Translatable but Debatable – התכתב hitkatev

by Mark L. Levinson

Normally a dialogue involves two people who are willing and able to communicate with each other, but the world of the arts is a great imaginary powwow where you can claim to hold dialogues with individuals who aren’t alive and who might pay you no attention if they were.  One book from the University of Georgia Press, for example, claims to show “that women's fictional experiments as early as the eighteenth century and Jane Austen enter into dialogue with Shakespeare.” The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam says that when displayed, Anish Kapoor’s Internal Object in Three Parts “will enter a visual dialogue with Rembrandt’s late works.”

I always find the one-sided claim of a dialogue irritating.   I was talking with Dante the other day, and he calls it infernal.

In Hebrew, for whatever reason, the equivalent expression refers not to speaking but to writing.  One artist or work of art is said to conduct a correspondence — l’hitkatev להתכתב — with another.  For example, the Habama website says that the Israeli gangster movie Kavod (“Respect”) mitkatev with The Godfather.  But unless I’m out of touch, in Hebrew the usage has spread beyond the arts in a way that in English it hasn’t.

The online Hebrew–Hebrew dictionary Milog takes a stab at the metaphorical meaning.  It defines l’hitkatev as (1) conducting a conversation in writing, and (2) sharing the same realm of content.  “The interface hitkatev with the mobile phone.” “Psychoanalysis hitkatva with ancient myths.”

On a recent news broadcast, the word came up twice.  Commentator Roni Daniel said that sooner or later the metal detectors will need to be removed from the Temple Mount, but something else will have to take their place.  Moshe Nussbaum said that until there’s a stable arrangement, there must be some interim method or other of assuring security — “and here I mitkatev with what Roni said.”  Thus one man says metaphorically that he’s conducting a correspondence with the other, when they’re sitting at the same long studio table and virtually conversing in person anyway (although, in a departure from general Israeli TV practice, they’re not shouting over one another’s remarks).

Not many minutes passed before Amnon Abramovich took his turn at the microphone, and he discussed the latest government scandals.  Most of the evidence from Avriel Ben-Yosef yitkatev with the material that state’s witness Miki Ganor has supplied, he said. 

Even if I’m right that these usages evolved from the self-indulgently extended idea of dialogue, “dialogue” is no longer a suitable translation for them.  You could say “harks back” “brings to mind” or “has to do with” in the case of triggering a recollection of something congruent that was said earlier.  You could say that one set of evidence “dovetails” with another.  Or simply “relates to” it.

If, like me, you don’t want to present a dead artist as if he appears like Superman’s father — as a posthumous emanation capable of listening and responding — you could say that the newer art “casts a different light” on the older or “recontextualizes” it.  Who could argue with a long word like “recontextualize”?

You could say that The Godfather “resonates” in newer gangster films.  Or that the films “illumine” or “inspire comparison with” one another. 

The interface could “be reminiscent” of the mobile phone or “have aspects in common” with it. 

Please feel free l’hitkatev with these translations in the space below.  I’m sure the ideas can be expressed in further ways.  And if you’d like to suggest a different word or phrase for discussion, please write to me at .  An index of words and phrases discussed so far is here.


Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.