Sunday, September 19, 2010

Translations of Jewish classics into Arabic

TRANSLATIONS OF JEWISH CLASSICS into Arabic so far seems to have a limited audience:
Lost in Translation
A Ramallah man struggles to find a reading public for Maimonides

By Daniella Cheslow | Sep 14, 2010 7:00 AM | (Tablet Magazine)

When Mohammad Husein studied at Hebrew College in Boston, he was delighted to put to use his years learning Hebrew in Ramallah. As a Master’s student (class of 2007), he often went to Saturday morning services and helped his neighbors find their way in Hebrew prayer books. But once he returned to the West Bank, Husein, 54, found far less use for his professional interest in Judaism. A year after translating into Arabic an abridged version of the code of Jewish law known as the Mishneh Torah, written by the medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides, Husein said he can only find work as a truck driver. His story reflects the difficult position of Arab Muslim scholars who wish to learn about Jews.

The article discusses in detail the difficulties of finding a market for this kind of work. Note also this aside:
Husein’s difficulty doesn’t surprise Mohamed Hawary, a professor of Jewish thought and comparative religions in Cairo’s Ain Shams University. Hawary wrote in an e-mail that an Arabic translation of the six books of the Mishnah were published between 2006 and 2009 but that no one has tackled Maimonides yet.
I didn't know there was an Arabic translation of the Mishnah. That's kind of cool.

But there is hope:
One option may lie with Intellectual Encounters, a virtual academic community of scholars who study the medieval world of Islam. On the steering committee are Hebrew University rector Sarah Stroumsa, Yale Islamic studies professor Frank Griffel, and Sari Nusseibeh, who is president of Al-Quds University but working on this project privately as an Islamic philosophy scholar. Funding is from the Rothschild Family’s Yad Hanadiv Foundation in Jerusalem.

Academic director Raquel Ukeles said the program will include a course on medieval Islam to be taught at Yale, Al-Quds, Bar Ilan University in Israel, and Tübingen University in Germany. Further, the program’s website will publish translations of important works, and scholars who speak Hebrew and Arabic would be useful. Ukeles, who has traveled to Egypt, Morocco, and Qatar, said, “Everywhere I go people ask me, ‘Can you recommend books about Jewish philosophy?’ ”

“Now that I know about Husein, and if he’s doing good work, I think I can work with him to raise money,” she said.
I wish Mr. Husein every success with his work.

As the article notes, much of the work of Maimonides was written in Judeo-Arabic - Arabic written in the Hebrew alphabet. A lot of Hebrew literature was also translated into Judeo-Arabic in the Middle Ages for Arabic-speaking Jews. I need to gear myself up to work with this brand of Arabic soon, because some of the earliest and best manuscript evidence for the Hebrew document Sefer ha-Razim (Sepher HaRazim) , which I am translating for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, is found in a Judeo-Arabic translation from the Cairo Geniza.