This articles is arranged according to the following outline:
UNTIL THE END OF THE 18TH CENTURY
The Bible in Yiddish Literature
"Historical" Songs and Writings
Transcriptions of German Works
"Secular" Yiddish Literature in Italy
Until World War I
STRUGGLE BETWEEN HASKALAH AND ḤASIDISM
SHOLEM YANKEV ABRAMOVITSH (MENDELE MOYKER-SFORIM)
THE LABOR MOVEMENT
After World War I
THE SOVIET UNION
THE UNITED STATES
PALESTINE / ISRAEL
The 1970s and After
CONTEMPORARY ḤASIDIC YIDDISH LITERATURE
YIDDISH RESEARCH AFTER THE HOLOCAUST
Coming to Terms with the Loss
The Organizational Framework
NEW CENTERS OF YIDDISH STUDIES
THE NEW IDEOLOGICAL CONTEXT
Yiddish Research in the Previous Generation: Concepts and Achievements
THE NEW CULTURAL CONTEXT
THE ACHIEVEMENT OF MAX WEINREICH
RESEARCH ON OLD AND MIDDLE YIDDISH LITERATURE
MODERN YIDDISH LITERATURE – REAPPRAISING CLASSICAL TEXTS
PUBLISHING IN YIDDISH STUDIES
Up to the End of the 18th Century
Yiddish is one of a number of languages that Jews have assimilated into their culture from their foreign environment during their long exile (see
). These languages were "Judaized" and, at least initially, served primarily as a means of everyday communication. They were regarded as of lower status than the ancient and holy language, Hebrew, which enjoyed almost exclusive dominance in the realms of religious ritual and scholarship. Yiddish, developing and flourishing side by side with the Hebrew-Aramaic which continued to be the unifying medium of communication among Jews of all lands of the dispersion, is unique. While Judezmo (popularly known as
, and other Jewish languages also developed a linguistic identity, a rich folklore, and a variety of literary genres, none can claim as copious and diversified a literature as that which flourished in Yiddish, nor did any of them reach the geographical spread of Yiddish, nor equal it in number of speakers. During the second half of the 19th century at the latest, all the literary genres found in modern European literature had also become vehicles of expression in Yiddish.
A parallel may be drawn between the relationship of Latin literature to the vernaculars of medieval Christendom in European literature and that of Hebrew to Yiddish in Jewish culture. The transition of Yiddish from a medium of daily communication and a popular literature to a comprehensive and highly developed literary and intellectual vehicle of creativity was complex. Hebrew, it was formerly thought, was the sole medium of reading and writing of the intellectual strata of Jewish society until the 19th century. Yiddish, it was said, catered only to the masses, answering mainly the spiritual needs of the less educated, especially women. Hebrew writings expressed the highest aesthetic, intellectual, social, and religious ideals of the society; Yiddish literature, it was assumed, answered the needs of the untutored and of women. Yiddish literature until the end of the 18th century, it was formerly thought, consisted either of educational material written by intellectuals or popular works by writers from the readers' own social class. This schema ignores the best of both early Yiddish (i.e., Old and Middle Yiddish) literature and the flowering of a sophisticated Yiddish literature in northern Italy in the late 15th and 16th centuries. As regards women, there is clear evidence that they made up a sizable portion of the reading audience of early Yiddish texts; some were also active participants in the printing industry, whether as typesetters, printers, or authors.
With the rise of the haskole [
] movement at the end of the 18th century, modern Yiddish literature gradually developed into an independent medium in all modes of intellectual and artistic expression. By the end of the 18th century, the conventional and standardized Yiddish literary language which had attained its most definite form in the 16th, or at the latest in the early 17th century, had become stereotyped. Spoken and literary Yiddish differed widely, the latter having been maintained almost solely to answer the need for a uniform written medium understood by Yiddish speakers of Western and Eastern Europe. Literary Yiddish had become an artificial language. The end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries saw the birth of a literary language based on the Yiddish dialects of Eastern Europe. At the same time, Yiddish almost ceased to be a creative medium in Western Europe, the Haskalah movement and emancipation having encouraged linguistic assimilation. West European Jewish writers adopted European languages as media of expression, a process that affected East European Jewry much later.
Extant pre-18th century manuscripts, printed books, and small pamphlets are sadly lacking in many spheres, a natural outcome of the persecutions, expulsions and wanderings forced upon European Jewry. This dearth is also due to an attitude to Yiddish, a legacy of previous generations that saw only Hebrew as holy and of value. Modern research into early Yiddish literature started shortly before World War I. The results published in the 1920s and 1930s need to be revised because of the ideological concepts and methodology then current, because of important texts discovered since, and because of more recent studies. This state of affairs is no less true regarding modern Yiddish literature, a field in which relatively little scholarly research has been done. The following survey could well be reshaped by future findings.
From its beginning Yiddish literature was largely based on the Bible and its interpretations, talmudic legends, and midrashim. For centuries, efforts were made to impart Bible knowledge in Yiddish, as evidenced by glosses in margins of Hebrew manuscripts (at least from the 12th century), manuscript glossaries for individual books of the Bible, and works such as Mirkeves haMishne / Seyfer R' Anshl [Mirkevet ha-Mishna – Sefer R' Anshl, Cracow, 1534], a dictionary and concordance for the entire Bible, which is the first known Yiddish printed book. In some manuscripts traces have been found of interlinear translations that simulated the syntax, grammar and semantics of the Hebrew original. Complete translations of the Pentateuch were published in Constance (1544), Augsburg (1544), and Cremona (1560). Translations were made of single books of the Bible, e.g. Psalms (Venice, 1545), and of the entire Bible (Amsterdam, 1676–9, 1679).
This literary creativity in Yiddish continued earlier oral efforts by the Jewish settlers of southern Germany who had adopted the local vernacular. The traditional oral study of the Scriptures in Yiddish among descendants of these German Jews in Israel and in the U.S. is a living assertion of the earlier creative process. In modern times, the threads of this literary expression were taken up by
Sholem Yankev *Abramovitsh
(Mendele Moykher-Sforim/Mokher Seforim], Y.L. Perets (
), Khayim Shoys (Ḥayyim Schauss], and others, in their translations of individual books of the Bible, and by
[Yehoyesh / Solomon Bloomgarten) in his translation of the entire Scriptures. Yehoash's work is standard among secular Jews in the Yiddish-speaking world (latest revised edition 1941; online "YIVO" edition at Di Velt fun Yidish website). (To grasp the status accorded to this poet until recently in the Yiddish world, see the special Yehoash issue of Di Goldene Keyt 72 (1971)). The poetic translation of Yitskhok Katsenelson (
) in the early 1940s in the Warsaw ghetto placed the Bible in the forefront again as a source for Yiddish literary inspiration.
Yiddish scriptural translations closely adhered to the text, usually rendering it literally. By drawing on the traditional Hebrew biblical commentaries, the Yiddish translations gained authority. The process of translation was to render into Yiddish each Hebrew word of the original by a parallel Germanic component, despite the fact that many of the Hebrew words in the text were understood by all Jews and in use in Yiddish. For a long time, translators of the Bible followed a definite structure and linguistic pattern in consequence of which idioms, stylistic and linguistic forms no longer used in the spoken language were preserved in the oral and written study of the Bible. The sanctity of the Hebrew original imputed to these early translations explains why these archaisms were preserved, becoming a main source for stylization in modern Yiddish literature.
The 14th century marked the beginning of Yiddish rhymed biblical tales. (Christian rhymed versions of the Bible are almost all psalters). In the Cambridge University Library manuscript T.-S. 10K22, from the
, the stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses (written ca. 1382) are in verse. The epic poem about the binding of Isaac (Akeyde [
]) seems to have been very popular for centuries and has been preserved in various manuscripts and printed texts up to the 18th century. The Book of Esther and the midrashim based on it, also in great demand, are known to have been rendered into Yiddish in poetical form from the 15th century onward. This literary activity reached its zenith in the
("Book of Samuel," Augsburg, 1544) and
("Book of Kings," Augsburg, 1543), biblical epics believed by some to have been written in the 15th century. Later works structurally imitated these earlier compositions, e.g., Joshua (Mantua, 1562/64), Judges (Mantua, 1564), Isaiah (Cracow, 1586), and Daniel (Basel, 1557). The metrical structure common in popular German epic poetry (four lines of six stresses with a prominent caesura in each line and an aabb rhyme scheme) was adopted, sometimes with the acrostic and strophe of the Hebrew piyyut (e.g., the rhyme scheme aaaa in the poem on the sacrifice of Isaac). The style and structure of these poems reflect cotemporal German poetic conventions.
In these mainly anonymous poetic adaptations, the original Bible story was embellished with talmudic legends and midrashim to augment the narrative element of the tale. The poets, possessing as they did profound knowledge of the Hebrew sources, were faithful to the content and spirit of these additions. We can assume that this literary creativity was, inter alia, born of the need to produce an offset and possible substitute for the alien "fictitious" adventure stories which had spread to the Jewish public. Except for some isolated works and poetic adaptations, written as late as the 17th century, e.g., Kehiles Yankev [Kehilas Ya'akov, Fuerth, 1692], this type of literary activity ceased. From the end of the 16th century it made way for homiletic prose, whose subjects and themes were culled from the same sources.
The Tsenerene (
) by R. Jacob b. Isaac Ashkenazi of Janow was a very popular work in the genre of homiletic prose. A miscellany of tales, homilies, midrashim, and exegetical comments woven around a Yiddish rendering and paraphrasing of the Pentateuch, the haftoyres [haftarot] and the megiles [megilot], the work is written in a lively, simple, and flowing style. The commentaries and midrashim supplementing and expounding the selected biblical passages were well known. The work is assumed to have appeared first in the 1590s. (The first preserved unicum was apparently published at Hanau, 1622, but was preceded by at least three editions which have been lost.) Reprinted up to the present, it has gone through over 210 editions. Another work ascribed to Rabbi Jacob b. Isaac Ashkenazi, Seyfer haMagid [Sefer haMagid], popular for generations, is a translation of Neviim [Prophets] and Ksuvim [Hagiographa] printed alongside the Hebrew text with a paraphrase of Rashi's commentary. Published at the beginning of the 18th century under the title Magishey Minkhe [Magishey Minkha] with an edition of the Khumesh [Pentateuch] written in the same style, the book became increasingly popular. It may be assumed that the widely-read works of R. Jacob b. Isaac Ashkenazi helped perpetuate the archaic style dominating Yiddish literature until the end of the 18th century, a style which ignored the developments in the spoken tongue, especially the changes that occurred in Yiddish in Eastern Europe. The 1786 Lemberg re-edition of the Tsenerene systematically repatterned the language to conform to modern Eastern Yiddish [Kerler 1999, p. 100]. Though lacking exegetical and homiletical originality, this prose is faithful to the Hebrew-Aramaic sources that the contemporary Jewish community at large knew well. Its novelty lies mainly in the popular style and the new literary forms into which the ancient cultural treasures were cast.
Yiddish biblical drama, adapting Scripture stories more freely than any of the other genres, appeared on the Yiddish literary scene at the latest by the 17th century. This late date (in comparison to European literatures) may be due to the ban imposed by the rabbis on the theater, in force particularly in medieval Europe where the Christian Church controlled drama. The establishment of professional theatrical companies and troupes in Germany in the 17th century led to
the secularization of the theater and to the relaxation of the ban, thus making way for the Yiddish drama. The latter confined itself, however, to biblical subjects: Akheshveresh Shpil ("Ahasuerus Play," earliest ms. 1697, printed text Frankfurt am Main, 1708); Mekhires Yoysef ("Selling of Joseph," Frankfurt am Main, before 1711); Dovid un Golyes ("David and Goliath," Hanau, 1717); and Moyshe Rabeynu Bashraybung ("Moses Our Teacher Description," mid-18th century).
Yiddish biblical drama shows clear influences of the non-Jewish theaters of the time, mainly in the setting and in the introduction of comic characters. Although non-Jewish plays on the same themes may have served as models and sources for Yiddish drama, all elements or motifs that were incompatible with the Jewish outlook were replaced by material culled from midrashim which added rich dialogue to the original biblical story. The midrash thus was a vital literary source whose wealth of subjects, themes, and actual language lent a note of originality to the development of the biblical themes in the dramas. Generally presented at Purim when prohibitions and bans were relaxed, these plays fit the festive mood of the holiday. The oral tradition of the Purim shpiln ("Purim plays"), also including dramatic works on other biblical themes, bears clear traces of these early 17th and 18th century Yiddish dramas. The tradition was alive in Eastern Europe up to World War II, and in the isolated instance of the Bobover ḥasidim is still alive today.
The canon of Jewish liturgy had become fixed before Yiddish literature developed, and this may be the reason there was little original prayer and religious lyrical writing in Yiddish. The earliest Yiddish verse (preserved in the Worms makhzer [Makhzor, high-holiday prayer book, 1272] reads: "gut tak im betag shevayr dis makhzor in bes hakneses trag" ("May the person who carries this holiday prayer book to the synagogue be blessed"). This benediction, found only in this source, was merely an embellishment and did not form part of the standard liturgy. Most of the liturgical activity was in translation. From the 15th century onward, Yiddish translations of individual prayers and of entire prayer books were well known and current in the Jewish community; the first printed Yiddish prayer book (Ichenhausen, 1544) contains prayers for the entire year. However, the main function of translations of prayers into Yiddish was to aid understanding of the Hebrew-Aramaic texts; according to tradition, they alone were acceptable for devotional service.
In Yiddish, however, there were spheres in which to express religious feelings and devotion. The tkhine, a non-standard prayer of individual and private supplication adapted for various purposes, is outside the body of the liturgical canon. Mainly considered prayers for women, tkhines are often attributed to women authors. Written mainly in prose, these supplications are characterized by simplicity and emotionality. They are found as early as the 16th century in printed Yiddish texts, sometimes in prayer books with Yiddish translations. They were widely published in small books and in special collections that are still printed today.
Yiddish religious poetry also found an outlet in those ceremonies which did not yet have a set of fixed rules and customs governing them, mostly ceremonies conducted specifically in the home (Sabbath and festival meals, the Passover seder, weddings and circumcisions). By the 15th century, not only were popular Hebrew piyyutim and hymns translated into Yiddish, but Yiddish poems were specifically composed for such celebrations and festivities. Bilingualism characterized this poetry: some of the poems were written both in Hebrew and in Yiddish so that the entire company might fully participate. Contrary to the Hebrew text, which in accordance with the tradition of the Hebrew piyyut, was studded with learned quotations, the Yiddish text was characterized by poetic simplicity and vivid descriptions directly reflecting the times and mores. Structurally, this Yiddish poetry is marked by a symbiosis of two strophic forms drawn from two separate literary sources: the strophe of the Hebrew piyyut, adapted to the linguistic peculiarities of Yiddish, and the German strophe, particularly that of the folk song. The Yiddish poems were often written and adapted to German folk melodies popular among Jews (e.g., a Hebrew and Yiddish song in honor of the Sabbath sung to the melody of the German Herzog Ernst, as early as the middle of the 15th century). This poetry was also a vehicle for various types of parodies that were especially popular at Purim.
This wealth of Yiddish literary activity developed directly and naturally out of an established and organized Jewish society whose way of life was in no small measure influenced by a didactic literature consisting of books of customs (mineg (minhog)), and ethical conduct (muser (musor)). The Yiddish literature on traditional conduct mainly instructed the Jewish community in how to behave during synagogal worship and at domestic festivities and religious ceremonies. Custom books in Yiddish are found in early manuscripts which, with the dissemination of the art of printing, were frequently reprinted, with only minor changes, up to the end of the 18th century. In his Early Yiddish Texts (text no. 31), J.C. Frakes edits an excerpt from a north Italian manuscript of a book of customs (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. hébr. 586, fos. 117r–118r; dated 1503). The first printed Yiddish comprehensive guide to customs appeared at Mantua in 1590.
Ethical writings were one of the most important genres in early Yiddish insofar as numbers of exemplars actually read. In a simple and clear style easily understood by the average person, they taught ideal religious and social behavior for the individual and society as a whole. This literature denounced (often excessively) any conduct which deviated from the standards of the authors. The ethical writings, also based on accepted Hebrew sources, were to a large extent translations of Hebrew ethical literature, e.g., Seyfer Mides ("Book of Qualities" [Sefer Midot], Isny, 1542), the first comprehensive
printed Yiddish ethical work translated and published before the Hebrew text Orkhes Tsadikim ("Way of the Just," Prague 1581). [See L. Prager & B.S. Hill, "Yiddish Mss. in the British Library," in: The British Library Journal, 21/1 (Spring 1995), 86–8 and footnote 39; see also EJ 12: 1458–60]. Lev Tov ("Good Heart," Prague, 1620) and Simkhes HaNefesh ("Joy of the Soul" [Simkhas HaNefesh], first part Frankfurt, 1707; second part, containing a collection of poems and hymns including the music, Fuerth, 1727) were two original Yiddish ethical works, well known in Jewish society and often reprinted.
The many parables and exemplary tales included in ethical writings established a close link between this literature and the
. Traces of the first written Yiddish exempla and hagiographies, the origin of which was undoubtedly in homily and oral literary traditions, e.g., folklore, are contained in a number of tales found in scattered manuscripts and small books (most of which are lost) appearing in Venice in the middle of the 16th century. The story titles point to the decisive influence that the Hebrew legend had on this literature. The
("Story Book" [Ma'aseh Book]), which was first published in Basel in 1602, is a comprehensive compilation of 257 stories based largely on talmudic and midrashic tales, though some are culled from other sources. Direct influences of the novella and the folktale, genres current in contemporaneous non-Jewish European literature, can be detected in many of the narratives; others are hagiographical accounts about Khsidey Ashkenaz [Khasidey Ashkenaz] with the obvious time gap between contemporaneous life and historical and legendary memories. These hagiographical tales are also comprised in the Mayse Nisim ("Miracle Tales" [Ma'aseh Nissim], Amsterdam, 1696) and are found in a number of small works in which local legends, whose protagonists are prominent historical figures, are developed. The principal purpose of exemplum and hagiographical literature was didactic and it formed the mainstream of Yiddish narrative prose up to the end of the 18th century.
The Mayse Bukh also testifies to Yiddish fable literature, although the first extant works in that genre are found in the much earlier Cambridge Genizah manuscript of 1382. The fables are free translations into Yiddish from fables of the time known originally in Hebrew, often with a modified moral. The
("Book of Cows") is the first Yiddish collection of fables (the first edition apparently at Verona, 1595; a slightly revised reprint appeared at Frankfurt, 1697, under the name Moses Wallich). Eli Katz in his splendid critical edition indicates that "What distinguishes the tone" of the latter from its sources or possible influences "is its hominess": the stork in the first fable prepares kreplekh; the crow in the second fable blesses the new moon. A translation of the Hebrew Mishlei Shu'alim ("Fox Tales") appeared at Freiburg in 1583.
Although virtually all Yiddish authors prior to the second decade of the 20th century commanded both Hebrew and Yiddish to some degree, and though there are numerous Hebrew works printed with their translations in Yiddish, the intimate relationship between the two languages is best seen in the too little understood organically dual Hebrew and Yiddish poem such as the early 17th debate poem, a distinct kind of muser writing, Seyfer Mase u-Merive [Sefer Masso u-Merivo] ("Essays and Disputations," 1627) by R. Aleksander ben Isaac Pfaffenhofen. This rhymed bilingual poem contains an intricately developed disputation between poverty and richness in rhymed Hebrew and Yiddish parallel texts. Evidence points to the author's intention to publish, but it was not until 1985 that the rare Bodleian manuscript was "redeemed" in a scrupulously edited edition by Chava Turniansky. Bilingual Hebrew/Yiddish poems date from the 14th to the 18th centuries in genres such as wedding song, Sabbath hymn, debate poem, and ethics poem.
Up to the end of the 18th century, current historical events and contemporary Jewish life found expression mainly in long narrative poems called lider, which were put to music. This type of poem resembles the popular German historische Lieder (long poetic narratives on current events). Megiles Vints ("Vinz Scroll," a bilingual poetic work in Hebrew and in Yiddish) by Elkhonen Heln is one of the earliest extant poems of this type. It describes the sufferings of the Jews of Frankfurt am Main during the Fettmilch riots (1612), how Fettmilch and his rabble forced them to leave the city, and their eventual return. The 40 or so extant historical lider (from the beginning of the 17th to the end of the 18th century) – some of them bilingual with parallel Hebrew texts – are remnants of a poetry very popular in its time. The variety of topical subjects that found expression in this verse published in small cheap pamphlets close to the time of the events they describe point to its functional merit both as public commentary and news. The poems describe expulsions, blood libels, massacres, and natural calamities in the life of Ashkenazi Jewry from Vilna in the north to Ofen in the south, from the Ukraine in the east to Holland in the west.
The authors often showed a highly developed historical sense. A vehicle of communication on current historical events, these lider were at the same time emotionally charged, a reaction to contemporary non-Jewish literature of the same kind which described the same events in the form of anti-Jewish accusations. Elements of the ancient kina ("lamentation") and the Hebrew piyyut ("liturgical hymn") can be clearly discerned, as well as stylistic and structural forms adopted from German poetry of the genre. The poetry also contains balladic elements and is occasionally interspersed with lyrical digressions. As far as can be ascertained from the extant poetry, the writers seem to come from the lower echelons of Jewish leadership, and the events related were thus seen and expressed in the light of norms found in popular ethical literature. Most of this poetry has little literary merit, but measured against the background of Yiddish literature of the 17th and 18th centuries, its value is to be found in its originality and its ability to depict vividly the historical present – at that time hardly expressed in any other literary genre. The art, though slightly
modified, was alive in Eastern Europe up to World War II. Its final remnants, preserved by survivors of the Nazi concentration camps and the ghettos, were gleaned from the last transmitters of this oral tradition of the "historical" lid.
Also very popular in Yiddish were historical writings, a literature almost entirely translated from Hebrew. She'eris Yisroel (Amsterdam, 1743), an original work by
Menakhem Man *Amelander
, was one of the few exceptions. It was written as a sequel to the Yiddish translation of
(first printed in Yiddish in Zurich in 1546, and thereafter in numerous editions). Included in this literature somewhat arbitrarily since it fits neatly into no one genre is an untitled and quite extraordinary work that is conventionally (although inaccurately) referred to as the Zikhroynes ("Memoirs") of Glikl bas Leyb (since 1898 conventionally known as Glikl Hamil or
*Glueckel of Hameln
, 1645–1719). A widow with many children, Glikl by force of character and sagacity overcomes the many difficulties that she encounters in her long life. Hers is a timeless work of ethics and moral edification which – almost incidentally – also vividly describes the writer's life and illuminates the Jewish and general society in which she lived.
