_The Mendele Review_: Yiddish Literature and Language
              (A Companion to _MENDELE_)
Contents of Vol. 05.006
21 May 2001

1) On this issue of _TMR_ (ed.)

2) Joshua A. Fishman's _Can Threatened Languages be Saved?_
(reviewed by Sholem Berger)

3) Excerpt from Joshua A. Fishman's introductory chapter in Joshua A.
Fishman, ed.  _Can threatened languages be saved?_

4) Excerpts from "Hebrew After a Century of RLS Efforts" by B. Spolsky
and E. Shohamy in Joshua A. Fishman, ed.  _Can threatened languages be

5) A joke about liking _lokshn_ in Yiddish and Hebrew versions (ed.)

Date:  21 May 2001
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: On this issue of _TMR_

a. In his essay tailored for _The Mendele Review_, Sholem Berger
justifiably focuses on a single chapter of Joshua A. Fishman's latest
book, a chapter on the future of Yiddish in the great megopolis of New
York (said to contain a population of 20,000,000 in its extended
boundaries).  I quote briefly from Fishman's introduction to the volume
and give several excerpts from B. Spolsky and E. Shohamy's forthright
and chapter "Hebrew After a Century of RLS Efforts."

b. Elisheva Schonfeld's comprehensive Hebrew indexes to Alter Druyanov's
annotated _Sefer habedikha vehakhidud_ ['Book of Jokes and Wit']
(Tel-Aviv:  Dvir, 1963) may now be consulted in _The World of
Yiddish_/_di velt fun yidish_/_haOlam haYidi_ website
[http://research.haifa.ac.il/~yiddish].  They are the first of a number
of items in what hopefully will be an entire section devoted to Jewish
humor in Yiddish or with a Yiddish connection.  Druyanov's three-volume
collection of jokes is in Hebrew, but its predominant source language is
undoubtedly Yiddish.  Druyanov transformed a lively colloquial Yiddish
into an elegant and often quite formal pre-State Hebrew.  While his
manifest service to Hebrew was in some measure a disservice to Yiddish,
he must be credited for gathering in one publication a large corpus of
humor which might otherwise not have been so well preserved.  Moreover,
Druyanov's classic anthology served an entire generation of _sabras_ as
a wimdow to Eastern-European Jewish life and is widely regarded with
affection.  The anecdote given here is recorded in a number of variants.
I give Ravnitski's Yiddish version and the considerably different one in
Druyanov.  Readers are invited to comment on the differences they see.

Date:  21 May 2001
From: Sholem Berger 
Subject: A review of Joshua A. Fishman's _Can Threatened Languages be

                           Rx for Yiddish

                          by Sholem Berger

Joshua A. Fishman.  "A Decade in the Life of a Two-in-One Language:
Yiddish in New York City (Secular and Ultra-Orthodox)."  In _Can
Threatened Languages be Saved?  Reversing Language Shift, Revisited:  A
21st Century Perspective_, Joshua A. Fishman, ed.,
Clevedon/Buffalo/Toronto/Sydney:  Multilingual Matters Ltd, 2000.  ISBN

In 1991, Multilingual Matters published Joshua Fishman's _Reversing
Language Shift:  Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to
Threatened Languages_ (Clevedon:  Multilingual Matters).  It was the
first full-length work of its kind:  neither a eulogy for languages
dead, disappearing, or endangered, nor a linguistic dissection of these
languages, but a rigorous guide to rescuing them from extinction.  The
theoretical centerpiece of the work was Fishman's Graded
Intergenerational Disruption Scale, or GIDS -- a sociolinguistic
taxonomy of threatened languages.  In stage 8, for example, a threatened
language requires reconstruction before it can be restored as a
vernacular; in stage 6, perhaps the most critical in the scale,
informal, intergenerational communication in the language is
geographically concentrated and institutionally reinforced.  In stages 4
and below, the threatened language finds functional expansion, first in
schools, then in other cultural institutions and communications media.

