Rabbi Bernard Mehlman is one of the translators of the recently published The Way of Humanity: According to Chasidic Teaching, from CCAR Press. In this interview, he shares new discoveries made during the translation process.
Why did you feel a new translation of The Way of Humanity was needed?
The first English translator of Der Weg des Menschen is unknown. That translation is overly literal and made little attempt to reshape the long, nested German sentences of the original for the English reader. We felt this literary gem deserved a translation which considered the sensibilities of English readers.
What was the research and translation process like for this book?
The research for the book centered mainly on the Martin Buber Archive of the Hebrew National Library, located at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We were able to read correspondence relating to Buber’s work. Most importantly, we discovered a series of radio talks that Buber gave in the autumn of 1945, in Hebrew, for Kol Yerushalim, the British Mandate radio service. These enhanced our work greatly.
The epilogue presents a unique discovery that you and Dr. Padawer made while working on this translation. How does this discovery change how we think about this work’s origins?
When we found the Hebrew radio talks he delivered, and a handwritten outline by Buber of the content in both Hebrew and English, we learned that Buber was already thinking about The Way of Humanity as early as 1945 and perhaps earlier. His invitation to speak at a gathering of a Dutch Protestant religious and socialist workers organization, the Woodbrookers in Bentveld, the Netherlands in 1947, became the setting in which Buber presented his “lectures.”
What can contemporary readers learn from The Way of Humanity?
This book is filled with wisdom told with a rhythm and melody created by Martin Buber. It has an urgency cloaked in the world of Chasidic storytelling that begs the reader to probe the meaning of life on multiple levels. It urges the human reader to affirm the world and the self. It is at once a specific and a universal call to be present and affirm life.
Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman, DHL, senior scholar at Temple Israel in Boston, Massachusetts, teaches midrash and homiletics at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Formerly, he was Distinguished Lecturer in Judaics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Along with Dr. Gabriel E. Padawer, z”l, Rabbi Mehlman translated the new English edition of Martin Buber’s The Way of Humanity, now available from CCAR Press.