Yiddish Theatre Forum [YTF]
Joel Berkowitz, Editor 
Contents of Vol. 03.002 YTF
2 February 2004

1) Announcement (Joel Berkowitz)
2) Hersch Hermann Rigal (Laina Freeman)
3) Book Review: Evi Butzer, _Die Anf„nge der jiddischen purim shpiln in
   ihrem literarischen und kulturgeschichtlichen Kontext_ (Jerold Frakes)

Date: 2 February 2004
From: Joel Berkowitz 
Subject: Announcement

The Yiddish Theatre Forum is pleased to announce the addition of Zachary
Baker, Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections at the
Stanford University Libraries, to its Editorial Board.

Date: 7 January 2004
From: Laina Freeman 
Subject: Hersch Hermann Rigal

As part of my family trace I am trying to find more details about my late
grandfather who lived in Leipzig until his death in 1940 in Sachenhausen.
He was born in  Warsaw in 1894 and was an actor in the Yiddish theatre in
Leipzig and briefly in Berlin.

According to a German contact there is a record of his working in the
Yiddish Theatre in London between 1928-1929. I would dearly love to find out
any information, photos or anything you may have about my grandfather.  Can
you help?

Kind regards

Laina Freeman
Bedford, UK.

01234 344174 (office/day)

Date: 2 February 2004
From: Jerold Frakes 
Subject: Book Review

Evi Butzer, _Die Anf„nge der jiddischen purim shpiln in ihrem literarischen
und kulturgeschichtlichen Kontext_. Jidische schtudies, vol. 10. Hamburg:
Helmut Buske, 2003.

This monograph, which originated as a doctoral thesis written under the
expert supervision of Marion Aptroot in Dsseldorf, is in most senses a
traditional philological study (in both the good and bad senses of the term)
of the kind that is the norm in German universities. In some few ways,
however, it breaks those bonds and makes an important contribution to the
literary and cultural study of the earliest period of extant documents
related to the tradition of purimshpil. The book attends to a broad range of
relevant matters: there is an introduction to the Jewish and Christian
Esther traditions, the Christian dramatic tradition of the early modern
period, traditional Jewish attitudes toward the theatre, the range of
scholarly views on the origin of purimshpil, the extant textual materials
relevant to early Yiddish purimshpil, the history of parody, the
relationship of the German _Fastnachtspiel_ to Yiddish purimshpil, and,
finally, there are editions provided of three early Yiddish texts relevant
to the history of purimshpil. In the course of the study the author treats
in some detail a number of specific texts: various early modern Hebrew and
Yiddish parodies, purim songs, and the earliest textual evidence of Yiddish
purimshpiln: "Toub Yeklayn," "Khazonim-shpil," "Esreger-shpil," and the
earliest complete "Akhashveyresh-shpil" (1697).

The author's decision to cite (and edit) the texts to be analyzed in their
culturally appropriate alphabetic forms (i.e. early modern German texts in
their historical Roman-alphabet orthography and early Yiddish texts in the
Hebrew alphabet) immediately sets her study apart from the standard method
in Yiddish studies as practiced by Germanistic scholarship, whose methods of
transcription conventionally so Germanize the Yiddish texts that they can be
(and generally are) then simply claimed as (or tacitly presented on the page
as) German -- linguistically, and occasionally also culturally. With one
stroke, the author cuts this Gordian knot that has all but strangled the
Germanistic study of early Yiddish since the period of the Wissenschaft des
Judentums (and especially in the last several decades) by doing what any
self-respecting philologist and textual scholar does: she edits and studies
the texts in their own cultural context, which includes the scribal
tradition of its transmission. The author goes one step further here in that
she cites the texts in the original (i.e. non-regularized) orthography of
the early Yiddish texts. While this will make these sometimes already
difficult texts even less transparent to many contemporary readers, she also
provides modern German translations of all texts, such that the reader can
construe the sense of all passages word-for-word if necessary.

Butzer's professional and scholarly use of the corpus of research literature
throughout her own study sets her study apart from the pedestrian recitation
of the _Stand der Forschung_ so common in philological dissertations. Her
work is informed by an active engagement with a broad and rather unevenly
useful scholarly tradition published in five languages. She opposes, in a
measured way, for instance, Shmeruk's idea that the theological content of
medieval non-Jewish drama precluded any influence on the development of
Jewish drama (23). At times, however, she tends toward an insufficiently
critical acceptance of earlier work, especially with respect to the
impressionistic theories of earlier scholars, such as Bernard Gorin,
Yitskhok Shiper, and Max Erik, who all posit variously defined pre-histories
of purimshpil based not on any textual evidence from Jewish tradition, but
simply on what they imagine must have been, usually based on what they
construe as textual parallels in the extant Christian traditions. Butzer
herself occasionally tends in this direction, e.g. in her claim that the
'interludes' (_Zwischenspiele_) of the 1697 "Akhashveyresh-shpil" are taken
from an earlier form of purimshpil, without either specifically identifying
these interludes or indicating what evidence there might be for attributing
them to earlier non-extant plays (81). In the end, however, she does
question (in a single sentence) the legitimacy of the methods of Gorin,
Shiper and Erik (34-38) and acknowledge the essential difference between
their work and that of, for instance, Chone Shmeruk, which is based on close
analysis of the extant documents. While she wisely opts for this latter
model, she nonetheless still apparently accepts Ahuva Belkin's more recent
and equally impressionistic theory of the origin and development of
purimshpil with no critique at all (39).

