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The Task of the Hebrew Translation

Reading into Othello’s Indian/Iudean Crux in the First Hebrew Translation

Eran Tzelgov


The first translation of Shakespeare’s Othello into Hebrew, Ithiel ha-Kushimi-Vinezya, was published in 1874. The translation, by the Jewish convert to Christianity Isaac Edward Salkinson, was made following an explicit request by one of the most prominent figures of the late Hebrew Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), Peretz Smolenskin. I will examine how the two negotiated one of the most controversial cruxes in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. The crux, found in Othello’s final speech (5.2), reads in the First Quarto (1622) as ‘the base Indian’ who ‘threw a pearl away, / Richer than all his Tribe’, while in the First Folio (1623) it reads as ‘the base ludean’. I will meditate on the Indian-Iudean crux, and offer a critical reading of Salkinson’s ‘solution’ and his ‘mistranslation’ of ‘pearl’ to ‘sapphire’ on the same line, in light of Smolenskin’s critique of Hebrew literature. In so doing, I will offer an understanding of the role of the Hebrew translator in their era and of translation in general.