Jacob Glatstein: How Christian (From Yiddish)

How Christian
Jacob Glatstein
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

How Christian, so to speak, can I become?
How much Christian could I be? 
How much mercywas ever up to me?
And what can I forgive? 
Sure I can maybe toss out a soft crumb 
Or two, on the account of one small life. 
But then what in regard to that divine extermination? 
Can I forgive on their behalf?2 Did they 
Grant such dispensation? 
And is it my place to betray
The burning bush of death? 

All the face-slappers slapped both cheeks of mine.
No Cossack ever gave a Mishnah-Jew3 a chance 
To even turn the other cheek.
How much Jew in me can be Christianedout, so to speak? 
A smidgen. That much pity
You can beg out of me
For children of my blood-bathed crime-leprous5 enemy.
So here you go: a smidgen of sympathy. 
Take it. Dole it out. No loss. 
But do not shadow down6 my heart
With an oh-so-merciful cross. 

1 - The word רחמנות rakhmónes here translated variously as "pity, mercy" encompasses both the idea of (divine) mercy alongside feelings of human pity.

2 - The word היתּר héter means permission, and has rabbinical connotations involving Jewish law.

3 - Mishnah Jew: a simple Jew. One who has studied the Hebrew Mishnah but hasn't gone on to study the Aramaic Talmud. Proverbial for "a simple man."

4 - The verb אָפּשמדן opshmádn means "to convert (a Jew) to Christianity, to Christianize" from שמדן shmadn "to baptize (a Jew)," ultimately from a Hebrew etymon which originally meant "destroy." The reflexive opshmadn zikh — which is the form used here — is intransitive and means "to convert, to become Christian." This lexical root is associated with forced conversion, coercion, subordination, capitulation and self-erasure in the face of Gentile society. (The use of derivatives of שמד to refer to conversion also has a long history in medieval Hebrew, preceding that of Yiddish. The medieval Hebrew term משומדים "converts, conversos" goes back to at least the ninth century. Modern Hebrew has לְשַׁמֵד lešamed "to coerce into converting to Christianity," and להשתמד lehištamed "to commit apostasy" alongside other derivations e.g. לְהַשְׁמִיד lehašmid "to obliterate, to exterminate" where the root's earlier semantics are more transparent.)
The negative connotations of opshmadn and shmadn are quite at variance with the words in non-Jewish languages used to translate them, and from the more neutral Yiddish terms of Germanic coin which may be used in their place in scholarly or otherwise analytic contexts. One might complain (as indeed a great many did complain) that the Yiddish writer Sholem Asch had אָפּגעשמדט opgeshmad the Yiddish language by dealing with Christian subjects in his work (his novel דער מאַן פֿון נצרת The Man From Nazareth about the life of Jesus landed him in especially hot water.) Some Hasidim may deem secular Jews to have been opgeshmad. A more connotatively apposite translation of this verb would require coinages like "Church-whipped" "fallen to Christ" or the like. But this seemed out of joint.

5 -  מצורעדיק metsóyredik literally means "leprous, leper-like." But it has tradition-laden resonances. The Hebrew etymon metsóyre is a denominal derivation from צרעת tsoraas, traditionally translated as "leprosy" though it can apply to places and clothing, nor merely humans. It is mentioned in e.g. Leviticus 13-14. Tsoraes in Jewish tradition is a sickness understood to result from some sort of grave infraction (often that of לשון הרע loshn hore, harming someone by speaking ill of them.) The implication is that Christians have made themselves unclean, diseased themselves, with their actions.

6 — there is some wordplay here in the Yiddish. Glatstein's text has פֿאַרשאָטן farshótn "to cover with shadows" where one might have expected פֿאַרשאַטן farshátn "to harm, to injure."

The Original:



וויפֿל קריסט
יעקבֿ גלאַטשטיין

וויפֿל קריסט קען איך עס ווערן, מישטיינס געזאָגט?
וויפֿל רחמנותֿ ליגט דען אין מײַן רשותֿ
און וואָס קען איך פֿאַרגעבן? 
זאָל זײַן, כ׳קען זיך וואַרפֿן מיט ווייכע קרישקעס
אויפֿן חשבון פֿון אַ פּיצל לעבן.
אָבער וואָס איז מכּוח דער געטלעכער פֿאַרטיליקונג?
האָב איך דען פֿון זיי געקראָגן היתּר
און באַוויליקונג?
קען איך זײַן דער פֿאַררעטער
פֿון דעם ברענענדיקן דאָרן פֿון טויט?

אַלע מײַנע פּאַטשערס האָבן געפּאַטשט מײַנע ביידע באַקן. 
ס׳האָבן קיין מאָל קאָזאַקן
נישט געגעבן די געלעגנהייט
אַ משניות-ייד צו ווערן אַ באַק-אויפֿשטעלער. 
וויפֿל ייד קען איך אין זיך אָפּשמדן, מישטיינס געזאָגט?
אַ כּזיתֿ. אַזוי פֿיל רחמנותֿ
קען מען נאָך בײַ מיר אויסבעטלען
פֿאַר די קינדער פֿון מײַנע מצורעדיקע שׂונאים.
אָט דעם כּזיתֿ מיטלייד – נעם בײַ מיר צו, פֿאַרטייל אים.
אָבער פֿאַרשאָטן נישט מײַן האַרץ
מיט אַ רחמנותֿדיקן צלם. 

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