
and, in general, a view
of life based upon a suppression
of the inner
voice of conscience in favor of
the demands
of superficial pleasure and comfort.

I am in no position to evaluate the entirety of the Feldheim edition, but from seeing the differences on the first two pages and checking the German text, the Feldheim edition both leaves out entire phrases and significantly modifies others. The following from the introduction to the Feldheim edition explains their method.

Long out of print, the need for a new edition focused attention on the profound changes half a century has made in literary style, definition of terminologies, sentence construction, a.o. Thus, while the present edition is largely based on the original Drachman transation, its style has been adapted to the thinking of the contemporary reader. Here and there, repetitious passages in the original text have been tightened and shortened to help the reader maintain the thread of continuity.

I took a quick look at the Hebrew edition published by Mossad haRav Kook (there was an earlier one published in Vilna in 1899) and translated by Ephraim Porat, and it seemed to be closer to the German and Drachman’s original, at least in relation to the above selections. There was an interesting comment on the title page of the Hebrew edition. It says that the citations from the Shulhan Arukh that were added to letters nos. 11 and 12 were done by R. Meshulum Rata, at the request of Mossad haRav Kuk.

It seems that R. Hirsch’s Nineteen Letters might be deserving of a new and accurate translation.

Update: See Iyov’s important comments below. Apparently Feldheim issued a new edition with a revised translation and commentary in 1996. I have the older edition, and the newer one was not on the shelf in the library. I am glad that Feldheim saw to retranslate R. Hirsch’s important work. Kudos to them.

7 Responses to “R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, JTS and Different Translations”

  1. 1
    andy:

    Even had there been no change in Othodox mores in the intervening 40 years, the change in JTS would have sufficed to account for the omission.

  2. 2
    Lion of Zion:

    drachman’s orthodox credential were impeccable, even by turn-of-the-century american standards. he wrote that he couldn’t find a pulpit because traditionalists didn’t wan’t a phd and he refused to go to a non-traditional shul, though itwould have welcomed his phd. he had to go to newark for his first job. he left there after after a few years when they voted for mixed seating.

    he was at jts . . . but as opposed to hymanson and his other ortho colleagues, he abandoned ship and took a job at YU. (although iirc his disagreements with schechter were also personal as he be expected to become its president instead?)

    i have the 1899 edition, but i never compared it with the feldheim. did you compare the 2 against the german?

    nice post.

  3. 3
    Menachem Mendel:

    I just compared the big differences that I saw between the two editions on the first pages, and the 1899 edition followed the German closer. The question is, if on the first two pages I saw these glaring differences, what does that say for the rest of the book?

  4. 4
    Iyov:

    Your text does not correspond to the Feldheim edition that I own (“the second, corrected edition, 1996″). The differences are substantial. Indeed, I believe that all your concerns are addressed in the 1996 Feldheim translation. In addition, you should mention that the Feldheim edition has substantial notes by R. Elias.

    My copy begins:

    My dear Naftali [note]:

    After a separation of many years, you chanced to travel through the town where I live, and we had the good fortune to meet again for a short, fleeting hour. You could not imagine, my dear Naftali, what interest the subject of our conversation had for me — and what interest it still has.

    You found me so changed in my religious views, and even more so in my actions and practices, that in spite of your genial, tolerant nature you could not hold back the question that sprang spontaneously, as it were, to your lips: “Since when? Why?” In response, I gave voice to a whole series of accusations against Judaism, about which my eyes had been opened by reading and coming into contact with the world only after I had left my parents’ home and hearth.

    You listened quietly to my tirade, and when I had done, you only replied, “Do you believe that you really understand the concepts which you are attacking? Have you gained, by means of honest, earnest investigation, an actual understanding in your own mind of something which should at least not be thrust aside thoughtlessly, without reflection since it is the holiest and most important matter in our life?”

    You showed me that the only source of my knowledge were, on the one hand, the mechanical practice of parental customs and few poor fragment of Bible and Talmud acquired from Polish-Jewish teachers, [note] little understood and little digested, and, on the other hand, Christian writers, modern Jewish reformers of our faith, and above all, that view of life which our present age has produced, whose chief purpose and goal is only the suppression of the inner voice of conscience in favor of the external demands of comfort and ease. . . .

  5. 5
    Iyov:

    Here is the prefatory comment from the 1996 Feldheim edition (it appears to me that you are using the 1959 Feldheim edition, which is quite different — the 1996 edition was translated by Karin Paritzky). Please note that you link to the 1996 edition, and that you have mispelled Hirsch’s name in the title of your comment:

    It is against this background that this new edition of the Nineteen Letters has been planned, in order to make this classic available to a wider public and to clarify and convey correctly the author’s system of thought. Thereby, it is hoped, the reader will arrive at a proper understanding of the author’s teachings, will be able to compare them with other approaches to Torah and draw informed conclusions.

    First, this effort required a new translation. Rabbi Drachman’s 1899 work, while faithful to the original, is archaic in language; even if today’s reader can secure a copy, he will find it hard to read. The revised edition, by Jacob Breuer (New York: Feldheim, 1959), is very readable; however, this goal was achieved by the omission or simplification of a good many passages, so that the reader does not obtain the full meaning that the author intended. The draft of a new translation was therefore prepared by Mrs. Karin Paritzky and was revised by me, with the aim of faithfully rendering the author’s meaning, but in a readable manner. We benefited greatly from the two earlier editions and gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness to their translators.

  6. 6
    Menachem Mendel:

    Thanks for your important comments. My post has been updated.

  7. 7
    andy:

    My comment is no longer applicable now that the post has been updated.

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