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Shiye-Mordkhe Lifshits

LIFSHITS, SHIYE-MORDKHE (1829–1878), pioneering Yiddish lexicographer, author, and a theoretician of the Yiddishist movement in the 19th century. With a solid intellectual background (he was a student of mathematics, physics, chemistry, languages) Lifshits propounded the idea of a secular Jewish culture on the basis of Yiddish. As a close friend of S.Y. *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Sforim), it is thought that Lifshits was instrumental in convincing the "grandfather of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature" to switch from Hebrew to Yiddish as a means of literary expression. A pioneer of the idea of Yiddish press, it is also assumed by some that under Lifshits' influence A. *Zederbaum began to publish the epoch-making Yiddish periodical Kol Mevasser, where Lifshits became a literary contributor on various topics.

Lifshits' lexicographic achievements are to a large extent unsurpassed in their quality and reliability, especially in depicting the South Eastern (Volhynian) Yiddish dialect. The manuscript of one of his dictionaries (Yiddish–German, German–Yiddish) unfortunately was lost. His excellent Rusish-yidisher verter-bikh went through four editions (1869–86). The Yiddish-Russian dictionary, Yidish-rusisher verter-bikh, was published in 1876.

A man of progressive ideas, Lifshits opened a tailor shop in the 1870s in Berdichev (where he died and was probably born) and shared the profits with the girls who worked there. He was deeply respected as a man of high ethical standards and admired even by his opponents. Although paralyzed in his later years, he continued his creative work to the very end.


N. Shtif, in: Di Yidishe Shprakh (July–Oct. 1928); Rejzen, Leksikon, 2 (1930), 180–9; LNYL, 5 (1963), 210–5.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.