Opinion | Sally Rooney’s ‘Beautiful World’ must be translated into Hebrew

Sally Rooney has been one of my favorite writers for a while now. I devoured Normal People and loved Conversations With Friends. Rooney explores themes relevant to younger generations, and her books are always quite political, which is on account of the Irish author identifying as a Marxist. After the announcement of a new book, I was very excited to read it. However, I was dismayed to hear that Rooney had no intention of translating her book into Hebrew, the language of Jewish sacred texts and the official language of Israel. Rooney cited political concerns, saying that Israel has committed human rights abuses against Palestinian people. Rooney insists that she is willing to publish her book in Hebrew, saying “If I can find a way to sell these rights that is compliant with the BDS movement’s institutional boycott guidelines, I will be very pleased and proud to do so.” Rooney has publicly supported BDS, which stands for “Boycott, Divest, Sanction,” a pro-Palestinian policy designed to put pressure on Israel. Despite her claims that the translation is about Israel only, Beautiful World, Where are You is not available in Hebrew.

When I was a little girl, I would attend synagogue every week. I would open up the siddur (prayer book) and look at the lines of text in a language I hoped would one day mean something to me. That hope came true for me, as I can now speak, read and write Hebrew with skill, although I am not fluent. Most of my Jewish friends are somewhat familiar with the language, and they’ve never been outside the United States. Hebrew was the language of my prayers and the ancient text of the Jewish people. That is what it means to many people today. 

This translation policy also brings up questions of hypocrisy. There are tons of countries committing human rights abuses, but Rooney has had no qualms making her book accessible in these other places. It is well documented that China is horrifically abusing Uighur Muslims. Turkey is systemically discriminating against Kurdish people. The United States has its fair share of human rights issues. The United States is on stolen land in the same way Rooney contends Israel is. These examples are not meant to minimize these other experiences, nor to suggest that Rooney should not be holding these other countries to the same standard that she holds Israel. Rather, these comparisons highlight the way in which Rooney focuses all her energy on this one nation, targeting a language that has historical and ethnic significance beyond its political endeavors. 

This article is not meant to challenge certain anti-Israel policies or rhetoric. Rather, I hope to draw attention to the nuance of language, specifically Hebrew to the Jewish people. In Rooney’s defense, this also may be something that she has not considered rather than a conscious targeting of Jews all over the world. Regardless, it’s something that needs to be addressed. 

I will continue to pray in Hebrew. My friends will continue to read Torah in Hebrew. That says nothing about Israeli politics. I hope that many modern day leftists, including Rooney, develop a more nuanced understanding of what Hebrew means to an entire ethnic group- not just a country.

In the meantime, I will still definitely devour “Beautiful World”. How could I not?