our words make worlds

Between partitions and translations: Reviving Andalusian visions at the turn of the twentieth century Palestine

We will be welcoming Dr Yuval Evri (SOAS) to give a short talk about his current research on visions of Muslim/ Jewish cultural relations and identities in early XXc Palestine.  A synopsis of Dr Evri's project follows.  This is an informal meeting to discuss the  issues raised by his work on the ways in which Sephardi Arab/Jewish intellectuals  returned to medieval Al-Andalus in search of cultural and political models for Palestine at the turn of the XXc.

Dr Evri has also shared a recent article on this topic.  Those wishing to attend and read the article in advance should contact Professor Julian Weiss (Julian.weiss@kcl.ac.uk) 


This research focuses on Sephardi Arab-Jewish intellectuals in Palestine during the turn of the 20th century. The network includes: Yosef Meyouhas (1868-1941), Abraham Shalom Yahuda (1877-1951), David Yellin (1863-1942), Isaac Benjamin Yahuda (1863-1942), and Abraham Elmalih (1885-1967), to name only few. Some of them formed an active force in the Hebrew revival and the Nahda circles. They developed an alternative cultural model to the dominant Europe-centric trend, a model based on a return to Sephardic/Andalusian heritage. Their work was based on the return to the intertwined Hebrew and Arabic culture and literature of al-Andalus and Golden Age Spain, marking this tradition as a cultural and political model for modern Palestine.

One main aspect of their work was the translation of the Andalusian intellectual and social heritage into the political and cultural context of their times. The “Andalusian legacy”, in their eyes, provided a mutual cultural and historical foundation for establishing a shared future for Arabs and Jews in Palestine. Critical of the tendency of the Wissenschaft des Judentums (Jewish studies) scholars in Europe, and later also in Palestine, to define the Jewish and Hebrew modernisation as a process of Westernisation and Europeanisation, they emphasised the importance of returning to the Andalusian Judeo-Muslim tradition, that had developed over the centuries, as a means of reviving Hebrew and Jewish culture in Palestine.

This unique approach was manifested especially in their translation works. During their decades of intellectual activity, those intellectuals translated a significant corpus of texts from several languages into Hebrew, mainly from Arabic. Their translation work embedded a wider spectrum of practices beyond the common inter-lingual one, reflecting a variety of manifestations of translation, including literary translation, cultural translation (mainly through ethnographic work), and translation of traditions (mainly folklore and oral tradition). The prominent role of translation in their intellectual work was largely a result of direct and indirect affiliation with the Andalusian heritage. Medieval Sephardic scholars served as inspirational role models, especially due to the prominent role that translation had in their world. By adapting this cultural model to the context of Palestine, this network promoted translation from Arabic as a fundamental instrument in the Hebrew national and cultural revival.

Out of their large corpus of translations, four prominent texts have been selected for investigation: Yalde Arav by Yosef Meyouhas, published in 1927; Mishle Arav: Asuphat Mivhar Mishle Bene Kedem by Isaac Benjamin Yahuda, published in 1932; Kalila wa Dimna by Avraham Elmalih, published in 1927; and Ha-melekh Umar al Na’man u-vanav by David Yellin, published in 1930. All of them were published in Hebrew.

These texts, which were published in book format, share important aspects. First, they were published at a crucial moment in the history of Palestine: the end of the first decade of British imperial control, which was characterised by increased political and national tension between Jews and Arab Palestinians. Second, the texts are the end products of the authors’ translation projects that began at the end of the nineteenth century, towards the end of the Ottoman period, and continued for decades, embedding the transition from Ottoman Empire to British rule. Third, all of the translation works are based on oral traditions, serving as a unique case study of translations without original written sources. Translation from oral tradition blurs the distinction between author and translator, and between the “original text” and the “copy”. Fourth, the books were published in the later stages of the authors’ lives, at times when their political visions were marginalised from the dominant political discourse. Their works were neglected among Hebrew literary circles from the moment of their publication until today.

These texts will be analysed, which were written over a period of decades, using “translation” as an analytical and methodological tool in three dimensions: linguistic translation, from Arabic to Hebrew; social translation, in a changing social and political reality; and cultural translation, mediating between traditions and cultures over time and space.