From its very beginnings the character of Yiddish was marked by its role as translator and interpreter of religious texts. Although there were secular writings, they were not substantial until the nineteenth century. One hundred years ago the primary role of translation was to present the outside world to Yiddish-speaking Jews, and libraries were full of translations of the international classics. Today the main role is the reverse: translation from Yiddish to other languages to gain access to that lost Jewish world. Functional translation into Yiddish is still required, mainly for Hasidim/Haredim, for example in the field of health or (in Israel) civil defence. Yiddish has clearly influenced other languages spoken by Jews, where one finds Yiddish words or calques, particularly in Hebrew and English. The concept of 'postvernacular Yiddish' has arisen to describe the contemporary use of Yiddish by speakers of these other languages. Both in the past and the present, Yiddish has been represented stereotypically, and often as an essentially 'ludic' language. One of the functions of literary translation ought to be to combat these stereotypes and demonstrate the richness and flexibility of Yiddish, as of any other language.
The Perils and Joys of Translation
Julia Pascal’s The Yiddish Queen Lear
British Jewish playwright Julia Pascal has written two adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, The Shylock Play (2009, based on The Merchant of Venice) and The Yiddish Queen Lear (1999, based on King Lear) , in which she discusses Jewish
Using pre-war Poland as an example, Helen Beer describes the richness of Yiddish cultural life prior to the Holocaust. Upon briefly sketching aspects of the Yiddish-speaking world of our times, she illustrates the modern phenomenon of forging an allegiance to Yiddish without knowledge of the language. Beer argues that Yiddish without Yiddish is not an option and that the only means of sustaining and perpetuating the language and culture is by means of learning and using it.
A Musical Genre?
The tango was born just before the turn of the twentieth century in Buenos Aires as the resulting blend of the cultures of Italian, Spanish, French and Eastern European Jewish immigrants and Afro-Argentine rhythms. In the 1910s the tango took Western Europe by storm, soon reaching Eastern Europe. Ballrooms and cabarets featured this Latin American import; composers, Jews amongst them, started to write new tangos. Inevitably, during the Holocaust tango became part of the life of ghettos and concentration camps, where it, now in Yiddish, was once again adopted as a vehicle to express the experience of inmates and their hopes for freedom. Not only did the Nazis allow this music, they forced Lagerkapellen, the camp orchestras, to play the Tango of Death to accompany prisoners as they were marched to the gas chambers. In different and happier circumstances, Jewish musicians living in Buenos Aires and New York – many of whom were émigrés – wrote Yiddish tangos for the Yiddish theatre, musicals and Jewish revues. The mixed nature of tango probably explains why it has been continuously embraced and transformed during its extraordinary voyage around the world. Yiddish tangos are only an episode in this chronicle, an example of the Jews' tendency to adapt to the ethos of their adoptive countries and also, more generally, the mutual acceptance and fruitful interaction between peoples.
This article discusses the importance of Yiddish for our understanding of European Jewish histories and highlights some of the particularities of using Yiddish materials in historical research and the problems involved in doing so. There is a wealth of Yiddish materials available for historians yet many sources still need to be catalogued and disclosed. At the same time it is often not easy for historians to acquire the necessary linguistic skills to use Yiddish sources in their research, both because of practical reasons and a lack of awareness of the specific linguistic needs of historians. Opening up the field of Yiddish to historians though is very important to understand the rich and varied histories of Europe's Jews better, particularly before the Holocaust.
Language, Literature and Ultra-Orthodox Ideology
Bruce J. Mitchell
An analysis of Yiddish language periodicals destined for a haredi reading public is fraught with difficulty. First and foremost, the very existence of such reading material is paradoxical. On the one hand haredim strongly discourage wasting time reading anything not directly related to Torah, yet on the other hand Yiddish newspapers have a much stronger readership among haredim than among secular Jews. Even the Forverts, the most widely sold secular paper in Yiddish, has a distribution of 5,000 copies per week, which is far below that of most haredi papers. As one hasid explains, it's a waste of time to read secular papers, but it's a mitsve to read the haredi news publications.
Yosl Birshteyn's “Between the Olive Trees”
“Between the Olive Trees” by Yosl Birshteyn (born in Poland in 1920, died in Israel in 2003) is a Yiddish short story about an old Palestinian farmer named Khasan Abu who walks out with his donkey one early morning and has an unexpected interaction with Israeli soldiers. Critics mostly read Birshteyn's works as 'non-ideological' and tend to label him as an 'apolitical' writer, for the most part ignoring the political themes in his works. However, this article argues that in this story Birshteyn takes a clear stance against the Zionist practices of the time.
Singing in Yiddish about London: 1880-1940 is the story of six Yiddish songs that tell of mainly East End people and places and experiences; these snippets of history give insights into what was happening in London at the time. They tell of poverty and work, of street life and of love. They tell of characters; an old fiddler, a bagel seller, a prostitute. They tell of places, the Pavilion Theatre, Victoria Park, Morgan Street. They sparkle with life, whether deeply moving or comic. This article explores Jewish history through the songs, as well as exploring the history of the songs themselves. The songs were collected in Denmark, Canada, Germany, Liverpool and London. The article describes some of the people who sung them, who collected them and who wrote them. There is a lot unknown about the songs and why they were written, so there is much to conjecture by London Yiddishists and folk collectors. These answers throw more light onto the politics and issues of the day. Today these songs are being performed by Vivi Lachs and Klezmer Klub, a London-based band who are seeking to revive them and imbue in them a sense of their meaning for today.
Toward a Jewish History of Concepts
The field of modern European Jewish history, as I hope to show, can be of great interest to those who deal with conceptual history in other contexts, just as much as the conceptual historical project may enrich the study of Jewish history. This article illuminates the transformation of the Jewish languages in Eastern Europe-Hebrew and Yiddish-from their complex place in traditional Jewish society to the modern and secular Jewish experience. It presents a few concrete examples for this process during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The article then deals with the adaptation of Central and Western European languages within the internal Jewish discourse in these parts of Europe and presents examples from Germany, France, and Hungary.
Whereas Yiddish flourished in France in the immediate post-war period, partly due to the influx of survivors from Poland and Lithuania, the failure to ensure transmission of Yiddish to the following generation led to a decline. From the 1970s a number of significant academic institutions and programmes were created and the Bibliotheque Medem became a centre of documentation and acquired the bibliographic collections of libraries that had closed. In 2002 the Maison de la Culture Yiddish-Bibliotheque Medem (MCY) was established with the task not only of preservation but also of creating cultural opportunities through projects including publications, adult and children's education, and through encouraging the use of the spoken language.