Naomi Seidman and Shaina Hammerman

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:

Show Summary Details


Yiddish is a thousand-year-old Jewish language, with origins, according to a broad scholarly consensus, in the German Rhineland. The major component of Yiddish, in both its Western and Eastern varieties, is Middle High German, with varying admixtures of Slavic, Hebrew, and other languages. Western Yiddish, spoken from Amsterdam to Germany, faded away in the course of the 19th century, with the acculturation and social integration of its speakers. Eastern Yiddish, which was spoken throughout Eastern Europe and its international diaspora until the Holocaust, persists primarily in ultra-Orthodox enclaves. While Yiddish was accepted as the Jewish vernacular in premodern periods, albeit in a subsidiary role to Hebrew, writers of the Jewish Enlightenment such as Moses Mendelssohn disparaged it as a “jargon,” and with the beginnings of Jewish modernization and secularization the status of Yiddish diminished. The maskil (Jewish Enlightener) Mendel Lefin, writing in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, was virtually unique among his peers in according Yiddish the status of a true language. In the late 19th century, when new varieties of Jewish nationalism began to emerge, Yiddish was championed as a language in its own right and embraced by a range of social, political, and cultural movements. During the first part of the 20th century, Yiddish culture in many forms (journalism, film, theater, criticism, and literature) flourished in Eastern Europe and the major centers of Eastern European immigration. The academic study of Yiddish in Yiddish began in earnest in the 1920s, and achieved its major advances in three main centers, the Vilnius-based YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut—Yiddish Scientific Institute); the Soviet centers of Yiddish literary criticism in Kiev and Minsk; and among the critics on the New York literary scene. The Holocaust and Soviet repression dealt a devastating blow to Yiddish culture in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The postwar period saw the transfer of YIVO activities to New York and the gradual establishment of new academic programs in Israel, Europe, and North America. Yiddish scholarship is now thriving, particularly in the field of literary criticism; this bibliography focuses on recent academic publications on the Yiddish language, culture, and literature, as well as major online, library, and archival resources.

Article.  14865 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.