Ten years later, the GIDS is at the center of another work, edited by
Fishman.  _Can threatened languages be saved?_ is a collection of essays
by sociolinguists and "RLSers" around the world which take stock of
Fishman's classification system, their own efforts on behalf of minority
languages, and the two-steps-forward, one-step-back progress of
minority-language revival.  ("RLSers" is Fishman's infelicitous term for
minority-language activists.)  The roll-call of languages in this book
is a long one, ranging from Otomi [acute accent over i] to Quechua, from
Maori to Irish.  The experiences of language activists are enlightening
and helpful, and the critiques of Fishman's GIDS are on the mark, albeit
some of the proposed supplementary theories suffer from a lack of
specificity and applicability.

Readers of _The Mendele Review_ will be most interested in Fishman's
essay "A Decade in the Life of a Two-in-One Language" [pp. 74-100].  (He
also contributed an introduction and conclusion to the volume.)  The
descriptions of the status of Yiddish in the secular and ultra-Orthodox
communities will surprise no one whose observation is unencumbered by
ideology.  However, his practical recommendations to the secular
Yiddishist community are novel, clear and plausible, although (as the
author himself points out) it remains to be seen just how workable his
suggestions will be on the ground.  Fishman admits a goal he
acknowledges as quixotic:  to "break out of [the] swirling mass of
misinformation, wishful thinking and love-hate that has hung on" with
regard to Yiddish "for well over a century."[75] an attempt to bring
truth to the fore, the author presents parallel descriptions of the
status of Yiddish in its mutually exclusive New York "realms" (which, as
Fishman points out, do not communicate, nor have any interest in joining
forces to strengthen Yiddish):  secular Yiddishists and ultra-Orthodox
Yiddish speakers.


As far as secular Yiddishism is concerned, the author has a thimbleful
of good news and sociolinguistic barrels-full of the bad sort.  First,
Fishman recounts some of the small and not-so-small triumphs of secular
Yiddish in the past years, most of which (the revitalization of the
_Forverts_, the growing number of Yiddish "vinklekh," the triumph of the
standardized orthography) are well known to followers of the "scene."
"All in all," he writes, "although the secularist scene certainly has no
reason to be self-satisfied or smug about its prospects, it can be
pardoned for smiling more often than it used to.  What a difference a
decade can make, on the one hand, and on the other, 'the more things
change the more they stay the same':  neither the secular Yiddishist
_practical_ aspects nor the _ideological_ underpinnings to the still
substantial and varied efforts of this 'wing' of the Yiddish world are
such as to currently engage either the attention or the adherence of the
vast majority of American Jews, whether old or young, native or foreign

Next follows a short series of the author's "diary entries" which are
meant to give the flavor of secular Yiddish events during 1999:  with
few exceptions, these are mostly literary and performance-oriented,
without opportunities truly to learn and use the language.  These
entries are a preface to Fishman's dissection of secular Yiddishism,
which will raise a few hackles and open not a few eyes to the movement's
ideological and practical failures.  "Yiddishism," says Fishman, "has
become largely peripheral and even exotic vis-?is the mainstream of
New York City Jewish life."[84] The author singles out some
characteristics of secular Yiddishism which are, he says, "less than
optimal" for more general RLS efforts:  "(a) a penchant for 'Yiddish
entertainment and spectator sports'; (b) an organizational venue and
organizational longevity skills... rather than vernacular spontaneity"
(Fishman here comments ruefully on the de-Yiddishization of the YIVO);
and "(c) a 'theoretical' preference for Yiddish Literary ('high')
Culture," 'theoretical' because precious little Yiddish literature in
Yiddish is now generally read in [secular Yiddishist] circles."  [84]
The author issues a warning which is too late to be prophetic:  "Few
would maintain that these [characteristics] come anywhere near to making
up for the lack of daily language use, or of demographic centers of
informal speech-network concentration, or of explicit ideological
self-definition, or of practical RLS prioritization within its own
shrinking orbit."[84]

According to the author, secular Yiddishists must straddle a huge GIDS
chasm:  there are still a surprising number of group activities in
Yiddish (stages 1, 2, and 3), considering the small number of secular
Yiddish speakers.  However, the "stage 6" milieu, i.e., the geographic
intersection of home, family, and community which both ensures
intergenerational transmission and serves as an anchor for further
functional expansion, is entirely lacking.  What then to do?  Fishman
identifies two main dangers for secular Yiddishism:  the overwhelming
pressure of modern secular culture and Yiddishism's own ideological
impoverishment and obsolescence.

