Joseph Sherman, 65, Yiddish Scholar and Translator

Obituary

By Lana Gersten

Published March 25, 2009, issue of April 03, 2009.

Joseph Sherman, a scholar and translator of Yiddish literature who is best known for Translating Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel “Shadows on the Hudson,” died March 20. He was 65. The cause of death was complications from pancreatitis.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sherman was a longtime professor of English literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and more recently a professor in the department of Oriental studies at the University of Oxford in England. But he came from a Yiddish-speaking family (his father and uncle were both Yiddish writers), and he was passionate about Yiddish literature — particularly from his native South Africa.

“He really in a way saved South African Yiddish writing,” said Zilla Goodman, professor of Hebrew language and literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “He actually brought it to the fore and made sure that it’s been put in archives, made sure that it was translated and published.”

Sherman translated a number of South African Yiddish works and has published critical essays on such Yiddish luminaries as Singer, Dovid Bergelson and Sholom Aleichem. And although Sherman was well respected as an academic, those close to him speak fondly about his larger-than-life personality.

“He had a flair for the dramatic,” said Neville Hoad, a former student of his. “He had an abrasive, assertive sense of humor that he wasn’t scared to use in the classroom. “He always used to say he could’ve been a preacher, a teacher or an actor. In the end, he ended up as a scholar.”

Sherman had three books in the works before his death: a translation of Bergelson’s novel “When All Is Said and Done,” a collection of stories and poems by Yiddish writers murdered during the Stalinist period in the Soviet Union and a collection of essays on Yiddish poet Peretz Markish.

He is survived by his wife, Karen.



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