Jewish authors and readers were familiar with certain types of German literature as evidenced by linguistic and stylistic conventions and structural patterns and forms found in poetical adaptations of biblical tales and other types of Yiddish poetry taken from German verse. Thus German popular literary works were well known and understood among Jews in German-speaking countries, despite the fact that their language was not exactly identical with that of their environment. Until the beginning of the Haskalah (middle of the 18th century) this literature was transmitted mainly orally or by transcription of the works into the Hebrew alphabet. While the majority of Jews were able to read and write Hebrew, they were not able to read the Roman alphabet (galkhes), especially those circles that were most attracted to secular German literature.
The art of transcription into the Hebrew alphabet thus became prominent in Yiddish literature. Traces of the many German works transcribed can be found in manuscripts from the 14th century onward (Dukus Horant / "Duke Horant" in the Cambridge Genizah manuscript of 1382) and in printed works until the 18th century. German works that reached the Jewish reader were generally restricted to those popular with the German lower classes. Among these there was a popular folk literature, especially the folk song, which is extant in modified form and preserved even in collections of East European Jewry (compiled and written down from the oral tradition from the end of the 19th century). The early transcribed literature includes fantastic adventure tales which in many cases may be seen as folk literature and, from the end of the 16th century, a popular genre known in German literature as the Volksbuch ("chapbook"). Some of the transcriptions come from a written source while others were drawn from oral tradition. Slanders against Jews were excised from most of these works, the Jewish transcriber usually trying to expunge anything that was liable to offend the Jewish reader. Occasionally, however, accusations against Jews and other derogatory remarks are left in the transcribed version.
Transcriptions into the Hebrew alphabet adhered to certain methods that can be roughly reduced to the following: (1) excision of Christian religious references; (2) use of opprobrious expressions common among Jews for Christian terms and objects (such as tifle [contemptuous term for "church"] instead of kirche ["church"] in Dukas Horant); (3) use of neutral expressions for religious terms (e.g., "glaykh bay den tor" instead of "in di kirkhn" in Sheyne Magelone ("Beautiful Magelone," Fuerth, 1714); (4) the Judaization of Christian terms (shul ["synagogue"] instead of kirkhe in Zibn Vayzn Maynster Bikhl ("Book of the Seven Wise Masters," Basel, 1602). One method was not necessarily used consistently in any one transcription, nor was one method prevalent at a given period. In most works, the transcriber applied all the possibilities mentioned, while in others, not even the Christian terms were deleted.
A number of these works transcribed from writings whose roots were in the German environment presented literary problems beyond that of transcription and the changes made to Christian references. Such a work is the Yiddish Kinig Artis Houf ("King Arthur's Court," earliest manuscript from the 15th–16th century), whose sources are not known and which was later (17th century) adapted in ottava rima, imitating Elye Bokher's [
Elijah Baḥur *Levita
's] poetic adaptations from Italian (see below).
The growth rate of an original "secular" literature in Yiddish may possibly have been slowed by the great ease with which Jews were conversant in German literature. Thus the end of the 15th century and the 16th century were a flourishing period in Yiddish literature among the Jews of northern Italy. These Ashkenazi immigrants cut off from the German environment retained Yiddish as a living tongue at least until the late 16th century. The outstanding creative mark of the period is the original "secular" Yiddish literature to which it gave birth. Many Yiddish works in manuscript were produced and a variety of Yiddish books was published in such cities as Venice, Cremona, Mantua, and Verona. Though rooted in non-Jewish sources, the Yiddish writings were not transcriptions but original works whose vitality survives to the present day.
One of the major Jewish writers of the time in Italy was Elye Bokher [Elijah Baḥur Levita] who, until the end of the 18th century, was the central figure in Yiddish literature. A Hebrew scholar in the fields of grammar, linguistics, and Bible, and a friend and teacher of Christian humanists, he was a man of comprehensive and deep knowledge in a number of intellectual and cultural spheres. He was a versatile poet, sensitive to poetic form with which he experimented freely. Undoubtedly, not all of his Yiddish works have survived. Among his extant writings is his translation of the Book of Psalms (first printed
in Venice in 1545), two poetic pasquinades, and the romance Bovo d'Antona ("Bovo of Antona," written in 1507, first printed at Isny, 1541, and known as the
in later editions). Either Elye Bokher or a disciple of his composed Pariz un Viene ("Pariz and Viene," Sabbioneta, 1555/6; first extant ed. Verona, 1594). Only recently has a complete copy of the text been discovered (Verona, Biblioteca del Seminario Vescovile, Fonds Venturi, no. 192) which has clarified much concerning both the period and the genre (see the exemplary edition by Ch. Shmeruk in collaboration with E. Timm ). Adaptations from popular Italian stories, these romances point to the authors' complete freedom in the treatment of their material, made possible by the rendition into a language alien to the sources and by adaptation of the content for the Jewish reader. This literary freedom was, however, limited for the transcriber of German writings and for the translator (including Elye Bokher) of the sacred or semi-sacred Hebrew sources.
Elye Bokher reduced the Bovo d'Antona narrative from the 1,400 stanzas of the Italian source to 650 stanzas in the Yiddish, eliminating some of the erotic elements and including his own original additions – sometimes in a lyrical, sometimes in a delicately humorous vein. He also Judaized his characters at times, as transcribers from Roman into Hebrew script had occasionally done before him. While in the works of the latter, the Judaized material – whether situation or character – was sporadic, random, and out of context, Elye Bokher exploited the technique to create comic effects that formed a natural and integral part of the whole. His readers did not find it strange that medieval knights and kings good-humoredly observed Jewish customs and manners.
While the two works, which imitate the style and form of the sources, were written in ottava rima, the author felt that Yiddish was not easily adaptable to the Italian models. In the process of adapting the Bovo d'Antona, he developed an original stanza whose rhyme scheme was that of the ottava rima (abababcc) and which had alternate masculine and feminine rhymes. In this stanza, by skillfully integrating the natural accentuation of the Yiddish language and the syllabic principle governing the Italian language, he invented an exact iambic meter (in which the Pariz un Viene was also later composed), anticipating similar developments in other European literatures. Elye Bokher's poetic language is vivid and rich, and his rhymes are varied, partly because he included rhyme schemes from German, Hebrew, and Italian. Yiddish rhyme, usually based on a single component of the language, thus broke with the traditional conventions.
Despite the popularity of the Bove Bukh (known in corrupted texts in Eastern Europe up to the 19th century), Elye Bokher's Yiddish literary efforts did not substantially influence the development of Yiddish literature. This has been attributed to the decline of Yiddish in Italy at the beginning of the 17th century and to the cultural environment of the other European Ashkenazi communities which, until the beginning of the 19th century, was not receptive to a poet of Elye Bokher's caliber.
Two Haskalah comedies written in the 1790s by Isaac Euchel and Aaron Wolfsohn mark the end of Yiddish literature in Western Europe. While in the 19th and 20th centuries parodies of German literature were written in Western Yiddish (generally transcribed into the Roman alphabet), they are marginal phenomena among Jews who, as readers and writers, had become integrated into German culture. The groups of Yiddish writers in Berlin and Vienna after World War I are branches of the Yiddish literature that developed in Eastern Europe.
The desire to eliminate the popular Yiddish Purim shpil, stemming from an open disdain for the "corrupt" language, Yiddish, was one of the reasons that prompted the writing of the two aforementioned comedies. In the plays only the undesirable characters speak Yiddish, while the laudable characters speak, or at least try to speak, a "proper" language, i.e., "pure" German. It is doubtful whether the educational aims of Euchel or Wolfsohn achieved anything with regard to the language problem. These comedies were, in fact, a manifestation of the assimilative tendencies which were crystallizing at the time – irrespective of the desires of these authors – and which ultimately brought about the extinction of Yiddish literature in Western Europe. The society denied the very right of the language to exist and used it only for jokes – and even then only so long as there were Jews who could understand the puns and were still familiar with the environment from which they were becoming progressively estranged.
There was a symbolic and highly significant difference in principle between the comedies written in Germany and those of the East European Haskalah, written in Yiddish, even though the latter may have been written under the influence of the former, and both had similar aims. This type of comedy became one of the accepted genres in modern Yiddish literature in the 19th century. From the anonymous comedy Die Genarte Velt ("The Deluded World," 1816?), the comedies of Shloyme Etinger [
] and Yisroel Aksnfeld [
], to the plays of
Sholem Yankev *Abramovitsh
[Mendele Moykher-Sforim/Mokher Seforim] and Avrom Goldfadn [
], this type of drama not only fulfilled the authors' aims of disseminating the ideas of the Haskalah and modernizing Jewish society in Eastern Europe, but also facilitated (though not always deliberately or consciously) the transition of Yiddish literature from a folk literature to a modern one.
Although the maskilim ("enlighteners") in Eastern Europe disapproved of Yiddish in principle and used it only as a medium for the dissemination of their ideas among the masses who understood no other language, their use of the language came to serve as the basis for the development of a modern literature. An important, perhaps decisive, factor was the realization that the character and expressive power of the language were compatible with the environment. Yiddish was an effective tool for Haskalah writers
who were unable to express themselves with the same ease and effectiveness in Hebrew, although in principle that language remained the ideal.
This response, often unconscious, to the possibilities of Yiddish may clearly be seen in the writings of Mendl Lefin [
(Lefin)], Yoysef *Perl (beginning of the 19th century), and in later authors (up to the beginning of the 20th century) who wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish. Until the second half of the 19th century, no Jewish writers used the non-Jewish languages current in Eastern Europe, and until World War I, only a fairly narrow stratum of the Jewish intelligentsia had a thorough command of these languages.
The literature written in East European Yiddish – from the period of the Haskalah comedies to that of the wide geographical expansion of Yiddish literature in the late-19th and the 20th centuries, both in the countries where it took shape and in those lands to which the emigrants brought it – has been an arena fraught with tensions and metamorphoses. The turbulence endemic to Yiddish literature stems from a variety of sources: consciousness of the social and national purpose of Yiddish literature in describing the fundamental internal changes in Jewish society since the beginning of the 19th century; resistance to hostile external forces; the attitude to the Yiddish language itself, and to Jewish culture as a whole, especially to Hebrew and Hebrew literature; and its relationship to modern trends in Western literatures. All these elements constituted the background and motivating force for the rapid development of Yiddish literature.
From its inception, Yiddish literature in Eastern Europe saw the clash between Ḥasidism and Haskalah, one that assumed various forms in the course of time and continues to this day. Ḥasidism represents a mystical, romantic approach to life, while the Haskalah in all its variations is fundamentally rationalist and in its literary expression "realistic."
Ḥasidism from the 18th century tried to renew Jewish religious and social life on a mystical and emotional basis and created a literature of its own in Yiddish. In comparison with Hebrew ḥasidic literature, Yiddish ḥasidic literature is limited in scope and in its forms of expression. However, it is of immense importance as a direct source for all genres of modern Yiddish literature. The latter was nourished by its spirit, its outlook, and its characteristic narrative themes.
Ḥasidism produced two basic types of stories: (1) Hagiographies that glorified the founders and leaders of Ḥasidism by describing their marvelous deeds. The first important collection of this type, Shivkhey haBesht ("The Praises of the Baal Shem Tov," 1815), is derived from oral traditions in Yiddish which were first collected and committed to writing in Hebrew. Immediately translated into Yiddish in three independent versions, the work started a chain of hagiographical oral and written literature which influenced Yiddish prose and poetry until the period of the Holocaust. (Yitskhok Katsenelson's poem on the rabbi of Radzyn, written in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942/43, was based on authentic stories of this kind current at the time in the ghettos of Poland.) (2) Religious, mystic stories of which the tales of R.
*Naḥman of Bratslav
are among the most remarkable in all of Yiddish literature. Composed between 1806 and 1809, these tales appeared in a bilingual version (Yiddish with a Hebrew translation) in 1815. They are an original manifestation of religious mysticism in the garb of symbolist fiction and are the only works of their kind in Yiddish literature. Some of the themes are drawn from folk literature and anticipate important motifs of modernism which later appeared in Yiddish literature: the dichotomy in the soul of modern man between simple and unquestioning faith on the one hand, and rationalism and rationalization of life on the other. Within the ḥasidic movement itself, the narrative genre of the school of R. Naḥman had no successor. However, with the advent of modern symbolist trends in Yiddish literature in the late 1890s, his tales were a source for the works of Y.L. Perets,
, and others.
The struggle against Ḥasidism and its literature – and, in a large measure, against its Yiddish narrative literature – was one of the main objects of Yiddish Haskalah writings in Eastern Europe. The anti-ḥasidic motif is a characteristic feature of satirical Haskalah literature (Yisroel Aksnfeld, Y.Y. Linetski [
], and others) which included both parodies and deliberately confusing versions founded on ḥasidic literature itself (Y. Perl). For a fairly long period, the aggressive bias and open didacticism of the mainstream of Haskalah Yiddish literature limited its artistic possibilities for satire on the one hand and artificial pathos on the other. These works included, it is true, the poetical and dramatic writings of Sh. Etinger, in which the tendentious aims of the Haskalah were not particularly virulent, as well as the numerous stories of Ayzik-Meyer Dik [
Isaac Meyer *Dick
], which are a connecting link between the traditional didactic and ethical tales and the trends of the Haskalah. The real turning point, however, in the one-sided outlook of the Haskalah came in the works of Sh.Y. Abramovitsh.
Abramovitsh's great talent and artistic power enabled him to rise above his original declared motives as an adherent of the Haskalah. Despite the pungent satirical elements which are especially apparent in his early works, he drew a complex and unbiased picture of a way of life and a gallery of characters of which he had previously disapproved. He was perhaps the first Yiddish Haskalah writer who ceased to attack Ḥasidism, and to describe the movement and its problems in his work. The Haskalah, in its beginnings and its later simplistic forms, concentrated on the internal struggle within Jewish society. The struggle was rooted in the naive expectation that the authorities in each country would support its aim of breaking down the barriers between the Jew and his environment in return for their readiness to give up specific Jewish characteristics. Abramovitsh marks a change in this attitude.
The allegorical Di Klyatshe ("The Nag," 1870) forms a turning point in Abramovitsh's writings. He was disappointed in his expectations of external support, as well as profoundly conscious of the uniqueness of the Jews, which he believed should be sustained. His view found expression in an active and comprehensive criticism of failings in Jewish society, which he already at that stage regarded as the outcome of conditions forced upon the Jews because of their status within a hostile Christian society. This attitude is one of the most characteristic elements of his later work and the reason why he rewrote earlier stories after the 1870s. He wanted to balance the grotesque, which was derived from the earlier satirical themes, with pathos and emotionalism. Despite the satire and the grotesque, his work is an unrivaled realistic reflection of a stable Jewish way of life which disintegrated with bewildering rapidity and whose very existence became problematic for his successors. His language and style were forged out of varied literary traditions and based on a combination of two basic dialects of the spoken language, northern and southern. They thus form a uniform literary language and are a turning point in Yiddish literature, one that led ultimately to modernization and integration with general literary trends. That change occurred in Abramovitsh's later years, and he neither participated in nor encouraged it.
The same factors that led to the change in his outlook and manner of writing also brought new trends of thought to the fore in East European Jewry, and, at the same time, new trends and elements in its literature. These can be seen in the poetry of
, who moved from Russian to Yiddish. He introduced into Yiddish poetry both modern lyricism in nature poetry and an individual character. A poet of strong national feelings, he gave expression to modern national trends, Zionism, and the beginning of the labor movement. Toward the end of the 19th century, these became the main foci of activity among the intelligentsia within Jewish society and sparked its modern literature in Hebrew and Yiddish.
While modern Hebrew literature developed in the wake of Zionism, which was its principal spiritual mainstay, the ideological affinities of Yiddish literature were more complex. The founders and leaders of the Jewish labor movement, most of whom came from the intelligentsia, had adopted the co-territorial language. They soon realized the need to conduct their propaganda in Yiddish in order to disseminate their views more effectively. Before long, however, Yiddish became for the labor movement not merely an instrument but a cultural asset of national and intrinsic value, especially in its non-Zionist sections. Yiddish and its literature thus received from the labor movement an ideological background giving wide and dynamic public support which it had previously lacked, despite its development in Abramovitsh's time and sporadic declarations in its favor from the beginning of the 19th century (Y.Sh. Bik and
) which had been of scant practical value.
The adherence of the Jewish masses to the labor movement and its propaganda methods at the time, created a new trend in Yiddish literature which closely bound education with revolutionary propaganda. The writers of this trend expressed and emphasized the sufferings of the Jewish worker, both as worker and Jew, and summoned him to struggle against his exploiters within and without and to sacrifice himself for social, political, and national liberation. The Yiddish poetry of previous periods, which rarely succeeded in rising above the level of popular entertaining verse (e.g., Binyomin-Ze'ev Eyrenkrants [
Benjamin (Wolf) *Ehrenkranz
, Elyokum Tsunzer [
] and to some extent, Avrom Goldfadn and
) was now supplemented by a new poetry. Though still primitive in expression and limited in its imagery and symbolism – which were borrowed and adapted to the phraseology of the labor movement – it was inspired by a powerful faith and inner fervor. The most successful of this poetry was written in the U.S. as early as the 1890s by Moris Vintshevski [
], Moris Roznfeld [
], D. Edelshtat, and
; it also reached the labor movement in Eastern Europe and served it well.
While in the U.S. Yiddish poetry was largely dominated by social considerations and what remained of popular entertaining verse, the main feature of Yiddish prose was the straightforward description of the life of the immigrants, mingled with sentimental nostalgia for the lands of their origin (e.g.,
). In theater, the struggle continued between the music hall and the beginnings of artistic drama (e.g.,
). In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the position was already more complex during the 1890s, which, up to World War I, was dominated by the ramified and highly influential work of Sholem-Aleykhem (
) and Y.L. Perets, who are rightly regarded, with Abramovitsh, as the classic authors of Yiddish literature.
Both Sholem-Aleykhem and Perets went through the growing pains of the Haskalah, but for both it was a passing phase at the beginning of their literary careers. Both of them – particularly Perets – sympathized with the rise of the Jewish labor movement while responding to the problems raised by other Jewish national movements. The distinctive feature of both authors, however, was their success in resisting the restraint of ideological trends that might have fettered their artistic freedom. Although both were involved with the sufferings and problems of their generation, each in his own way refused to surrender to the conventions, or to the demands and criticisms of politicians and critics who wanted to restrict the function of Yiddish literature to that of an instrument for education and the realization of social and political ends.
Although Sholem-Aleykhem (
) was successful both in the novel and in drama, his great and unique talent was manifested mainly in the direct narratives of his various heroes: the monologues of Tevye der Milkhiker ("Tevye the Dairyman"), the letters of Menakhem-Mendl, the stories in the first person of Motl
Peysi dem Khazns ("Motl Peysi the Cantor's Son") and the short stories in which the narrator himself "disappears," and the flow of his heroes' voice is given free rein. His attitude toward the gallery of characters he created, personae that seem to have been taken directly from life, with all their sublime, crooked, and comic features, is one of tolerance, devoid of overt preaching or censure. Even in the tragic situations in which he often placed his characters, he did not lose the capacity to laugh and amuse, although he might have to do so in pain and sorrow. Sholem-Aleykhem's humor and the gripping situations depicted in his stories often obscure the more complex elements in his works, which led to criticism of him for flippancy and shallowness. The journalistic topicality, to which he sometimes gave way because of his newspaper work, became outdated. Sholem-Aleykhem himself realized this, and toward the end of his life he revised his works published over several decades, abridged them, and succeeded in raising his characters to the level of universal figures independent of their origins in time and place.
Menakhem-Mendl, as revised in 1910, is a condensed treatment of material, mainly topical, which had been written around this character since 1892. Sholem-Aleykhem's capacity for self-control, which is outstandingly displayed in this book, shows him as a great artist with a sober and highly developed critical sense. From the beginning of his literary career he did much to develop the literary taste of the Yiddish reading public in his struggle against vulgar popular books which were widespread at the time (though modern critics are far more appreciative of Shomer than Sholem-Aleykhem was in his vituperative Shoymers Mishpet ("Shomer's Trial," 1888), and in his editing and publication of the first literary collections in Yiddish (Di Yidishe Folksbibliotek / "The Jewish Popular Library, 1888/89). Sholem-Aleykhem's most important contribution, however, was his original literary work. It educated readers from all sectors of Jewish society and attracted them to Yiddish literature. He is still the most popular Jewish author, both in the original and in translation, though it is impossible fully to convey his rich, idiomatic, colorful, and variegated style in any language but Yiddish.
The work and significance of Sholem-Aleykhem's contemporary Y.L. Perets (
) are of a very different kind. Perets's literary heritage comprises poetry, drama, stories, and essays in both Hebrew and Yiddish. His most important contribution as an author consists of his short stories in both languages and his poetical plays in Yiddish. Drawing on folktales and ḥasidic stories, Perets created for himself and many of his successors new patterns in the Yiddish short story. He presented in a modern and artistic form the wealth of tales which had been current in the written and in the oral tradition in a primitive form without damaging their spirit and character. In his ḥasidic tales, Perets started the neo-ḥasidic trend in Yiddish and Hebrew literature, a trend which, in its various developments, has not yet ceased. None of his successors, however, has matched his capacity not only to present the plot element in the stories faithfully, but also to give them a form appropriate to their source. Much in his stories expresses his own ideas and they contain significant layers of ambiguity, ambivalence, and paradox.
Perets's main work in the last ten years of his life was in the field of drama. The final versions of his last two plays, Di Goldene Keyt ("The Golden Chain," 1911/12) and Bay Nakht Oyfn Altn Mark ("At Night in the Old Market Place," 1914/15), which are among his most important works, reveal despair and disappointment at the solutions presented to the modern Jew by the ideologies of his day. In this mainly pessimistic view of life, the only spark of hope Perets sees is in the return to the traditional ways of Judaism, but even this possibility is presented together with a clear and penetrating perception of the destructive forces working against it. Perets was the only Yiddish author before World War I who dared to undertake such a trenchant self-examination. Although they were based on a neo-Romantic style and symbolism, his plays, especially Bay Nakht Oyfn Altn Mark, came close to expressionism, which found its way into Yiddish poetry after his death.
Unlike Abramovitsh and Sholem-Aleykhem, Perets had an affinity for modern trends in general world literature, especially Polish neo-Romanticism. He always succeeded, however, in preserving the Jewish character in his work, and drew his themes from Jewish cultural and traditional sources. He was admired by many of his contemporaries, who began to write under his inspiration and his guidance and in the course of time continued, each in his own way, to expand and deepen the modern elements in Yiddish literature, while constantly wrestling with the problems of their own society (e.g.,
, Y.M. *Vaysnberg, A. Reyzn (
, M. Boreyshe,
, and many others). Despite differences of opinion in the evaluation of Perets as writer and teacher, he is still a point of departure and a model for Yiddish writers of various camps. Authors like Kh.N. Byalik [
], Y. Shteynberg [
, whose main work was in Hebrew, also wrote in Yiddish, parallel with and in continuation of the tradition of Abramovitsh and Perets.