He offers two solutions, palatable only to a committed core of
Yiddishists, who are themselves (like all groups) ideologically riven.
First, says Fishman, those who wish to ensure the intergenerational
transmission of Yiddish among secular Jews must create real, geographic,
intergenerational communities of Yiddish speakers.  In such communities
(modeled on the Maori "kehanga-reo" model described in "RLS") native
speakers would teach the language to children of nursery-school and
pre-kindergarten age, while young adults of child-bearing age would
learn Yiddish on weekends and evenings, in preparation for use of the
language on an exclusive basis in the home.  Further, the outmoded
ideology of Yiddishism (which Fishman curiously characterizes as
undefined), i.e., socialism, cultural autonomy, and Jewish
(non-religious) "peoplehood," must be exchanged entirely for something
more in tune both ideologically and socially with the great majority of
American Jews.

It is worth quoting Fishman's proposals in detail, although readers of
his occasional columns in the _Forverts_ will have seen them before:
"In the very midst of a generational whirlwind of 'return to English
speaking but tradition venerating Orthodoxy (and even ultra-Orthodoxy',
a return which has effectively robbed secular Yiddishism of any but the
most minimal role in the consciousness of the last two younger
generations, the time may have come to admit that progressive and
secular culture _per se_ is also a great handicap for RLS and,
therefore, a decided minus for the future of secular Yiddishism....
[S]ecular Yiddishism's high-tech, spectator-sport, and minimalist 'now
and then'...  Yiddish lacks the separation and the insistence on
difference that are needed to maintain its own beloved language...."[86]

"Secular Yiddishism needs to be recast from its original 'nationalism,
anti-clericalism, socialism plus literature' model to a model that
stresses 'Jewish tradition-friendly Yiddish secularism' or 'Judaism
plus' as an add-on modification to any other model of traditional Jewish
life.  Most religious Jews do not aspire to a 'Jewish secularism' of
their own.  Yiddishists might proudly claim _that_ as a goal (via
Yiddish theater, choruses, media, scouting and camping, etc.) in
addition to the usual range and variety of traditional observances that
define traditional American Jewish communities....  A conscientious
shift from (a) secular Yiddishism to 'Yiddish secularism plus' and (b)
from 'Yiddish appreciation' to 'active Yiddish use' via emphasizing the
first language acquisition locale of home-family-neighborhood-community
functioning, is obviously not for everyone....  But it is a beginning to
the search for an answer to the dilemmas of 'being neither fully alive
or fully dead'."[87-89] The first solution -- the creation of an
intergenerational, geographic speech community -- is difficult enough,
especially when one considers that small groups of Yiddishists have
already attempted such linguistic experiments in past years.  Those
involved have characterized them as ill-planned if noble ventures (see,
for example, Sheva Zucker's entertaining essay in the 25th anniversary
issue of _Yugntruf_ about her generation's attempt at a "Yiddish
house").  Nevertheless, Fishman, or a "Fishmanist", might say in
response that these previous ventures lacked the proper basis in RLS

The second proposal of Fishman's, on the other hand, might be
very troublesome to those who wish Yiddish to be a safe harbor from the
problematic, anti-modern, or distasteful elements of traditional
Judaism.  However, the inconvenient truth is that love for the language
as a cultural tool or symbol is by no means equivalent to a living
commitment to its survival.  If one wants to use Yiddish to remake
Judaism, one might first have to adopt a more traditional Judaism in
order to preserve Yiddish, or at least "secular Yiddish."  In fact, the
observer of today's "secular Yiddishism" might well find that Fishman's
proposal of "tradition-friendly secularism" has been ratified by events.
The leaders of most still-surviving secular Yiddishist organizations are
much more tradition-friendly, even quasi-Orthodox, than would have been
the case even 10 or 20 years ago.


