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Publications

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. Between the Bridge and the Barricade: Jewish Translation in Early Modern Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2024

Between the Bridge and the Barricade explores how translations of non-Jewish texts into Jewish languages impacted Jewish culture, literature, and history from the sixteenth century into modern times. Offering a comprehensive view of early modern Jewish translation, Iris Idelson-Shein charts major paths of textual migration from non-Jewish to Jewish literatures, analyzes translators’ motives, and identifies the translational norms distinctive to Jewish translation.  

As a site of intense negotiation between different cultures, communities, religions, readers, genres, and languages, translations become an ideal entry point into the complex relationships between early modern Christians and Jews. At the same time, they also pose a significant challenge for modern-day scholars. But, for the careful reader, who can navigate the labyrinth of unacknowledged translations of non-Jewish sources into Jewish languages, there awaits a terrain of surprising intercultural encounters between Jews and Christians. Between the Bridge and the Barricade uncovers the hitherto hidden non-Jewish corpus that, Idelson-Shein contends, played a decisive role in shaping early modern Jewish culture. 

  • Sofer, Gal. "The Jewish Reception of the Ars Notoria: Preliminary Insights into a Recent Discovery" Religions 15(3) (2024): 339-360

Recent advancements in studying the Ars Notoria, notably through Julian Véronèse’s critical edition, have provided insights into its manuscripts and various interpretations. This progress sets the stage for exploring a less examined area: the Jewish reception of the Ars Notoria, a topic ripe for investigation in the current scholarly landscape. This article explores the Jewish engagement with this Christian text, particularly through its Hebrew translation Melekhet Muskelet, as well as a notable discovery that links the Ars Notoria’s notae to the Kabbalistic ten sefirot. This connection suggests an early Jewish interest in this Christian magical text. The study, using textual and visual analysis, offers insights into the interplay between medieval Jewish Kabbalah and Christian magical texts, underscoring the need to reevaluate their mutual influences during the 13th and 14th centuries.

  • Cohen, Oded & Cohen, Roni. "The Jewish Traveler and the Protestant Shoemaker: A Hans Sachs Poem in Yiddish" Zutot 21 (2024): 1–14

This article discusses a new finding – the first known Yiddish translation of a literary piece by the famous 16th-century Meistersinger Hans Sachs (1494–1576). The translation was copied, shortly after the original piece was printed in German, as part of a manuscript that includes lists on various topics copied by a traveling Jew named Uri ben Simon. The examination of the translation and its context in Uri ben Simon’s codex are used as an example of inter-cultural exchange in the early modern German space.

  • Alexander Van der Haven, "A Jewish Qur’an: An Eighteenth-Century Hebrew Qur’an Translation in its Indian Context," Religions 14 (2023): 1368

This essay places the Washington Library of Congress Heb. Ms 183, a Hebrew Qur’an translation from eighteenth-century Cochin, in its South Indian context. After pointing out important general differences between early modern European and South Asian inter-religious cultures and attitudes to translation, this essay analyzes three salient differences between Ms 183 and its Dutch source. Then, the essay scrutinizes three relevant and interrelated contexts: the eighteenth-century Indian diplomatic culture of owning and exchanging scriptural translations; the social position of Muslims and Jews as ‘guests’ and diplomatic brokers; and the rise of Muslim military power in Malabar. On this basis, I argue that this Hebrew Qur’an translation was intended to be cultural–diplomatic capital for Jewish diplomats dealing with Muslim rulers, indicating that not only rulers translated the scriptures of their subjects but also subjects those of their rulers. In addition, by showing how the Mysorean rulers implemented Islamic reforms and how Jewish practices were attuned to majoritarian religious practices, the essay suggests that Ms 183 was also meant to serve Jewish religious purposes, making this manuscript possibly a rare instance of using non-Jewish religious scriptures for Jewish religious practice

  • Jánošíková, Magdaléna & Idelson-Shein, Iris. "New Science in Old Yiddish: Jewish Vernacular Science and Translation in Early Modern Europe." Jewish Quarterly Review 113 no. 3 (2023): 394-423

