How The Hobbit Learned Yiddish


Your grandparents might have read Yiddish translations of Shakespeare or Jules Verne (which were always “fartaytsht un farbesert,” of course). But they couldn’t have read The Hobbit—until now. As we say farewell to 2013 we salute an author who made waves: Computer programmer-turned translator Barry Goldstein (aka Berish Goldsteyn), for taking on the fan-friendly task of translating J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic into Yiddish.

This translation marks the book’s 61st language. Yiddish seems fitting for a work by Tolkien, who was a philologist as well as a writer who worked on the “W” (for “wizard”?) section of the Oxford English Dictionary. He was also a proud opponent of the Nazis.

Tolkien was enamored of mythology (he disdained Esperanto precisely because it lacked legends), and so it is perhaps fitting that a language so rich in stories should spin the tale of The Hobbit.

The translation wasn’t easy, said Goldstein, but, “after years of obsessing about complicated computer programs, I found reproducing the Trolls’ grobe diburim, or rhyming poems, to be…much less stressful than wrestling with a recalcitrant computer.”

Recommended from JTA