Ken Frieden publishes Travels in Translation

Cover of Travels in Translation by Ken Frieden

Cover of Travels in Translation by Ken Frieden

April 24, 2017
Ken Frieden is the B. G. Rudolph Professor of Judaic Studies at Syracuse University. His most recent publication is Travels in Translation: Sea Tales at the Source of Jewish Fiction (2016). Prior books include Classic Yiddish Fiction (1995) and anthologies of Yiddish literature in translation, such as Tales of Mendele the Book Peddler (1996) and Classic Yiddish Stories (2004).


Ken FriedenIn Travels in Translation, Ken Frieden traces modern Hebrew back to 1780, when German Jews began to move beyond the narrow confines of Torah and beyond a worldview centered on Zion. Supplementing Hebrew pilgrimage narratives to the Holy Land, enlightened authors wrote and translated stories of travel in Europe, North Africa, the Americas, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and the Arctic.

Before it reemerged as a spoken language, Hebrew was like a ship in a bottle, anchored in the Bible and Talmud. Early modern speakers of Yiddish and German, by writing vividly of pilgrimages to the Holy Land and translating far-flung travel accounts breathed new life into Hebrew. As they overcame the tendency to quote biblical phrases at every turn, these authors developed a descriptive Hebrew that was capable of evoking distant sea travels and exotic lands. They pulled the ship out of the bottle and sent Hebrew back into the world.

Frieden’s fresh look at the origins of modern Jewish literature launches a novel approach to literary studies. At the intersection of travel writing, translation studies, and worldly horizons, textual referentialism focuses on texts yet reads beyond them to their referents. Frieden thus proposes a rigorous alternative to post-structuralism and New Historicism, reenergizing literary and cultural studies.

Publication by Syracuse University Press.


“This book is an important revision to modern Hebrew literary history, demonstrating how the beginnings of a viable prose style go back to the early nineteenth century and translation played a crucial role.”— Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley
“Frieden cogently traces the path of making Hebrew a viable living language to a coterie of writers who preceded Mendele by half a century."—Ruth Adler, professor of Jewish Studies and Comparative Literature at Baruch College
“The stakes, the scope, and the thrust of this book are exemplary, explaining how travel literature exemplifies the acts of cultural transfer that are so much at the heart of Jewish literary modernity. . . . Frieden lays out in admirably clear detail the linguistic pieces of the puzzle." —Jeremy Dauber, director of the Institute of Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University

Content via: Syracuse University Press,, Ken Frieden Faculty profile.

The cover image is Joseph Mallord William Turner's The Shipwreck from The Tate and Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)