Several processes vital for the future development of Yiddish literature reached their peak in 1908. A conference in support of Yiddish took place in Czernowitz; a literary journal called Literarishe Monatshriftn ("Literary Monthly") appeared in Vilna; and Di Yugend ("Youth"), the first organ of a group called Di Yunge ("The Young Ones"), appeared in New York. The aim of the two periodicals was to renew Yiddish literature along the lines of European symbolism.
had the important effect of increasing confidence, self-respect, and a consciousness of the status of Yiddish literature as a modern literature among authors and readers. At the same time, however, following the attempt of several extremists to have Yiddish (as opposed to Hebrew) proclaimed as the national language of the Jews, the conference intensified the rift between the two literatures of the one people, which, until then, had been used together
by most Ashkenazi authors. Furthermore, in certain situations – among Yiddish authors adherent to the non-Zionist labor movement and in the Soviet Union after the revolution – these extremist views led to a deliberate denial of Jewry's vital sources and subsequently to a simplified evaluation of the traditional cultural heritage. This linguistic strife has left its marks, though its extremism has abated since World War II.
A number of young writers centered around the two above-mentioned periodicals with the declared purpose of severing Yiddish literature from its commonly accepted mission of raising the cultural level of the masses and providing them with material for edification and entertainment. Under the influence of contemporary trends in world literature, as well as disappointment with social and national ideologies, they demanded the recognition of the rights of Yiddish literature as an independent artistic domain. Some of the younger writers in the U.S., who were themselves recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, also demanded the integration of Yiddish literature and authors in their new home, with all that this implied in adaptation to the new landscape and the speedier rhythms of life in prose and verse. Individualism, aestheticism, pessimism, eroticism, the development of new verse forms, and a new sensibility to life are among the distinguishing characteristics of the young writers associated with these periodicals and of the broad literary periphery that came under their influence without actually joining their groups.
Until the end of World War I, this trend produced many poets in various countries who reinvigorated Jewish poetry with new images and new meters, expanded the range of its subject matter, and wrote lyric poems on a standard not below that of other contemporary literatures. D. Aynhorn (
, Sh.-Y. *Imber,
, I.J. *Shvarts,
, H. Leyvik (
, D. Hofshteyn (
), Z. Landoy (
), R. Ayzland (
) – each having an individual poetical style – are a few of the poets in the flood of modern Yiddish poetry which reached its full strength only after World War I. At the same time, Yiddish prose underwent a significant change. The impressionistic style of
, the symbolist tales (based on the Jewish narrative tradition) of
, the deep-rooted vitality of
, the new American scene in the stories of
, all contribute to the modernization process. The plays of Sholem
and Perets Hirshbeyn [
], which laid the foundations for an artistic repertoire in the Yiddish theater, also belonged to the new developments of this period.
Most of the authors who started on symbolist lines in deliberate opposition to the subordination of literature to social ideologies did not generally remain faithful to the literary doctrines which they adopted. In the course of time they found their way to themselves and their environment and helped develop the special character of modern Yiddish literature. They remained alive to the problems of the generation which was struggling under the burden of internal conflicts affecting them as Jews and as inhabitants of the modern world. Perets had expressed doubts in his first Yiddish work (Monish, 1888) as to whether the Yiddish language had the capacity to express sublimity and subtlety, the abstract and the spiritual, or whether it was limited to describing in concrete terms the Jewish way of life and the idiomatic pungency of popular speech. These apprehensions disappeared entirely at the time of World War I and were replaced among Yiddish authors by a confidence in the capacity of the language to prove itself in any field of artistic and literary expression.
The three decades following the outbreak of World War I were highly dramatic for the history of modern Yiddish literature. These years saw World War I, the revolutions and pogroms in Russia, migrations and changes of regime, World War II, and, above all, the Nazi Holocaust, which brought East European Jewry, almost the only source for Yiddish authors, to the brink of extinction. These events were the background for transformations in the development of Yiddish literature, which itself directly expressed all facets of the tumultuous period. The continual spread of Yiddish literature and the increased importance of its centers overseas extended its horizons.
At the same time, especially after the Holocaust, emigrant authors were torn between their emotional attachment to the ruined lands of their origin and their aspiration to be integrated in their new homes and establish a new generation of authors there. Before World War I, Yiddish literature was basically bilingual; many authors wrote in both Yiddish and Hebrew and many readers understood both languages. After the death of Perets (1915), Sholem-Aleykhem (1916), and Abramovitsh (1917), this close bond was severed, and no successor arose with the influence and prestige able to bridge the gap. Despite the great tension throughout the period in all centers of Yiddish literature and the constant and drastic decline in the number of readers, the stock of authors and literary output increased. There were important artistic achievements, new depths were plumbed and new literary territory was conquered.
While prose dominated Yiddish literature before World War I, in the postwar period it met with competition from poetry. Expressionistic and other verse tendencies showed themselves immediately after World War I along parallel lines in the three main centers of Yiddish literature: the Soviet Union, Poland, and the U.S. Despite differences in temperament and direct reference to the places where it was written, the poetry possessed a common linguistic medium and cultural background. The poets whose works filled Eygns (1918, 1920) in Kiev, Shtrom (1922–24) in Moscow, Yung-Yidish (1919) in Lodz, Khalyastre in Warsaw (1922) and Paris (1924), Albatros in Warsaw (1922) and Berlin (1923), In Zikh (1920–39) in New York, and similar periodicals elsewhere, sought new forms of poetical expression to convey new experiences. The younger generation of poets had endured the ravages of World War I and the revolutions and pogroms in Eastern Europe. Urbanization for them had become inevitable.
Their basic attitudes and religious beliefs, which had previously begun to crumble, now seemed to be completely shattered. The strong feeling that these traumas could not be given adequate poetic expression with the means previously regarded as acceptable in Yiddish poetry gave rise to the new poetry, with its free rhythms, which broke the bonds of the conventional, constricting metrical forms and challenged all the conventions of society, Jewish tradition, and the entire self-destructive human race.
At the same time, this verse was saturated with contradictions. Despair and anger, oaths and imprecations, unbelief and deliberate obscurity, eroticism bordering on pornography and exhibitionism, and reverence for vitality and all-conquering technology, which are outstanding features in the work of most of these poets, patterned one side of the coin; the obverse revealed lyrical sensitivity, a readiness – even a yearning – for new solutions, and a nostalgia for the "antiquated" ways of life. This poetry gave voice to the fear of loneliness in the oppressive and overwhelming big city which crushes personality and offers no security. It differed from contemporary non-Jewish work, which is similar in its main tendencies, by close attention to specifically Jewish images and associations drawn from the resources of a Jewish tradition which was visibly breaking up.
One outstanding expression of this poetry of contradictions and inner conflicts was the work of
. In one and the same period, Markish wrote Volin ("Volyn," 1939), an idyllic poem of nostalgia for the region of his birth and its Jews, Di Kupe ("The Heap," 1921), a poem full of anger, profanity, and unbelief, written as a reaction to the pogroms in the Ukraine, as well as urbanistic poetry packed with new and bold imagery, with a new poetic rhythm, as in the Warsaw collection Radio (1922) and in his Paris poems (1922–23). Dating from the same period are his sonnet cycle Fun der Heym ("From Home," 1922–24) and Zkeynes ("Old Women," 1926), restrained works revealing great epic skill in the closed metrical structure of which this representative of Jewish expressionism was particularly fond.
Among those who belonged to these trends were the introspective poets who founded the In Zikh group:
, Yankev Glatshteyn [
in New York; the expressionists U.-Tsvi
in Poland; and
in the Soviet Union. They were joined by poets who identified themselves wholly or partially with the new poetic current. As the first impulse died down in the 1920s, the expressionistic tenor grew less extreme, but it left traces on the whole of Yiddish poetry.
The desire for solutions, for identification, and for belonging led many of the poets of this generation to the belief that the Soviet Revolution could solve both the social and the national problems of humanity. Most of the Jewish writers in the Soviet Union – including those who left it after the Revolution and returned a few years later – as well as many in Poland, Romania, the U.S., and other centers of Jewish literature, attached great hopes to the Soviet regime. They believed in the continued development of a secular Jewish culture in Yiddish, which took the form in the U.S.S.R. of a school network with Yiddish as the language of instruction, research institutes, theaters, and ramified publishing activity, established with governmental and public finance during the 1920s. As early as the 1930s, however, these expectations were disappointed with the decline and contraction of this cultural activity which, it had been hoped, was to serve as a firm basis for the development of Yiddish literature. Even worse was the constant ideological pressure which was exerted on Yiddish literature, as on other national literatures in that country, because of the Communist Party's desire to transform literature into a propaganda medium and its demand for loyalty to the constantly changing political line, including the struggle against "deviations" which mostly were regarded as "nationalist" and "chauvinist." Yiddish writing and cultural institutions were also impoverished by their forced severance from Hebrew language and literature, from the Jewish past, and even from contemporary Yiddish culture and literature in other countries (unless their content was completely identified with the Soviet regime).
Ideological pressures and incarceration behind the frontiers of the Soviet Union not only limited the opportunities of Yiddish literature but, in practice, annulled some of its great achievements for the sake of a programmatic, declarative, unambiguous, shallow poetry and a prose obedient to the "principles" of socialist realism. Yiddish literature was also affected by the arrest and liquidation of some of its most important writers who had lived and worked in most of the geographical areas from which modern Yiddish literature had emerged. Among those who disappeared or were silenced even as early as the 1930s was the lyricist
, although he was faithful to the revolution.
was distinguished not only for his poetry but also for his modernistic prose and drama while he still lived in Poland (until 1928). Kulbak completed and published in the Soviet Union his novel Zelmenyaner (1: 1931, 2: 1935) – one of the most original works in Soviet Yiddish prose and the only one with topical, satirical, and grotesque elements.
After a brief lull at the end of the 1930s and the comparative freedom of expression which reigned during World War II, in the course of which Yiddish authors were permitted to express their emotions at the catastrophe which was destroying millions of their people, all remnants of Yiddish cultural activity were suppressed in the Soviet Union by the end of 1948. Most of the Yiddish authors were imprisoned and accused of anti-Soviet and Jewish "nationalist" activity. On August 12, 1952, the most important Yiddish authors were executed. Among the victims during those years were: Perets Markish, whose extensive literary heritage included poems giving powerful expression to sincere and sublime social and national feelings, side by side with expressive lyrical verse,
and who managed before his arrest to embody his lament for the Holocaust of World War II in wide-ranging epic verse in his book Milkhome ("War," 1948); D. Hofshteyn (
), one of the most important lyric poets;
, a poet who expressed himself in a most original manner in the 1920s and was later distinguished for his children's verse;
, one of the leading representatives of the ideological tendencies of Soviet Yiddish poetry;
, the former impressionist, a talented novelist and short story writer. Another victim of the first rank was Pinkhes Kahanovitsh, known by his curious pseudonym
("Hidden One"), outstanding until 1929 for his original symbolist stories, who, after seeking new paths that would placate Soviet criticism, started writing his novel Di Mishpokhe Mashber ("The Mashber Family," vol. 1 (Moscow, 1939; New York. 1943); vol. 2 (New York, 1948)); he managed to publish two volumes of this extensive, quasi-realistic epic, in which he diagnosed the disintegration of late 19th-century East European Jewish society. Among the victims of the last liquidation was the lyric poet and talented dramatist,
, who came out of prison a sick man and died a few years after his release.
Poland, with its periphery in Romania in the south and Lithuania in the north, was the main center of Yiddish literature in this period. Independent and vital, it was the main source from which Yiddish literature overseas could draw after World War I. Most characteristic of the literary center in Poland is the natural growth of Yiddish literature in its Jewish community that, with its long history and tradition, still largely preserved its Jewish character. Even among those social circles in Polish Jewry which abandoned the tradition of their fathers in its religious manifestations, there were sincere efforts to find ways of ensuring the continued survival of the new Jew. For a considerable part of the community and its authors, the very existence of a modern Yiddish literature expressed an attachment to tradition which had assumed a new form in their time. In Poland, Yiddish folklore lived in all its forms. The popular literature of previous generations, both religious and secular, was alive, and new works of the same type were born. Under the aegis of this cultural continuity, the new literature in Yiddish became a vital community asset and was regarded as worthy of admiration and subject for lively discussion. Despite the natural antagonisms between generations, differences in taste and attitude, parents and children in Poland still sat together to read Yiddish literature.
Yiddish literature in Poland was characterized by a rich variety of ideological, political and literary trends, temperaments and forms of expression during the brief period that preceded the destruction of Polish Jewry. The novelists and short-story writers whose careers started before World War I –
, I.J. Trunk, Y.M. Vaysnberg, and others – continued to write, and they were joined by a younger generation – M. Burshteyn, Y. Grin,
and his brother
, A. Katsizne [
], L. Olitsky, Y.
, M. Altman in Romania, Y. Kaplan in Lithuania, and others. Their prose was realistic, with strong tendencies to naturalism. Their trials and tribulations as Jews were almost their principal subject.
Yiddish poets appeared in all parts of Poland: Z. Bagish,
, M. Knapheys, L. Kenigsberg (
), Y. Kirman, K. Lis,
, L. Morgentay, B.L. and
, Kh. Semyatitski [
], M. Shulsteyn, Y.
, M. Ulyanover [
], S. Zaromb, A. Tseytlin [
], and others. Distinctive tones were added by poets from Galicia, Romania, and Bessarabia: Y. Ashndorf [
], L. Bartish,
, Ade [Ada] Cohen, M. Gebirtig, Y. Groper, B. Horovits [
], R. Zhikhlinski [
], M. Karats, Y.Y. Lerner, D. Fogel, Y. Gotlib [
, M. Saktsier, Y. Shudrick, Y. Shternberg [
], M. Shiml, B. Shnaper [
], and from Lithuania, N. Dimantshteyn. The Yung Vilna group, which was formed in the 1930s included H. Glik [
, A Sutskever [
], E. Vogler, L. Volf [
], and others. These (and other) poets represent a broad spectrum of poetical work on a high standard, from the simple, lively poem to intellectual poetry in search of meaning, trenchant in its images and personal symbols, and characterized by great skill in composition and linguistic innovation.
It is difficult to evaluate the achievements of this flood of creative activity, especially as many of the writers fell victim to the Holocaust in their youth before reaching the age at which they would likely have published their best work and before collecting in book form work scattered in periodicals. Others perished before they had developed their talents to the full. Nevertheless, mention should be made of several points specific to Yiddish literature in Poland and the neighboring countries between the two world wars, particularly of new departures created against the background of the cultural continuity from which they sprang.
The great Yiddish lyric poet
came to Poland from Romania and during his Polish period wrote his major works, Medresh Itsik: Khumesh-Lider ("Itsik's Midrash: Pentateuch Poems," Warsaw, 1935) and Megile-Lider ("Scroll Songs," Warsaw, 1936), which constitute a continuation of the tradition of poetical adaptations from the Scriptures. The main novelty of these poems is the transference of the biblical characters, together with their actions, to the neighborhood, milieu, conceptions, and idiomatic – often regional – language of the East European Jews. Manger's Medresh, in a simple meter close to that of the folk song, is full of humor and rich in imagination, charming with its graceful and melancholy strains. M. Ulyanover, who perished in the Lodz ghetto, wrote modern poems in the tradition of the Tkhine and of traditional religious poetry: Mayn Bobes Oytser ("My Grandmother's Treasure," Warsaw, 1922).
E. Shtaynbarg [
] in Romania cultivated the fable in Yiddish and achieved a high level of virtuosity in this traditional literary genre that he based on the Jewish milieu
and its deeply rooted cultural traditions. A. Tseytlin, who fought against the expressionists, though he too shared similar tendencies, found in Jewish mysticism sources of inspiration for his poetry and plays. The poetry of Y. Shtern [
], who was associated with the expressionists, is imbued with a pantheistic sensitivity and a longing for religious faith based on an emotional attachment to the teachings of R.
of Bratslav. Kh. Grade, in his poem "Musernikes" ("Moralists," 1939), brought to Yiddish literature the world of the seminary students and the traditional scholarship of the Misnagdim, who until then had received only marginal attention in Yiddish. Y. Bashevis-Singer found in Der Sotn fun Goray ("Satan in Goray," 1932) new solutions in the consolidation and stylization of popular narrative literature. Tseytlin, Manger, and Sutskever also ventured at stylized adaptations of the language and forms of pre-18th century Yiddish poetry. This introversion and deliberate return to earlier literary traditions was a new trend in Yiddish literature, one not fully realized before the Holocaust, which destroyed the communities that gave birth to the Yiddish works in which the tendency was so clearly marked.
There was a wide range of writing in the ghettos of World War II where many authors were incarcerated. Only a small part of the work of the writers killed by the Nazis has survived, having been saved with great devotion and almost by miracle. Among those are the prose fragments by Y. Perle (Warsaw ghetto), stories by
(Lodz ghetto), the poems of S. Shayevitsh (Lodz ghetto), a few poems by M. Gebirtig (Cracow ghetto), Hershele Danilevits (Warsaw ghetto), and H. Glik (Vilna ghetto). Above all, the songs and poems, biblical plays, and diary of Yitskhok Katsenelson, who continued the tradition of writing in Hebrew and Yiddish both in the Warsaw ghetto at the brink of death and in the Vittel camp, are an authentic testimony from the valley of death, standing beyond any mere literary evaluation. Ghetto literature found its most agonizing expression in Katzenelson's great lament "Dos Lid fun Oysgehargetn Yidishn Folk" ("The Song of the Murdered Jewish People") which was completed in the concentration camp at the beginning of 1944, in full and appalling knowledge of the destruction of Polish Jewry.
A few writers, like A. Sutskever, R. Briks, and Y. Shpigl – who personally witnessed the destruction of their people, but survived – embody in their work from the ghetto period and the years following the liberation (which is also overshadowed by the Holocaust) the continuity and endurance of Yiddish literature in the face of the extinction which overcame its most vital center, Polish Jewry.
The most important branch of Yiddish literature outside Eastern Europe between the two world wars was in the United States, especially in New York, where the leading Yiddish writers outside Eastern Europe were concentrated. The literary traditions of the 1890s were represented by older dramatists and novelists like
, O. *Dimov, and
, the poet and short-story writer; the members of the Di Yunge group, most of whom had abandoned the symbolist outlook after World War I, continued to write; for many years the founders of the In Zikh group and their associates maintained their contacts and in 1929 the Proletpen organization, which for a short time united the authors of the communist camp, was established. From time to time other sporadic groupings of writers with similar literary, social, and political outlooks arose, but they did not persevere even in maintaining joint periodicals. These external manifestations, however, which are sometimes regarded as a sign of the vitality of Yiddish literature in the U.S., are of secondary importance in comparison with the great achievements of the writers themselves.
In American Yiddish poetry of this period we find the rich lyricism and longings for redemption in the poetic and visionary dramas of H. Leyvik [
]; the imaginative poetry of
, and Y. Glatshteyn [
], with its variety of conflicts; the profound enquiry into personal and national problems in the poetry of M. Boreyshe [
], with its broad epic scope; the identification with the landscapes of the U.S. in the narrative and idyllic poetry of Y.Y. Shvarts [
]. We must take into account the poetry of E. Oyerbakh [
], B. Alkvit, B.Y. Byalostotski [
], A. Berger, A.-M. Dilon [
], Ts. Drapkin [
], R. Ayzland [
], L. Faynberg [
], Al. Guria (G. Grafshteyn), H. Gold, E. Grinberg [
], Y. Heshels, M. Yofe,
, Y. Kisin, B. Kopshteyn, H. Kuperman, Z. Landoy [
, R. Ludvig [
], A. Lutski [
], A. Lyesin [
, L. Miler [
], N.B. Minkof [
, A. Nisenson [
], G. Prayl [
], H. Rosenblat [
, Y.Y. Segal, E. Shumyatsher [
], A. Stoltsnberg, F. Shtock, A.B. Tabatshnik [
], A. Tverski, Y. Teler [
], M.Z. Tkatsh [
], R. Veprinski, Z. Vayner [Weiner], B. Vaynshteyn [
], Y.A. Vaysman, Yehoyesh (
, and many others, the clear personal imprint of whose work distinguishes most of them and places Yiddish poetry in the U.S., especially its great lyrical works, above and beyond the limitations of any literary or ideological school with which they may have identified at any particular time. Yiddish writing in the U.S. also excelled in the novel and the short story: the historical novels and tales of Y.[J.]
; the wide-ranging fiction of the immensely popular and much translated Sh. Ash [
]; the great descriptive powers of Z. Shneyer [Shneur] and Y.Y. Zinger [
]; the stylized prose of
; and the works of
, M.D. Aplboym [Appelbaum], F. Bimko, B. Glazman,
, N. Brusilov, S. Miler [
] and Y. Roznfeld [
]. Notable, too, is the prose of the distinguished poet Y. Glatshteyn [
While the main external influences on Yiddish literature in other centers had been European – especially that of modern literature in the Slavic countries – in the U.S. these were supplemented by "Anglo-Saxon" influences. The U.S. scene, the
great city as an intensive poetic experience, and, in prose, the Americanization of the immigrants – both mainly against the background of New York – are also distinctive features of this period in U.S. Yiddish literature. At the same time, all these local elements were strongly affected by traditional influences and by the problems and tendencies of Yiddish literature in Eastern Europe. The same applied to other centers of immigration nurtured by further waves of immigrant writers and readers. The writers who came from Eastern Europe, who established and still maintain Yiddish literature in its dispersions, did not have the satisfaction – with few isolated and insignificant exceptions – of witnessing the growth of a new generation of Yiddish authors and readers among the native-born children of the immigrants. As a result of the movement of the immigrants and the inability to establish a new generation of readers and writers, Yiddish literature in the U.S. and other overseas countries has continued to be dependent on the countries of its origins. A fervent desire to strike deeper roots in the new centers and important literary achievements which testify to the partial attainment of this aim have not altered this fact.
This problem has been even more obvious since World War II and the destruction of East European Jewry. The authors feel a growing bond with the vanished communities in which they were born – a need to grasp the full meaning of all that was involved in the old Jewry of Europe and erect a monument to its memory, or a desire to find a direct expression for the events themselves. Hence there has again been an increase in the proportion of prose, in the form of numerous books dealing with memories of the past, as well as novels and stories with an obvious autobiographical element. With all the differences in style and narrative skill in this memoiristic literature, there is a palpable effort to remain simple, eschewing novelty or surprise in structure or in narrative point of view beyond the unconcealed "I" of the author or the anonymous narrator whose identity is clear. Parallel with this tendency in prose is a similar tendency in poetry to forego experimentation or innovation and to return to closed metrical forms. This verse also deepens and fully exploits the linguistic and stylistic resources and the mainly traditional imagery which had been mastered by modernistic Yiddish poetry from the beginning of the 20th century.
