Publications

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. "Motivations for Translation in Early Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Translations." Zion 81(4), 2021 [Hebrew] 535-562.

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(7), 2021.

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

  • Idelson-Shein, Iris. "Of Wombs and Words: Migrating Misogynies in Early Modern Medical Literature in Latin and Hebrew.” AJS Review. Forthcoming.