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The Sword of Judith

 | 
Kevin R. Brine
, 
Elena Ciletti
, 
Henrike Lähnemann

Jewish Textual Traditions

7. Shalom bar Abraham’s Book of Judith in Yiddish

Ruth von Bernuth

Texte intégral

  • 1 Dean Phillip Bell in idem and Stephen G. Burnett (eds.), Jews, Judaism and the Reformation in Sixt (...)

The relative inattention to the internal effects of the Reformation on the Jews is no doubt in part due to the dearth of sources available to scholars. This neglect has also been due in part to the assumption that Jewish and Christian interaction was limited. If one begins with the assumption that Jews and Christians were heavily involved with one another throughout the later Middle Ages and early modern period, and if one is ready to read the limited sources available with new questions in mind, it may in fact be possible to say something more about Jewish responses to the Reformation.1

1The Book of Judith, first printed in Hebrew in Istanbul in 1552, is next found in Hebrew type in a Yiddish translation printed in Cracow in 1571, with an explanatory title page in lieu of a simple title:

  • 2 Literally ”printed.”
  • 3 The Hebrew liturgical poem Odekha ki anafta, a yotser (hymn) for the first Sabbath of Hanukkah.
  • 4 In daytshen, literally ”in German.” For discussion of the application of this term, see Chava Turn (...)
  • 5 Sunday, May 16, 1571.
  • 6

I have published2 this little book in honor of all women: the story of the pious Susanna, who did not want to lie with the judges but preferred to be put to death. Also, the story of Judith, which is not fully explained in the Hanukkah hymn.3 Therefore, you pious women, you should definitely buy it. Then I will print the whole Bible in Yiddish,4 and many other fine things. So says Shalom bar Abraham, may his rock and his redeemer guard him. Printed by the servant of you all, Isaac ben Aaron of Prossnitz, in the year 5331, on the 11th day of the month of Iyyar,5 in the royal city of Cracow.6

7.1. Shalom bar Abraham, Shmue fun der vrume Shoshane, 1571. Title page. Cracow. Photo credit: National Library of Israel

2Shalom bar Abraham appears here in the role of instigator, sponsor, and promoter, with no translator identified nor reference made to the fact of translation. In the one other book with which he is associated, an edition of the Psalms, accompanied by a reprint of Elia Levita’s Yiddish translation and a new simplified digest of two classic medieval Hebrew commentaries, Shalom bar Abraham appears again in this capacity. This time it is implicit, in addition, that this is the full extent of his role, that he is not responsible for the digest of commentaries, and the chances are, therefore, that in the case of the Yiddish edition of the Book of Judith, prefaced by the short story of Susanna, he occupies the same position and is not the translator. The image of him that emerges from his edition of the Psalms, printed in Mantua in 1562, is that of a layman, probably of that city, a pillar of the synagogue and a fan of rabbinic learning, made remarkable by the tenacity of his belief in the potential for what may as well be called Jewish educational outreach inherent in the publication of suitably attractive and inspirational literature in Yiddish and basic Hebrew. Women readers, knowing only Yiddish, were greatly underserved, except, it was sometimes alleged, with translations of European chivalric romances. Under these circumstances, the opportunity to present the comparably gripping tales of two Jewish women as heroic as any knight could hardly have been more ideal or appealing.

3Iconic in the European host culture of the time, nowhere more so than in northern Italy, Judith and Susanna were relatively little known or celebrated within the indigenous Italian Jewish community or among Ashkenazim, including those in the northern Italian communities of German Jewish immigrant origin for whom this slight publication would initially have been intended. The elevated Judith consciousness of their environment aside, both groups, indigenous Italian Jews and Ashkenazim, were likely to be independently familiar with Judith from one Jewish source only – a likelihood evident in Shalom bar Abraham’s title page. The high medieval Hanukkah hymn to which he refers, however, had the double disadvantage of presenting the story of Judith with a minimum of detail and in language that systematically sacrifices intelligibility for abstruseness, in the interests of what may have been esteemed as poetry in eleventh-century Catalonia, but which, recited in the synagogue 500 years later, had little prospect of being comprehended. But even if nothing resulted from this annual recitation beyond mere name recognition, still, that was important, for, as a source of unquestioned authority, the liturgical poem conferred authenticity on Judith – making her story, and, by association, that of the still less familiar Susanna, intriguing and legitimate.

  • 7 Chone Shmeruk, ”Defuse Yidish be-Italyah,” Italyah 3:1–2 (1982), p. 175; ”Defuse Polin be-Yidish,” (...)
  • 8 A supposition of only approximate equivalence to the text of the Apocrypha may be attributable to (...)

4If Shalom bar Abraham’s evident Italian milieu seems like an odd fit for the Cracow imprint of his version of Judith, as perhaps it should for a book dated 1571, when Poland represented the periphery of Hebrew printing and Italy its center, then it may come as a relief that, on the strength of a small clue on the title page of the Cracow edition, Chone Shmeruk was able to argue persuasively that this book, itself now extant in only one copy, is merely a reprint of a lost true first edition, produced in Italy no later than 1562.7 Attention to the content of this otherwise unexamined publication yields additional evidence in support of Shmeruk’s hypothesis, amounting to proof. Remarks here, however, are confined to a description of the translation, and, in the first instance, to the identification of its source. Of this, Shmeruk says only that it corresponds, more or less, to the text of the Apocrypha.8 Which text of the Apocrypha he does not go on to say.

  • 9 André Marie Dubarle, Judith: Formes et sens des diverses traditions (Rome: Institut Biblique Ponti (...)

5The options are many, and in many languages, but, given the nature of Old Yiddish as a fusion of German and Hebrew components, versions of the Judith story in those languages are the obvious place to start. Even if, in view of the traditionalist orientation of the publisher, preference for a Jewish source were to be postulated, it nevertheless soon becomes clear that the Yiddish translation was produced without recourse to the Hebrew first edition of 1552 or to any of the Hebrew manuscript material for which A. M. Dubarle and others have claimed descent in unbroken line from a supposed Hebrew or Aramaic original.9 The Yiddish version proves to have minimal Hebrew content, and the sum of what little there is only encourages the impression that the Yiddish translator was entirely unaware of any of the Hebrew versions of Judith. Decisive, however, is the fact that the points at which the Yiddish and the Hebrew versions diverge from the Vulgate do not correspond.