As is generally the case in philological studies, attention to the focal
texts consists here primarily of a summary of the content, interspersed with
quoted passages from the texts. Thus the reader without direct knowledge of
the focal texts could read the book to become familiar with their content;
the reader looking for the literary and cultural analysis promised by the
book's title will be disappointed, for analysis as such consists generally
of no more than formalistic, structural description (see esp. 84-88 on the
first "Akhashveyresh-shpil"). Literary and cultural context, as here
conceived, is provided, for instance, by brief sketches of the tradition of
debate poems (103-108; which, she nonetheless ultimately must admit, are all
but irrelevant in the development of purimshpil, 108) and literary parody in
general (beginning with the Greek etymology of the term itself and
proceeding to a thumbnail sketch of Hebrew liturgical parodies, 109-119).

The study makes essentially two original contributions to scholarship on
early purimshpil: first, the 1697 "Akhashveyresh-shpil" is viewed through
the lens of the Bakhtinian analysis of Rabelais' _Gargantua et Pantagruel_.
While those who have during the past two decades paid even passing attention
to the thousands of conferences papers and publications that 'apply'
Bakthin's notions of 'grotesque realism' and the 'carnivalesque' to this and
that text, era, and national tradition might well have to stifle a yawn,
Butzer is in fact the first to engage this material for a study of early
Yiddish purimshpil,[1] and her presentation of the evidence from the 1697
play is well-ordered (167-189; the added material on the German
_Fastnachtspiel_, while not altogether irrelevant, is quite intrusive in
this context; 189-201).

The second significant scholarly contribution of the book is found in the
appendix, which includes editions of three texts from the manuscript
florilegium of Isaac [Eizik] Wallich of Worms (circa 1600; Oxford, Bodleian
Library, Ms. Opp. add. 4o 136): the "Jonah-shpil" (207-212), the purim song
"Pumay, ir libn gezeln" (213-216), and the parody of "Yudisher shtam"
(217-224). These editions are provided with notes (textual and explanatory),
and one facsimile page for each text (earlier in the study there is also
another facsimile: from the Minhogim-bukh, Paris, cod. h‚br. 586). The
scholarly usefulness of the text editions is unfortunately marred by the
rather surprising number of basic editorial errors in reading and
transcription, line division, etc.

Some few other types of errors should also be noted: in the plot summary of
the book of Esther, it is mistakenly claimed that the king rescinds his
edict to murder the Jewish populace (5), although in fact the biblical text
emphasizes precisely the point that the king may not do so (cf. Esther 8:8).
The author perpetuates the myth of Elia Levita (Elye Bokher) as _melamed_
('elementary-level teacher,' 144): while he may well have worked at one time
or another during his long life as a _melamed_, that is hardly the
appropriate career identification for the mentor and colleague of humanists
and cardinals, composer of a dozen works of major significance in the
history of Hebrew scholarship and Yiddish literature, and printer and
publisher of scores of important works in numerous printing houses in
northern Italy and Bavaria. Errors or unnecessary imprecision in translation
are surprisingly frequent, e.g.: "ven ir vert drinn lezn, vert ir ayer gelt
vidr gnisn" as 'Das Darin-Lesen werdet ihr genieáen' (48); "Ihr werdet sie
nicht hinausdr„ngen" (54, without correspondence in the Yiddish text); "got
yisborekh shmoy" as 'Gott, gepriesen sei er' (55); "shtok di nekeyve mit den
shvants hintn un forin" as 'Stecke den Schwanz in die Frau' (91). An
occasional grammatical error in German (!) has eluded the editor (_abdruckt
ist_; 92).

Almost a quarter century ago, Chone Shmeruk provided the reader interested
in early purimshpil with a massive volume that included both a comprehensive
study of the genre and reliable editions of the central texts of that corpus
up to the mid-eighteenth century [_Makhazot mikrayim be-yidish (1697-1750)_
(Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1979)]. For the
Hebrew-less reader, Butzer's study provides a valuable introduction to this
field up to the date of the first extant complete purimshpil (1697) and
extends our knowledge of the earliest period of Yiddish drama.


[1] In general on Bakhtin and purimshpil, however, the field is already
well-tended; see Daniel Boyarin, "Introduction: Purim and the Cultural
Poetics of Judaism -- Theorizing Diaspora," _Poetics Today_ 15: Purim and
the Cultural Poetics of Judaism (1994), 1-8; Harold Fisch, "Reading and
Carnival: On the Semiotics of Purim," ibid., 55-74; Elliott Horowitz, "The
Rite to be Reckless: On the Perpetration and Interpretation of Purim
Violence," ibid., 9-54.

End of Yiddish Theatre Forum 03.002

Yiddish Theatre Forum

Joel Berkowitz, Editor

Leonard Prager, Senior Adviser

   	   Editorial Board

Zachary Baker		Barbara Henry
Miroslawa Bulat		David Mazower 
Avrom Greenbaum 	Nina Warnke
 	     Seth Wolitz

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