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YIVO (acronym for Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut) INSTITUTE FOR JEWISH RESEARCH, the principal world organization conducting research in *Yiddish and about the history and culture of Yiddish-speaking Jewry. Until 1955, its English designation was the Yiddish Scientific Institute. YIVO sought from its inception to collect and preserve material mirroring Jewish life and to study various Jewish problems objectively and empirically. In this endeavor, YIVO was guided by three basic principles: (1) the peoplehood of Jews, especially as united by the Yiddish language; (2) the enrichment of the life of that people by means of Jewish scholarship; and (3) the application of the most modern methods of research in the quest for a better understanding of Jewish identity and Jewish group phenomena.

The original proposal for a Yiddish academic institute was initiated by Nahum (Nokhem) *Shtif and published in the pamphlet Di Organizatsye fun der Yidisher Visnshaft ("The Organization of Yiddish Scholarship," 1925). Shtif argued that Jews should participate in scholarly research in their own language, and that the results of world scholarship be made available to those Jews unfamiliar with languages other than Yiddish. Noting the achievements of various scholars during the preceding decade in new areas of Jewish research, he proposed an institution that would coordinate, conduct, and disseminate such research, as well as standardize the Yiddish language, collect relevant library and archival materials, and train young scholars. Shtif's plan was approved at a meeting organized by Max *Weinreich and Zalman *Rejzen in Vilna on March 24, 1925. The decision to begin work was made later that year at a conference in Berlin held August 7–12, 1925. Although the official seat of the institute was in that German city, Vilna was the most active center of YIVO's work and eventually the location of its headquarters. An American branch was founded in October 1925 and subsidiary branches or support groups were also active in locales around the world including Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, England, Estonia, France, Latvia, Romania, and Palestine. After the outbreak of World War II the American branch, earlier known as the Amopteyl (Amerikaner Opteylung) took over the central direction of the institute (1940).

In the period before World War II YIVO's research was conducted through four sections: (1) History, directed by Elias *Tcherikower and including Simeon *Dubnow, Raphael Mahler, Emanuel *Ringelblum, Ignacy Schipper, and Jacob *Shatzky; (2) Philology, directed by Max *Weinreich and including Y.L. *Cahan, Zelig *Kalmanovitch, Samuel (Shmuel) *Niger, Noah *Prylucki, and Zalman *Rejzen; (3) Economics and Statistics, directed by Jacob *Lestschinsky and including *Ben-Adir, Boris Brutzkus, Julius Brutzkus, Liebman *Hersch, and Mark Wischnitzer; and (4) Psychology and Education, directed by Leibush *Lehrer and including Abraham *Golomb, H.S. Kasdan, Lyuba Konel, Herts Kovarski, and Roza Simkhovitsh. Publications were in Yiddish with summaries in English, German, or Polish. These included each section's series of Shriftn fun Yidishn Visnshaftlekhn Institut ("Writings of the Yiddish Scientific Institute," 1925–40), the journal Yivo-Bleter ("YIVO Pages," 1931– ), and the newsletter Yedies fun Yivo ("YIVO News," 1925– ). A Bibliographic Center, Library, and Archives collected historic and contemporary research material. Correspondents in Yiddish-speaking communities throughout the world, but most especially in Eastern Europe, were encouraged to study local folkways and to assemble material of historical and cultural significance to send to the institute. YIVO's Vilna period reached its peak with two international conferences organized in 1929 and 1935, which were attended by leading scholars from around the world. In the 1930s Max Weinreich, YIVO's dominant figure, increasingly emphasized the study of Jewish sociology and economic life. In 1934 the institute initiated the Division of Youth Research and the Aspirantur, a training program for young scholars. An Art Section was created the following year and YIVO's efforts to standardize Yiddish spelling finally reached fruition in 1936. By 1939 YIVO had amassed one of the world's largest Judaica collections, including books, press, theatrical memorabilia, photographs, manuscripts and letters of famous personalities, and sundry items connected with Yiddish culture.

After the German invasion of Vilna during the Holocaust, the Nazis established a sorting center for looted Jewish property in the YIVO building in March 1942. They forced YIVO staff members to select the most valuable items to be sent to Germany and attempted to destroy the rest, but many Jews smuggled or hid important items. At the war's end the YIVO headquarters in Vilna was completely destroyed and the New York branch was declared the institute's new center. The materials sent to Germany and some hidden in Vilna were recovered and sent to New York in 1947.

