Salim al Dawudi and the beginnings of translation into Arabic of Modern Hebrew Literature

Mahmoud Kayyal

Abstract

This article deals with the beginnings of the translation of Modern Hebrew literature into Arabic, and at the same time with the beginnings of Arabic literary writing by Jewish intellectuals. We will focus on Salim al-Dawudi’s translation of the first Hebrew novel, Avraham Mapu’s Ahavat Tsiyon [The love of Zion] (1853), one of the most important texts to advocate the renewal of ties between Jews and Palestine. Al-Dawudi’s translation was published in Egypt in two non-identical editions in 1899 and 1921–1922, and is probably the first Arabic translation of Modern Hebrew literature. When he declared that his translation was designed to remind his people that Hebrew was a living language, al-Dawudi accorded his translation Jewish national aspirations, which is perhaps the reason for the mixed aims of his translation’s policy. On the one hand, there are phenomena that illustrate his desire to be accepted in the target culture, such as neglect of the integrity of the text, raising its stylistic register, preserving the ethical norms of the source text and even a tendency to paraphrase. On the other hand, there are places that display over-consideration of the source language and text, such as numerous deviations from the standard linguistic, syntactical and grammatical rules of Arabic, preservation of elements unique to Jewish culture and a multitude of Hebrew interferences in the Arabic translation. This unsystematic behavior apparently reflects a lack of literary skills, deep admiration of the source text (and language), and the fact that the translation was addressed mainly to a Jewish audience.

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In this article, I seek to clarify the motives and characteristics of the beginnings of translational activity from Modern Hebrew literature into Arabic, and particularly the relationships between this activity and the Zionist idea of the revival of Hebrew. An attempt will also be made to examine the relationship between this activity and the beginnings of literary writing of Jewish intellectuals in Arabic. Salim al-Dawudi’s translation of Avraham Mapu’s Ahavat Tsiyon [The love of Zion] constitutes an ideal test case for discussing the Arabic translational and literary activity of Jewish intellectuals living in the Middle East.

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