6Turning then to the most prominent of possible German sources, the Luther Bible, first published complete with the Apocrypha in 1534, the discrepancies are even wider, the Yiddish translator remaining closer to the Vulgate than the anonymous translator of Judith employed by Martin Luther. This need be no great surprise, since Luther’s radicalism and the secret of his success lay in the precedence he accorded to transparency in the target language ahead of fidelity to the source language. What results from this emphasis on functional equivalence over formal equivalence in the case of the Book of Judith is, as elsewhere in the Luther Bible, a paraphrase of the Vulgate, and in no instance does the Yiddish agree with this paraphrase against the Vulgate. There is quite a list of earlier German vernacular Bibles through which one might regress in an increasingly improbable quest for a source, were it not that the Luther Bible’s immediate precursor presents a version of Judith with which the Yiddish rendition printed in Cracow is in thorough agreement.

  • 10 Zurich Bible [Gantze Bibel], vol. 5, titled: Diss sind die bücher die by den alten vnder Biblische (...)
  • 11 A sixth volume, containing the New Testament, was published first, in 1524.

7Chief responsibility for production of the Zurich Bible belongs to Huldrych Zwingli’s right-hand man, Leo Jud. Zwingli’s chief objective was to expedite completion of a Protestant Bible by working on the parts that Luther had still to tackle. Starting in 1525, Zwingli convened the clergy of Zurich five times weekly to interpret the Scriptures in a seminar known as the Prophezei. Zwingli would lead the discussion, asssisted by Jud and the Hebraist Konrad Pellikan. At the end of each session, Jud would present the conclusions of the group in the form of a draft translation for Zwingli’s review. At the same time, Jud worked on his own on a translation of the Apocrypha. Published by Christoph Froschauer in 1529,10 it was the last of five volumes that collectively succeeded in making available a Protestant version of all the books of the Hebrew Bible and the Apocrypha five years before an equivalent was forthcoming from Luther.11 Another edition of the Zurich Bible, complete in one volume, appeared in 1530, followed by a first illustrated edition, with woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger, in 1531. Subsequent editions corrected numerous typographical errors.

  • 12 12T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule, Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture. (L (...)

8Those books that Luther had translated to date were the first to be studied in the sessions of the Prophezei. These were then reprinted, with the language adapted to Swiss German norms and the translation itself lightly revised where Luther’s rendition seemed to stray too far from the meaning of the ancient versions, especially the Hebrew Bible. In the judgment of Darlow and Moule, ”t .....hough the verbal changes are numerous, they seldom involve any material alteration.” Still, ”the style tends to become harsh and sometimes obscure, partly through striving after literalness.”12 Certainly ., Jud’s translation of the Apocrypha, unencumbered by the Luther Bible as a point of departure, was free to strive after literalness with abandon, and duly emerged not as paraphrase but metaphrase – a literal translation of the Vulgate, word-for-word.

7.2. Zurich Bible, 1536. Woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). Photo credit: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

9Whether out of deference to its source or to the path of least resistance, the first Yiddish Judith is also a metaphrase, a literal translation of Jud – almost beyond a literal translation. In a highly representative-seeming sample chapter, upwards of 90 percent of the time the Yiddish text reproduces the content of the Swiss German text word-for-word, not by way of exchanging one word for another, but, rather, by using the same German word. To be clear, this statistic elects not to count changes of inflection and spelling, since these remain so unstable in this period as to be liable to alter greatly not just between groups nor even just between individuals but within any given sentence of any given writer, as is certainly the case with the Zurich Bible itself. Even the idea of a 10 percent divergence between versions risks exaggerating the otherness of the Yiddish, since, more often than not, substantive rephrasings can be accounted for by selection of an equivalent word, phrase, or construction perceived as simpler, but one that is just as viable outside a Jewish context as within one.

  • 13 13Biblia, beider Allt vnnd Newen Testamenten, fleissig, treülich vnd Christlich, nach alter, inn C (...)

10Much of the Yiddish translator’s task here consists in making substitutions for Leo Jud’s Helvetisms – the elements of his language that are Swiss German enough to impede comprehension elsewhere. There is nothing Yiddish-specific about this; these regional idiosyncrasies of grammar and vocabulary were similarly unfamiliar to speakers of German anywhere outside Switzerland and its immediate borderlands. Thus, Johann Dietenberger, in the race to cobble together a purportedly fresh German translation of the Bible produced under Catholic auspices so as to offer a sanctioned alternative to the newly appeared Luther Bible, helped himself to Jud’s Apocrypha en bloc, simply adapting it to High German.13 Since Shalom bar Abraham’s and Dietenberger’s divergences from the Zurich Bible do not coincide, it is certain that the Yiddish Judith was translated from a Protestant Bible and not from the derivative version in the so-called Katholische Bibel, however much more likely the latter might have seemed in an Italian Counter-Reformation setting. Dietenberger’s version does function as a control, though, offering at least some idea of how much the Yiddish translator is actively translating into Yiddish and how much simply out of Swiss German.

  • 14 Thus Hans Rudolf Lavater, ”Die Stimme ist Jakobs Stimme, aber die Hände sind Esaus Hände,” in Die (...)
  • 15 Dietenberger, likewise, substitutes haben, kamen, and sprachen, and dienen, seyen, stürben, and (...)

11Representative instances of Swiss German forms reworked in the Yiddish, occurring in the sample chapter of Judith in Swiss German and Old Yiddish appended to this chapter, include: i) [Jdt 3:1] habend (they had), kamend (they came), and sprachend (they said), adapted in the Yiddish to haben, kamen, and shprakhn; and ii) [Jdt 3:2] dienind, sygind, sturbind, and wurdind, adapted in the Yiddish to dinen, zayn, shterbn, and verdn. These two kinds of change, applied consistently throughout the Yiddish Judith, reflect both of the most noticeable peculiarities of the language of the Zurich Bible:14 the use of the plural ending end, in lieu of the ending en used in other German-speaking communities, and the equally distinctive use of the ending ind to form the subjunctive.15 A certain amount of vocabulary and a number of idioms are also perceived as especially Swiss, and, as such, require the translator’s attention. Thus, at Judith 3:2, ”better,” weger in the Zurich Bible, becomes besser in Dietenberger’s edition and the phonetic equivalent, beser, in the Yiddish; coming down from the mountains is expressed hinab ab in the Zurich Bible but hinab von in Dietenberger and the equivalent hinab fun in the Yiddish.

12While removing features peculiar to Swiss German, the Yiddish translator is simultaneously adding comparably idiosyncratic features characteristic of his target language. These Yiddishisms include a propensity to treat prefixes as separate words and a preference for the prefix der over er . Both tendencies are evident in Judith 3:2, where the Zurich Bible’s erschlagen (struck down) becomes der shlagn in the Yiddish.

13The spelling of German remains wildly inconsistent in this period, and even in strictly phonetic Yiddish there is occasional variety, so that vieh (German: livestock) is spelled fikh in the Yiddish at Judith 2:8 and vikh at 3:3, and fürsten (princes) is spelled firstn in the Yiddish at Judith 3:1 but virstn at Judith 3:9 – just as the Zurich Bible fluctuates between fürsten and vürsten or folck and volck, though not necessarily on the same schedule as the Yiddish. In some instances, however, a difference in spelling between the Zurich and Yiddish texts indicates a distinct form of a word considered especially, if not exclusively, characteristic of Yiddish. To this category belongs the diphthong ouch (also), which in the Yiddish becomes the monophthong akh [Jdt 3:9]. When, at Judith 13:10, the Yiddish substitutes a synonym for the Zurich Bible’s bettuch (bed sheet), it does not appear as the exact phonetic equivalent of the German word leilach, but, rather, as laylekh, as it usually and uniquely does in Old Yiddish, with the characteristically Yiddish substitution of a schwa in the last syllable.

  • 16 Erika Timm, Historische jiddische Semantik: die Bibelübersetzungssprache als Faktor der Auseinande (...)
  • 17 Timm, pp. 392–93.

14In at least a couple of cases, the translator of the Yiddish Judith rejects what he finds in the Zurich Bible in favor of another kind of Yiddishism: a Middle High German word that has become old-fashioned or obsolete at the time of writing – except in Yiddish, where it remains standard. Thus, in medieval German, gezelt was a commoner word for ”tent” than was zelt. In the early modern period, the frequencies were reversed in German, and, in addition, the word hütte, originally ”hut,” was often used in an extended sense to mean ”tent” as well.16 The Zurich Judith uses hütte or zelt in four verses [10:16, 12:4, 13:31 and 16:4] and the Yiddish translator substitutes the old word gezelt on every occasion. Similarly, when Holofernes is ”burning with love” for Judith [Jdt 12:16], love is rendered in the Zurich Bible with the commonplace liebe. The archaic libshaft, however, not used by others since the first quarter of the fifteenth century,17 remains so exclusively the word for love among Ashkenazic Jews that the minimalist translator of the Yiddish Judith feels required to substitute it when he encounters liebe.

15The biblical style of the Book of Judith will also, at times, elicit a biblical Yiddish. When the Yiddish Judith translates the Zurich Bible’s Do sang Judith dises lobgsang (Then Judith sang this song of praise) as Do zagt Yehudis das lobgezang (Then Judith says the song of praise), it is simply reflecting established Yiddish convention in the rendering of Exodus 15:1. This same convention is similarly reflected in Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi’s famous Pentateuch paraphrase of the early seventeenth century, Tsenerene, which renders the opening words of that verse, ”Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song,” as Denst mol habn kol Yisroel shire gezagt – ”Then all Israel said a song.

Beys LekhemBet huliaBeys KholenBeys Hulin Beys Hulen

7.3. Jean Jacques Boissard, Icones virorum illustrium, 1597–99. Engraving by Theodor de Bry. Frankfurt am Main. Photo credit: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

16The Yiddish translator’s treatment of other locations can be as inconsistent as his treatment of Bethulia. Thus, Syria is mentioned three times in the Book of Judith and treated by the Yiddish in as many ways. Adopting the Hebrew Bible’s equivalent name for the broad geographical entity, the Zurich Bible’s vss allem Syria [Jdt 2:9] is rendered fun gants Aram. By chapter three, however, the translator is opting instead to keep the name Syria as it appears in his Swiss German source, transliterating it first as Sirye [Jdt 3:1] and then as Siriye [Jdt 3:14].

  • 18 Thus at 2 Sm 10:6 and 10:8 and Ps 60:2 (i.e., Ps 59:2 in LXX and Vulg.).
  • 19 Phonetically representing stress on the first syllable and the unstressed vowel reduced to a schwa(...)

17The third chapter of Judith also finds the Yiddish translator’s Bible knowledge failing him. At Judith 3:1, ”the princes in Syria and Mesopotamia and Syria Sobal and Libya and Cilicia” send ambassadors to Holofernes. The Zurich Bible lists these countries as ”Syria vnd Mesopotamia / vnd Syrie Sobal vnd Libyen vnnd Cilicien.” In the Yiddish, they appear as ”Sirye, un’ Mesepotmie un’ Sobel un’ Libyen un’ Tilkiyen.” Syria Sobal is an idiosyncratic form, peculiar to the Vulgate version of Judith, of what the Vulgate calls elsewhere Syria Soba, the Septuagint’s name for the region known in biblical Hebrew as Aram Tsovah.18 The form Syria Sobal is peculiar not just to Judith but to this verse; on its other occurrence, at Judith 3:14, the Vulgate switches spelling from Sobal to Subal, though Leo Jud harmonizes, spelling the name as Sobal on both occasions.19 Not recognizing Syria Sobal as the compound Aram Tsovah, the Yiddish translator regards the recurrence of the word Syria in ”the princes in Syria and Mesopotamia and Syria Sobal” if not as confused then at least as liable to be confusing, and he suppresses it. The Yiddish version of Judith 3:1, therefore, reads simply ”the princes in Syria and Mesopotamia and Sobal.” In Judith 3:14, where Syria is not mentioned again on its own but only as an element of Syria Sobal, the Yiddish translator again takes a stab at making sense of his source material by adding a conjunction and having Holofernes pass through Syria and Sobal.