This essay explores the phenomenon of the translation of scientific works from European languages into Yiddish from the early sixteenth century through the late eighteenth century. By following the trajectory of texts and ideas from the non-Jewish realm to the Ashkenazi Jewish vernacular, it draws attention to the ways in which cultural and scientific innovations reached Jewish readers of various classes, spaces, and genders well beyond the narrow elite of rabbinically or university-trained Jews. The essay challenges the notion that there existed in early modern Europe a neat division of labor between Hebrew, the language of the learned elite, and Yiddish, the language of the Jewish masses. It also contributes to recent scholarship calling into question the prominence of the Jewish Enlightenment (the Haskalah) as a harbinger of Ashkenazi interest in non-Jewish knowledge in general, and science in particular. Mapping the hitherto overlooked interactions between Yiddish readers and writers and early modern scientific thought, this essay opens avenues into new research on the complex relationships between the interrelated corpora of early modern Jews and Christians, physicians and rabbis, scholars and laypeople.

  • Mayer, Yakov Z. "Writing the Talmud Anew: Shlomo Sirilio's Renaissance Edition of the Jerusalem Talmud." Jewish Quarterly Review, 113 no. 3 (2023): 368-393

Shlomo Sirilio, a resident of sixteenth-century Safed, created a radical adaptation of the Jerusalem Talmud based on its 1523 editio princeps. He sweepingly adapted the talmudic text, expanded it with medieval materials, and added novel material, based on his creative scholarly intuition. This essay describes Sirilio's scholarly conception and distinguishes between the medieval motifs and the innovative Renaissance ideas that shaped his work. It argues that such a creative approach could not have been created in the centers of humanistic culture, but only in the peripheral locale of Safed, where humanistic ideas could be developed without polemical undertones.

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. "Of Wombs and Words: Migrating Misogynies in Early Modern Medical Literature in Latin and Hebrew." AJS Review: The Journal of the Association for Jewish Studies 46, no. 2 (2022): 243-269

In the decades surrounding the end of the seventeenth century, new ideas about women’s bodies migrated from Latin medical texts to Hebrew ones. This article follows the journey of one particular idea, that there exists a unique kind of feminine madness, termed furor uterinus in Latin, which originates in the womb, and expresses itself in excessive sexual desire and uncontrollable speech. The article offers a comparative reading of Hebrew depictions of furor uterinus, locating them within their wider cultural context. It reveals the dynamic ways in which early modern Hebrew authors actively participated in contemporary scientific discussions, importing them back into the Jewish community. The intense (albeit often unacknowledged) dialogue which took place between Hebrew medical texts and their source texts offers a valuable lesson on forms of cultural transfer, authorship, and translation, as well as on competing notions of feminine sickness and sexuality in early modern Europe.

  • Goren, Ahuvia."The Scientific Method, the Atomist Theory, and the Bible Commentary of Rabbi Moshe Chefetz (1664-1712)", Zion, 88a, (2022): 75–102 [Hebrew]

This essay offers a study of the thought of the Italian rabbi Moshe Chefetz and some of his contemporaries. Chefetz's work is shown to be an attempt to introduce the Jewish reader to Gassendian atomism, Cartesian optics, and new theories about the tides. He did so  through the presentation of these ideas as the genuine meaning of biblical verses and a solution to many burning philosophical question of the time, raised by contemporary skeptics. This work and its influence show that the path of interpretation, the reading of scientific ideas into the religious sources and vice versa was a prevailing source for the embracement of early modern scientific ideas into Jewish theological works.

  • Jánošíková, Magdaléna."United in Scholarship, Divided in Practice: (Re-)Translating Smallpox and Measles for Seventeenth-Century Jews" Isis 133.2, (2022): 289-309

The article investigates the translatability of experience in seventeenth-century medical practica. It reconstructs the translation and the retranslation of the chapter on smallpox and measles taken from the immensely popular Praxis medica penned by Lazare Rivière. This text was adapted by two Jewish physicians: Jacob Zahalon who translated it into Hebrew, and Abraham Wallich who then modified it further, both presenting this work as their own. Reconstructing the decision-making that entered their work, I argue that the erasure of some practical and experiential content does not constitute a failure of translation, but revaluation of the content’s applicability in a new context. The article, dealing with Jewish learned physicians, also examines how different environments were reflected in these physicians’ writing. It, therefore, shows how physicians of comparative expertise resorted to dissimilar practices.

