Thursday, January 01, 2009

A New Kuzari

A new version of R. Daniel Korobkin's Hebrew-English translation of the Kuzari was recently published by Feldheim (the previous version was published over a decade ago by Jason Aronson). I'd like to offer a few thoughts about this edition.

The Kuzari is an essential Jewish text that, with a good translation, is pretty easy to read most of the time, although it has a few difficult spots. I was first introduced to the book with a good Hebrew translation (from the Arabic original). R. Korobkin has produced an extremely accessible English translation that, I think, far surpasses anything that has been previously published. His English is easy and is more of an idiomatic translation than a precise, word-for-word rendition. The latter, I think, would make the read much more difficult than it needs to be.

Click here to read moreFrom the Acknowledgments section it is clear that R. Korobkin accessed leading academic scholars for assistance, but the book also has traditional rabbinic endorsements (from R. Yaakov Weinberg and R. Dovid Cohen). His footnotes show his familiarity with other important Medieval works of Jewish thought. In those notes, he frequently directs readers to what other Medieval thinkers have to say on the subject, and he sometimes compares those views.

Significantly, the book has a very helpful introduction that offers an overview of the Kuzari and indeces that are extremely useful.

However, let me offer some counterpoints. I found the Hebrew translation to be less than desirable. R. Korobkin used the old Ibn Tibbon translation, which he occasionally updated. In the Preface, he offers two reasons for using the Ibn Tibbon translation: 1) it was written close to the time of the original Arabic to the translator understood the original terminology, 2) it is a "classic" text. In this age of Modern Hebrew translations by R. Yosef Kafach (and Prof. Yehudah Even Shmuel), the Ibn Tibbon translations just seem archaic. I think this decision was unfortunate.

Additionally, I really wish that there was more commentary. R. Korobkin clearly has a lot to offer but many of the footnotes are very brief and there aren't enough of them. He occasionally paraphrases from classic commentaries but I wanted more.

I found a few of the English translations a little difficult. R. Korobkin consistently translates Ibn Tibbon's "mikreh" as incidental, but it seems to me that sometimes it should be translated as accidental. I can understand why you would want to translate a word consistently, but I think clarity should override that concern. He also translates the word "hakdamah" as fundamental (as in fundamental principle) while I think more accurate would be something less absolute like proposition. Then again, I have no idea what the original Arabic says so I could be mistaken.

I also found the book somewhat annoying in that it is so heavy. I would have preferred to have smaller and closer text, smaller margins and thinner paper. It's just too heavy to carry around. There are also 80 pages of appendices that I would gladly do without for a lighter book.

But all that notwithstanding, if you are only going to have one edition of the Kuzari in your home, I recommend this one. It has a decent Hebrew, a great English, helpful and philosophically informed footnotes and great indices (did I mention that he helpfully breaks the big paragraphs into sub-paragraphs?).

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