Letter to Tuvie Feder

Jacob Samuel Bick


“You are angry about the language into which my book has been translated? You sound like chirping birds and clattering animals and wild beasts in the forest! Kindly recall, my dear friend! What language did our fathers, and our fathers’ fathers, speak in Poland for about the past four hundred years? It was in that language that our most illustrious geniuses, the author of the Bayitadash [R. Joel Sirkes]; R. Moses Isserles; author of the Sefer Me’irat enayim; and the Shakh [R. Shabetai ben Meir ha-Kohen]—of blessed memory, spoke and thought and delivered discourses. We indeed heard the Gaon of Vilna, of blessed memory, speaking in this language. The sage Faber might be overly struck by this in his work Yedi‘ot gelilot ha-arets, ch.1, p. 274 in the Halle edition [published in 5575/1815], reckoning this language as one among the derivatives of German. So, if the language of Germany, the ‘first-born,’ is so dear to you, why have you not assessed the translation of the Bible by the Magid—the translations Tsene-rene and the Naḥalat Tsevi? In those works (which were essential for their times and for their communities), the language is replete with errors, and one finds in them no great wealth of pronouns and verbs, nor does one experience any active sensation of elevation therein that would make an impression on any individual with fine literary taste, such as are all to be found in the translation of R. Mendel of Satanov, whose wisdom will lead him onto the pathways of the purest kind for translators, even with regard to phrases that have not yet undergone correction [ . . . ]

Now the languages of France and of England, which are also included among the languages of ‘Ashkenaz,’ Gaul, Rome and Greece, have, by virtue of the efforts of the savants of successive generations, become most distinguished over the past three hundred years! While they still contain the aforesaid admixture of other languages, they have become vehicles for lofty poetry and flowery speech, of a most elevated and rarefied kind! About a hundred years ago the German language had lowly status; about eighty years ago, the Russian language was that of peasants; even the ancient tongues, Greek and Latin, were lowly at the beginning of their history until such time as their savants came along, who refined and clarified their vocabulary, created structures, and invented linguistic rules, until they attained that great state of perfection that so astounds us. It is the masses who establish the language of each nation; when initially established, there is no difference between one language and another from the perspective of their worth, save that in one language, the consonants exceed the vowels in number, as is the case with the languages of the northern regions, while in another language, the vowels are greater in number than the consonants, as is the case with the languages of the south! But they are all of a halting nature at the start—possessing neither form nor beauty. It is, however, only the philosophers who will create a lovely vessel and a wondrous form out of raw material and shapeless matter. . . . Put an end to your words! You have not done well, my brother! You will inherit neither honor nor glory when your taunts come to light; send your statements to the sage R. Mendel of Satanov with a view to seeking his forgiveness for having insulted him . . . this is my considered advice to you, tendered by your friend, who desires your welfare, who seeks your good at all times!”

Jacob Samuel Bick

[This note appears in the original Kol mevaser.] Editorial Note: Many readers of Kol mevaser will not understand the above letter which is written in Hebrew; hence, we feel that it is appropriate to translate it; and in particular, because it was written by a very great man, R. Jacob Samuel Bick of blessed memory, of Brody, a great Talmudic scholar and cultured individual, and a religious Jew. The letter may usefully serve as a riposte to all those who mock simple Yiddish. R. Jacob Samuel Bick wrote this letter to R. Tuvie Feder, who had made fun of the renowned R. Mendel Levine, or alternatively, R. Mendel of Satanov, for having translated the Book of Proverbs into simple Yiddish, and he by way of response justified himself.

Translated by
David E.


Jacob Samuel Bick, “Lr’ Tuviah Feder,” Ḳol mevaśer, July 9, 1863, The Yiddish Press Collection, National Library of Israel Newspaper Collection, https://www.nli.org.il/en/newspapers/kmv/1863/07/09/01/.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 6.

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