  • Jánošíková, Magdaléna. "Studying Ibn Sina, Performing Abulafia in a Mid-Sixteenth-Century Prison: Emotional, Medical, and Mystical Bodies between Italy and Silesia" European Journal of Jewish Studies. Special issue: “Kabbalah and Knowledge Transfer.” (2022): 5-27

Historians often address knowledge transfer in two ways: as an extension and continuation of an established tradition, or as the tradition’s modification in an act of individual reception. This article explores the tension between the two approaches through a case study of Eliezer Eilburg. It traces the footsteps of a sixteenth-century German Jew and his study of the late medieval Hebrew medical and mystical literature composed in the wider Mediterranean. As it uncovers the cultural, political, and social processes shaping knowledge transfer between various Jewish cultures and geographies, the article highlights the receiver’s individual agency. Under the thickly described intellectual traditions, it is the receiver’s lived experience that allows historians to grasp the impact of knowledge on the lives of premodern people—the impact on their body and its relation to the world and to God. Building this argument, this article problematizes the relationship between theory and practice.

  • Karkason, Tamir. "The Iberian Diasporas in the 18th and 19th Centuries." In Jewish Literature in Spanish and Portuguese: A Comprehensive Handbook, ed. Ruth Fine and Susanne Zepp. Berlin: De Gruyter (2022): 319-351

The article presents the key trends in the Sephardic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—primarily written in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), but also in Hebrew—from a panoramic perspective, while also offering a profile of the intended audience of this literature. It attempts to identify the most prominent genres of this literature in terms of both quantity and quality. In the eighteenth and, even more so, in the nineteenth centuries, the bulk of Sephardic literature was written in the local Ladino vernacular rather than in the high-status language Hebrew. Therefore, Ladino literature was accessible to broad Sephardic audiences who were not literate in Hebrew. Starting in the eighteenth century, Ladino literature began to appeal to a broader audience than ever before, both through the expansion of the use of the vernacular and through the diversification of literary genres along with the strengthening of their popularizing tendencies.

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. "Motivations for Translation in Early Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Translations." Zion 81, no. 4 (2021): 535-562 [Hebrew]

This article offers a reading of the introductions that appeared in early modern Hebrew and Yiddish translations of European works in various genres. It focuses on the three primary motivations offered by the translators: (a) the notion of translation as a means of strengthening Jewish religion and faith; (b) the notion of translation as a means of reclaiming lost or stolen Jewish knowledge; and (c) the notion of translation
as a form of cultural gatekeeping. These unique and pointedly Jewish motivations for translation challenge the one-dimensional view of the early modern Jewish translator as an agent of Jewish modernization. Inspired by the translators’ own self-understanding, this article offers a different view of Jewish translation: as a form of cultural gatekeeping that allowed Jews to interact with their surrounding environments while, at the same
time, resisting the pressures for cultural conformity.

  • Goren, Ahuvia. "The Lulav: Early Modern Historiography, Religious Polemics and the Art of Fencing." Religions. Special issue: "Divine Logos in Translation: Philosophy and Biblical-Exegesis in Context". 12, no. 7 (2021): 493

This paper analyzes the role played by historiographical and ethnographical writing in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian Jewish–Christian polemics. Tracing various Christian polemical–ethnographical depictions of the Jewish rite of shaking the lulav (sacramental palm leaves used by Jews during the festival of Sukkot), it discusses the variety of ways in which Jewish scholars responded to these depictions or circumvented them. These responses reflect Jewish scholars’ familiarity with prevailing contemporary scholarship and the key role of translation and cultural transfer in their own attempts to create parallel works. Furthermore, this paper presents new Jewish polemical manuscript material within the relevant contexts, examines Jewish attempts to compose polemical and apologetic ethnographies, and argues that Jewish engagement with critical scholarship began earlier than scholars of this period usually suggest.

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. "Rabbis of the (Scientific) Revolution: Revealing the Hidden Corpus of Early Modern Translations Produced by Jewish Religious Thinkers.” American Historical Review 126, no. 1 (2021): 54-82.