18The attention to detail evident in the Yiddish translator’s continual struggle to elucidate toponyms is significant, if only for the intellectual engagement that it demonstrates. This is not mindless transcription nor casual storytelling nor the work of a hack, but scrupulous translation, with every element processed by a serious reader, intrigued by the text and intent on comprehending it and communicating its meaning to the best of his ability. This has implications for the ”legitimacy” of his Yiddish, too. If he takes so much care over names (and in clarifying or simplifying any other source of possible perplexity that he encounters in the text), it would be unreasonable to suppose him any less careful in making sure to express the unproblematic parts of the book in such a way as to be consistently intelligible to his intended readers.

CilicienCiliciaCilicieCiliciaCilicien,

19If recourse to Hebrew in making sense of proper nouns is a conspicuous feature of the first Yiddish Judith, the use of Hebrew terms rather than German terms for basic institutions and concepts of Jewish life – the kind of Hebraism most in evidence in Old Yiddish – is only conspicuous here by its relative absence. Again, this is understandable, given the translator’s word-for-word method, which means that he will always be confronted with a Germanic word or construction that he must actively reject as unfamiliar, unattractive, or otherwise unsatisfactory in Yiddish. The burden of proof is, as it were, on the prosecution to show that any given turn of phrase in the Zurich Bible is not viable in Yiddish; otherwise it is only natural that the principle of inertia should apply. The translator does not start out with a tabula rasa; that, had he done so, his vocabulary would have been much more heavily peppered with Hebraisms of this kind is strongly suggested by the strange turn, discussed later, that the translation takes at the very end of the book.

20Of just twenty or so German terms for which he substitutes a Hebrew equivalent, four are terms used to designate religious functionaries, which, had they not been renamed, would have carried a confusingly Christian connotation for the intended readership. Thus pfaffen (clergy) become rabonim (rabbis) and priester (priest) becomes kohen (ditto) [Jdt 4:8]. At Judith 4:10, oberest priester (high priest) becomes kohen godol (ditto) and at 11:8 propheten (prophets) become neviim (ditto). Similarly, at 4:8 altar (altar) becomes mizbe’akh (ditto), and at 10:9 das geschähe becomes omen (amen). These replacements for words that will sound jarringly Christian in a Jewish context are frequently Hebrew but are not necessarily so. The word for the corresponding Jewish religious institution may itself be Germanic. Thus, the Bethulians’ all-night vigil of prayer to the God of Israel [Jdt 6:21] is held, according to the Zurich Bible, in the kirche (church), whereas in the Yiddish edition it takes place in the shul (synagogue).

  • 20 Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch (Leipzig: S. Hirzel 1854–1960), s.v. socke (vo (...)

21In other cases, Judaism may simply not offer a corresponding institution. At Judith 10:3, the heroine, transforming herself from ascetic to temptress, attends to her makeup, hair, clothing, and jewelry and puts sandals on her feet – sandalia in the Vulgate, which Jud renders accurately in the Zurich Bible with the equivalent term, sockelen. Not so the Yiddish, which substitutes zoken, a word used indiscriminately in this time for any kind of light footwear – socks, soft shoes, or slippers. At Judith 16:11, the sandals are singled out and referred to once again, for somehow these prove to be the highlight of her ensemble: ”Her sandals ravished his eyes, her beauty made his soul captive, with a sword she cut off his head.” Again, the Vulgate reads sandalia and Jud translates sockelen, but this time the Yiddish opts for pantoflen – specifically slippers. In doing so, however, the Yiddish translator preserves the meaning of sockelen, just changing a word that, in a Jewish setting, seems inappropriate. In the German-speaking lands of the late medieval and early modern period, if you were described as wearing sandals, sockelen, that typically meant that you were one of two kinds of person: a friar or a bishop. Sandals, sandalia or sockelen, in each of these cases meant something entirely different. For Franciscans and fellow travelers, it might mean leather straps and a wooden sole. At the other end of the austerity spectrum, ”episcopal sandals” were a closed-toe affair, featuring leather soles and textile uppers, possibly embroidered, and perfectly described in a secular context as slippers. In choosing to translate sandalia as sockelen, Jud has correctly identified the formal equivalent, but, in doing so, he has made of the item that bowls Holofernes over something whose connotations are always ecclesiastical. The Deutsches Wörterbuch of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm20 locates one work only in the whole of medieval and early modern German literature in which the word sockelen is used to designate the footwear of a woman other than a nun, and that is the Zurich Bible’s translation of Judith.

22Three of the Yiddish Judith’s twenty Hebrew expressions refer to the people of Israel – Yisroel [Israel; Jdt 16:24], di Yisroelim [the Israelites; Jdt 15:4] and kol Yisroel [all Israel; Jdt 16:25] – and a fourth term, Kusim [Cutheans; Jdt 1:8], is a euphemism for gentiles. In addition, common German expressions indicating all four directions are replaced by the Hebrew terms for north, south, east, and west: tsofn [Jdt 16:5], dorem [Jdt 2:15], mizrekh [Jdt 5:4], and mayrev [Jdt 2:5], respectively. No doubt, the word seder (order) gained entry to the vocabulary of Yiddish on the strength of its familiarity in designating the sequence of broad topics within the most accessible of rabbinic texts, the Mishnah, as well, of course, as the order of events in a ritual, as at Passover. Once inside Yiddish, however, it can be used more expansively. Thus, the panic induced by Holofernes’s decapitation leads to a mass desertion of Assyrian soldiers, every man for himself, fleeing in disarray, to catastrophic effect. Or, as the Yiddish puts it: Das volk fun Ashur haten kayn seder di Yisroelim aber vilen mit aynem hoyfn un’ seder oyber zi (The people from Assyria were in disorder … but the Israelites pursued them in orderly formation) [Jdt 15:4].

angesikhtponim sy hatjr angsicht gesalbetzi hat ir ponim geshmirt .khodoshim yontevMißfall kharote küne kine at her boldness ab jrer küneoyf iren kinen.confuditconfoundedgeschendtgeshentbeflecktgeschendtgeschendtgeshekhtkinehküne
  • 21 Timm, pp. 234–37, s.v. farschnajdn.
  • 22 Timm, pp. 503–04, s.v. sizer, sizn.