The works of the authors who reached the U.S. from Poland immediately before, during, or after the war period and who followed these tendencies, mark the most important achievements of this literary center. Paramount among them are the autobiographical epic Poyln (7 vols., 1944–57) by Y.Y. [I.J.] Trunk, which sums up, with reverence and nostalgia, the life of the last generations in Polish Jewry. The narrative is also a stylized retelling of the folk literature in which the memory of the Holocaust is a dominant theme. The prose and narrative poetry of Kh.[Ch.] Grade perpetuates the memory of his home city, Vilna, with its many strata and internal conflicts, its spiritual greatness and material poverty. The novels and stories of Y. Bashevis (
Isaac *Bashevis Singer
) have revealed a new Polish Jewry, one in the grip of lusts and superstitions, together with its inner light and messianic yearnings.
Branches of Yiddish literature multiplied in all the countries to which Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe. Centers such as Berlin and Vienna in the 1920s, or Germany, Austria, and Italy after World War II were clearly transitory from the beginning and disappeared after a few years. Other branches in Europe, in Canada, Latin America (Argentina in particular), South Africa, and Australia, though much shrunken, still exist. The above-mentioned problems of Yiddish literature apply to countries of immigration as well, perhaps even more markedly than to the U.S.; their achievements, especially after World War II, are largely the work of refugee authors from Central or Eastern Europe.
Even though Hebrew was the sole recognized language in the resettlement of Palestine, a branch of Yiddish literature was established there quite early. Yiddish writing in the Ashkenazi community in Palestine dates back at least to the 16th century in the form of letters preserved in the Cairo Geniza. There were special works in Yiddish in the 17th and 18th centuries describing Erets-Yisroel (Geliles Erets-Yisroel [Galilot Erets-Yisrael], "Districts of the Land of Israel," 1635; Yedey Moyshe [Yedey Moshe], "The Hands of Moses," 1769), which were followed, at the beginning of the 20th century, by travelogues of Erets-Yisroel by Sh. Ash [Asch] and Yehoyesh [Yehoash] The first signs of writing in Yiddish for its inhabitants in modern times, however, may be seen in the appearance of the periodical Di Roze (1877). This and other periodicals that succeeded it, as well as the few books and brochures of various ideological leanings that were published in the country up to World War I do not form links in a continuing chain. It is only after World War I that there emerged in Palestine a group of authors who devoted themselves to Yiddish. They adhered generally to the labor movement and tried, despite the vigorous antagonism to Yiddish among the majority of the new Jewish community, to maintain a distinctive literary movement through a series of literary periodicals and the publication of books by local Yiddish authors. While this activity was long marginal in relation to the major centers of Yiddish literature in Eastern Europe and the U.S., Yiddish creative activity steadily grew after World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel and changes in the status and importance of this new center became visible.
It is natural that Yiddish literature in Israel should be more closely attached to the recent past in Eastern Europe than contemporary Hebrew writing, which has already produced several generations of authors who, born and bred in the country, have lost contact with their parents' milieu and traditions. At the same time, Yiddish literature in Israel has developed a new and immediate tie with the new homeland, nourished by and based on former traditions in Jewish culture. The landscape and rebuilding of the country served as the central element in the work of Y.[J.]
]. The most veteran of these poets, he had been writing in the country
since the 1920s. The efforts of the khalutsim ("pioneers") and life in the kibbutz ("collective settlement") have found original expression in the poems of
. New dimensions in the attachment to the Land of Israel as the momentous realization of the resurrection of the generation which directly experienced the Holocaust appear in the post-1947 poems of A. Sutskever. This feeling is characteristic not only of Yiddish literature written within the State of Israel, but is also a prominent theme in the works of many Yiddish writers who, having visited the country, write about it from abroad.
From the 1940s, a varied group of authors lived in cities and kibbutzim in Israel. Among them were:
, Y. Birshteyn, H. *Binyomin, S. Berlinski, T. Ayznman, M. Gorin,
, B. Heler [
, L. Olitski [
], R. Potash, R. Fishman, A.-M. Fuks [
], Ka-Tsetnik [
] (Dinur), Y. Kaplan,
, M. Mali, M. Man [Mann], Y. Mastboym [
], L. Rokhman [
], Hadase [Hadassah]
, A. Ribes, Y. Stol, S. Shenhud,
[Spiegelblatt], S. Vorzoger. In 1971 they were joined by poets who came from the U.S.S.R. – R. Boymvol,
, and Z. Telesin. Though younger on the average than in other centers, at the turn of the century most of the above-named were no longer among the living and the youngest were well into their seventies.
For more than a decade after the "liquidations," no original Yiddish works were published in the Soviet Union, but between 1959 and 1970 a few dozen books were issued; from 1961, the literary periodical
appeared in Moscow. Despite the obvious talent of some of the contributors to this periodical who survived the "liquidations," there does not seem to be a single writer among them of the stature of their masters and colleagues who met their death during Stalin's last years. Sovetish Heymland ceased to appear in 1991 but was soon followed by Di Yidishe Gas, also edited by
(1993–97). Morally discredited by many in the Yiddish world, Vergelis continues to have his defenders who see him as an outstanding if difficult and complex personality who made extreme compromises to keep Yiddish writing alive in the Soviet Union.
A small group of writers held their ground in Poland after the Holocaust and continued to bring out a few publications. There too, however, with its small Jewish community, Yiddish literature was a rootless remnant of the pre-Holocaust period and was, to all intents and purposes, completely destroyed in the wave of antisemitism inspired by the Polish government after the Six-Day War. Dozens of authors from Poland and Romania succeeded in leaving these lands during the late 1960s. They reinforced the overseas branches as a continuation of the postwar stream of emigration. However, the Holocaust and the liquidation of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union at the end of 1948, following upon the closing of Russia's gates from the 1920s to the 1970s, blocked the potential human and cultural resources from Eastern Europe which have been almost solely responsible for maintaining the new branches. While in the beginning of the 19th century Yiddish literature was transferred from Western to Eastern Europe, its main centers today remain the U.S. and Israel, reinvigorated as in past decades by East European emigrants who had preserved their connections to Yiddish language and literature. Yiddish letters in the early 21st century are still being fed by the influx to Israel during the 1970s of Yiddish writers from Eastern Europe.
[Chone Smeruk / Leonard Prager (2nd ed.)]
While much of the world tended to forget about or simply ignore the Holocaust for many decades following World War II, the subject continued to be (or became) a primary focus for Yiddish writers everywhere, who have in the ensuing decades produced documentary evidence, memoirs, reports, diaries, fiction, poetry, and other writings directly or indirectly related to the Holocaust. As a result, no serious and comprehensive research on the Holocaust may avoid a profound engagement with this massive corpus of Yiddish-language material now available in published form or in archives.
The dedication of the Leyvik House in Tel Aviv in 1971 by the Israeli prime minister,
(a Yiddish-speaking immigrant from the U.S.), held out the hope of a united Yiddish international community transcending old ideological blinkers. But these blinkers were still in place when Israel's leading Yiddish poet Avrom Sutskever in greeting the World Conference for Yiddish in Jerusalem in 1976 expressed the hope on the opening page of Di Goldene Keyt (vol. 90 (1976)) "az tsuzamen mitn tkhies-hameysim funem folk un zayn tate-loshn, vet oykh oyfgeyn in fuler prakht, vi a regn-boygn nokh a regn fun trern-zayn mame-loshn" ("that together with the rebirth of our people and its father-tongue, will also rise in its full splendor, like a rainbow after a rain of tears – its mother-tongue"). Expressions such as these brought tears to the eyes of many, but momentous changes were not to follow.
Nonetheless, all three Yiddish publishers in Tel Aviv – Perets, Hamenora, Yidish Bukh – were active; Yiddish writers from the Diaspora continued to settle in Israel; and Yiddish found a warm home at the Hebrew University where
and their students were changing the face of Yiddish studies, in league with the Columbia University disciples of father-and-son, Max and
and their students at leading universities the world over. This academization has continued and has prospered, but in August 2005 at the 14th World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Israeli Yiddish scholars were barely a quorum among the 1,200 participants. On the other hand, while aware of their small numbers, they knew, too, that they represented a recognized and valued discipline in the larger Judaica Studies universe.
With the influx of established Yiddish writers from Eastern Europe throughout the 1970s, Israel replaced the U.S. as the center of Yiddish literary creativity. The integration of
these writers into the new environment is reflected in their increasing use of Israeli themes. The earlier writers preferred to settle in the Tel Aviv area, where the three major Yiddish publishing firms were situated, and where the most prestigious Yiddish literary organ, the quarterly
Di *Goldene Keyt
("The Golden Chain"), was published (1949–95). But in the 1970s writers from Eastern Europe began settling in Jerusalem, making it an ever-growing focal point of Yiddish literary activity.
Yerushalaimer Almanakh ("Jerusalem Almanac"), founded in 1973 as the organ of the Jerusalem Yiddish Writers' Association by
(ed.-in-chief, 1973–98), with co-editors
(1974–82) and Efroyim Shidletski (1982–92), continued to expand from year to year. The founding editor's son, Yiddish poet and scholar Dov-Ber Kerler (co-editor, 1993–98, and current editor), edited vol. 27 (2003). Twenty-seven substantial volumes in 30 years under conditions of uncertain funding is no small achievement. The 27th volume was issued in partnership with Vilna University's Vilnius Yiddish Institute and the Yung-Yidish ("Young-Yid-dish") Center in Jerusalem, both financially vulnerable institutions. However, perusal of the list of contributors to the last issue yields enough names of younger writers to assure that at least for another decade or two there will be no shortage of Yiddish-writing authors. The older readership, of course, continues to decline and the recruitment of a generation of young readers is slow and uncertain.
In 1977 the Yiddish Cultural Association in Jerusalem established the Hurvits Prize for the publication of Yiddish manuscripts by new immigrants. The first work chosen was Meyer Yelin's Blut un Vofn ("Blood and Weapons," 1978), sketches and short stories based on the author's experiences and observations in the Kovno ghetto, continuing in the spirit of his earlier volume of short stories, Der Prays fun Yenem Broyt ("The Price of That Bread," 1977). His was a fairly typical case of a Soviet writer who emigrated to Israel, became acclimated after the usual immigrant's absorption difficulties, and both published books in Yiddish and saw some of his work translated into Hebrew.
The 1970s could also boast of a thriving literary journal in Tel Aviv, the quarterly Bay Zikh ("At Home") that was founded in 1972 as the organ of new-immigrant writers, the work of 13 of whom filled the first issue; subsequent issues included contributions by long-time residents in Israel. The Prime Minister's Prize for Yiddish Literature, established by Golda Meir during her premiership, was awarded in 1976 to the much-honored Avrom Sutskever, and in the following year to the editor of Bay Zikh, Yitskhok Yanasovitsh, for his three volumes of essays, Penimer un Nemen ("Faces and Names," 1971–5). The journal expired in 1989; its publisher was the Komitet far yidishe kultur in Yisroel ("Committee for Yiddish Culture in Israel").
The Israel Yiddish Writers Association gave recognition and awards in 1976 to
, Yosl Lerner, and
, and in 1977 to Ovadye Fels, Nakhmen Rap, Sh. Roytman, and Y. Kaplan. Rap's short stories and sketches, In Veg tsum Altn Man ("To the Old Man," 1976), and Roytman's sonnets and lyric poems on Israel, Mayn Yisroeldik Shoyferl ("My Israeli Shofar," 1976) deal with contemporary themes, whereas Kaplan's short stories, Tsaytnshnit ("Harvest of an Era," 1976), reflect nostalgia for a destroyed Jewish world that barely survives in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim quarter.
Among the most prestigious Israeli Prizes for Yiddish literary and other arts is that named after the great lyric poet Itsik Manger. Its recipients are among the finest Yiddish talents of the period: in 1976 poets
and Leyzer Aykhenrand; in 1977 poets Hirsh Osherovitsh and Yankev-Tsvi Shargel and the Montreal novelist Yehude Elberg; in 1978 poets
Uri Zevi *Greenberg
(who wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish), Meyer Shtiker, U.S.-born Rokhl Fishman, novelist
, essayist and editor Mortkhe Shtrigler (
), and famed singer
; in 1979 Shloyme Rotman, Shimshen Meltser, Shloyme Shenhod, Avrom Zak and novelist Khave Roznfarb [
]. In 1980 Tsvi Ayznman, Yitskhok Yanasovitsh, Nakhmen Rap and Shimen-Yisroel Dunski won the prize.
Within a few years after arriving in Israel from the Soviet Union, Hirsh Osherovitsh published several volumes of verse, including Gezang in Labirint ("Songs in the Labyrinth," 1977) which consisted almost entirely of poems about Israel which he was unable to publish in the Soviet Union, even though he had served on the editorial staff of Sovyetish Heymland; in Paris in 1977 he garnered the Ganopolski Prize. Yehude Elberg, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and best known for his novel on the subject Oyfn Shpits Fun a Mast ("On the Tip of a Mast," 1974), published in 1976 a collection of his stories Tsevorfene Zangen ("Scattered Stalks") that were indeed scattered among periodicals.
, recognized as the foremost novelist among the Soviet immigrants (recipient of the Zhitlovski Prize in 1976, the Eliezer Pines Prize in 1977 and the Itsik Manger Prize in 1978) published Erev ("On the Eve"), his prose epic of Russian-Jewish life from 1905 through the 1970s (first published in a censored version, Moscow 1965), then later in a complete version, Tel Aviv, vols. 1–4, 1974; vols. 5–6, 1979; vol. 7, 1983), followed by Ringen oyf der Neshome ("Links on the Soul," 4 vols. 1981–8), and Tristia ("Sadness," 1996).
Mordekhay Tsanin, founding editor of Israel's Yiddish newspaper (a weekly now) Letste Nayes ("Last News"), a heroic figure in the struggle for Yiddish in Israel, was also a novelist and essayist of distinction. From 1966 to 1985 he published his Artopanus Kumt Tsurik Aheym ("Artopanus Returns Home"), a series of six historical novels centering about Artopanus, the wandering Jew, and covering 2,000 years of Jewish experience. The fourth of these books, Di Meride in Mezhibozh ("The Revolt of Mezhibozh," 1976), deals with the rise of the Ḥasidic movement in the 18th century. (Tsanin also compiled useful Hebrew–Yiddish (1960) and Yiddish–Hebrew dictionaries (1982)).
The Mendele Moykher-Sforim Prizes for Yiddish Literature established in 1976 by the Tel Aviv Municipality were
awarded to the poet Bunem Heler [
] and the prose writer
. In the same year the Yankev Glatshteyn Prize of the World Jewish Culture Congress was awarded to the novelist of the Holocaust
and the poet and literary critic Yitskhok Goldkorn. Within a few years after arrival in Israel, Meyer Kharats published four volumes of verse, including Shtern oyfn Himl ("Stars in the Sky," 1977). In 1976 he had been encouraged by receipt of the Yankev Fikhman Prize for Literature; the essayist and authority on the folklore of the Hebrew alphabet Eliezer Lipiner won this prize in 1977. The Czernowitz poet and painter Khayim Zeltser published Fun Heymishn Brunem ("From My Fountain," 1976), his second volume of poetry since his arrival in Israel. These include satiric ballads, poems of his suffering under the Soviets and of his new life in Israel.
Moyshe Yungman's lyrics In Land fun Eliyohu Hanovi ("In Elijah's Land," 1977); Kalman Segal's narratives, Aleynkeyt ("Loneliness," 1977); Efroim Roytman's poems, Di Erd Zingt ("The Earth Sings," 1977); Motl Saktsier's lyrics, Mit Farbotenem Blayer ("Forbidden Writings," 1977); Rokhl Boymvol's songs of nostalgia and reborn hope, Fun Lid tsu Lid ("From Song to Song"); and Rokhl Oyerbakh's [
] reminiscences of the Warsaw Ghetto, Baym Letstn Veg ("The Last Road," 1977) are among the rich crop of Yiddish books issued in Israel in 1977, a fairly typical year in the 1970s and 1980s.
Prizes, both for their material and their morale value have always been important in Yiddish literary life, but no award aroused as much interest as did the 1978 Nobel Prize for literature. The entire Yiddish world was cheered when Yitskhok Bashevis (known in America as Isaac Bashevis Singer) won this prize, the first and only time a Yiddish author had been so honored. Yet among a coterie of sophisticates, it was murmured that the prize was not for the Yiddish Bashevis, but for the translated, reworked, Americanized Singer, a perspective argued in The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer (2002), edited by Seth Wolitz. This line of research had been initiated by Chone Shmeruk who, to cite a single instance, pointed to the censored Jesus reference in
's generally outstanding translation of "Gimpl Tam," a classic tale misleadingly titled in English "Gimpel the Fool." However, no one who knows Yiddish well, literary gossip aside, can deny the rapid-fire, word-and tone-accurate storytelling genius of Bashevis aka Singer, who was by no means a simple creature.
Yiddish literature continued to age in the 1980s. Almost all its writers were born before the destruction of the Yiddish heartland in Eastern Europe; readers also became fewer. The Yiddish press diminished. The most prestigious daily, the New York
(Jewish Daily Forward) was converted in 1982 to a weekly after 85 years of existence. The repertoire of ever fewer theatrical performances consisted of older plays and nostalgic musicals. Novelists, except in Israel, preferred as subject matter the longed-for, destroyed world of yesteryear. Aging survivors of ghettos, Nazi concentration camps, and Soviet gulags published memoirs and narratives of their experiences or participated in Yisker (Yizkor, Memorial) books about perished Jewish communities.
Heroic efforts were made to slow down the decline of Yiddish creativity. Grants, prizes, and awards for Yiddish books multiplied. The World Council for Yiddish and Jewish Culture looked back in 1986 on a decade of support for Yiddish writers, publishers, and journals. Its bilingual annual, Gesher-Brikn ("Bridges") featured since 1983 translations of Hebrew works into Yiddish and of Yiddish works into Hebrew. Its monthly organ, Yidish Velt ("Yiddish World"), coordinated worldwide Yiddish activities since 1985. In New York the Biographical Lexicon of Modern Yiddish Literature, initiated in 1954 by the Central Yiddish Culture Organization (CYCO) was completed in 1981. By then, none of the early editors and administrators (
, Yankev Shatski, Moyshe Shtarkman, Yankev Pat, and Khayim Bas) was alive. However, the editors of the final volume, Berl Kagan, Yisroel Noks, and Elye Shulman, succeeded in enlisting 32 writers from all continents for the project, whose eight volumes gave bio-bibliographic entries of more than 7,000 Yiddish writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. In Buenos Aires, Shmuel Rozhanski [Rozhansky] completed in 1984 the editing of the 100 volumes of Masterpieces of Yiddish Literature. The first volume, in 1957, dealt with the pioneer of Yiddish poetry and drama Sh. Etinger (Solomon
). The 100th volume bore the symbolic title Tsu Nayem Lebn ("Toward A New Life") and consisted of poems, tales, and essays which could serve to counteract the prophets of doom as regards the future of Yiddish.
The 1980s and 1990s may have seen the continued shrinking of the secular Yiddishist community, but significant writing continued to be published, and not only in New York and Tel Aviv. Seven volumes of Bukarester Shriftn were completed between 1978 and 1984. Of this annual's editors, Y. Karo, Spanish civil-war veteran Khayim Goldnshteyn and, especially, Volf Tambur, attracted attention with their stories and novels. Leyzer Aykhnrand maintained a lonely Yiddish vigil in Switzerland, where his last poems appeared in 1984, shortly before his death. Yiddish creativity in France was impoverished by the death in 1981 of M. Shulsteyn and B. Shlevin, but the Paris newspaper Unzer Vort continued to appear until 1996. In 1980,
published his poems of four decades, Fun Ale Vaytn ("From All Distances") and was awarded the Manger Prize in 1983. M. Ram published her short stories Shteyner ("Stones") in 1981, was translated into Hebrew and won the Manger Prize in 1984. In 1983 the novelist Y. Finer (pen name of Yitskhok Burshteyn) completed his fictional trilogy Tsvey Mishpokhes ("Two Families"). A veteran of the French underground during World War II, much of Finer's fiction deals with the encounter between Polish Jew and native Frenchman. In England, the death in 1983 of Joseph Left-wich and
, and in 1984 of Jacob Meitlis removed three strong pillars of Yiddish literature and scholarship and led to the discontinuance of Loshn un Lebn, which Stencl had founded and edited since 1946.
In South Africa, the Yidishe Tsaytung, edited by Levi Shalit, ceased publication in 1985 but Dorem Afrike, edited by Zalmen Levi, continued as the literary organ of the Yiddish writers until 1991. Two of the leading South African Yiddish writers,
and David Volpe [
] continued to publish: Fram's book of poems A Shvalb Oyfn Dakh ("A Swallow On the Roof") appeared in 1983 and Volpe published his collected essays in 1984. In Australia, Melburner Bleter served as the sole literary organ for its few Yiddish writers, but Yitskhok Kahn won wider recognition with his essays and Sheve Glas-Viner with her ghetto tales. In Canada, Kh.- L. Fuks [
] edited in 1980 a literary lexicon encompassing 422 Canadian writers in Yiddish and Hebrew.
The closing down of
Di *Goldene Keyt
in 1995 created a vacuum not only in Israel where it was published, but in the entire sparse but far-flung Yiddish world. The brave continuance of such serious journals as Tsukunft and Yidishe Kultur in New York and Yerusholaimer Almanakh in Jerusalem only partially filled the void. In 2000 an Israeli government-subsidized Natsyonal Instants far Yidisher Kultur ("National Instance for Yiddish Culture") supported the Tel Aviv literary quarterly – which does not actually appear four times a year – Toplpunkt ("Colon"), where the last crop of Soviet-born authors to reach Israel met individual young Yiddish authors from around the world. Nos. 1–5 were edited by Hebrew poet and translator Ya'akov Beser and co-edited by Yisroel Rudnitski, the latter becoming editor with No. 6 (Winter 2003).
wrote his fine account of his family's incarceration in Transnistria during World War II, Durkhn Shpaktiv fun a Zeyger-Makher ("Through the Eye Piece of a Watch Maker," 2000). Two years later this former member of Sutskever's Di Goldene Keyt editorial staff published Bloe Vinklen – Itsik Manger, Lebn, Lid un Balade ("Blue Corners–Itsik Manger, Life, Song and Ballad"), an informal critical biography of fellow Romanian Itsik Manger and one of the most readable Yiddish books of the year. Shpiglblat is now devoting himself to fiction, having published the three-story collection Shotns Klapn in Shoyb ("Shadows Knock on the Window," 2003) and Krimeve; An Altfrenkishe Mayse ("Krimeve; An Old-fashioned Story," 2005).
