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Max Weinreich

(1894 – 1969)

Max Weinreich was a Yiddish linguist, historian, editor. Born in Kuldiga (Latvia), Weinreich made his debut as a Yiddish writer at the age of 13, and became a contributor to various Yiddish, Russian, German, and later English publications. After studying at the universities of St. Petersburg and Berlin, he completed a doctoral thesis on the history of Yiddish philology at the University of Marburg (1923; Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung, 1993).

Early in his career Weinreich became a prominent educator in various capacities, ranging from the teaching of Yiddish literature at the Vilna Yiddish Teachers’ Seminary to serving as leader of a Yiddish scouting movement, Di Bin (“The Bee”). He was instrumental in giving Yiddish linguistics a solid, scholarly footing. Co-founder with Nokhem Shtif, Elias Tcherikover, and Zalmen Rejzen of the YIVO Institute (1925), and YIVO’s guiding spirit, he was largely responsible for its achieving a worldwide reputation. As director of YIVO’s Research Training Division and organizer of its graduate school, Weinreich successfully educated young Yiddish scholars, among them, his son, Uriel Weinreich. At the World Congress of Linguistics in Copenhagen (1936), he lectured on “Yiddish as an Object of General Linguistics,” and in 1940, he immigrated with his son Uriel to the U.S., where he became the country’s first university professor of Yiddish, teaching Yiddish language, literature, and folklore at the College of the City of New York and Columbia University, while serving as the scholarly director of YIVO.

Weinreich’s wide array of books and studies include his magnum opus, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Shprakh (“History of the Yiddish Language,” 4 vols., 1973; Engl. transl. of vols. 1–2, 1980), the culmination of a half century of research on Yiddish sociolinguistics, tracing the thousand-year development of Ashkenazi culture and the Yiddish language as integral to the Jewish way of life. He studied the development of Yiddish from its origins in Germany, through Eastern Europe and into the second diaspora, creating the basic concepts and theoretical tools of the linguistic study of Jewish languages. Prominent among his other works are Hitlers Profesorn (1947; English transl. 1946) – probably the best documented indictment of German scholarship during the Nazi regime; Shturemvint (“Tempest,” 1927), sketches on 17th-century Jewish history; Bilder fun der Yidisher Literatur-Geshikhte (“Sketches from the History of Yiddish Literature,” 1928); Der Veg tsu Undzer Yugnt (“Path to Our Youth,” 1935), a socio-psychological study of Jewish youth in Eastern Europe; and Di Shvartse Pintelekh (“Black Dots,” 1939), a history of alphabets. Weinreich translated Homer, Freud, and Ernst Toller into Yiddish and edited the periodicals Yidishe Filologye (1924–26), Filologishe Shriftn (1926–29), Yivo-Bleter (1931–50), and the critical edition of S. Ettinger’s works, N. Stutchkoff ‘s Oytser fun der Yidisher Shprakh (“Thesaurus of the Yiddish Language”), Y.L. Cahan’s Shtudyes vegn Yidisher Folkshafung (“Studies in Yiddish Folklore”), and Yidishe Folkslider mit Melodyes (“Yiddish Folksongs with Melodies”).


For Max Weinreich on his Seventieth Birthday: Studies in Jewish Languages, Literature and Society (1964), incl. bibl.; LNYL, 3 (1960); M. Schaechter, in: Goldene Keyt, 50 (1964), 157–71; L.S. Dawidowicz, in: AJYB, 70 (1969), 59–68. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.C. Frakes, in: M. Weinreich, Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung (1993), vii-xxiv.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.