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Hebrew and Aramaic Terms in the Extractiones de Talmud. The Term “Yeshivah” in the Thirteenth-Century Latin Translation of the Talmud

Federico Dal Bo

Abstract

Translation is hardly an exceptional event. On the contrary, it is quite common and reflects the necessity of communication despite the obvious multiplicity of human languages. Therefore, it has often exhibited a practical and prescriptive nature – as a discourse characterised by instructions to translators about how, what and why to translate. In the present article, I will pay special attention to the treatment of Hebrew and Aramaic terms in the thirteenth-century Latin translation of the Talmud – better known as Extractiones de Talmud (‘Excerpts from the Talmud’). This translation is a large anthology from the Babylonian Talmud that was compiled by Christian authorities in consequence of the famous Paris process of 1240, when the Jewish convert Nicholas Donin confronted the prominent Rabbi Yehiel of Paris regarding the allegedly blasphemous, anti-Christian nature of the Talmud. This large anthology frequently emphasises linguistic difference and abounds in providing details about specific terms from Talmudic literature. Yet the Extractiones appear to neglect the complex nature of the Talmud. They never mention that the Talmud is bilingual – as it collects Hebrew and Aramaic texts – while emphasising that in it the Jews still employ the so-called ‘Holy Tongue’. I will argue that the Extractiones’ emphasis on Hebrew has both ideological and practical purposes. On the one hand, the notion that Hebrew abounds in the Talmud resonates well with the Christian expectation that Judaism is still bound to the “hebraica veritas” (‘Hebrew truth’). On the other hand, an unexperienced Christian reader might have found it difficult to come to terms with the linguistically and historically complex nature of the Talmud. Therefore, the focus on Hebrew may have been the result of an oversimplification for the readers’ sake. The case will be proven on account of one central example: the translation of the Hebrew term “yeshivah”. I will show that the treatment of this term illustrates how the Latin translator of the Talmud intended to emphasise the cultural difference between Jews and Christians, without abandoning the practical need of offering some form of cultural adaptation.

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Note

This article has been written in connection with the ERC project ‘The Latin Talmud’, directed by Prof. Dr. Alexander Fidora. For more details see http://pagines.uab.cat/lattal/.

Published Online: 2019-01-09
Published in Print: 2018-11-01

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston