The Mendele Review: Yiddish
Literature and Language
(A Companion to MENDELE)
1) This issue of TMR
2) Century of Yiddish Conference in
3) The advertisements in Yidish af yidish (see TMR 12.012) (Hershl Hartman)
4) Images of Yiddish in the Newly Established State of
5) New Journal: Israel Studies in Language and Society.
6) Disappearing Languages
Date: 16 July 2008
Subject: This issue of TMR
At the center of this
issue of The Mendele
Review is a wide-ranging and finely balanced essay on a subject no
student of Yiddish can fail to find of interest: the reception of mame-loshn
in the period immediately following the establishment of the State of Israel.
Date: 16 July 2008
From: Carrie Friedman-Cohen Organizing Committee, Dov Sadan Project
Subject: Century of Yiddish Conference in
The date of this conference has not been fixed yet, but it will probably be Summer or Fall of 2009. This will give the organizers adequate time to complete their ongoing raising of funds to cover this extensive and expensive event.
The site of the Dov Sadan Project is in the process of being built. It can be reached at the url: www.hum.huji.ac.il/site/dovsadaninst.
More information regarding the planned Conference and the Dov Sadan Project will be given in future issues of The Mendele Review. For further information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment on the two advertisements from David Goldberg's textbook Yidish af yidish (see TMR 12.012):
1. The addresses
shown in both ads reveal important aspects of the geography (and demography?)
of immigrant Yiddish communities in
2. The A.V. Co.
lists three drug stores in lower
3. Similarly, of
the three locations for the Paris Dental Parlor Co., one was in the very heart
of the Lower East Side, one in Harlem and one in the Flatbush area of
4. And...a thought: might the Paris Dental ad's emphasis on the exact addresses of its locations have been the result of nearby, even adjoining, competing dental practices?
Date: 17 July 2008
From: Anat Helman.
Subject: Images of Yiddish in the Newly Established State of
Images of Yiddish
in the Newly Established State of
novel, Infiltration (first
published in 1987) describes a platoon of basic trainers in mid-1950s
Micky went into the room. Avner and Zackie remained sitting in the hole of a kitchen with the old woman. There wasn't enough room in the kitchen, and Gita insisted that no more than two people remain with her mother – perhaps she was afraid that she would be harmed if everyone came in together. The old woman tearfully and without pause spoke in Yiddish and wrung her hands, laying her right hand on her breast as if she were swearing an oath -- she was telling them her troubles. Avner and Zackie nodded their heads solemnly in agreement, biting their lips in order not to burst out laughing, winking at their friends waiting outside, next to the open door. 
Hedgehog, who stood outside with the others, deliberated with himself. He went into the kitchen and again bargained with the old woman. She was tired of the argument which they had been through before. She cursed him in Yiddish and he answered in fluent Yiddish. Was his stinginess prodding him into this new round of bargaining? His insatiable thirst for argument? Or, overcome by doubts about the deed itself, was he looking for an easy exit? In any case, all his protests were useless. He cursed her; she grabbed him by the shirt and pushed him violently outside. He fell on his friends standing by the door, muttering: "Old witch, what a filthy mouth! If you could have heard what she said!"
Kenaz puts Yiddish in the mouths of
Hedgehog, a native Israeli from an Orthodox family, and whose characterization
throughout the novel is far from complimentary, and Gita's
mother, an old Ashkenazi new immigrant who sells her own daughter. The Yiddish
is used for whining, cursing, and bargaining over the price of a whore.
Although the scene takes place in
During the first years of
long-time Israelis often felt lingering affection for their Yiddish
mother-tongue, even after discarding it for the sake of Hebrew as part of their
Zionist transformation. After the Holocaust, the attitude toward Yiddish was
somewhat mellowed. The radical "negation of the Diaspora" and the
rabid "language war" of former decades were modified since the 1940s,
and the destroyed culture of the Diaspora was covered with a new tinge of
nostalgia and guilt. The formal attitude to Yiddish also softened: whereas in
the 1920s it was decided after a heated public debate not to open a Yiddish
chair at the
Then again, after decades of promoting an anti-Diaspora spirit as part of Zionist culture, in the minds of many Israelis Yiddish still represented the essence of the sordid diasporic entity, the very opposite of the aspired for "new Jew" who was to develop in the Land of Israel. This notion abided in the mind of the founding generation, who intentionally rebelled against their diasporic background, but was even stronger among their offspring, the Israeli natives. The latter felt completely alienated from the "old Jew"; they did not know the Diaspora and experienced no longing for its lost culture or its language. 
Yiddish, as Kenaz indicates by Hedgehog's character, was commonly associated with the religious Ultra-Orthodox community. Lahav, a national-religious periodical, attacked the Orthodox yeshivas ('seminaries') in late 1951, claiming that they nurture no pioneering work, that they practice ethnic discrimination, and moreover:
The heads of the yeshivas cannot be forgiven for yet another sin – the Yiddish language. One cannot ignore the difficulty of studying the Gemara ('Talmud') in Hebrew translation, a difficulty which originates partly from habit. Yet, it is totally unacceptable that educational centers in this country nurture an obsolete Diaspora-tongue. In many yeshivas Hebrew is not the language of instruction, but even more appalling is the fact that in some yeshivas the Diaspora-tongue is the spoken language, and native youths of the land speak broken Hebrew. This is a crucial issue, and the educational institutions should not ignore it. 
Yiddish, as Kenaz
indicates by the character of Gita's mother, was
associated first and foremost not with the Orthodox minority, but with the mass
of European new immigrants who arrived in Israel after the foundation of the
state. One can learn about
deeply-rooted notions and about informal daily encounters between long-time
Israelis and newcomers from children's sayings published in the humor section
of Dvar ha-shavu'a. In
It was generally accepted that recently
arrived immigrants could speak Yiddish until they learned Hebrew. Continuing to
use Yiddish after the first years of arrival was perceived by long-time
Israelis as an obstinate clinging to the culture of
the past and as a sign of unsuccessful acculturation into the local Israeli
melting pot. In late
This proved too much to bear for the "Canaanite" Sabra who so far sat next to me in silence. Now she opened her mouth: "As if they were a different race", she raged, "Bringing disharmony to our beautiful country…. I can't stand them. They are ugly people.... They spit in the bus. Their appearance is repulsive. Would they at least wish to adapt. But no, they even ridicule us… Had they turned to agriculture, the contact with earth and nature could have healed them. But no, they want the town. The town sticks perversely to this Yiddish, which is more of a mentality than a language… They will never change their language in this Ramleh… We should have mixed two thirds of them with one third of us. A mixture of different languages would have forced them to adopt Hebrew as a common language.
The writer answers the young Sabra that Ramleh does include such a mixture -- "four thousand Bulgarians with five thousand Yiddish-speakers, and the Bulgarians do learn Hebrew." "Yes," she says, "But the Yiddish speakers do not learn Hebrew." 
I do not
intend to criticize those new immigrants who use their native tongue only when
they first arrive. Obviously, they have to be aided by their accustomed
language when they begin to acclimatize.
However, there are some people who are considered
"long-timers", who find it necessary to spice their speech in public
with some Yiddish. Many cafés and
amusement institutions in
addition to the national sentiment, which forbids us the use of any language
but Hebrew, we should also consider the large part of our society that does not
understand Yiddish. In the state of
Those who condemned the use of
Yiddish were well aware of the nostalgic feelings which East-European Israelis
harbored toward their mother tongue. A 1950 essay attacked Yiddish advocates
from abroad and "their helpers" in
A writer in the Revisionist Herut
newspaper protested in 1955 against the use of foreign languages in
An anecdote from a
A very large-sized Jewish woman enters [the bus], filling at least one and three-quarters seats, if not two whole seats. A Jerusalem Jew looks at her with huge respect and wants to tell her something, but she does not understand Hebrew. "I speak," she says, "only Spanish, Ladino, English, French, German, and … also Yiddish." This "also" arrives at the very last minute, and generates general laughter. The Jerusalem Jew can finally address the lady who admits she speaks five languages before confessing her "crime" -- she speaks Yiddish….
Loud public debates surrounded
theatrical performances in Yiddish during the 1950s. Unlike daily spoken
language, the theater is a distinct cultural entity and therefore occupies a
more conscious, formal, and institutional level. This may be the reason why the
theater in Yiddish drew particular attention, especially as it competed with
the fledgling Hebrew theater. Yiddish performances by local and visiting
artists drew an audience consisting of both new immigrants and long-time
Israelis, and in early
A Protocol from a meeting held by
the Committee for Films and Plays in March 1951 reveals a range of attitudes
toward Yiddish. The chairman claimed that the increasing theater performances
in Yiddish are worse than the distribution of Yiddish periodicals, because a
newspaper is read in private whereas a public theater performance binds
audience and stage. Even artists who have been living in
The Committee invited a
representative from the Association of Hebrew Writers to serve as a visiting
consultant. He insisted that all foreign languages should be resisted in
A different approach was sounded
by another visiting consultant invited by the Committee, a representative of
the local newspaper editors. The latter asked for some leniency toward Yiddish:
After the national catastrophe of the Holocaust, he said,
The chairman agreed that the Committee should not entirely forbid the use of Yiddish. "Every one of us harbors some feelings for Yiddish from childhood," he said, a hint at the Committee's all-Ashkenazi ethnic composition. A total ban might evoke a harsh public response, and even the Minister of Education told him that the issue must be treated "with affection, love, and pain." The latter claimed that "the cinder, which cannot be ignited anew, should be preserved; and whilst Yiddish is declining all over the world, the ashes of the Holocaust must be safeguarded." Yet the chairman's attitude was more militant than the minister's, and he added that in the line of spectators waiting to enter Yiddish performances, one could detect many long-time Israelis, whose faces revealed their longing for diasporic lore, rather than any "silent emotional empathy with the memory of the millions." Such subtle ability to read the audience's facial expression is somewhat doubtful, but it does reveal the chairman's distinctions: Whereas he saw the association of Yiddish with the Holocaust as worthy, justified and excusable, any connection of Yiddish with the pre-war diasporic past he deemed anti-Israeli. Thus, at the end of the meeting, the Committee for Films and Plays decided that visiting artists may perform in Yiddish but add a section in Hebrew, whilst new immigrants may continue performing in Yiddish, "but prove that they are making some efforts to learn Hebrew" within one year.
Theatrical performances in Yiddish
were thus limited but not entirely forbidden. Indeed, during the early 1950s
more Yiddish theaters were founded in
Most famous and popular among
Yiddish performers were the comic couple Dzigan and
Schumacher, who settled in
Such rhetorical criticism was
voiced as a reaction to the actual popularity
of the Yiddish theater. The objection to Yiddish in
The complex attitude toward Yiddish was part of a wider national identity crisis faced by the newly founded State of Israel. The devastation of the Holocaust moderated Zionist negation of the Diaspora, but there were increasing anxieties regarding the lack of any unique and unifying Israeli culture, a fear of a chaotic "Tower of Babel." Long-time Israelis were concerned that the heterogeneous mass of new immigrants might endanger the Hebrew culture which was already consolidated during the pre-state era. And since Yiddish was primarily identified with the Diaspora and the old Jew, many Israelis viewed it as the very opposite of any local, native and newly Hebrew virtue.
depicts in his novel, Yiddish was wrapped in 1950s
 Yehoshua Kenaz, Infiltration
 Op.cit, 578.
 M. Giora, "Again – the Mizrachis", Ashmoret, August 11, 1949.
 Avraham Shtal, Ethnic Tensions in
 Arye Pilovsky,
"Language, Culture, and Nastionalism in the New Yishuv: The Public Debate about the Plan of Founding a
Yiddish Chair in
 See, for example, Yoav Gelber, "The Shaping of the 'New Jew' in Eretz
 Y. Yerushalmi, "A Peak into the Yeshivas", Lahav: biton dati le'umi (1951), 5.
 I. B., "The Decline of Yiddish," Ha-modi'a, May 10, 1951. On the crisis of the Orthodox community see Menachem Friedman, "The State of Israel as a Religious Dilemma", Alpayim 3 (1990), 38-41, 52-54, 58 [in Hebrew]. I wish to thank Kimi Kaplan for drawing my attention to this article.
 For example see Yoel Markus, "The opinion of the man in the street", Herut, February 9, 1950.
 Humor section, Dvar ha-shavu'a, June 16, 1949 (sent by Hagit Sh. From Bnei Brak).
 Humor section, Dvar ha-shavu'a, March 17, 1949 (sent by Ofra from Kfar Azar).
 Humor section, Dvar ha-shavu'a, September 8, 1949 (sent by Shlomo from Herzeliyah).
 Humor section, Dvar ha-shavu'a, October 6, 1949 (sent by Aunt Anka from Tel Aviv).
 Humor section, Dvar ha-shavu'a, February 23, 1950. Also see anecdote in humor section, Dvar ha-shavu'a, July 6, 1950.
 Ch. Shalmoni, "A tale of one trip in Ramleh", Yediot Aharonot, December 9, 1949.
 Avner, from "Letters to the editor," Yediot Aharonot, January 6, 1950.
 Quoted by A. M-kh, "Alei sefer", Ha-isha ba-medina, 15, September 1950, 32.
 A. Roi, "From the view and the street: Hebrew is bad for the business," Herut, June 17, 1955.
 "Also," Yediot Aharonot, August 29, 1951.
 For instance, see news and articles about Yiddish theater and performances in Ha-dor, December 17, 1950, Herut, January 5, 1951, Ha-boker, February 21, 1951. Also see a caricature by Arie Navon, Dvar ha-shavu'a, January 6, 1949.
 "The problem of the Yiddish theater reaches the High Court," Ha-boker, July 2, 1951.
 The Committee for Films and Plays' meeting number 102, March 13, 1951 – The Lavon Institute, file IV-208-6482.
 Op. cit.
 Op. cit.
 Op. cit.
 For instance advertisement for
the Yiddish theater, Ma'ariv,
August 30, 1951. Posters for a comic theater in Yiddish and
 "Sabbath desecrations
 Asher Nahor, "The Hebrew theater forsakes 'Second Israel', " Yediot aharonot, February 1, 1952.
 A. Hagai, "The Yiddish theater competes with the Hebrew theater," Ha-dor, May 28, 1954. Also see A. Roi, "From the view and the street: splendid atlas for only one pound", Herut, August 24, 1955.
 A. Nahor, " Dzigan and Schumacher and Israeli humor," Herut, October 14, 1955.
 For instance see Anat Helman and Yael Reshef, " 'The Voice of the
 The Committee for Films and Plays' meeting number 102, March 13, 1951 – The Lavon Institute, file IV-208-6482 (see note 22). "Back to the Technion", Ashmoret, September 8, 1949. Humor section, Dvar ha-shavu'a, September 28, 1950. Barkhin, "Its Royal Highness the German language", Herut, December 22, 1950. "Limitations on non-Hebrew shows should be stricter," Ha-boker, March 14, 1951. Kibbutz Dorot bulletin, February 8, 1952, 2 – The University and National Library's collection.
 See, for example, Orit Rozin, "Forming a Collective Identity: The Debate over the Proposed Constitution, 1948-1950," The Journal of Israeli History, 26/2 (2007), 251-271.
 See, for instance, Sh. N. Eisenstadt, Absorbing
Immigration: A Sociological Research (
 "In the eyes of a Sabra:
Days of Atonement in
This paper is based on a lecture delivered in TAU at the "Ashkenazim" conference on February 28, 2008, and on a wider research funded by the ISF (grant no. 032.2321)
Date: 17 July 2008
From: Israeli Association for the Study of Language and Society
Subject: New journal:
TMR is pleased to spread the word regarding
the new electronic journal of the Israeli Association for the Study of Language
and Society. The journal will be interdisciplinary and peer-reviewed, and will
deal with issues related to language and society. It will appear twice a year,
and will contain articles in Hebrew and English as well as reviews of book in
the field."Israel Studies in Language and
Society" will offer an academic stage to researchers dealing with the
different languages spoken in
the research carried out in
Articles and book reviews
should be sent only by electronic mail to the editorial address. Books for review
should be sent to:
Dr. Devorah Kalenkin-Fishman, Faculty of Education,
Date: 17 July 2008
Subject: Disappearing Languages
In the TLS of 13/7/08, Gregory Norminton reviews K. David Harrison's When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. His review begins with a sober quantitative report that will shock many TMR readers, even those of us who have been barraged with tedious "discoveries" that Yiddish is declining and may not survive:
the year 2100, many linguists estimate, half of the world's 6,912 distinct
languages will be extinct. At present, 548 of them retain fewer than
ninety-nine speakers. We can expect to lose a language every ten days; and
behind each of these disappearances lies a story of
cultural loss, sadness and isolation. K. David Harrison embeds his accounts of
linguistic decay within the experiences of individuals who must endure it. When Languages Die is not," however,
a study of the pressures which extinguish languages: we can look elsewhere for
an analysis of the effects of globalization, urbanization and the conformist
pressures exerted by the speakers of majority languages.
In summation of the "lesson" of this timely book, the empathic reviewer concludes:
"To allow languages to become extinct -- along with the culture and ecologies that they encode -- is to risk an erosion of knowledge whose value, once lost, we can never quantify."
End of The Mendele Review Issue 12.013
Editor, Leonard Prager
Editorial Associate, Robert Goldenberg
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