23In Hebraisms of a third kind, instead of a Hebrew word taking a German form, a German word takes a Hebrew form, albeit not a grammatical form. The word is Germanic, the inflection is Germanic, but the idiom or idea is Hebraic. That this is a prominent feature of many Old Yiddish texts of a more spontaneous nature has been copiously documented by Timm in her Historische jiddische Semantik, but even the slightly stilted Yiddish Judith has at least a couple of examples to offer. Holofernes’s refusal to negotiate terms with anyone is explained at Judith 3:13: ”Nebuchadnezzar the king had commanded him to destroy all gods of the earth” – ”das er alle Gött in landen ußrütete,” that he should uproot, eradicate all gods, in the Zurich Bible, but in the Yiddish ”daz er vershnayd ale goter,” that he should cut off all gods. Horticulturally less radical, ”cutting off” is nevertheless the biblical Hebrew equivalent of uprooting, the concept of excision interchangeable with that of extirpation. In the rote learning of the Pentateuch in Hebrew and Yiddish that was the staple of Ashkenazic elementary education, the Hebrew verb le-hakhrit would be rendered by the most literal equivalent in the vernacular, imparting to the Yiddish vershnaydn a sense of destruction not normally associated with the less loaded German verb verschneiden.21 A second example manages to slip in just before the end of the book, at Judith 16:28: ”And she abode in her husband’s house a hundred and five years” – ”Sy bleyb in jres manns huß” (she remained in her husband’s house) in the Zurich version, but ”Un’ blayb zitsn azo in ir mans hoyz” (she remained sitting thus in her husband’s house) – again, a change that might seem obscure but for the mediation of biblical Hebrew, in this case the verb la-shevet, literally to sit, idiomatically to dwell.22

24The occurrence of a second example of this implicit kind of Hebraism, such a common feature of Old Yiddish, only at the very end of the book, is, strange to say, not a coincidence. The sixteenth and final chapter of Judith, as presented in the Vulgate and Zurich Bible, comprises two parts: a rhapsodic recapitulation of the story as a hymn of thanksgiving (the Canticle of Judith; Jdt 16:1–21), and a brief epilogue (Jdt 16:22–31), describing the victory celebrations in Jerusalem and Judith’s return to a life of seclusion in Bethulia. As in the preceding fifteen chapters, the Yiddish translator continues to offer a word-for-word rendition of his source, but, with the start of the epilogue, everything changes. The modus operandi is suddenly, for the first time, anything but word-for-word. Two hundred and twenty-two words long in the German, the epilogue is stripped of much of its detail and condensed to just 67 words in the Yiddish. Moreover, what remains does not accurately reproduce even selected parts of the original but paraphrases freely.

  • 23 Pen name of Solomon Bloomgarden, an authority, inter alia, on Hebraisms in Yiddish, d. 1927. In hi (...)

25Freed from fidelity to the source, the Yiddish itself changes. Hard as it is to gauge much on the basis of a 67-word sample, the language now seems to be more colloquial and to make more use of Hebraisms. While the Yiddish of the Canticle of Judith is 98 percent German (if not necessarily the same German as that of the Zurich Bible) and 2 percent Hebrew, Hebraisms account for 13 percent of the epilogue, a quotient that compares ”favorably” with the language of Yehoash,23 whose Bible translation (New York, 1926–36) offers an appropriate benchmark for purposes of comparison with modern Standard Yiddish.

26The celebrations in Jerusalem continue for three months – ”dry monat” in the German, but with monat Hebraized to khodoshim in the Yiddish, although on its previous occurrences in the book (Judith 2:1 and 8:4) the word had required only transcription, not translation, to function as Yiddish. By this point, however, the proportion of Hebraisms has reached 24 percent of the little text that there is:

[Jdt 16:24–25]

Zurich: Das volck was frölich / wie man denn pfligt / vnnd hat dise fröud deß sigshalb / mit Judith / dry monat gewäret. Nach dem selben ist yederman wider zhuß zogen / vnd ist Judith hochgehalten worden zů Bethulia / noch vil herrlicher im gantzen land Jsraels.

Cracow: Un’ Yisroel varn vraylikh dray khodoshim anander un’ makhtn di zelbe tsayt yontev al yar. Un’ Yudis var zeyer erlikh unter kol Yisroel.

The people celebrated in the customary manner, and this rejoicing over the victory with Judith continued for three months. And after those days every man returned to his house, and Judith was revered in Bethulia, and she was greatly honored throughout the land of Israel.

  • 24 This detail of an annual observance in celebration of Judith’s victory has been freely relocated b (...)
  • 25 25Erlikh, honorable, perhaps a typographical error in place of herlikh, honored, which has the twi (...)

And Israel celebrated together for three months, and they observed a festival at the same time every year.24 And Judith was greatly honorable25 in all Israel.

27So much for a change of language, but what purpose could possibly have been served by this complete change of translating strategy, just a paragraph short of the end of the book? No ideological motivation for this abridgment is apparent. True, the most radical aspect of the Book of Judith may not be its endorsement of female leadership or strategic seduction or assassination, all of which has sufficient biblical precedent, but, on the contrary, its endorsement of the protagonist’s contemplative and ascetic lifestyle, and especially her celibacy, mentioned with implied approbation here in chapter 16. The highlighting of a young widow’s abstention from remarriage may correspond to the Romans’ celebration of the ideal of the univira or the later Christian institution of the ”consecrated widow,” but it is without parallel in biblical or rabbinic literature. To the extent, therefore, that the aim of Shalom bar Abraham’s little publication may be seen as an attempt to reclaim Susanna and Judith as co-religionist role models, with a view to inspiring at least a modicum of fearless devotion in early modern Jewish women, then Judith’s espousal of perseverance in widowhood might have been one element in the book that Shalom bar Abraham, with his revivalist agenda, could have done without. Nevertheless, in spite of all the abridgment, it is one of the lucky details that does survive in the Yiddish, in however truncated a form:

[Jdt 16:26]

  • 26 Typographical error, corrected from mee to mer as early as Froschauer’s first octavo edition, Zuri (...)

Zurich: Dann zur stercke hat sy küscheyt / also / das sy keinen mann mee26 erkannt jr läben lang / von dem an als jr mann Manasses starb.

