Jewish learning Ep #4: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Translator
People think of Hasidism as a movement that was mostly a movement of men; men left their families behind and went to be with the Rebbe, and the audience for whom the Rebbe wrote was an all-male audience. Women were really left out of Hasidism. But Nehemia has made a case for the fact that women were often very powerful in these Hasidic dynasties.– Rabbi Art Green
In this episode of Speaking Torah, Rabbi Nehemia Polen shares with us his lyrical and beautiful reflections on the experience of translating Malkah Shapiro’s The Rebbe’s Daughter, the challenges, and the lessons learned along the way.
Rabbi Nehemia Polen is the Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew College, a leading expert in Hasidism and Jewish thought, and a widely published author and translator. And reading his essay we have another authority in the field of translation from Hebrew into English, Rabbi Arthur “Art” Green.
Rabbi Green is one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Hasidism, Jewish thought, spirituality, and Neo-Hasidism. He was the founding Dean and is currently Rector of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College and the Irving Brudnick Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Religion at Hebrew College. He is both a historian of Jewish religion and a theologian, and his work seeks to form a bridge between these two distinct fields of endeavor.
Listen in this episode to discover the insights that Rabbi Nehemia Polen uncovered during the process of his understanding and translation of Malkah Shapiro’s memoir and the challenges of separating himself from the work while remaining an integral vehicle in its delivery.
What You’ll Discover from this Episode:
- The metaphorical unrelenting stages of translation, from quagmire to quicksand.
- Why translation as an art is both a dedication and a necessary betrayal.
- Where not considering the size of the challenge ahead could be considered a wise move.
- What fascinated Nehemia about Malkah Shapiro and her story.
- Why Art believes Nehemia’s discovery of Malkah Shapiro and her memoirs was so important.
Featured on this Episode:
Rabbi Nehemia Polen (writer) is Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew College. He is a leading expert in Hasidism and Jewish thought and a widely published author. Among his books are The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, The Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, and The Rebbe’s Daughter, for which he received the National Jewish Book Award . It is his experience working this last book – when he was a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow – which served as the inspiration for the essay we will hear today. Nehemia holds a doctorate from Boston University, where he studied with and served as a teaching fellow for Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.
Rabbi Arthur Green (reader) is the founding dean and current rector of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College and Irving Brudnick Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Religion at Hebrew College. He is Professor Emeritus at Brandeis University, where he occupied the distinguished Philip W. Lown Professorship of Jewish Thought. He is both a historian of Jewish religion and a theologian; his work seeks to form a bridge between these two distinct fields of endeavor.
Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, PhD (host) is Director of the Hebrew College Innovation Lab. He is Research Professor in the Department of Music & Judaic Studies at Tufts University and Senior Consultant for Hillel International. The author of several books, among his many awards are a 2018 Hebrew College honorary degree, a GRAMMY nomination for his CD Abayudaya: Music from the Jewish People of Uganda, the Edgar M. Bronfman Award for Lifetime Accomplishment in Hillel Professional Leadership, and the Tufts Hosea Ballou Medal.
A special thank you for this episode’s musical contributions:
Intro by: Jackson Mercer
Jackson is an Ordination Candidate at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton, MA. He grew up at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, CA where he cultivated a love of Judaism, embolden with music, spirituality and justice.
Esa Einai (Psalm 121:1)
Music by Jackson Mercer
Guitar and Melody by Jackson Mercer
Harmonies by Cantor Rosalie Will, Ilana Sandberg, Rabbi Micah Shapiro, Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, Noah Diamondstein, Ryan Leszner, Eliana Light.
Outro by: Cantor Dara Rosenblatt
Cantor, Temple Beth El in Richmond, VA
Ordination: Hebrew College 2018