Sunday, July 03, 2016

When Elie Wiesel read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in Yiddish--when no Yiddish translation of the book ever existed

"In his memoir Wiesel had written that "I read The Critique of Pure Reason – don’t laugh! – in Yiddish."  I suggested that this was most improbable since The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish (p. 82).   Rather, as I subsequently pointed out in a Salon interview (see this website under "The Holocaust Industry"), the only selection by Kant translated into Yiddish was a chapter on ethics from The Critique of Practical Reason.  Pretending to be a Kant aficionado, Wiesel once recalled that: "As a boy, when I went out with a girl, I would talk to her about Kant and generally never see her again" (quoted in Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, selected and edited by Irving Abrahamson [New York, 1985], vol. iii, p. 278).  For an avowed Kant expert to confuse reading one chapter of The Critique of Practical Reason with the whole of The Critique of Pure Reason is akin to an avowed Tolstoy expert who confuses reading one chapter of Anna Karenina with the whole of War and Peace.  Although Wiesel would later claim to possess the "title page" of The Critique of Pure Reason in Yiddish (Daily Telegraph, July 31, 2000), the translation was nowhere to be found among all the major collections of Yiddish writings I consulted in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel."