Stories Without Borders: French-to-Hebrew Literary Translation in Late Medieval Europe

Caroline Gruenbaum
Yale University

In thirteenth-century northern France, French Jews lived alongside their Christian neighbors, speaking the same vernacular (including regional dialects of) Old French and experiencing similar cultural movements. This included an incorporation of romance into medieval Jewish culture. Specifically, Hebrew translations of Marie de France and the Lancelot-Grail cycle appeared in the twelfth through thirteenth centuries in northern Europe, with authors often adding a Jewish pious moral but occasionally leaving the stories without a discernible religious connection. This paper compares the types of translation and literary borrowing that Jews utilized to transport Old French literature to a Hebrew readership, arguing that not every text “Judaizes” its material. Medieval French Jews certainly appreciated the rich stories circulating around them, and this new understanding of cultural connections assists us in understanding Old French as a dynamic language that crossed religious borders.