In 1955 YIVO moved to a building at 86th Street and Fifth Avenue and changed its English name to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. In this period YIVO pioneered the academic study of the Holocaust and gave increasing attention to the lands to which East European Jews had immigrated, especially to the problems of Jewish acculturation in the U.S. Yiddish writers, scholars, and Jewish communal bodies added to YIVO's collections, while the acquisition of records from the American Jewish Committee and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) made YIVO a major center for the study of American Jewish history. The institute also sponsored annual conferences, exhibits, classes, and seminars, which served as a forum for the exchange of ideas and enriched the Jewish cultural scene. Participants in YIVO's Research Planning Commission, organized by Max Weinreich in 1962, included Michael Astour, Gerson D. *Cohen, Alexander Ehrlich, Marvin I. Herzog, and Uriel *Weinreich, with Joshua A. *Fishman as chairman. Major research projects inaugurated by the Commission included: the Interplay of Social and Political Factors in the Struggle of a Minority for its Survival and Creative Development; the Jews of Poland, 1919–1939; and the History of the American Jewish Labor Movement. YIVO sponsored research conferences on the German-Imposed Jewish Councils during World War II; Multilingualism and Social Change: Perspectives on Yiddish; and Economic Aspects of Jewish Life in Poland between the two World Wars. In 1970 the Commission was expanded into a Commission of Research and Training under the chairmanship of Nathan Reich.

Despite the continued leadership of Max Weinreich until his death in 1969, there was a dwindling number of scholars fluent in Yiddish, and the compromise with English became increasingly more pronounced. In 1968 YIVO founded the Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture, an intensive summer language course; and a graduate component, the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies. These programs played a crucial role in transmitting knowledge of the Yiddish language and of East European Jewish culture to young American-born scholars, many of whom became leaders in Jewish Studies programs then developing on campuses across the U.S.

YIVO's post-war publications include such standard reference works as Uriel Weinreich's College Yiddish (1949) and Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary (1968) and Max Weinreich's Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Shprakh, 4 vols. (1973; partial Eng. tr. History of the Yiddish Language, 1980). YIVO created the journal Yidishe Shprakh ("Yiddish Language," 1941–86), edited by Yudel *Mark and later Mordkhe Schaechter, to treat problems of standard Yiddish. The YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science (later the YIVO Annual, 1946–96), whose founding editor was Shlomo Noble, originally included mainly translations from YIVO's Yiddish publications; later volumes contained an increasing proportion of original contributions, especially on Jewish life in America. Under YIVO's auspices, the Yiddish Dictionary Committee was established in 1953 to gather, define, and publish Yiddish lexicographical treasures. Four folio volumes of the Groyser Verterbukh fun der Yidisher Shprakh ("Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language") appeared between 1961 and 1980 (comprising only the letter alef), although the project was no longer affiliated with YIVO by the latter date. Bibliographies listing books, journals, articles, and reviews published by YIVO appeared in 1943 and 1955.

In the 1980s YIVO created the Max and Frieda Weinstein Archive of Recorded Sound and the Yiddish Folk Arts Program (popularly known as KlezKamp, later run independently), which played a central role in the revival of klezmer (East European Jewish folk) music. With the advent of Perestroika YIVO learned that part of its pre-war collection had survived in Soviet Lithuania, and the archival materials were brought to New York and duplicated in 1995–96. Together with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow, YIVO created the first Jewish Studies program in the former Soviet Union, Project Judaica. In 1992 the first volumes of The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry appeared, a massive project begun by Uriel Weinreich in 1959 to record Yiddish dialects. YIVO's library and archives continued to expand, in particular with the acquisition of the Bund Archives of the Jewish Labor Movement (1992), while the publication of The Yiddish Catalog and Authority File of the YIVO Library (1990) and The Guide to the YIVO Archives (1998) greatly improved access to the collections. The 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires severely damaged YIVO's branch there, which had been run independently since World War II. Members of the institute's New York staff traveled to Argentina to assess the damage and offer assistance. In 1999 YIVO relocated to the Center for Jewish History, a facility at 15 West 16th Street in New York housing several Jewish research institutions. At the start of the 21st century YIVO's Library and Archives contained more than 350,000 volumes and 10,000 linear feet of archival material, the world's largest collections documenting Yiddish culture and the experience of East European Jews and their descendants.

Contact Information:
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011-6301
Phone: (212) 246-6080
Fax: (212) 292-1892

Email: [email protected]


L.S. Dawidowicz, From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 19381947 (1989); L. Dobroszycki, in: Y. Gutman (ed.), The Jews of Poland Between Two World Wars (1989), 495–518; D.E. Fishman, Embers Plucked from the Fire: The Rescue of Jewish Cultural Treasures in Vilna (1996); B. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, in: YIVO Annual, 23 (1996), 1–103; C.E. Kuznitz, "The Origins of Yiddish Scholarship and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research" (diss., 2000); D. Miron, in: YIVO Annual, 19 (1990), 1–15; J. Shandler (ed.), Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland Before the Holocaust (2002); D. Soyer, in: Jewish Social Studies, 5:3 (Spring/Summer 1999), 218–43; Yivo-Bleter, 46 (1980) (special 50th anniversary issue).

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