Not all Yiddishists are pessimistic as to the fate of Yiddish. It is increasingly recognized that in the urban enclaves of some ḥasidic sects in London, New York, Jerusalem, Bene-Berak, Antwerp – and rural Kiryas Yoyl [Kiryat Yoel] and New Square – and elsewhere, there is an actual increase in the population of native-speakers of Yiddish. The reading interests (beyond religious texts) of these communities are increasingly being served by a small but growing ḥasidic publication industry that now annually produces scores of novels (including historical novels, adventures tales, even spy thrillers), story collections, children's books, and textbooks, in addition to numerous orthodox newspapers and periodicals that include serial narratives (see "Ḥasidic Lierature" under
). While the literary quality of these texts has indeed improved over the course of recent years, it is nonetheless currently quite impossible to imagine that anything like the development of post-Enlightenment secular Yiddish literature out of traditional Ashkenazi society might recur in this 21st century Orthodox environment. It is in any case still too early to know what kind of literature can develop in such parochial confines and whether it might be valued beyond the borders of those communities (i.e. among secular Jews, where there is, after all, an ever diminishing audience capable even of reading the texts).
Yiddish creative writing of high quality was not rare in the first decade of the 21st century – against a background of more or less habitual prognostications of the death of the language. In Israel the nonagenarian Avrom Sutskever continued to write. A collection of his poems in Hebrew translation Kinus Dumiot ("A Gathering of Silences," 2005) received national attention and reviews in the media. Leading Hebrew-language authors and critics participated in this warm reception, a sign of an altered attitude to Yiddish generally as well as reaffirmed recognition of a poet who had lived in Israel for over half a century and was by virtue of oeuvre as well as of residence a pillar of Israeli literary culture.
In mid-2005 the veteran Yiddish weekly Forverts, edited in New York by a small, relatively young, and highly motivated staff, is electronically reproduced in Israel and distributed so as to arrive, for instance, at a Haifa subscriber's mailbox on Friday morning, with enlarged font to accommodate the elderly, and containing – in addition to news about Yiddish culture the world over – a novel in parts that is well written and worth reading. A number of literary journals continue to appear. There is a strong interest in translating Yiddish books and many high-quality translations have appeared. While there are few Departments of Yiddish in the world, lone Yiddish scholars grace departments of Jewish Studies or of German in leading universities. Conferences of specialists meet to explore central themes such as the shtetl in Yiddish life and letters, Yiddish literature and the Left, or a single important figure like Bashevis or Bergelson. Such symposia and seminars define the Yiddish scene at the beginning of the 21st century.
One needs to consider not only journals in Yiddish, but those in other languages that are devoted in whole or in part to the study of Yiddish literature. Since 1981, Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History, edited by Alan Mintz and David Roskies, has brought a hitherto rarely encountered sophistication and seriousness to the understanding of Yiddish and Yiddish-related texts. The journals Polin, Shofar, and Jewish Social Studies have published significant research on Yiddish literature. Jiddistik Mitteilungen; Jiddistik in Deutschsprachigen Laendern is an unfailingly informative German-language bulletin for the field of Yiddish studies. Since 1993, the University of Haifa, with the cooperation of Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan Universities, has issued a Hebrew-language journal which attempts in many ways to be a revived Hebrew version of the old Yivo-Bleter – Khulyot: Dapim le-Mekhkar be-Sifrut Yidish ve-Zikoteha le-Sifrut Ivrit ("Links: Pages for the Study of Yiddish
Literature and its Connections to Hebrew Literature") (also spelled Chulyot) issued its ninth volume in 2005. The journal has been well received in the Israeli academy, but it must be admitted that the pool of contributors is somewhat narrow and will probably remain so unless Israeli universities prove more welcoming to Yiddish studies than they have been up until now.
The opening years of the 21st century proved receptive to new and revisionist perspectives. Conferences, as mentioned above, have convened to air large themes. In this atmosphere, Yael Chaver could write, "The mainstream culture created a historiography that suppressed the Yiddish culture imported into Palestine with the pioneers who were nurtured in it. However, not only did this culture continue to survive but it also produced significant original work" (See "Outcasts Within: Zionist Yiddish Literature in Pre-State Palestine," Jewish Social Studies, 7/2 (2001) 39–66). Dan Miron pitted himself against widespread clichés regarding the greatest of Yiddish comic writers, Sholem-Aleykhem, urging us to look more deeply at the writings of a comic master (Ha-Ẓad ha-Afel be-Ẓeḥoko shel Shalom-Aleykhem ("The Dark Side of Shalom-Aleykhem's Laughter")). Almost four decades earlier Miron in his still central study, A Traveler Disguised (1968) had altered the way we see Abramovitsh. Among Yiddish linguists there is much debate still as to the origins of Yiddish; Hebrew linguists continue to assess the precise role and weight of Yiddish in the formation of modern Israeli Hebrew. We can expect a new generation of Yiddish scholars to ask new questions and formulate innovative replies.
Much of the life of Yiddish today is "lived" on the internet, where Yiddish has colonized very effectively. The "surfer" interested in Yiddish needs simply to type the word "Yiddish" to be ushered into a cybernetic universe where in addition to a few quality way stations there are also shoddy stops, established by presumably well-intentioned persons who believe they are serving a positive cause but merely misrepresent a language which has its rules and a culture which is immensely rich and not to be summed up in clichés or slogans. It is now possible to communicate in Standard Yiddish (Yiddish with all the correct vocalization) on the internet, to publish list-servs and electronic journals, to access rare digitized books in the comfort of one's study. The single most important list-serv in the field of Yiddish is Mendele, whose existence began in 1991, followed in 1997 by its literary supplement The Mendele Review, now in its ninth year. The website Di Velt Fun Yidish ("The World of Yiddish") provides both text and audio of classic Yiddish texts, as well as the entire Tanakh ("Hebrew Bible") in the outstanding translation of the famed Yiddish poet Yehoyesh (Yehoash, born Solomon Bloomgarten). This site will trace the development of Yiddish Bible translation from its beginnings in the Old Yiddish period until today. It also boasts a compendious index to all the works of the classic author Sholem-Aleykhem (Shalom Aleichem) and an index (in Hebrew) to Droyanov's classic 3-volume anthology of Jewish humor.
The riches of Yiddish literature are available to all. Will they be claimed?
[Sol Liptzin / Leonard Prager (2nd ed.)]
Ḥasidic Yiddish print culture remains rooted in tradition with religious books at its core, but as ḥasidim adapt to contemporary needs and technologies, the range of commercial publications in Yiddish has expanded to include in-house products that accommodate urban and suburban demands for information and entertainment and thus deter temptation from outside sources. Some ḥasidic sects, such as Satmar, Bobov, Belz, Ungvar, Tash, Skver, and others, have made a conscious decision to use Yiddish as a means of maintaining cultural continuity (in contrast to the Chabad (Lubavitch) and the non-ḥasidic Litvish community). The audience for Yiddish publications is thus a relatively small subset of the overall Orthodox population, most of whom use English and Hebrew as vernaculars. While spanning many countries, the niche market for Yiddish publications is highly localized in a few subculture enclaves, mainly in the New York area and in Israel. Writers and illustrators are from within the community, and publications both capitalize on a heymish ("homey") quality and are carefully controlled by rabbinic authorities.
Publishers and distribution systems are small in scale, located mainly in Williamsburg and Boro Park, Brooklyn, and in outlying suburbs of New York City (e.g. Monsey, Kiryas Joel, and New Square). Besides marketing to local readers, they also distribute to Israel, Europe (Antwerp and London), and even Australia and Argentina, either by direct shipment or through a network of local and chain bookshops that cater strictly to ḥasidim. Distribution is also becoming available via the Web, although Yiddish-speaking ḥasidim generally have less Web access than other Orthodox populations. While bookstores stock primarily Hebrew sforim for men, small sections for women include Yiddish publications, consisting especially of reprints of Yiddish classic women's texts that have been available for centuries: the Tsene Urene, musar (moral) works, and assorted prayer books, in addition to inspirational literature, guides to behavior, and more practical books, as women readers crave reading material of a lighter nature. Some Yiddish publications are translations from Hebrew, while others are Yiddish originals. Despite the fact that entertainment and fiction has traditionally been discouraged, scores of lively novels have appeared in recent decades. The ḥasidic taste for the dramatic has encouraged historical fiction, exotic travel literature, and indeed spy novels. Thus, in Geknipt un Gebindn ("Knotted and Bound," Brooklyn: Mekor Chaim Press, 1995), Hayim Rozenberg embellishes a true story of an adopted girl in secular Israel who, with the help of a Christian clerk in the U.S., finds her birth mother and her true religious identity. Soon after the destruction of the Twin Towers, a collection of tales of escape and divine intervention appeared: Himl Signaln in Teror Geviter; Nitsulim un Martirer in der Shoyderlekher Tragedye in Amerike; der September 11
("Signals from the Sky in Terror; Victories and Martyrs in the Terrifying Tragedy in America on September 11"). Of course the Holocaust is also an important subject: Antlofn Di Letste Minit: 1944-1945 ("Escaped at the Last Minute: 1944-1945") by the very popular and prolific writer Yair Weinstock, who produces lengthy thrillers at a rapid pace.
The significance of periodicals in Yiddish literature has not been limited to the secular community, and thus serialized fiction has long thrived in ḥasidic weeklies such as Der Yid (Brooklyn; primarily Satmar readership), where the factual history of a kidnapped ḥasidic boy in embellished form appeared as a series, Vu iz Yosele? ("Where is Yosele?"). Such series function to promote sales as well as prevent temptation by outside sources of entertainment. Other ḥasidic periodicals published in Brooklyn include Der Blatt (for the Satmar faction in Kiryas Joel), the Lubavich-sponsored Algemeyner Zhurnal, the weekly Di Tsaytung (in English on the masthead: "News Report: The Yiddish Newspaper of Record. Brooklyn"), Der Blick, Dos Yiddishe Vort from Agudat Israel, and Di Wokh, all with local news, weather, and traffic for the New York area, but also including international politics and ḥasidic affairs. The magazines, Der Yidisher Shtral ("The Jewish Ray") and Di Yidishe Likht ("The Jewish Light") are long-established Israeli publications with items of interest to a range of readers. In the U.S., the most widely read magazine is Mallos, a professionally produced, wide-ranging cultural quarterly that features articles of religious history and doctrine, a children's section (Shtayg Hekher / "Climb Higher"), a section for housewives, and a column called Mame Loshn ("Mother Tongue"/"Yiddish"), on Yiddish etymology and usage, a new phenomenon in a community that does not produce Yiddish dictionaries or grammars (although one commonly finds D.M. Harduf's Yiddish-English dictionary (1993) and occasionally even Uriel Weinreich's dictionary (1968) in ḥasidic households). A new Hebrew translation of Yiddish sayings ("Yiddish the Holy Language") also indicates this shift in attitude to Yiddish among Hebrew-reading ḥasidim.
Yiddish literature for school-age children includes inspirational biographies, simplified religious books, and school books. The Satmar girl's school Beys Rokhl has published a series of readers in Yiddish, used in Israel as well as Brooklyn, e.g. Der Inhalt fun Megiles Ester ("The Content of the Esther Scroll," Beys Rokhl, Brooklyn, 1983). There is also a multi-volume Entsiklopedye far Yugnt ("Encyclopedia for Young People," Israel, 1999), as well as Yiddish math books for girls, and board games in Yiddish, like Handl Erlikh ("Deal Honestly"), a spinoff of "Monopoly" that emphasizes charity. The market for preschool children is vast, and includes colorful, glossy picture books and coloring books. Among the many popular items is the series Mitsve Kinder ("Good Deed Kids"), one volume of which elucidates Greytn zikh Tsum Shabes ("Preparations for the Sabbath"), with cassette tapes (Hamatic Press, Brooklyn). A series of colorful books for girls that reinforce their roles in domestic life (by an author who signs herself "Leyele's mother") is produced in Modi'in, Israel. A series for boys (produced in Israel and widely marketed) focuses on miracle-working holy men: Dertseylungen fun Tzadikim ("Tales of Saints"), such as Der Prinz is Gevorn a Yid ("The Prince Became a Jew," Sifrut Machanayim, Israel). Nitz Dayn Moyekh ("Use your Brain," Roebling Distributors, Brooklyn) is a series of Yiddish activity books. Both boys and girls learn their highly differentiated daily routines through stories and adventures, as in Broynem Ber un Teg fun di Vokh ("Brown Bear and the Days of the Week," Midos Publishers, Brooklyn). For younger children there is series of coloring books by Nachem Brandwein in Yiddish and English that teaches holidays, blessings, and events.
While some secular Yiddishists deny that contemporary Yiddish-language stories, songs, novels, and periodicals produced by the ḥasidim constitute belles lettres, one detects over the course of the last 15 years a growing, albeit unacknowledged, attention to "literary" concerns such as structure, form, and style in ḥasidic fiction. A century and a half ago, modern Yiddish literature developed gradually, haltingly, but directly out of the core of traditional Ashkenazi culture. Whether the similar traditional community of 21st-century ḥasidim will eventually produce literature that appeals to a readership beyond its own cultural borders (if such a readership even exists by that time) remains to be seen. If there is to be Yiddish literature in the future, however, it currently seems unlikely that it can come from any other source.
[Miriam Isaacs (2nd ed.)]
In the late 1950s, with the first indications in the United States that Yiddish would be given academic status, the poet H. Leivick gave a speech in which he warned of the fate of the language as follows: "I said to myself: look, Yiddish and its literature are soon to reach the upper echelons. But isn't there some fear stirring in your heart, since at the same time Yiddish is departing from the lower echelons of the people?" (H. Leivick, Eseyen un Redes (1963), 105). Leivick's words at the time were echoed widely since they gave precise expression to what seems even now to be the paradoxical fate of Yiddish: the language whose exponents were so proud of its being a language of the masses and of its wide usage, characteristics which made it a bridge between different Jewish communities, is fast disappearing from the marketplace and byways of life, and only small, specialized groups work towards maintaining it. As expected, Leivick concluded his speech with a plea not to accept this situation, and to try to preserve Yiddish as a spoken language for the Jewish people in the Diaspora. But this call, and many others like it, fell on deaf ears. The decline of Yiddish as an everyday language is an ongoing process that seems irreversible. Only among groups of the ultra-Orthodox does Yiddish preserve its status as a spoken language, as another component conferring a unique quality on this way of life that is impermeable to changing times. The Yiddish which until a generation ago was heard in the streets
of New York and Buenos Aires, Kiev and Paris, Tel Aviv and Melbourne has retreated to much more limited pockets: it has become the possession of aging groups of speakers, and in the best of cases is the object of yearning of a few of their children or grandchildren, whose ears still catch a Yiddish song and enjoy it, even though in most instances they no longer speak the language fluently. How can one maintain the treasures of the spoken language and pass on its flavor, nuances, and subtleties to a generation that no longer speaks it? This almost Sisyphean aim was and remains one of the main goals of research on Yiddish, which has exercised more than two generations of scholars.
Those who took up this burden, propelled by a deep sense of urgency, were that very generation for whom Yiddish occupied a central place in its cultural world and served as its prime channel of cultural expression: those Jewish intellectuals who were educated in Eastern Europe, although a large part of their research work was carried out elsewhere. The first to sense that time was running out and to gear up for the task of collecting and preserving Yiddish intensively, even at the beginning of the 20th century, were the folklorists (see also below). In other disciplines one must note the linguists Solomon Birnbaum, Judah A. Joffe, Yudel Mark, Max and Uriel Weinreich, the historian Jacob Shatzky, and the literary critics Nahum Baruch Minkoff and Samuel Niger. Some of them did not have formal academic training, and their ongoing work was not carried out in the framework of any academic institution at all; there is no doubt that this deficiency has left its traces in their work, but they did nevertheless have one decisive advantage – intimate acquaintance with the deepest levels of the language and all of its complex byways as well as rootedness in the world from which the new cultural identity of Yiddish had developed and grown. Both the capabilities and limitations of this generation can be seen in an important post-Holocaust project intended to perpetuate Yiddish literary activity: in 1956 the first volume of the Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur ("Biographical Dictionary of Modern Yiddish Literature") was published in New York and only a full generation later, in 1981, was the undertaking completed. A supplementary volume was published in 1986 by Berl Kagan. These books are brimming with rich, varied material that makes them a primary resource for anyone dealing with this field. However, the bibliographical underpinning is often lacking, and many biographies were written without proper critical perspective. The deaths of the original editors, Niger and Shatzky, prior to the appearance of the first volume left a decided gap that could not be filled as the work progressed. Thus, the reader can easily see through the course of the volumes just how pressing the hour was with regard to comprehensive projects such as these in the field of Yiddish.
That same generation that grew up against a natural backdrop of Yiddish can claim to its credit after the Holocaust two first-rate lexicographical projects. In 1950 the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the leading center for Yiddish scholarship, sponsored the publication of Der Oytser fun der Yidisher Shprakh ("The Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language") by Nahum (Nokhem) Stutchkoff (ed. Max Weinreich; reprinted 1991). This was the first collection of the lexical treasurehouse of the language, including words, idioms, and sayings, listed according to themes, as a thesaurus. Then, once the rich corpus of the Yiddish language had been gathered in a much more valuable manner than any previous dictionary of the language, the need was felt even more urgently for additional works. The material that Stutchkoff had collected did indeed serve as the cornerstone for a multifaceted lexicographical undertaking, Groyser Verterbukh fun der Yidisher Shprakh ("Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language"), the first volume of which appeared in 1961 under the editorship of Judah A. Joffe and Yudel Mark. After the death of Joffe, Mark became the sole editor. Towards the end of his life he transferred the project from New York to Jerusalem, and after his death a fourth volume (1980) appeared, after which no more have as yet been published. The four current volumes have some 80,000 lexical entries, words, expressions, and sayings, completing the entries for the letter alef. On the surface one might think that this project is still near the beginning, but because the alef is employed for a number of the most common functional, grammatical particles in Yiddish, particularly as the prefix of many verb roots, it is reasonable to assume that the volumes now available contain about one-third of the entire vocabulary of Yiddish. These volumes are impressive testimony to the ability of a generation of researchers who grew up within the world of Yiddish to interpret and explain its finest nuances to the point of unlocking the hidden treasures of the spoken language. Even when it might at first glance seem that the editors have sometimes listed a meaning for a word that adds nothing to the previous definition, it turns out that they have discerned an additional shade of meaning that otherwise would have escaped the user and become irretrievable. If one compares the method of definition of entries in the Groyser Verterbukh to that employed in similar dictionaries in other languages, it is immediately noticeable that the editors did not limit the definitions, which generally turned out better than expected, for the overly lengthy definitions contain invaluable linguistic and cultural information and turn these volumes into a first-rate document of the widely variegated world of Yiddish speakers throughout its history and in its different centers.
Yet, in certain areas faults resulted from the lack of a research base broad enough for such a comprehensive project. Since Yudel Mark was Lithuanian, in many instances there is a noticeable lack of attention to other dialects of Yiddish, particularly the documentation of Polish Yiddish. There are also gaps in citations from literary material, which are, additionally, inconsistent. Moreover, the editors faced an almost insurmountable difficulty inherent in the language and the conditions under which it developed. Yiddish developed everywhere by contact with the surrounding languages, absorbing from them various influences and many words – some that took root in the language and others that soon fell into
disuse. In the distribution of Yiddish outside Eastern Europe, the speakers borrowed from English, Spanish, French, and Modern Hebrew, from where some of the words also entered the written language, especially in newspapers not attentive to a literary standard. The editors of the dictionary faced a serious problem in deciding what standard to apply to such words – to include a great many or to exercise caution in listing words taken from the surrounding languages, whose place in normative, literary Yiddish is doubtful. In most instances the editors dealt with these words quite generously, frequently "hosting" them, although in many cases, such decisions are debatable. Following the death of Yudel Mark the dictionary project was continued jointly by a number of academic institutions: Columbia University, the City University of New York, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in association with YIVO. Such cooperation was intended to insure the completion of this enormous undertaking and offer future generations a rich lexical panorama of the language at its different historical periods and stylistic registers, thus rescuing them from extinction. Although no new volumes have appeared in a quarter-century, it is to be hoped that this essential reference tool will yet be completed, since this is a task whose importance and urgency are almost impossible to overstate.
Yet, even the completion of this huge project would not comprehensively account for spoken language usage. The variety of dialects in Yiddish is basic to the language at every level: phonologically, semantically (in different areas different words were used to name the same object), and grammatically. The documentation of this great linguistic richness was the primary goal of The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry. The aims, scope, and methodology of this project were determined by Uriel Weinreich in 1959, and work was continued after his untimely death in 1967 under the direction of Marvin I. Herzog at Columbia University. Dozens of informants were carefully chosen in order to give balanced representation to the geographical distribution of Yiddish. They were given a detailed questionnaire to complete, the answers to which document a broad range of the aspects of language use and the varied ways in which it expresses the lives of its speakers. It is obvious that the Atlas drew most of its material from Eastern European speakers, but it also documented the remnant of the spoken language from the Western Europe (Holland, Alsace and Switzerland), and the data gathered now indicate links, which have not as yet been sufficiently studied, between different centers of Yiddish over a broad territorial range. As time passes and surviving native speakers become both fewer and ever more distanced from the language as it was spoken in its natural setting, the value of the oral documentation increases. The first volumes of the Atlas began appearing in 1992, published jointly by YIVO in New York and Max Niemeyer Verlag in Tuebingen, Germany. Three volumes had appeared as of 2005.
By the end of the 20th century most assumed that it was no longer possible to document the Yiddish language from East European speakers in situ. Yet the U.S.-born linguist
, who had been the central figure in Yiddish studies in Oxford, England, for over a decade, relocated to Vilnius (Lithuania; formerly Vilna) in 1999 and began conducting interviews with elderly Jews throughout Lite (the Yiddish designation for the Jewish conception of Lithuania, which includes the Baltics, Belarus, northeastern Poland, and a portion of the extreme northern Ukraine). The information thus gathered by Katz and his students will no doubt prove important to future researchers.