Cracow: Un’ nam ayn man ir leblang.

And chastity was joined to her virtue, so that she knew no man all the days of her life, after the death of Manasses her husband.

And she married [just] one husband in all her life.

28In the absence, therefore, of any possible motive inherent in the content suppressed, there seems nothing for it but to invoke the most mundane of considerations – a sudden shortage of space, constraining the translator, or even the printer, to extemporize a précis. The extent to which the substantive content at the end of a manuscript was liable to be compromised by the printer’s or sponsor’s unwillingness or inability to absorb the additional cost of adding even a single page to the projected length of a book is a topic that must be briefly revisited elsewhere, in connection with Shmeruk’s hypothesis about the origins of this booklet, from this perusal of which it may suffice to draw just two conclusions for now.

29First, regarding the question of how different the Cracow Judith is from the Zurich Judith – aside from script – on a theological plane, it is different in no way whatever. Nowhere does the Yiddish attempt to alter or manipulate the story for ideological reasons – or for the sake of brevity, or for any reason other than clarity. On a linguistic plane, however, the Yiddish introduces a large number of small changes – sufficient definitively to render it a translation, not a transliteration. That is to say that the source has been comprehensively reworked, even if the result ends up sounding very much like the original. Nevertheless, the most telling aspect of the language of the book is the evidence it offers of what minimal modification was required to render a formal German of the academic and professional classes of the 1520s clearly intelligible to Yiddish-speaking women in Italy ca. 1560. A measure of how successfully this was judged to have been accomplished is the decision to print a second edition a decade or so later, this time for readers in Poland. The book’s rushed ending makes only more vivid the book’s illustration of the wide gap that could be tolerated between how early modern Ashkenazim would spontaneously speak, write, and read, and what they could evidently handle, with pleasure and without a second thought, if it happened to come their way.

  • 27 To the exclusion, that is, of the Luther Bible-based Cracow Yiddish New Testament, 1540.
  • 28 Also taken verbatim from the Zurich Bible, this Yiddish translation of the story of Susanna consti (...)

30Finally, and obviously, the total dependence of the Yiddish Judith on the Zurich Bible and on no other source lends a certain stature to this obscure and ephemeral publication. It makes it the first Jewish27 book of the sixteenth century, the century of the Reformation, to be identified as appropriating the fruits of Protestant Bible translation – in this case of Judith, and the pious Susanna,28 a means to the end of reappropriating two lost Jewish heroines.

Appendix to Chapter 7. A Chapter of Judith in Swiss German and Old Yiddish29

  • 29 In this third chapter of the Book of Judith, chosen arbitrarily to serve as a sample, the Swiss Ge (...)

31[Jdt 3:1]

32Then the kings of all the cities and provinces, namely the princes in Syria and Mesopotamia and Syria Sobal and Libya and Cilicia, sent their ambassadors, who came to Holofernes and said:

33Also habend aller stetten vnnd landen künig botten geschickt / namlich / die fürsten in Syria vnd Mesopotamia / vnd Syrie Sobal vnd Libyen vnnd Cilicien die kamend zum Holoferne / vnd sprachend:

34Alzo haben ale shtet un’ lender un’ koynig botn gezent nemlikh di firsten in Sirye, un’ Mesepotmie un’ Sobel un’ Libyen un’ Tilkiyen, di kamen tsum Oleforne un’ shprakhn:

35[Jdt 3:2]

36Let thy indignation towards us cease. It is better for us that we should live and serve the great king Nebuchadnezzar, and be subject to thee, than that we should die and be struck down, or suffer even greater misery.

  • 30 Typographical error, corrected to vnderthenig as early as Froschauer’s first octavo edition, Zuric (...)

37Laß ab vonn dinem zorn gegen vns: weger ists vns wir dienind läbendig dem grossen künig NebucadNezer / vnnd sygind dir vndetthenig30 / dann das wir sturbind vnd erschlagen wurdind / vnd grösseren schaden empfiengind.

38Laz ob fun dem tsorn gegn unz. Es iz unz beser vir dinen lebending dem grosn hern koynig Nevukhad Netser, un’ zayn dir unter tenig, den daz vir shterbn un’ der shlagn verdn, un’ gresern shadn anfingn.

39[Jdt 3:3]

40All our cities are [i.e., and] property, all mountains and hills, all fields, great and small fish [i.e., livestock], sheep, goats, horses, camels, all our goods, together with our servants – all this is in thy power.

  • 31 Apparent typographical error, corrected from sind (they are) to sampt (together with) in the ”Cath (...)
  • 32 Typographical error, corrected from fisch (fish) to vych (livestock) in Froschauer’sfirst octavo e (...)

41All vnsere stett sind31 ligende güter / alle berg vnnd bühel / alle välder / groß vnd klein fisch32 / schaaff / geyß / rossz / kammeel / all vnsere haab / darzu vnser gsind / das sye in dinem gewalt.

42Al unzre shtet un’ guter, ale berg un’ bihele, ale velder gros un’ kleyn, vikh shaf un’ rinder tsign ros kemel un’ al unzer hab dar tsu unzer gezind daz zay in daynem gevalt.

43[Jdt 3:4–6]

44Let all we have be subject to thy law. Both we and our children are thine. Come to us a peaceable lord, and use our service as it shall please thee.

45Es sye dir alles vnderthon. Darzu wöllend wir vnd vnsere kinder din eigen sin / kumm vns ein fridsamer herr / vnnd bruch vnseren dienst nach dinem gefallen.

46Es zay dir ales unterton, dar tsu velen vir un’ unzer kinder dayn eygn zayn. Zay unzer her, un’ proykh unzer dinst nakh daynem gefalen.

47[Jdt 3:7]

48Then Holofernes sallied forth, came down from the mountains with the horsemen and great might, and captured all the walled cities and all the inhabitants of the land.

49Do macht sich Holofernes vf / zoch hinab ab dem gebirg mit dem reysigen züg vnd grosser macht / vnd namm alle veste stett yn / vnd was im land wonet.

50Do makht zikh Oleforne oyf un’ tsokh hinab fun dem gebirg mit dem reyzign her un’ groser makht un’ nam ale vestn shtet eyn, un’ vas im land vont.

