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"The Hobbit" and Other Classics in Yiddish


"The Hobbit" in Yiddish"The Hobbit" in YiddishIf you're as eager as I am to see the movie version of The Hobbit, then you'll be excited to hear about the brand-new translation of the J.R.R. Tolkien classic into Yiddish. OK, maybe not; possibly you don't read Yiddish. But the recent publication of Der Hobit offers a good opportunity to illustrate one of the strengths of the Dorot Jewish Division.

"The Cat in the Hat" in Hebrew"The Cat in the Hat" in HebrewThe Jewish Division is unusual among NYPL's research collections in that it is both a subject and a language division. Our subject, of course, is Jewish Studies in all its facets — the Bible, Talmud, Jewish law, history, ethics, philosophy, and so on. But we're also a language division: we collect books on many different (non-Jewish) subjects in the principal Jewish languages — Hebrew, Yiddish, and, to a lesser extent, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and Judeo-Arabic. In the Jewish Division you can find, for example, Hebrew books about chess, aeronautics, and accounting, and Yiddish books about botany, stenography, and physics.

Among these "non-Jewish" books is a large collection of literary classics translated into Hebrew or Yiddish: Shakespeare, Dickens (the Yiddish translation of Oliver Twist is currently on display in the exhibit "Charles Dickens: The Key to Character"), the Arabian Nights, Winnie-the-Pooh, Joyce's Ulysses, The Cat in the Hat, and many more. Some are a bit obscure, like W.S. Maugham's Up at the Villa (certainly not his best-known work). Some are more important for the translator than the original author, like Isaac Bashevis Singer's translation of Landstrykere by Knut Hamsun (a highly-regarded author in his day, but not very well known nowadays).

"Winnie-the-Pooh" in Yiddish"Winnie-the-Pooh" in YiddishWhy has the Jewish Division collected these translations? Partly because of our readership, which has traditionally included Hebrew or Yiddish speakers who enjoy reading world literature in translation; partly to demonstrate the variety and fluidity of the Hebrew and Yiddish languages.

So when you're watching The Hobbit, remember that "the road goes ever on and on" in Yiddish too!


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