Another area of research that is nearing the zero hour for collection efforts is the study of every aspect of Yiddish folklore – folksongs, sayings, jokes, folktales, folkplays (the Purim shpil / "Purim play"). The situation certainly became more urgent after the Holocaust and its consequent linguistic assimilation; although early researchers in Yiddish studies already noted that urgency. Even prior to World War I Y.L. Cahan wrote, in the introduction to a large collection of Yiddish folksongs that he had gathered and published, of the slow decline of the genre, particularly in the large cities, to the point that "it seems to me that it will not be long before the original folksong will become a thing of the past" (Y.L. Cahan, Shtudyes vegn Yidisher Folksshafung (1952), 10). If this were true at a time when the sounds of Yiddish were heard everywhere in Jewish Eastern Europe, it is quite obvious how much more pressing the preservation of Yiddish folklore has become in recent decades. New methodologies and technologies now make possible more accurate documentation. Thanks to the efforts of Ruth Rubin, Eleanor Gordon Mlotek, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and others, we now have hundreds of recordings and texts of Yiddish folksongs which are housed in numerous collections in Canada, the U.S., and Israel. The Jewish Folksong Archives, founded by Meir Noy, which is located at Bar-Ilan University, contain cardfiles with detailed information on thousands of songs in Hebrew and Yiddish, on the lyricists, melodies, and place of publication. In the subfield of the study of folktales, the leading institute is the Israel Folktale Archives at Haifa University which sets down the stories of the various Jewish ethnic communities. Unfortunately a large part of the material from East European informants was documented not in the Yiddish original but in Hebrew translation. The publication of Beatrice Silverman Weinreich's Yiddish Folktales (1988) made available in English a selection of material collected by YIVO's Ethnographic Commission in the 1920s and 1930s.
The study of East European Jewish music was given an important boost in the 1980s with the founding of YIVO's Max and Frieda Weinstein Archive of Recorded Sound, which assiduously preserves all genres of East European Jewish music, re-recording them using modern technologies (Klezmer Music 1910 – 1942, compiled and annotated by Henry Sapoznik (Folkways Records FSS 34021)). Its work went beyond the area of pure collecting: as young musicians in the United States and eventually around the world rediscovered klezmer (East European Jewish instrumental folk) music, they turned to the archives with requests for texts and melodies in order to build
their repertoire. By the late 1990s this surge of interest led to a wave of new scholarly work on Yiddish music, as well as the reissue of historic recordings collected as early as 1912–14 on the famous ethnographic expeditions led by Sh. Ansky (Treasures of Jewish Culture in Ukraine (Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, 1997)). The "people of the book," which already for the most part cannot read what was written in the language it spoke until two or three generations ago, now maintains its link to Yiddish through the sounds of its music. As knowledge of the language continually declines among the children and grandchildren of its speakers, the Yiddish song at times becomes the only link to that memory.
One response to declining Yiddish literacy has been to produce works about Yiddish in more widely known languages. In 2002 the YIVO Institute began work on a multivolume encyclopedia of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Once completed this work will likely stand as a definitive reference tool on the history and culture of Yiddish-speaking Jewry, while its English-language format reflects the shift away from Yiddish as a Jewish lingua franca predicted by Leivick nearly a half-century before. The YIVO Encyclopedia is the most ambitious of recent works built on the underlying assumption that the golden age of Jewish creativity in Yiddish is at an end and that the time has come to take stock of its achievements. Since the pioneers of the field saw Yiddish as the living tongue of the Jewish masses, they placed much emphasis on disciplines such as demography, pedagogy, and sociology that focus on contemporary issues, as well as on the study of the spoken language. By the end of the 20th century there was a shift towards Yiddish research in a retrospective mode, with more work done from a historical perspective and less in the social sciences. The study of Yiddish language use among the ḥasidim, the only group to continue to speak Yiddish in large numbers, remains an exception to this rule and a promising area for future research.
In the period between the two World Wars, when Yiddish cultural activity in all of its manifestations reached its zenith, the Soviet Union was the only country in which Yiddish was granted a recognized status by research institutes and university-level academic institutions. This situation drew scholars from other countries, such as
, who hoped to pursue their research uninhibitedly in Russia. But reality upset their dreams and ideological pressure, persecution, and arrests limited the development of their talents, although much of their work in the fields of linguistics, literature, and folklore have even up to the present constituted a touchstone for generations of scholars. Conversely, in Poland and in the U.S., where millions spoke Yiddish, recognition of the language in an academic forum remained a distant, unrealistic dream.
Thus, intensive research on Yiddish outside the borders of Russia was concentrated between the two World Wars in an institution established at the initiative of Yiddishist circles. The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research originated with the memorandum "Vegn a Yidishn Akademishn Institut" ("On a Yiddish Academic Institute") circulated by the linguist Nahum (Nokhem)
*Shtif in 1925 in Berlin
, which was then the center for the Jewish intellectuals who had left Russia in the early years of the Revolution. But it eventually became clear that the institution could not exist in a western cosmopolitan city that lacked a significant pool of enthusiasts and willing hands to do the work, a pool that might be found – or so they hoped – among Yiddish speakers. The institution established its headquarters in Vilna, "Jerusalem of Lithuania," a city with a glorious historical tradition and only weak signs of linguistic or cultural assimilation. Branches of YIVO were active in other countries and cities, particularly in New York. After the outbreak of World War II and the destruction of the Vilna headquarters, the New York branch became the new headquarters of this institution, due in large part to the intensive work of
, a central figure in YIVO from its establishment, who had managed to escape Europe at the beginning of the war and to reach the U.S. After the war both patience and faith were necessary even to hope for the continuation of research on Yiddish. Of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, there remained but a few glowing embers. The institutes for Yiddish research in Russia had suffered greatly during the purges at the end of the 1930s and the Nazi occupation; what little remained after the Holocaust was destroyed along with the other familiar manifestations of Jewish culture by the end of 1948. Yet, a number of scholars who had managed to flee in time from the Holocaust and reach safety, such as Max Weinreich and Yudel Mark, dedicated their lives to serving as a real link between the two periods and the two totally differing cultural milieux, prewar Eastern Europe and postwar America. They strove to continue their research activities in places that seemed somehow inappropriate. At the end of the 1940s, the first significant attempts were made at blazing a trail for the study of Yiddish at universities in the U.S. A few years later saw the founding of two university frameworks for Yiddish instruction and research that were of signal importance, in Israel on the one hand, and in the U.S. on the other. In 1951 the Yiddish Department was established at Hebrew University in Jerusalem under
, and in 1953 Uriel Weinreich, the son of
, was appointed to the Atran Chair of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture at Columbia University in New York. Many of their students and their students' students today teach Yiddish in leading academic institutions in the U.S. and Israel.
After the deaths of Max and Uriel Weinreich two projects were undertaken that symbolize the desire for continuity and renewed growth in a research field that had suffered so much from the vicissitudes of Jewish history in the preceding decades. In 1968 the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research established the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies, which provided a framework for graduate and post-doctoral training in the fields of Yiddish and East European Jewish studies. The same year Columbia University in cooperation
with YIVO established the Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture, an intensive, comprehensive program that annually enables students of every level to make their first acquaintance with Yiddish and its literature and to continue on to more advanced studies. The success of this program prompted other institutions to follow in its footsteps. In the 1990s Oxford was the site of an intensive summer language course, which was essentially transplanted to Vilna with Dovid Katz's relocation there; another such program rotates triennially among Paris, Strasbourg, and Brussels.
In 2005 the Weinreich Program shifted its affiliation to New York University, mirroring YIVO's relocation in 1999 to the Center for Jewish History, a new facility housing several Jewish institutions near NYU's Greenwich Village campus. By this time the Weinreich Center had ceased to offer graduate classes, a gap partly filled since 1999 by the International Research Seminar in Yiddish Culture, led by Avrom Novershtern and David Roskies and held every other summer in New York and Israel alternately. This program conducted entirely in Yiddish provides students with an introduction to the various fields of Yiddish studies, yet as a two-week course it cannot replace the curriculum once offered by the Weinreich Center. The fate of the Weinreich Center reflects a general trend at YIVO, which by the 1990s largely abandoned its advocacy of Yiddish as a vehicle of academic discourse and its sponsorship of original research. Instead it came to function primarily as a facilitator and disseminator of scholarship, emphasizing its unparalleled library and archival collections as well as publications in English often based on material from those collections. The growth of Jewish Studies programs across the United States has partially addressed this lacuna, as the teaching of Yiddish language and culture – in English – became increasingly common on American campuses.
In the U.S. at the start of the 21st century, institutions with faculty positions dedicated to Yiddish include Columbia University, Harvard University, Indiana University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York University, and Ohio State University; at Columbia and Ohio State it is possible to receive a degree in Yiddish Studies. Moreover, with the growing acceptance of Yiddish as a subject of study, the language is also taught in Jewish Studies programs at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Austin, and many others. The emphasis in the U.S. is on the research and teaching of modern Yiddish literature and of historical aspects of Yiddish culture, the latter often carried out within departments of history.
The study of Yiddish in all its aspects – earlier and modern literature, language, and folklore – developed at Hebrew University in Jerusalem under
, his successor
, and their students Chava Turniansky and Avrom Novershtern. With Shmeruk's death and Turniansky's retirement, the Yiddish Department continues to train graduate students but is much diminished in its scope. Programs for the teaching of Yiddish and its literature now exist at other Israeli universities, however, such as the Rena Costa Centre for Yiddish Studies at Bar-Ilan University. In Germany interest in the field, primarily the study of Old Yiddish literature, flourished with the establishment of chairs of Yiddish at the universities in Trier (1990) and Dusseldorf (1996). The Medem Library in Paris, led by Yitskhok Niborski, continues to function on a high level with an active program of classes and publications in both Yiddish and French.
In the late 1980s and 1990s Oxford, England, became a prominent center of Yiddish studies under the leadership of Dovid Katz and his students, training a generation of young scholars, producing a series of books and journals in Yiddish and English, and sponsoring an intensive summer language course and academic conference. By the end of the century this had all come to an end, with the Yiddish faculty dispersing to take up positions elsewhere, and the program was rebuilt on only a modest scale.
The collapse of the Soviet Union opened new possibilities for Yiddish studies, as formerly unknown materials came to light and as new contacts were made with the surviving Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Project Judaica, founded in 1991 by the Jewish Theological Seminary, YIVO, and the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow, first introduced the study of Yiddish to post-Soviet Russia. After departing Oxford, Dovid Katz settled in Vilna, where he founded the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in 2001 and began a new course of research, teaching, and publishing. These programs have given students in the region the opportunity to study the language and its culture, although the most promising have pursued their training in Israel or the U.S.
Before the Holocaust, studies of Yiddish and its literature were marked by ideological clashes that were at times quite severe, particularly between those working in the Soviet Union on the one hand and YIVO affiliates in Poland and the United States on the other. In the wake of World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel, longstanding tensions between Yiddishists and Hebraists became increasingly irrelevant, while the rift between Communists and their opponents faded with the end of the Soviet Union. These developments paved the way for a fresh look at topics formerly considered ideologically suspect or at best unimportant, including the comparative study of Yiddish and Hebrew literature and Yiddish culture among Orthodox Jewish communities. The work of both Soviet Yiddish activists and their Communist sympathizers abroad has also been subject to new research, enhanced by material made available in former Soviet archives. These trends can be seen as the fulfillment of the inclusive vision of Jewish culture formulated by such pioneering scholars as Max Weinreich and Dov Sadan, whose work is discussed below.
This is not to imply that the field has been without conflict in recent years. Benjamin Harshav's The Meaning of Yiddish (1990) stirred controversy with its stance that Yiddish should be treated as a dead language, demonstrating that the question of its status as a spoken vernacular can still arouse
strong emotions. Linguists such as Paul Wexler and Dovid Katz have put forth new controversial theories on the origins of the Yiddish language and its Ashkenazi Jewish speakers, and Katz rejected the unified Yiddish orthography developed by YIVO to devise his own. Some of Katz's ideas are incorporated in Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish (2004), which despite its idiosyncrasies is to be welcomed as the first overall history of Yiddish culture in English. Nevertheless, as ideological orthodoxies have broken down, Yiddish scholars now work in a variety of conceptual contexts, ensuring cross-fertilization and the introduction of new methodologies such as the perspective of gender studies which has proven a useful tool of analysis. But any advantages inherent in the situation are dependent upon the ability of those in the field to maintain a common framework of reference, while recognizing the achievements of the past and the value of innovation.
Throughout its history Yiddish was the language of a minority group that maintained within itself a very high degree of internal unity. It is therefore not surprising that the history of both the language and its literature serves as an illustrative example of the complex, tense relations between internal traditions and external influences; parallel phenomena can also be discerned in the development of Yiddish research. Until the beginning of the 20th century, few scholars of Yiddish spoke or published in Yiddish. This is true certainly for the non-Jews such as J. Johann Christoph Wagenseil and J. Schudt as well as for those who turned to Yiddish for pragmatic reasons (including missionaries). Even the outstanding scholars of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, Leopold Zunz and Moritz Steinschneider, fell into this category. Only at the beginning of the 20th century, with the growing awareness of the cultural value of Yiddish, did there begin to develop in Eastern Europe the study of Yiddish in Yiddish; this process reached its high point with the work carried out between the two World Wars, in Russia on the one hand, and at YIVO on the other. The scholars for whom Yiddish was both a native language and the language in which they published their academic studies considered themselves participants in a wide-ranging cultural creativity that included schools, newspapers and journals, publishing, and theater. It is difficult to name many individuals from this period whose sole occupation was scholarship: they were also active in Jewish political parties, journalism, literary criticism, and the teaching of Yiddish in secondary or higher education. They particularly liked to emphasize the fact that whereas their predecessors had approached Yiddish from the outside, simply as a "dry" object of research, they saw it as a living possession of the people which they nurtured within the framework of an entire range of cultural activity. It is no wonder then that parts of their work seem overly "forced" to contemporary readers, as writing that integrated research with journalism and attempted to promote a clearly defined ideological position. This is true mainly for work carried out in Russia, particularly in the 1930s, where writers were forced to add references to Lenin and Stalin, interpolations that were obligatory in almost any scholarly article. But even to the scholars whose goal was scholarly objectivity, it was clear that their work fit into a wider cultural context.
This cultural context was utterly destroyed by the Holocaust, by the annihilation of Jewish cultural institutions in Russia, and by linguistic assimilation in both East and West, particularly in the U.S. and in Israel. A Yiddish-speaking folk, functioning both as the potential addressees of, and the ideological frame of reference for, scholarly work on Yiddish and in Yiddish, no longer existed. Also gone was the network of schools that had needed terminology in Yiddish for every subject, from physics to psychology. With the teaching of the language gradually diminishing, the issues of normative standards, which in their time had led to great controversies, were no longer pressing: for example, the question whether or not it was necessary to strive for a universally accepted pronunciation. The abandonment of Yiddish as a spoken language necessarily led to a great decline in the field of study and interest on the part of researchers. But the new cultural situation, in which other forces were created for the maintenance of Yiddish in a bilingual or multilingual framework, led scholars to emphasize other aspects and to raise new questions. As in any field of research in the humanities, in this instance, too, the present was leaving its mark on the approaches used to study the past.
The career of Max Weinreich well illustrates this process. Upon his arrival in the U.S. in 1940 he immediately understood how different the new cultural context was in which he had to work; in his lectures and letters he repeatedly compared and contrasted Jewish New York and Vilna, the city that he had left before the war. But such a comparison could only reinforce his own ever-growing awareness that the few elements still shared by the two communities upon his arrival in New York were eroding right before his eyes. Thus Weinreich faced a difficult challenge: the drastic and painful change in cultural context from prewar Vilna to postwar New York necessitated a conceptual and even ideological reorganization. In this regard there is in Yiddish scholarship no more fascinating document than Weinreich's magnum opus, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Shprakh (4 vols., 1973; partial Eng. tr., History of the Yiddish Language, 1980; a complete English translation forthcoming from YIVO and Yale University Press will finally make the full scope of this study accessible to a wider audience). This great synthetic work depicts the history of Yiddish in a wide cultural framework. The book itself is noteworthy first and foremost for its advances in research, but some of its more subtle dimensions are just as valuable: on the one hand, its ideological premises and the conclusions drawn from them, and on the other – a feature that seems superfluous – the style and method of approaching the material. On every page of the book the reader
can palpably feel that in this case the method of exposition has its own latent significance; Weinreich's style attempted most earnestly to combine the rich vitality of the spoken language with characteristics of scholarly usage, which demands precision and nuance. In his search for a method to formulate his statements, Weinreich did not employ ready-made models from English or German, because he believed that such an academic work as this in Yiddish had to be read differently. Thus his work became a wonderful revelation of the combination of the folk and academy, of Yiddish scholarly and of the hidden richness of the spoken language. The backbone of the book is the discussion which provides abundant examples of the mutual relations between language and culture. Weinreich expresses and summarizes the ideas of scholars who preceded him, defining Yiddish as the language of "the Way of the Shas [Talmud]," i.e., of the traditional Ashkenazi way of life. In light of this definition, readers can only wonder (and become ever more convinced as they read further) whether Weinreich is implicitly questioning the possibility of maintaining Yiddish in the Diaspora among secular Jews outside of its natural cultural framework. But it is striking that Weinreich, the scholar who once subscribed to secular Yiddish ideologies, does not raise this problem explicitly. His detailed discussion of the link between Yiddish and Yidishkayt raises many problematic questions that cannot be avoided by the sensitive reader, but they remain outside of the scope of this comprehensive work. In the section preceding the discussion of more specific aspects of research, Weinreich for the first time set up a broad, conceptual framework of great significance for dealing with all of the languages of the Jews, thereby laying the foundations for a new area of research: the interlinguistics of Jewish languages, which in recent years has become of greater interest. Weinreich showed, with a great many examples, how Yiddish had become a fertile field for the melding of the languages of the surrounding environment – Romance languages, German, and Slavic languages – along with loshn koydesh ("the holy tongue"), which was given special status in traditional Jewish society. The nature of Yiddish as a fusion language of various linguistic elements is not, therefore, simply a linguistic fact, but a multidimensional intersection of language and culture. A large part of Weinreich's book is devoted to the description and analysis of the phenomenon of bilingualism and multilingualism among Ashkenazi Jewry, as well as members of other Jewish groups – between Hebrew and the spoken language of the Jews or between those languages and the co-territorial non-Jewish language. Thus Weinreich's work is outstanding in its decidedly interdisciplinary nature. His discussions and analysis of purely linguistic data touch on and illuminate other areas as well, such as the history of the Jews, folklore, literary history, and sociolinguistics.
An illustrative albeit paradoxical example of the possibilities and limitations simultaneously at hand in the new cultural situation in Yiddish scholarship is the work that by its very nature aimed at bridging cultures – bilingual dictionaries. Such dictionaries were always the high road for Yiddish lexicography, because they were intended initially to answer practical needs, namely to teach European languages to Yiddish-speakers. By contrast Uriel Weinreich's Modern English–Yiddish Yiddish–English Dictionary (1968), which is clearly one of the most important Yiddish lexicographical undertakings of its period, addressed first and foremost the needs of the user desiring to acquire Yiddish as an active language. Towards this end Weinreich gives a detailed and normative grammatical description of each Yiddish lexical item, a description that has no parallel in any earlier dictionary of the language. However, the bilingual format of the dictionary limited the scope of the entries. Thus students in need of a reference tool to help them understand Yiddish literary texts must turn to Alexander Harkavy's older Yiddish–English–Hebrew Dictionary (1928; reprinted with a new introduction in 1988). Weinreich intended his dictionary to be used both by active Yiddish speakers and by passive readers of the language, and each audience is equally well served by this excellent work, although the latter audience in fact outnumbers the former; additionally, its needs are not adequately met in a work of limited scope that tries to cater to two audiences. Weinreich's dictionary has been supplemented by several specialized lexicographical studies by Mordkhe Schaechter (English–Yiddish Dictionary of Academic Terminology (1988), Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Early Childhood: An English–Yiddish Dictionary (1991), and Plant Names in Yiddish (2005)) and two important reference works published by the Medem Library: Yitskhok Niborski's Verterbukh fun Loshn-Koydesh-Shtamike Verter in Yidish ("Dictionary of Words of Hebrew and Aramaic Origin in Yiddish," 1997; 19992) and the bilingual Yiddish–French Dictionary of Niborski and Bernard Vaisbrot (2002). All these include entries for terms lacking in Weinreich and Harkavy, and all are the products of meticulous research. At least for Francophone Yiddish readers, the Niborski/Vaisbrot dictionary has effectively replaced Weinreich for most purposes.
The study of early Yiddish literature – the corpus of works written up to the end of the 18th century – is one of the oldest branches of Yiddish scholarship, extending back to the period of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, and in some sense even back to the Humanist period. In this field contemporary scholars can draw on the achievements of the past, creating a certain continuity in the research tradition, yet the difference in cultural context has led to new emphases in research and to a different general perspective.
Codex of ca. 1382 (the earliest extensive codex in Yiddish) was published, it aroused controversy between the Germanist, J.W. Marchand, and Max Weinreich [J.W. Marchand, review of The Oldest Known Literary Documents of Yiddish Literature, L. Fuks (ed.), Word, 15 (1959), 383–94; M. Weinreich, "Old Yiddish Poetry in Linguistic-Literary Research," in: Word, 16 (1960), 100–118. This
controversy has been analyzed extensively by Jerold C. Frakes in his The Politics of Interpretation: Alterity and Ideology in Old Yiddish Studies (1988)]. At issue was whether to identify the texts in the manuscript as German literature written in the Hebrew alphabet or as Yiddish literature, despite the fact that the language displays few features distinct from co-temporal German. The dispute was based less on the linguistic facts than on the interpretive context in which the researcher tried to explain them. In this regard their disagreement was the forerunner of two contemporary trends in the study of early Yiddish, for there are indeed discernible two different cultural contexts for this discipline: the Germanist scholars at the University of Trier (pioneered by Hans Peter Althaus, Walter Roll, Erika Timm, and now continued by Simon Neuberg) is particularly noteworthy for careful editing and philological analysis of texts (despite the severe limitations imposed by their publishing the texts in an overtly Germanizing Roman transcription); they naturally contribute to the understanding of phenomena of early Yiddish literature by virtue of their approach and training as Germanists. By contrast, among the scholars in Jerusalem (formerly led by Ch. Shmeruk and his student Ch. Turniansky, and now continued by S. Zfatman) a different methodological perspective has been developed, which mainly stresses the internal Jewish context of the works in Old Yiddish literature and the close relations with Hebrew works of the same period, a contact whose most noticeable manifestation is the bilingual text – a work written simultaneously in Hebrew and in Yiddish. Interestingly, the current chair of Yiddish studies in Dusseldorf, Marion Aptroot, trained in Oxford, combines the philological thoroughness of the Trier Germanists with the attention to the Jewish cultural context characteristic of the Jerusalem scholars of early Yiddish (cf. J. Michman and M. Aptroot (eds. and tr.), Storm in the Community: Yiddish Political Pamphlets of Amsterdam Jewry, 1797 – 1798 (2002)).