This essay discusses the corpus of translations of non-Jewish texts into Jewish languages, which emerged during the early modern period. Particular attention is given to Hebrew translations produced by members of the Jewish religious elite during the long eighteenth century, which have hitherto been viewed as original Jewish works. I argue that the works of these translators challenge the binary oppositions between imitation and innovation, tradition and modernity, Jewish and non-Jewish, revealing a form of cultural transfer that relied on the mindful adaptation and reformulation of new ideas by discreet, almost inadvertent innovators.

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. “Shabbethai Bass and the Construction – and Deconstruction – of a Jewish Library.” Jewish Culture and History 22, no. 1 (2021): 1-16

This essay examines two works produced in 1680 by the Jewish author and bibliographer, Shabbethai Meshorer Bass: his famous Hebrew bibliography, Sifte yeshenim, and his enigmatic Yiddish travel guide, Masekhet derekh erets. In both works, Bass relied heavily on previous sources, either in Latin or in German, which remained, for the most part, unacknowledged. The article offers a comparative reading of the two works, focusing particularly on the understudied Masekhet derekh erets, to exemplify the porous and deeply collaborative nature of early modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature.

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. “Kill the Hen that Crows Like a Cock: Animal Encounters in Old Yiddish.” Journal of Jewish Studies 71, no. 2 (2020): 321-344

This article focuses on a selection of Yiddish adaptations of well-known European tales, which were produced during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It examines the ways in which these Old Yiddish tales express concerns surrounding Jewish life in Diaspora, by envisioning strange encounters between humans and animals. The article attempts to untangle the complex discursive web of which these animal-encounter tales formed a part, and which connected notions of humanity and animality with those of religion, gender and class. I argue that in their depictions of aberrant animality, these tales drew on the identification of Jews and animals, as well as on the relationship between animals and violence, to grapple with the dialectical relationship between Yiddish literature and its adjacent Hebrew and German libraries.

  • Goren, Ahuvia. “Benyamin Dias Brandon’s Orot Hamivot (1753): Halacha and Polemics in Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam.” Studia Rosenthaliana 46, no. 1-2 (2020): 189-210

This article considers the halakhic work Orot Hamitzvot (1753) of Benyamin Dias Brandon, and its posthumous co-editor, Isaac Cohen Belinfante. The article situates this publication in the intellectual Portuguese-Jewish milieu of eighteenth-century Amsterdam and the kinds of scholarship and ideals of erudition that were fostered in its Ets Haim yeshiva. More specifically, the article shows how Brandon’s and Belinfante’s work contributed to a wider tradition of literature, flourishing in the early eighteenth-century, that combined halakhic arguments with polemical defenses of rabbinic authority. This literature built on seventeenth-century precedents, but it also broke new ground by incorporating developments in natural science, such as theories of atomism, into halakhic thought.

  • Mayer, Yakov Z. “Elijah of Fulda and the 1710 Amsterdam Edition of the Palestinian Talmud.” Studia Rosenthaliana 46, no. 1-2 (2020): 117-135

Elijah of Fulda was the first Ashkenazi Jew in the Early Modern period to write a commentary on the Palestinian Talmud, printed in Amsterdam in 1710. Through a close reading of the nine approbations that preface Elijah’s commentary, this article reconstructs his itinerary throughout Europe and his journey from relative obscurity to the center of the Hebrew and Jewish book world of his day ‐ Amsterdam. The article argues that although other commentaries replaced that of Elijah of Fulda in popularity in subsequent editions, he should be remembered as the first to establish a tradition of Ashkenazic study of the Palestinian Talmud, and as the scholar who shaped the impagination of subsequent editions.

Forthcoming

  • Iris Idelson-Shein, Between the Bridge and the Barricade: Jewish Translation and Cultural Transfer in Early Modern Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2024
  • Magdalena Janosikova and Iris Idelson-Shein. “The JEWTACT Database: Creating a New Early Modern Jewish Archive.” in Early Modern Translation and the Digital Humanities. Hilary Brown, Regina Toepfer, and Jörg Wesche (ed.). J.B. Metzler: Stuttgart. 2024.
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