51[Jdt 3:8]

52And from all the cities he took whatever strong men there were, well-suited for war, that they should help him.

53Vnd nam do vss allen stetten was starcker mannen warend / vnnd zum krieg touglich / das sy jm hulffind.

54Un’ nam do oys alen shtetn, vas shtarke manen varen, un’ tsum krig toygetn daz zi im helfn.

55[Jdt 3:9]

56And so great a fear lay upon all those provinces, that all the inhabitants of all the cities, both princes and dignitaries, as well as the people, went out to meet him at his coming.

57Es kam ouch über die selben land ein sölicher grosser schräck / das alle ynwoner aller stetten / deßglychen die fürsten vnnd was verrümpt was / mit sampt allem volck / jm / so er kam / hinuß entgegen giengend.

58Es kam akh oyber di zelbn land eyn groser shrekn, oyber ale invoner aler shteten dez glaykhn di virstn un’ hern mit alem volk gingn im antgegn.

59[Jdt 3:10]

60And received him splendidly and solemnly with garlands, lights, with dances, timbrels and pipes.

61Vnd jnn herrlich vnnd eerlich empfiengend / mit krentzen / facklen / mit reyen / trummen vnd pfyffen.

62Un’ antfingn in redlikh mit krentslikh, un’ flakern mit rayen mit trumbetn un’ pfayfen.

63[Jdt 3:11]

64And though they did these things, they could not for all that soften his cruel disposition.

65Vnd so sy schon sölichs thettend / mochtend sy dennocht sin grusam gemüt nit milteren.

66Un’ ob zi shon zolkhes tetn, makhtn zi denokh zayn groyzem nit linder.

67[Jdt 3:12]

68But rather he destroyed their cities and cut down their groves.

69Sunder er brach jre stett / hüw jre wäld ab.

70Zunder er brakh ir shtet un’ ir vald ab.

71[Jdt 3:13]

72For Nebuchadnezzar the king had commanded him to destroy all gods of the earth, that he only might be called and esteemed as God by those nations that Holofernes could subjugate with his power.

73Dann NebucadNezer hatt jm in empfelch geben / das er alle Gött in landen vßrütete / das er allein für ein Gott genennt vnd gehalten wurde / von denen landen die Holofernes mit sinem gewalt / vnder jn brechte.

74Den Nevukhad Netser hat im eyn befelkh gegebn, daz er vershnayd ale goter in ale landn, daz er aleyn ver ayn gõt genent un’ gehaltn verd, fun den landn di Oleforne mit zaynem gevalt unter in brakht.

75[Jdt 3:14]

76And when he had passed through Syria Sobal, and all Apamea, and all Mesopotamia, he came to the Idumeans in the land of Gabaa and Sep-topoli.

77Also zoch er durch Syriam Sobal / vnd durch alles Appamiam / vnd alles Mesopotamiam / kam zun Jdumeern ins land Gabaa vnd Septopoli.

78Alzo tsokh er durkh Siriye un’ Sobl un’ durkh gants Shpaniye un’ kam tsu den Kusim ins land Gebe, un’ Septople.

79[Jdt 3:15]

80He took possession of their cities and stayed there for thirty days, during which he marshaled all the troops of his army.

81Nam yn jre stett / vnd bleyb da dryssig tag / in denen er den gantzen huffen siner heermacht zemmen bringen ließ.

82Un’ nam eyn ire shtet, un’ blayb da draysig tag, in dem er den gantsen hoyfn zayner her makht tsu-zame bringn liz.

Christian Textual Tradition

Christian Textual Tradition

Hans Holbein, Judith, 1538. Woodcut from Biblia Latina. “Icones,” Lyon. Photo credit: Wiesemann, 2002, Abb. 4 (K 10).

Notes

1 Dean Phillip Bell in idem and Stephen G. Burnett (eds.), Jews, Judaism and the Reformation in Sixteenth-century Germany (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006), p. 424.

2 Literally ”printed.”

3 The Hebrew liturgical poem Odekha ki anafta, a yotser (hymn) for the first Sabbath of Hanukkah.

4 In daytshen, literally ”in German.” For discussion of the application of this term, see Chava Turniansky’s ”Yiddish and the Transmission of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 15:1 (2008), pp. 5–18.

5 Sunday, May 16, 1571.

6 Image img01.jpg

7 Chone Shmeruk, ”Defuse Yidish be-Italyah,” Italyah 3:1–2 (1982), p. 175; ”Defuse Polin be-Yidish,” in Kiryat Sefer 52:2 (1977), p. 389, reprinted in his Sifrut Yidish be-Polin (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1982), p. 79; and ”Reshitah shel ha-prozah ha-sipurit be-Yidish u-merkazah be-Italyah,” in Itiel Milano, Daniel Carpi, and Alexander Rofe (eds.), Sefer zikaron le-Aryeh Leoneh Karpi: kovets mehkarim le-toldot ha-Yehudim be-Italyah (Jerusalem: Mosad Shelomoh Meir, 1967), pp. 119–40.

8 A supposition of only approximate equivalence to the text of the Apocrypha may be attributable to typographical error, the Cracow Yiddish Judith omitting a new chapter number at the start of chapter seven and again at the start of chapter fifteen. Thus, the chapter designated chapter six includes chapters six and seven, but the text gets back on track after that, with the start of chapter eight numbered as such. Similarly, the chapter designated chapter 14 includes chapters 14 and 15, but this time the slip goes unrectified, and chapter 16, the last chapter of the book, is accordingly numbered chapter 15 in the Yiddish. The result, a fifteen-chapter Yiddish Judith, may therefore appear to differ from the sixteen-chapter Judith of Christian Bibles when it does not.

9 André Marie Dubarle, Judith: Formes et sens des diverses traditions (Rome: Institut Biblique Pontifical, 1966).

10 Zurich Bible [Gantze Bibel], vol. 5, titled: Diss sind die bücher die by den alten vnder Biblische gschrifft nit gezelt sind, ouch by den Ebreern nit gefunden. Nüwlich widerumb durch Leo Jud Vertütschet (Zurich: Christoph Froschauer, 1529).

11 A sixth volume, containing the New Testament, was published first, in 1524.

12 12T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule, Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture. (London: Bible Society, 1911), vol. 2, p. 489.