In the first comprehensive works on the history of early Yiddish literature, written in the 1920s and 1930s by Max Erik, Max Weinreich, and Israel Zinberg, the ideological tendency of the writers was clearly discernible in their special appreciation of the "secular" aspects in Old Yiddish works [M. Erik, Di Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur: Fun di Eltste Tsaytn biz der Haskole-Tkufe (1928; rpt. 1979); M. Weinreich, Bilder fun der Yidisher Literaturgeshikhte (1928); I. Zinberg, Di Geshikhte fun der Literatur bay Yidn, 6 (1935), (rpt. 1943; Engl. trans. 1975)]. Ch. Shmeruk thoroughly revised this approach in his book Sifrut Yiddish: Perakim le-Toledoteha ("Yiddish Literature: Chapters of its History," 1978; rev. Yid. tr. 1988), which is based on a much wider corpus, including texts discovered in the decades before its publication (the most significant being the Cambridge manuscript mentioned above). He analyzed Old Yiddish literature with regard to its status and role in traditional Ashkenazi society, where the sharp division made between the "secular" and the "religious" by his predecessors proves quite artificial. The new conceptual system stresses the centrality of the Bible as a source and inspiration for early Yiddish literature, and understanding its importance reveals the mutual link between genres previously considered distinct – direct translations of the Bible, paraphrases of the Bible, homiletical works (which gave early Yiddish literature its most popular book, the Tsenerene (
)), biblical epic poetry, and plays based on biblical themes which were presented as Purim-shpiln. In his studies of early Yiddish literature Shmeruk cited phenomena parallel to those that Weinreich noted in the history of the language itself: traditional Jewish society, from which Yiddish language and literature developed, did not absorb cultural artifacts from environments that were external to its autonomous way of life. Instead, such cultural elements first passed through a process of "Judaization," which neutralized of their Christian components. This multifaceted process is an outstanding example of the productive meeting of internal traditions and external influences that characterize every aspect of the Yiddish language and its literature. In addition to the discovery and publication of hitherto unknown texts and the enrichment of our bibliographical knowledge, this period of scholarship built up a new conceptual system that aims at properly describing the cultural complexity of Old Yiddish literature.
At the start of the 21st century, the linguistic focus of early Yiddish studies in Europe has broadened to include aspects of communal history, for example in the work of Marion Aptroot and Shlomo Berger on Amsterdam Yiddish publications of the early modern period. In Jerusalem, following Shmeruk's death and Turniansky's retirement, only Zfatman continued her teacher's legacy. Meanwhile, two important publications marked a major advance for the field: the first comprehensive survey of the period in seventy years appeared in Jean Baumgarten's Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature (orig. French ed. 1993; ed. and tr. Jerold C. Frakes, 2005). Perhaps more significant is the publication of Frakes' nearly 900-page anthology, Early Yiddish Texts, 1100 – 1750 (2004), whose scope, comprehensive notes, and carefully edited texts in the original alphabet make this a landmark work in early Yiddish studies.
Dov Sadan, the founder of the Yiddish Department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, presented an all-encompassing concept of Jewish literature in his comprehensive essay, "Al Sifruteinu" ("On Our Literature," 1950), which conceives Jewish literature as a single, broad, many-branched corpus, which includes texts in Hebrew and Yiddish, as well as the works of Jewish authors who wrote in other languages for Jewish readers. One discerns Sadan's striving for totality not only with regard to the languages of modern Jewish literature, but also the mutual relations between its various spiritual trends; while most of his predecessors considered modern literature in Hebrew and in Yiddish as the product of the Haskalah movement and a clear manifestation of the penetration of Jewish society by modernization, Sadan broadens the canvas and attempts to encompass all of modern Jewish intellectual
creativity in all of its interwoven manifestations and roots, as they develop from the Haskalah, Ḥasidism, and the rabbinical works of the misnagdim. Thus Sadan's broad comprehensive conception deliberately raises doubts as to the legitimacy of privileging secular belles lettres above all the rest of the Ashkenazi cultural heritage.
This thesis of an underlying unity in Jewish literature was one of the bases of the comprehensive work by Israel Zinberg, Geshikhte fun der Literatur bay Yidn (8 vols. in 10, 1929–37; Eng. tr., History of Jewish Literature, 12 vols., 1973–78). Despite the difficult conditions under which Zinberg wrote his work in Leningrad, cut off from other scholars and from the literature of the West, he conceived of a most comprehensive plan for his endeavor, which was to describe Jewish literary creativity in the medieval and modern periods in all languages and genres. Due to his imprisonment and exile, however, he did not manage to complete this wide-ranging work, and its final volume (which was discovered and published in 1965) only reaches the period of the flourishing of the Haskalah in Russia (the 1860s). It was thus Dov Sadan and his students who took upon themselves the task of applying the integrative approach to modern Yiddish literature.
In this context it is natural that the main author to benefit from new exploration of his work would be the bilingual writer
, better known by the persona fabricated in his writings, Mendele Moykher Sforim. To be sure this "split" between the biographical writer and his literary persona was the focal point of the study by Dan Miron, A Traveler Disguised: A Study in the Rise of Modern Yiddish Fiction in the Nineteenth Century (1973; reissued 1996), which was based on research directed by Max and Uriel Weinreich. In the first part of his book Miron summarizes the ambivalent position demonstrated by the Haskalah towards Yiddish: despite the fact that most maskilim had a contemptuous attitude towards the language, some of them nonetheless laid the foundations of modern Yiddish literature. On this basis Miron articulates the literary and cultural circumstances and conditions in which the young maskil Abramovitsh turned to writing Yiddish, to which end he created his most central, vital character – Mendele, who appears in his works in a wide range of incarnations and roles – as the publisher of works given to him, as a Yiddish translator, as a good listener to stories told in his presence, and even as a protagonist in his own right. Miron's study deals with the point where the influence of ideological positions on the act of literary creation becomes discernible, and he proves how the problematic status of Yiddish and the difficulties with which its authors struggled led directly to refined, complex artistic solutions. In 2000 a volume of Miron's studies appeared under the title The Image of the Shtetl and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination, further acquainting the English reader with his wideranging achievement.
Ch. Shmeruk's Peretses Yiesh-Vizye ("Peretz's Vision of Despair," 1971), treats another aspect of the tension between literature and ideology as manifested in I.L. Peretz's symbolist drama, Baynakht oyfn Altn Mark ("At Night in the Old Market Place"), where many characters from both the world of the living and the dead express their existential thoughts and doubts while appearing one night against the background of a typical market square familiar from the Jewish milieu of Eastern Europe. Critical reviews in Yiddish perceived the play as a pivotal expression of Peretz's attitude toward a wide range of Jewish ideologies – from the Haskalah to the workers' movements. They felt that his position was exhausted in the final sentence of the play, "in shul arayn!" ("To the synagogue!"), which was taken as a call to return to a traditional Jewish way of life. Shmeruk concurs in essence that the play should be read in a contemporary ideological context, but his tracing of the sources of the various interwoven motifs and allusions reveal many shades of meaning that had gone unnoticed before.
Scholars devoted serious and continuous efforts to publishing selected Yiddish literary texts. Among the most outstanding achievements of this kind, one must mention the anthology A Shpigl oyf a Shteyn ("A Mirror on a Stone," ed. Ch. Shmeruk, 1964; 19882), which includes poetry and prose by 12 Yiddish authors who perished in the Soviet Union. The Yiddish Department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem publishes a series of books, one of whose goals is to collect the Yiddish works of bilingual authors who are known today mainly through their works in Hebrew; in this framework have appeared writings of
Uri Zevi *Greenberg
. Likewise, selected works by
Isaac Bashevis *Singer
have been published.
For most of the post-Holocaust period, the premier journals for Yiddish studies were the YIVO-Bleter ("YIVO Pages"), founded in 1931, and
Di *Goldene Keyt
("The Golden Chain"), founded in Israel in 1949 by the poet Avrom Sutzkever. Yiddish academic publishing enjoyed a modest upswing in the early 1990s with the revival of the sporadic YIVO-Bleter and the founding of several Yiddish journals in Oxford. However, Di Goldene Keyt ceased publication in 1995, followed three years later by the Oxford imprints. In addition, journals such as the YIVO Annual, which was revived from 1990 to 1996, and Khulyot ("Links," 1993–present) created a forum for Yiddish scholarship in English and Hebrew respectively.
In another sign of this linguistic shift, interest among a wide audience in modern Yiddish literature has given rise to an ongoing trend of translations, mainly into English and Hebrew, but also into French, German, Spanish, and other languages. The bibliography by Dina Abramowicz in 1968 listed 247 titles of books translated from Yiddish into English, beginning in 1945 (Yiddish Literature in English Translation (1968); idem, Yiddish Literature in English Translation: List of Books in Print (1976)), and today that list could be significantly expanded. The awarding of the Nobel Prize to Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1978 increased interest in his works in particular,
and in Yiddish literature in general. The New Yiddish Library, sponsored by Yale University Press and edited by David Roskies, has published fresh translations of the modern Yiddish classics and promises to acquaint the English reader with previously inaccessible Yiddish works. In the realm of historical study, YIVO has published translations of important material from its collections, such as the autobiographies of Jewish youth collected in the 1930s and Herman Kruk's diary of the Vilna ghetto (cf. J. Shandler (ed.), Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland Before the Holocaust (2002) and H. Kruk, Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania: Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939 – 1944, ed. Benjamin Harshav and trans. Barbara Harshav (2002)).
One of the main demonstrations of this trend is the appearance of two bilingual anthologies which strove to offer the best of Yiddish poetry to a new generation of readers: American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, edited by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav (1986), and The Penguin Book of Yiddish Verse, edited by Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse and Khone Shmeruk (1987). The bilingual format of the two anthologies makes them the first collections of this type, and it demonstrates that the editors aimed for a varied audience: both the student and the reader of Yiddish literature in the original, as well as the English reader who did not know Yiddish. A comparison of the two volumes is interesting because of the differing approaches of the editors: the Harshavs emphasize the literary achievements, multifaceted quality, and uneasy path of modernism in Yiddish poetry in its most important center, the U.S., and thus their anthology can serve as an excellent introduction for the reader interested in this important branch of modern Yiddish literature; the editors of the Penguin Book of Yiddish Verse, which offers a selection of Yiddish poetry of the last one hundred years from the entire Yiddish world, aimed at a wider audience, and their selections were guided more by thematic concerns. They assumed that contemporary interest in Yiddish poetry is based primarily on its Jewish content and its ability to express and describe a world that no longer exists. The selections offered by these two books, therefore, reflect two different, complementary approaches towards the question of how to understand and appreciate the great heritage of Yiddish literature today, while demonstrating the multiplicity of approaches and contexts in which research and teaching in this field are conducted.
Scholars and students of Yiddish studies, who are relatively few in number and widely dispersed across the globe, are perennially frustrated by the difficulties of gaining access to books long out of print, while the costs of printing new works can be prohibitive. The National Yiddish Book Center, which began by accepting donations of Yiddish books collected en masse worldwide and selling them to interested libraries and individuals, has revolutionized access to Yiddish materials with its Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, which produces on-demand reprints of available Yiddish texts. Modern technology has proven a boon in other ways as well. The Index to Yiddish Periodicals, a database developed at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, allows researchers to search the content of many important journals, while the on-line forum Mendele connects Yiddish specialists around the globe. Such innovative tools, as well as a pluralism of views and methodologies, promise new achievements as scholars continue to develop the various fields of Yiddish research in the 21st century.
[Abraham Novershtern / Cecile Esther Kuznitz (2nd ed.)]
Interest in the study of Yiddish language and literature was first displayed by Christian scholars of the 16th–18th centuries (Buxtorf, Wagenseil, Schudt, and others) few of whom, however, had any functional knowledge of either the language or its literature. Their relevant texts concerning Yiddish are edited, translated into English, and analyzed by (1) J.C. Frakes, Christian Humanists and the Study of Yiddish in Early Modern Europe (2006). Modern research into Yiddish literature had its proper beginnings in the German Wissenschaft des Judentums school of the 19th century. It was primarily
who laid the foundations of Yiddish bibliography and, incidentally, also set the end of the 18th century as the limit for the study of Yiddish literature by future exponents of the Wissenschaft des Judentums, completely disregarding the new literature that was then being created in Eastern Europe. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that scholars of East European extraction extended the scope of research to include modern Yiddish literary works.
The methods employed in research on, and criticism of, Yiddish literature do not differ in their essentials from any other modern criticism and literary research. To a certain degree, however, the study of Yiddish literature has until the 1990s lagged behind in adopting more advanced methods. Until World War II such study was characterized by its un-warranted dependence upon the traditional methods of German literary studies and concepts, especially with regard to early Yiddish literature. Furthermore, as a result of its close connections with certain ideologies and preconceived views, the study and criticism of Yiddish literature has retained some undeniable traces of tendentiousness. Those scholars who had inherited the mantle of the German Wissenschaft des Judentums tended to overemphasize the relationship between German and Yiddish literature in order to provide evidence of Jewish participation in German culture, or even of a German-Jewish symbiosis. This tendency was revived by modern German scholars. Their interest also centered upon early Yiddish literature, in view of the importance for German studies of pre-modern German texts preserved in the Hebrew alphabet. On the other hand, scholars and critics of Yiddish literature who belonged to the Yiddishist camp and as such had close connections with Jewish labor ideology tended to exaggerate the "secular" basis of early Yiddish literature. With regard to modern literature, Yiddishist scholars sometimes preferred ideological evaluation to aesthetic criticism and study of form. The establishment of a chair of Yiddish literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1951 paved the way for a renewal of
Yiddish literary studies consciously liberated from the limitations imposed upon them by the tendentiousness of the past and, to some degree, the present also. In recent decades, the study of Yiddish literature and culture is found in a variety of academic disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Students of all periods and facets of Yiddish literature should have recourse to a few valuable reference works which, while not specifically devoted to literature, soon prove themselves indispensable. These include the pioneering pamphlet of (2) Uriel and Beatrice Weinreich, Yiddish Language and Folklore (1959) and its sequel (3) Yiddish Linguistics; A Multilingual Bibliography (1988), edited by Joan G. Bratkowsky. To this may be added (4) Yiddish Linguistics; A Classified Bilingual Index to Yiddish Serials and Collections 1913 – 1958 by D.M. Bunis and A. Sunshine (1994). Yiddish studies have so proliferated in recent years that it is useful to have a general guide as well. (5) C.E. Kuznitz's "Yiddish Studies," in Martin Goodman (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies (2002), 541–71 is remarkably comprehensive and insightful.
The scholar and lay reader interested in Yiddish literature up to the end of the 18th century has to accept the fact that the material available (manuscripts, books, printed pamphlets) is marked by wide gaps in many fields. The erstwhile existence of many Yiddish works is known only from evidence found in secondary sources. See (6) Ch. Shmeruk, "Reyshuta shel ha-Proza ha-Sipurit be-Yidish u-Merkaza be-Italya," Sefer Zikaron leArye Leona Carpi (1967). Yiddish books and pamphlets dating back to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries are largely unica, existing in single copies only. The most comprehensive collection of manuscripts and books from this period is found in the David Oppenheimer collection, now a part of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. The Bodleian Hebrew-alphabet (i.e., including but not restricted to Yiddish) manuscript collection is catalogued by (7) Adolf Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (1886; 1994; supplement M. Beit-Arié and R.A. May, 1994), while the Hebrew-alphabet printed books are catalogued by (8) M. Steinschneider, Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in bibliotheca bodleiana, 2 vols. (1852–60; 1998), and (9) A.E. Cowley, A Concise Catalogue of the Hebrew Printed Books in the Bodleian Library (1929; 1971). Smaller collections, as well as important single manuscripts and books, are to be found in libraries throughout Europe, Israel, and the U.S. An older introduction to the more significant collections of specifically Yiddish books, as well as a bibliography of publications on Yiddish literature up to 1912, is included in (10) Ber Borokhov, "Di Bibliotek fun Yidishn Filolog," Pinkes (1913).
A useful bibliography of printed Yiddish works is still (11) M. Steinschneider, "Jüdisch-Deutsche Literatur," in: Serapeum (1848–49; 1961), although it is in many respects quite unreliable. Concerning Yiddish manuscripts, their publication and the references to them in various studies, (12) C. Habersaat, "Repertorium der jiddischen Handschriften," Rivista degli studi orientali, 29 (1954), 53–70; 30 (1955), 235–249; 31 (1956), 41–49, represents a useful, though difficult, source. Vast collections of early Yiddish texts have been made accessible in facsimile editions via several microfilm publications: (13) Ch. Shmeruk (ed.), "Research Collections on Microfiche: Jewish Studies, Yiddish Books" (1976 ff.); (14) H. Bobzin and H. Suess (eds.), Sammlung Wagenseil (1996); (15) H. Suess and H. Troeger (eds.), Die Hebraica und Judaica der Sammlung Tychsen der Universitaetsbibliothek Rostock (2002). Digitalized facsimiles of the extensive Hebrew-alphabet collection of the Universitaetsbibliothek, Frankfurt am Main, are available online: http://stub.semantics.de/jd/templates/template.xml? Sprache=eng&js=yes&Skript=Home
Recent decades have seen the discovery of numerous unknown or up to that point incomplete early Yiddish texts; further such discoveries may well still come to light. An outstanding example is the Yiddish rhymed couplet of 1272 found in the Worms makhzor, published and analyzed in (16) D. Sadan, "Ketovet Rishona be-Yidish Kedumah be-Maḥzor Vermeyza," in: Kiryat Sefer 38 (1963), 575–76; (17) M. Vaynraykh, "A Yidisher Zats fun far Zibn Hundert Yor," in: Yidishe Shprakh 23 (1963), 87–93 (correction in vol. 24 (1964)), 61–62. The most significant find was the Cambridge University Library manuscript from the Cairo Genizah, dated ca. 1382, known already before World War II, but not published until (18) L. Fuks, The Oldest Known Literary Documents of Yiddish Literature (c. 1382), 1–2 (1957); (19) Dukus Horant, ed. P.F. Ganz, F. Norman, W. Schwarz. (with excursus by S.A. Birnbaum) (1964); (20) H.J. Hakkarainen, Studien zum Cambridger Codex T-S. 10. K. 22, 3 vols. (1967–73). The definitive scholarly edition of the codex is (21) E. Katz (ed.), "Six Germano-Judaic Poems from the Cairo Genizah" (Diss. UCLA, 1963). The scholarly controversies surrounding the texts of the Cambridge manuscript (e.g. linguistic and cultural identity of the texts) are comprehensively treated by (22) J.C. Frakes, The Politics of Interpretation: Alterity and Ideology in Old Yiddish Studies (1989).
Other discoveries include: the recognition of several dozen glosses in the commentaries of Rashi (11th century) as examples of early Yiddish (see (23) E. Timm, "Zur Frage der Echtheit von Raschis jiddischen Glossen," in: Beitraege zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, 107 (1985), 45–81); a complete text of the renaissance epic, Pariz un Viene (Verona, 1594), and the magnificent fable collection of the Ki-bukh (Verona, 1595). Such discoveries of early Yiddish texts have transformed the study of early Yiddish by extending the beginnings of Yiddish literature back to a much earlier date and by appreciably broadening its scope far beyond the narrow confines imagined by older scholarship. A radical change is thus called for in the hitherto available and accepted descriptions of early Yiddish works in the standard histories of early Yiddish literature: (24) Elazar Shulman, Sefat Yehudit-Ashkenazit veSifruta (1903; 1913); (25) M. Erik, Vegn Altyidishn Roman un Novele (1926); (26) M. Erik, Di Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur fun di Eltste Tsaytn biz der Haskole Tkufe (1928); (27) M. Vaynraykh [Weinreich], Bilder fun der Yidisher Literatur
Geshikhte (1928); (28) Y. Tsinberg [Zinberg], Di Geshikhe fun der Literatur bay Yidn, 9 vols. (1929–37; Heb. tr. (1956–60); Eng. tr., 1972–78, esp. vol.. 6 of the Yid. ed.
These works have shortcomings which must be taken into account: the paucity of specific preliminary studies upon which they are based; the lack of a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the relationship between Yiddish and Hebrew literature on the one hand, and German literature on the other; failure to examine the role of Yiddish and Yiddish literature in the broad scope of Jewish culture of the period; and absence of detailed analysis of the nature of the literary genres. Considerable doubt must also be expressed about the "Spielmann" theory of the historical outlines of Yiddish literature, a theory borrowed by Erik and Weinreich from antiquated German literary research and grafted onto Yiddish literature without proper foundation; see: (29 Kh. Shmeruk, "Di Naye Editsye funem Altyidishn Mlokhim-Bukh," Di Goldene Keyt 59 (1967) and (30) Ch. Shmeruk, "Can the Cambridge Manuscript Support the Spielman Theory in Yiddish Literature?" in: Studies in Yiddish and Folklore (1986), 1–36. Detailed studies of specific works can teach us much, as in (31) M.I. Goldwasser, "Azhoras Noshim": a Linguistic Study of a Sixteenth-Century Yiddish Work (1982).
The lack of up-to-date scholarly surveys of the period has been satisfied by (32) Ch. Shmeruk, Sifrut Yidish: Perakim leToldoteha (1978; rev. Yid. tr.), (33) Prokim fun der Yidisher Literatur-Geshikhte (1988), and especially (34) J. Baumgarten, Introduction à la littérature yiddish ancienne (1993; rev. ed. and tr. by J.C. Frakes, (35) Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature, 2005). The recent anthology edited by (36) J.C. Frakes, Early Yiddish Texts 1100 – 1750 (2004) provides critical editions of more than a hundred texts representing the broad scope of extant genres from this period (including many of the early texts discussed in the present entry), along with extensive bibliography of scholarly studies; it thus appreciably lessens the scholarly dependence on earlier, methodologically often problematic anthologies, such as: (37) J.C. Wagenseil, Belehrung Der Jüdisch-Teutschen Red-und Schreibart (1699); (38) J.J. Schudt, Jüdische Merckwürdigkeiten, III. Theil (1714); and (39) M. Grünbaum, Jüdisch-deutsche Chrestomatie (1882), as well as the first sections of: (40) Antologye Finf Hundert Yohr Idishe Poezye, ed. M. Basin, 1–2 (1917); (41) E. Korman Yidishe Dikhterins, Antologye (1928). The complex socio-linguistic development of the modern Yiddish literary language is comprehensively analyzed by (42) Dov-Ber Kerler, The Origins of Modern Literary Yiddish (1999).
