Skeletons in the Hebrew Closet Yiddish Translations of “In the City of Killing” by Y. L. Peretz and H. N. Bialik and the Conflict over Revival

Roni Masel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The scholarship on Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik’s most canonical Hebrew poem, “In the City of Killing,” persistently returns to its origin story in the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. This article turns to the poem’s Yiddish translations—the first by Bialik’s colleague, admirer, and ideological opponent Yitskhok Leybush Peretz, and the second by Bialik himself—and challenges notions of origins, originals, and unfaithful translations. It pays attention to a consistently suppressed fact: parts of the poem in the canonized form known to us today, particularly those that bring the poem’s fascination with the gothic and grotesque to new heights, were introduced into the poem through Peretz’s Yiddish rendition. Bialik then borrowed these images and tropes and incorporated them into his own Yiddish translation, ultimately translating them into Hebrew and integrating them into the final, canonized version only in 1923. Rather than contesting accusations of Peretz’s “disloyal ” translation or accusing Bialik in turn of plagiarism, this article grapples with the philological impetus to search for definitive originals and the desire for textual stability. An entangled web of bibliographical evidence, unfaithful renditions, and unacknowledged textual relatives exposes translation as a productive and unruly site of literary transfer, as a site of conflict. That conflict should be understood in political terms, as a conflict over the means, character, and grounds for a Jewish national revival. The poem’s translational history reconstructed in this article summons, finally, a renewed evaluation not only of the ties between Hebrew and Yiddish and between original and translation, but also more broadly of Jewish textual culture in Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-384
Number of pages44
JournalProoftexts - Journal of Jewish Literature History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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