The Inside Story of How Harry Potter Was Translated Into Yiddish

The multi-year project involved experts in Sweden, Israel, and the United States, plus an Orthodox Jewish Indian-American translator. It's now available for pre-order.

Earlier this week, I promised you a really fun story that had absolutely nothing to do with our politics, anti-Semitism, or the current news cycle. Here it is: For the past few months, I’ve been carefully chronicling the official translation of Harry Potter into Yiddish. The first book is out today, and so is my story in Tablet on how it came about.

It’s a fascinating tale that involves one of America’s greatest Yiddishist dynasties, a little known publishing house in Sweden, competing translators, and much more. One thing’s for sure: You definitely don’t need to know any Yiddish to appreciate it.

Here’s how the piece begins:

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is one of the most translated works of fiction in human history. Over the last two decades, it has appeared in over 80 languages, ranging from well-trodden tongues like French and German to more exotic idioms like Gaelic and Latin. Today, that collection expands to include one more, with the debut of the official Yiddish translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (released in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).

How did such an unusual edition come to be produced nearly 23 years after its source material’s publication? The work of an Indian-American Orthodox Jewish translator, and printed by a publishing house in Sweden, the story behind Harry Potter un der filosofisher shteyn is almost as remarkable as the story it tells.

To chronicle that unlikely path to publication, I spoke with those involved at every step of the journey, from the translator himself to Rowling’s editors and agency. In the process, I learned not only how to say “Quidditch” in Yiddish, but about the hopes that have been invested in this improbable edition of the popular children’s tale.

Read the whole thing. You won’t regret it.

If you liked this piece, and want to support this brand of journalism, please share this newsletter, and be sure to subscribe.