Studies of Bible translations, Bible exegesis, and poems based on the Bible and midrashim, including texts, are included in: (43) W. Staerk and A. Leitzmann, Die Jüdisch-Deutschen Bibelübersetzungen von den Anfängen bis zum Ausgang des 18. Jahrhunderts (1923); (44) N. Leibowitz, Die Übersetzungstechnik der Jüdisch-Deutschen Bibelübersetzungen des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts (1931); (45) Sh. Noble, Khumesh-Taytsh (1943); (46) Sh. Birnboym, "Zeks Hundert Yor Tilim Oyf Yidish," in: For Max Weinreich … (1964); (47) M. Aptroot, "Bible Translation as Cultural Reform: The Amsterdam Yiddish Bibles 1678–1679" (Diss., Oxford, 1989); (48) L. Landau, "A Hebrew-German Paraphrase of the Book of Esther," Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 18 (1919); (49) M. Stern (ed.), Lieder des Venezianischen Lehrers Gumprecht von Szczebrzeszyn (um 1555) (1922); (50) L. Landoy, "Der Yidisher Medrash Vayosha," Filologishe Shriftn 3 (1929); (51) F. Falk (ed.), Das Schemuelbuch des Mosche Esrim Wearba, I–II (1961); (52) L. Fuks, Das Altjiddische Epos Melokhim-Bukh, I–II (65); (53) P. Matenko and S. Sloan, "The Akeydes Yitskhok," in: Two Studies in Yiddish Culture (1968); see also the studies of the Cambridge Genizah manuscript (18–22). The identity of the genre of epic on biblical themes as specifically midrashic (and not biblical as such) was worked out by (54) D. Sadan, "The Midrashic Background of 'The Paradise' and its Implications for the Evaluation of the Cambridge Yiddish Codex (1382)," in: The Field of Yiddish, 2 (1965), 253–62, and (55) W.O. Dreessen, "Midraschepik und Bibelepik," Zeitschrift fuer deutsche Philologie, 100 (1981), 78–97.
Texts of the early Yiddish plays are included in the magisterial collective volume: (56) Ch. Shmeruk (ed.), Maḥazot Mikra'iyyim be-Yiddish (1697 – 1750) (1979), that also provides a broad survey of the history and function of drama in Ashkenaz; see also (57) E. Butzer, Die Anfaenge der jiddischen purim shpiln in ihrem literarischen und kulturgeschichtlichen Kontext (2003). Earlier discussions include: (58) Y. Shiper, Geshikhte fun Yidisher Teater-Kuns t un Drama, 1–3 (1923–28); and in the first chapters of (59) B. Gorin, Di Geshikhte fun Idishn Teater (1929); on contemporary ḥasidic Purim plays, see (60) Ch. Shmeruk, "Ha-Shem ha-Mashma'uti Mordekhai-Markus: Gilgulo ha-Sifruti shel Idiyal Ḥevrati," in: Tarbiz, 29 (1959) and (61) Shifre Epshteyn (Shifra Epstein), Donyel-Shpil beKh-sides Bubov (Eng. title: The Daniel-shpil in the Bobover Hasidic Community) (1998).
On Elye Bokher, see (62) G.E. Weil, Élie Lévita, humaniste et massorète (1963); (63) J. Joffe (ed.), Elye Bokher: Poetishe Shafungen in Yidish, I (1949); (33) Ch. Shmeruk, Prokim (1988), 97–120, 141–56; (35) J. Baumgarten, Introduction (2005), 163–206. (64) Pariz un' Viene is edited by Ch. Shmeruk (1996), and he is the subject of an innovative literary analysis by (65) A. Schulz, Die Zeichen des Körpers und der Liebe: "Paris und Vienna" in der jiddischen Fassung des Elia Levita (2000).
Texts of songs and hymns can be found in: (66) F. Rosenberg, "Über eine Sammlung Deutscher Volks-und Gesellschaftsliedern in Hebräischen Lettern," Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland, 2 (1888), 3 (1889); (67) L. Löwenstein, "Jüdische und Jüdisch-Deutsche Lieder," in Jubelschrift… I. Hildesheimer (Berlin, 1890); (68) Y. Shatski (ed.), Simkhes HaNefesh fun Elkhonen Kirkhon (1926); (69) Ch. Shmeruk, "The Earliest Aramaic and Yiddish Version of the 'Song of the Kid' (Khad Gadye)," The Field of Yiddish, 1 (1954); (70) Kh. Shmeruk, "Velkher Yontef Iz Der Bester?," Di Goldene Keyt 47 (1963); (71) A. Yaari, "Gilgulo Shel Shir beYidish al Aseret haDibrot," Kiryat Sefer 41 (1966).
The Ma'ase-bukh has been translated into English by (72) M. Gaster, Ma'aseh Book, 1–2 (1934); into German by (73) Ulf Diedrich (2003), both based on the Amsterdam edition of 1732; and into French (with facing page facsimile of the editio princeps of 1602) by (74) Astrid Starck, Un beau livre d'histoires / Eyn shön Mayse bukh, 2 vols. (2003). See also (75) J. Meitlis, Das Ma'assebuch, Seine Entstehung und Quellengeschichte (1933) and (76) I.Z. Sand, "A Linguistic Comparison of Five Versions of the Mayse-Bukh," The Field of Yiddish, 2 (1965).
Fictional prose is discussed in (77) Y. Rivkind, "Di Historishe Alegorye fun R' Meyer Sh"ts," Filologishe Shriftn 3 (1929); (78) Kh. Shmeruk, "Ha-Sipurim al R' Adam Ba'al Shem ve-Gilguleihem be-Nuskho'ot Shivkhei ha-Besht," Tsion 28 (1963). The Ki-bukh / Seyfer Mesholim has been translated (with facsimile) by (79) A. Freimann, Die Fabeln des Kuhbuches, 2 vols. (1926) and (80) E. Katz, Book of Fables; The Yiddish Fable Collection of Reb Moshe Wallich (1994). See also (81) S. Tsfatman, Bein Ashkenaz le-Sefarad – Le-Toledot ha-Sippur ha-Yehudi bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim (1993) and (82) E. Timm, "'Beria und Simra': Eine jiddische Erzaehlung des 16. Jahrhunderts," in: Literaturwissenschaftliches Jahrbuch, n.s. 14 (1973), 1–94.
Most of the early Yiddish historical songs were listed in chronological order by (83) M. Steinschneider, Die Geschichtsliteratur der Juden (1905). The function of such songs is analyzed by (84) Kh. Turniansky, "Yiddish 'Historical' Songs as Sources for the History of the Jews in Pre-partition Poland," in: Polin, 4 (1989), 42–52. Editions of representative texts are (85) R. Ulmer (ed.), Turmoil, Trauma and Triumph: the Fettmilch Uprising in Frankfurt-am-Main (1612 – 1616) (2001) [= Megiles Vints ]; (86) S. Neuberg (ed.), Das Schwedesch lid (2000). The relationship of Yiddish drama to German drama is analyzed in (56), of poetry in (66), of prose, in: (87) A. Paucker, "Yiddish Versions of Early German Prose Novels," in: Journal of Jewish Studies, 10 (1959).
The Arthurian legends in Yiddish are the subject of (88) L. Landau, Arthurian Legends or the Hebrew-German Rhymed Version of the Legend of King Arthur (1912) [with ed.], (89); R.G. Warnock, "The Arthurian Tradition in Hebrew and Yiddish," in: King Arthur Through the Ages (1990), 1:189–208 and (90) A. Jaeger, Ein juedischer Artusritter (2000). The problems posed by this type of adapted literature were also discussed in connection with the Cambridge manuscript.
The prosody of Yiddish poetry comes in for incidental treatment in general summaries and in connection with the publication of texts; it is dealt with specifically in (91) B. Korman, Die Reimtechnik der Estherparaphrase Cod. Hamburg 144 (1930), and (92). Hrushovski, "The Creation of Accentual lambs in European Poetry and their First Employment in a Yiddish Romance in Italy (1508–09)," in: For Max Weinreich … (1964).
Until recently modern Yiddish literature lacked proper treatment in works based on modern methods of research and criticism. Much of the published material is confined to bibliography, biography, impressionistic criticism influenced by current events, eulogies, personal memoirs, introductions to the collected works of individual authors, and anthologies. There is an urgent need for critical editions of the literary works of this period; even the works of such authors as S.Y. Abramovitsh, Y.L. Perets, and Sholem-Aleykhem have not been published in complete and authoritative editions.
(93) The biographical encyclopedia by
, Leksikon fun der Yidisher Literatur, Prese un Filologye, 1–4, Vilna, 1928–29, which contains basic bibliographical data, and (94) Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur, 1–8 (1956–81) are useful guides for initial information about modern Yiddish writers. These works are supplemented by (95) Berl Kagan's Leksikon fun Yidish-Shraybers (1986). For bibliography, recourse may be had to the chapters on Judeo-German, Yiddish biography, and bio-bibliography in: (96) Sh. Shunami, Mafteakh haMaftekhot (1965). The following work (97) Y. Gar and F. Fridman, Bibliografye fun Yidishe Bikher Vegn Khurbm un Gvure (1962) is an important source for the literature of the Holocaust and postwar period.
The principal summaries of modern Yiddish literature are: (98) L. Wiener, The History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century (1899); (99) M. Erik, Etyudn tsu der Geshikhte fun Der Haskole, 1789 – 1881 (1934); (100) M. Viner, Tsu Der Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur in 19tn Yorhundert, 2 vols. (1940; 1945–6. These may be complemented by (101) A.A. Roback, Contemporary Yiddish Literature (1957), and (102) S. Liptzin, The Flowering of Yiddish Literature (1964), and (103) The Maturing of Yiddish Literature (1970), as well as the sections on Yiddish literature in volumes 7–8 of (28) and in the additional volume 9 of that work: (104) Y. Tsinberg, Di Bli-Tkufe fun der Haskole, vol. 10 (1966). (105) A Bridge of Longing; the Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling (1995) by David G. Roskies is an acute study of Yiddish narration focused on the central figures
, Perets, Sholem-Aleykhem, Der Nister, Itsik Manger and Yitskhok Bashevis [Singer]. (106) The same scholar's earlier Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture (1984) is a seminal work in Yiddish as well as Holocaust studies. (107) Dovid Katz's Words on Fire: the Unfinished Story of Yiddish (2004) is a highly individual, footnote-free popular though learned survey.
Among the collections of critical articles and studies, mention should be made of (108) Sh. Bikl, Shrayber fun Mayn Dor, 1–2 (1958; 1965); (109) Y. Glatshteyn, In Tokh Genumen, 1–5 (1947, 1956; 1960; 1963); (110) A. Tabatshnik, Dikhter un Dikhtung (1965); (111) N. Mayzil, Noente un Vayte, 1–2 (1929–30); (112) N. Mayzil, Forgeyer un Mittsaytler (1946); (113) N. Mayzil, Noente un Eygene (1957); (114) N.-B. Minkov, Zeks Yidishe Kritiker (1954); (115) Sh. Niger, Geklibene Shriftn, 1–3 (1928); (116) Sh. Niger, Dertseylers un Romanistn, 1 (1946); (117) Sh. Niger, Bleter Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur (1959); (118) D. Sadan, Avney Bedek (1962); (119) D. Sadan, Avney Miftan, vol. 1 (1962); (120) Sh.-L. Tsitron, Dray Literarishe Doyres, 1–4 (1931; 1922); (121) B. Rivkin, Undzere Prozaiker (1951).
Comprehensive anthologies include (122) Z. Rejzen, Fun Mendelson biz Mendele (1923); (123) N. Shtif, Di Eltere Yidishe Literatur, Literarishe Khrestomatye (1929); (124) A. Goldberg, Undzer Dramaturgye, Leyenbukh in der Yidisher Dram e (1961). The following are anthologies in Hebrew translation: (125) Akhisefer, Maasef leDivrey Sifrut… veTargumim min haShira haIdit, ed. Sh. Niger and M. Ribilov (1944); (126) Al Naharot Tisha Makhzorey Shira miSifrut Yidish, ed. and tr. Sh. Meltser (1956); (127) M. Basuk, Mivkhar Shirat Yidish, leman Y.-L. Perets ad Yameinu (1963). In English translation there are a number of anthologies of prose. (128) I. Howe and E. Greenberg (eds.), A Treasury of Yiddish Stories (1953; paperback, 1958) has achieved classic status and may be credited more than any other single volume with bringing Yiddish fiction to the admiring attention of several generations of non-Yiddish-speaking readers. (Noyekh Miller and Leonard Prager have collected and published the Yiddish originals of the entire anthology on the Mendele website under the rubric "Onkelos"). The formidable editorial team composed of the brilliant essayist and critic of literature Howe and the Yiddish intellectual and poet Greenberg compiled a parallel volume (129), A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry (1969); an important bilingual anthology of Yiddish poetry (130) is The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse, ed. I. Howe, R.R. Wisse, and Ch. Shmeruk (1987). The 39 poets included in this volume were by the editors' collective judgment admitted to membership in an as yet undeclared poetic canon. Yiddish literature in the U.S. is treated in the following works: (131) K. Marmor, Der Onheyb fun der Yidisher Literatur in Amerike, 1870 – 1890 (1944); (132) N.-B. Minkov, Pionern fun Yidisher Poezye in Amerike, 1–3 (1956); (133) A. Shulman, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur in Amerike, 1870 – 1900 (1943); (134) N. Shteynberg, Yung Amerike (1917; 19302); (135) B. Grobard, A Fertl Yorhundert (1935); (136) B. Rivkin, Yidishe Dikhter in Amerike (1947); (137) B. Rivkin, Grunt-Tendentsn fun der Yidisher Literatur in Amerike (1948); (138) A. Pomerants, Proletpen (1935). (139) The entire Yiddish oeuvre of Menke Katz translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav is presented in Menke (2005), introduced by Dovid Katz with a monographic survey of 20th-century Yiddish literary politics in New York.
Anthologies of American Yiddish literature are: (140) Antologye, di Idishe Dikhtung in Amerike biz Yohr 1919, ed. D. Landoy (1919); (141) In Zikh, Antologye (1920); (142) N. Shteynberg's miscellany Idish America (1929) gives a good sense of the literary scene at the time; (143) Hemshekh-Antologye, fun Amerikaner Yidisher Dikhtung, 1918 – 1943, ed. M. Shtarkman (1945); (144) Amerikaner Yidishe Poezye, ed. M. Basin (1940); (145) N. Mayzil, ed. Amerike in Yidishn Vort – Antologye (1955) is a thematic anthology of America in Yiddish literature in translation; and (146) H. Goodman (ed.), The New Country, Stories from the Yiddish about Life in America (1961). (147) Benjamin and Barbara Harshav's American Yiddish Poetry / A Bilingual Anthology (1986) is an outstandingly designed book and its translations with the participation of K. Hellerstein, B. McHale, and A. Norich set new standards in the demanding art of poetry translation. (148) The sumptuous two-volume folio Yiddish Literature in America 1870 – 2000, Anthology, ed. E.S. Goldsmith (1999), with its generous allotment of space for all its authors, is a retrospective exhibition.
A bibliography of Yiddish literature in the Soviet Union is included in (149) Pirsumim Yehudiim beVrit haMoatsot 1917 – 1960, Reshimot Bibliografiyot, compiled Y.Y. Kohen, ed. Ch. Shmeruk (1961); (150) A. Abtshuk, Etyudn un Materyaln tsu der Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Literatur-Bavegung in FSS R 1917 – 1927 (1934) is of great documentary value for the first ten years of the Soviet regime. The Soviet approach to Yiddish literature in the U.S.S.R. is given in the following collations of criticism: (151) M. Litvikov, In Umru 1 (1919), 2 (1926); (152) Y. Bronshteyn, Atake (1931), while the non-Soviet approach is to be found in (153) Sh. Niger, Yidishe Shrayber in Sovyet-Rusland (1958) and (154) Ch. Shmeruk, "Twenty-Five Years of Sovetish Heymland – Impressions and Criticism," in: Y. Ro'i and I. Beker (eds.), Jewish Culture and Identity in the Soviet Union (1991), 191–207; a short summary in English is (155) Ch. Shmeruk, "Yiddish Literature in the U.S.S.R.," in: The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917, ed. L. Kochan (Oxford, 1970). See also (156) S. Wolitz, "The Kiev-Group (1918–1920) Debate: The Function of Literature," in: Yiddish, 3 (1978), 97–106.
The main anthologies of this literature are (157) Oyf Naye Vegn, Almanakh, Draysik Yor Sovetish-Yidish Shafn (1949), and (158) Dertseylungen fun Yidishe Sovetishe Shrayber (1969), both edited in the Soviet Union; (159) A Shpigl oyf a Shteyn, Antologye Poezye un Proze fun Tsvelf Farshnitene Yidishe Shraybers in Ratn-Farband, ed. Ch. Shmeruk; selected by B. Hrushovski, A. Sutskever and Ch. Shmeruk (1964; rev.ed.1988); (160) Lo Amut Ki Ekhye, 24 Sippurim mi-Sifrut Yidish be-Vrit ha-Mo'aẓot (1957), an anthology of Hebrew translations. See also (161) I. Howe and E. Greenberg (eds.), Ashes Out of Hope – Fiction by Soviet Yiddish Writers (1977).
Yiddish literature in Poland after World War I is treated in (162) Y.Y. Trunk, Di Yidishe Proze in Poyln in Der Tkufe tsvishn Beyde Velt-Milkhomes (1949); (163) B. Mark, Umgekumene Shrayber fun Getos un Lagern (1954). Anthologies of this literature from Poland are: (164) Antologye fun der Yidisher Proze in Poyln Tsvishn Beyde Velt-Milkhomes (1914 – 1939), ed. Y.Y. Trunk and A. Tseytlin (1946); (165) B. Heler, Dos Lid Iz Geblibn, Antologye, Lider fun Yidishe Dikhter in Poyln, Umgekumene Beys der Hitleristisher Okupatsye (1951).
Other East European centers of Yiddish literature are the subject of (166) M. Naygreshl, "Di Moderne Yidishe Literatur in Galitsye," Fun Noentn Over (1955); (167) Sh. Bikl, "Vegn dem Onhoyb fun der Moderner Yidisher Literatur in Rumenye," Shmuel Niger-Bukh (1958); (168) Oyfshtayg, Zamlbukh: Hundert Yor Yidishe Literatur in Rumenye, ed. Meyer Rispler.
Anthologies in Israel of Yiddish literature include: (169) Vortslen, Antologye fun Yidish Shafn in Yisroel / Poezye un Proze ed. A. Shamri (1966); and (170) M. Khalmish, Mi-Kan u-mi-Karov, Antologyah shel Sipurei Yidish be-Ereẓ-Yisrael mi-Reishit ha-Me'ah ve-ad Yameinu (1966); (171) Yidish-Literatur in Medines-Yisroel / Antologye, 2 vols. (1991) [edited by H. Osherovitsh,
Sh. Vorzoger, M. Yelin, E. Podriatshik, M. Tsanin] [single selections of 204 writers who lived in Israel with brief bio-bibliographical introductions and photographs].
The lack of adequate attention to Yiddish women authors has been belatedly and partially addressed in the anthology of short story translations: (172) Found Treasures / Stories by Yiddish Women Writers, ed. F. Forman, E. Raicus, S. Silberstein Swartz, and M. Wolfe (1994). (173) Kathryn Hellerstein has translated and commented upon a wide selection of Kadya Molodowsky's poems in her Papirene Brikn (1999), with Yiddish original facing English translation. Dafna Clifford has written perceptively about Esther Kreitman, the relatively little-known sister of the famous Singer brothers: (174) "From Diamond Cutters to Dog Races: Antwerp and London in the Work of Esther Kreitman," in: Prooftexts, 23 (2003), 320–37.
Specific problems in poetics and prosody are studied in the following works: (175) D. Hofshteyn and P. Shames, Teorye fun Literatur, Poetik (Kharkov 1930); (176) N. Stutshkov, Yidisher Gramen-Leksikon (1931); (177) A. Vaynraykh, "Vegn Filtrafikn Gram," Yidishe Shprakh 15 (1955); (178) U. Weinreich, "On Cultural History of Yiddish Rhyme," Essays on Jewish Life and Thought (1959); and (179) B. Hrushovski, "On Free Rhythms in Yiddish Poetry," The Field of Yiddish, 1 (1954).
The quality of translations of Yiddish literature into English has improved in the past decade and with it the quality of anthologies of Yiddish literature in English translation. (180) Hugh Denman lists 90 anthologies of Yiddish literature in English (in The Mendele Review, 8.08, July 29, 2004), including one of short fiction edited by the veteran anthologist of Yiddish Joachim Neugroschel. No earlier short story collection approaches the breadth of (181) No Star Too Beautiful (2002), which gives recognition to older Yiddish literature. Neugroschel includes extracts from the Mayse-bukh and Tsenerene, and stories by Anski, Asch, Bashevis, Bergelson, Bimko, Dik, Dinezon, Elye Bokher, Ettinger, Avrom Karpinovitsh, Glikl, Kipnis, Kobrin, Rokhl Korn, Kulbak, H. Leyvik, Linetski, Abramovitsh, Nakhmen of Bratslav, Perets, Der Nister, Nomberg, Yoysef Perl, Yeshue Perle, Pinski, Avrom Reyzn, Khave Roznfarb, Yoyne Roznfeld, Lamed Shapiro, Sholem-Aleykhem, Spektor, Y.-Y. Trunk, and others.
Translation continues to be a challenge to students of Yiddish, who inevitably encounter the half-truth that Yiddish is untranslatable. In a recent effort at rendering Abramovitsh (whose Yiddish, it is claimed, was already somewhat archaic a century ago) freshly and engagingly, the late Ted Gorelik in translating Fishke the Lame "conveys the intricacies of Abramovitsh's Yiddish diction by echoing the dialects found in English novels of the 18th and 19th centuries by such authors as Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens, whose work influenced Abramovitsh." On the other hand, Hillel Halkin, a veteran translator of Hebrew in particular, "strikes a balance between archaic and modern elements of style." (182) S.Y. Abramovitsh, Tales of Mendele the Book Seller, ed. D. Miron and K. Frieden (1996), lxii.
For material on research in Yiddish literature see the following: L. Prager, in: J.A. Fishman (ed.), Never Say Die! A Thousand Years of Yiddish in Jewish Life and Letters (1981), 529–45; D. Roskies, in: Prooftexts, 1 (1981), 28–42; Ch. Shmeruk, in: Di Goldene Keyt, 91 (1976), 39–48.
[Chone Shmeruk / Leonard Prager (2nd ed.)]
M. Aptroot, in: G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (eds.), Yiddish in the Contemporary World (1999), 43–55; A. Novershtern, in: ibid., 1–19; M. Krutikov, in: Shofar, 20:3 (2002), 1–13; C. Kuznitz, in: M. Goodman (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies (2002), 541–71; L. Prager, in: La Rassegna Mensile di Israel, 62:1–2 (1996), 451–64; J. Shandler, in: Conservative Judaism, 54:4 (Summer 2002), 69–77; M. Isaacs, in: L.J. Greenspoon (ed.), Yiddish Language and Culture Then and Now (1998), 165-88; idem, in: D.-B. Kerler (ed.), Politics of Yiddish (1998), 85-96; idem, in: J. Sherman (ed.), Yiddish After the Holocaust (2004), 131-48; idem, in: International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 138 (1999), 9-30; idem, in: La culture yiddish aujourd'hui (2004), 14-21; A.F. Roller, The Literary Imagination of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Women (1999); J. Shandler, in: Pakntreger (2002), 21-7.
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