13 13Biblia, beider Allt vnnd Newen Testamenten, fleissig, treülich vnd Christlich, nach alter, inn Christlicher kirchen gehabter Translation ... Durch D. Johan Dietenberger, new verdeutscht (Mainz: Peter Jordan, 1534).

14 Thus Hans Rudolf Lavater, ”Die Stimme ist Jakobs Stimme, aber die Hände sind Esaus Hände,” in Die Zürcher Bibel von 1531 (Zurich: Theol. Verl., 1983), p. 1369.

15 Dietenberger, likewise, substitutes haben, kamen, and sprachen, and dienen, seyen, stürben, and würden. His appropriation of Jud’s translation of the Apocrypha follows a precedent established five years earlier in a composite Bible assembled for Anabaptist readers: Biblia beyder Allt und Newen Testaments Teutsch (Worms: Peter Schöffer, 1529). Here, too, the language is modified, but more slightly. Indicatives remain as in Zurich, while subjunctives assume the aspect of a compromise: dienend, seient, stürbent, and würdend.

16 Erika Timm, Historische jiddische Semantik: die Bibelübersetzungssprache als Faktor der Auseinanderentwicklung des jiddischen und des deutschen Wortschatzes (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2005), pp. 298–99.

17 Timm, pp. 392–93.

18 Thus at 2 Sm 10:6 and 10:8 and Ps 60:2 (i.e., Ps 59:2 in LXX and Vulg.).

19 Phonetically representing stress on the first syllable and the unstressed vowel reduced to a schwa, the Yiddish shortens the sound of Sobal to Sobel at Jdt 3:1, on the next occasion omitting the vowel altogether and spelling the name at Jdt 3:14 Sobl.

20 Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch (Leipzig: S. Hirzel 1854–1960), s.v. socke (vol. 16, col. 1390) and sockel (vol. 16, col. 1393).

21 Timm, pp. 234–37, s.v. farschnajdn.

22 Timm, pp. 503–04, s.v. sizer, sizn.

23 Pen name of Solomon Bloomgarden, an authority, inter alia, on Hebraisms in Yiddish, d. 1927. In his translation of the last chapter of Esther (relatively analogous to the last chapter of Judith), Hebraisms account for 11 percent of the words.

24 This detail of an annual observance in celebration of Judith’s victory has been freely relocated by the Yiddish from Judith 16:31, the last verse of the book according to the source.

25 25Erlikh, honorable, perhaps a typographical error in place of herlikh, honored, which has the twin merits of corresponding to the Zurich Bible and of making sense.

26 Typographical error, corrected from mee to mer as early as Froschauer’s first octavo edition, Zurich, 1529.

27 To the exclusion, that is, of the Luther Bible-based Cracow Yiddish New Testament, 1540.

28 Also taken verbatim from the Zurich Bible, this Yiddish translation of the story of Susanna constituted the first edition of that book in Hebrew script.

29 In this third chapter of the Book of Judith, chosen arbitrarily to serve as a sample, the Swiss German text is that of the first edition of the Zurich Bible, printed by Christoph Froschauer in 1529. Subsequent editions of the Zurich Bible add or subtract a letter here and there, in line with the unsettled orthography of the time, but make no substantive changes to the text of this chapter, beyond fixing the two typographical errors noted in situ. Each verse of the Swiss German is followed by the corresponding passage in Yiddish, according to the text printed in Cracow in 1571. Last comes a romanized version of the Yiddish, employing the YIVO transliteration system, the standard for Modern Yiddish, minimally modified here to reflect the different vocalization practices of Old Yiddish. In Swiss German and Yiddish versions alike, the sometimes erratic original spelling and punctuation, characteristic of early modernity, has been retained. Since Leo Jud’s rendition of the Apocrypha in the Zurich Bible represents a word-for-word translation of the Vulgate, and since the Yiddish version first published by Shalom bar Abraham in Italy and reprinted in Cracow is a word-for-word translation from the Zurich Bible, the English version presented here takes for its point of departure the traditional Catholic word-for-word translation of the Vulgate into English, known as Douay-Rheims-Challoner, and adapts it to agree with what Jud makes of the same Latin source.

30 Typographical error, corrected to vnderthenig as early as Froschauer’s first octavo edition, Zurich, 1529.

31 Apparent typographical error, corrected from sind (they are) to sampt (together with) in the ”Catholic Bible” printed by Peter Jordan in Mainz, 1534, and to un’ (and) in the Yiddish, but not corrected in the 1536 Zurich Bible (nor in the 1545 edition).

32 Typographical error, corrected from fisch (fish) to vych (livestock) in Froschauer’sfirst octavo edition, Zurich, 1529, although persisting, like vndetthenig [Jdt 3:2], into the monumental first illustrated edition, Zurich, 1531.

Table des illustrations

Légende 7.1. Shalom bar Abraham, Shmue fun der vrume Shoshane, 1571. Title page. Cracow. Photo credit: National Library of Israel
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Légende 7.2. Zurich Bible, 1536. Woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). Photo credit: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
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Légende 7.3. Jean Jacques Boissard, Icones virorum illustrium, 1597–99. Engraving by Theodor de Bry. Frankfurt am Main. Photo credit: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
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Titre Christian Textual Tradition
Légende Hans Holbein, Judith, 1538. Woodcut from Biblia Latina. “Icones,” Lyon. Photo credit: Wiesemann, 2002, Abb. 4 (K 10).
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Auteur

Ruth von Bernuth is assistant Professor of early modern German studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation focused on ideas of natural folly in medieval and early modern German literature (Wunder, Spott und Prophetie. Natürliche Narrheit in den Historien von Claus Narren (2008)). She is currently researching the relationship between texts in Old Yiddish and the German literature of the early modern period.

Michael Terry is curator of the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library and the organizer of a number of exhibitions, including The Hebrew Renaissance – chiefly about the ”rediscovery” of Jewish literature in sixteenth- to seventeenth-century Europe – at the Newberry Library in Chicago and Jewes in America – chiefly about seventeenth- to eighteenth-century notions regarding Jews and destiny – at The New York Public Library. His Reader’s Guide to Judaism received the National Jewish Book Award.