The ultra-Orthodox scene, writes Fishman, is "almost the diametric
opposite of the secularist scene."[88] In the Kharedi milieu, Yiddish is
used for home, family, and community, and intergenerational transmission
is a natural phenomenon (although problems may be cropping up with the
younger generation; see below).  However, despite the obvious and
colorful "all- [or mostly-] Yiddish" life which is available just over
the Williamsburg Bridge, those on the "other side," i.e., the
Manhattan-based secularists, refuse to see it, and deny its application
to their world -- much as the ultra-Orthodox often refuse to countenance
the possible importance of secular Yiddish literature.  (However, this
too might be exaggerated in Fishman's description; anecdotal reports
abound of Sholem-Aleichem reading circles among the ultra-Orthodox.
Whether this is true is an open question.)

Fishman cites the lively and sometimes hostile Mendele discussion that
ensued upon Janet Hadda's "defection" from Yiddishism as proof, if any
were needed, that secular Yiddishists "[reject] that language which
exists within reach and [do not implement] that language which they
[purport] to prefer."  That is to say, secular Yiddishists agree that
the ultra-Orthodox actually speak Yiddish, and that it is their children
who will perpetuate the language in coming generations.  However, they
often and reflexively rail against the (a) fanaticism and (b) disdain
for Yiddish literature present among the Khareydim.  Fishman does not
directly address the first "argument" of those secular Yiddishists,
though one might cite the adage "Different strokes for different folks":
i.e., the ultra-Orthodox do not benefit from a modern philosophy, but
neither do they suffer from the dislocations and anomie that are endemic
to the secular Jewish community.  And their "fanaticism" manages to
maintain Yiddish as a widespread and intergenerationally transmitted

The author does devote a considerable number of words (not
uninterestingly) to Yiddish literature among the ultra-Orthodox, which,
as he points out, "inevitably reflect ... the roles assigned to
[Yiddish] in the the total 'linguistic space'... of the speech
community."[92] That is to say, "Yiddish in print is still very often an
_aide-memoire_, an auxiliary translation and commentary accompanying
classical or rabbinic texts that simultaneously appear in
Hebrew/Judeo-Aramaic."[92] In addition, Yiddish literature is very often
used to complement and reinforce the educational efforts among adults
and children that take place in that language.

Fishman also demolishes one of the favorite hobby-horses of the
secularists:  the claim that the Yiddish of the ultra-Orthodox is
somehow of a "lower quality."  It is sufficient to quote him in full on
this point:  "For the language of some half million or more
ultra-Orthodox daily speakers of Yiddish (combining their numbers in the
USA, Israel, Montreal, and Antwerp) to be declared 'deficient' by a few
thousand secular devotees, most of whom rarely utilize the language that
they love so much and that frequently cannot do so correctly themselves,
is ... a total misplacement of secular Yiddishist emphases."[94]

Unfortunately, in a limited space it is impossible to summarize every
trenchant observation made in the 26 pages of Joshua Fishman's essay.
We can only briefly touch on Fishman's description of a developing
"linguistic consciousness" among the Khareydim, whose emerging language
advocates decry the growing use of English, or Anglicized Yiddish, among
the young.  The author's descriptions of secular Yiddishism's
sanitization, and its discomfort when the naturally Yiddish-speaking
ultra-Orthodox "intrude" into their institutions, are also worth the
price of the volume.  Perhaps the most important observation is made in
the essay's final paragraphs:  "If [secular Yiddishists] oppose
religious fundamentalism, as they mostly do, then it is up to them to
devise equally sheltering boundaries of a secular nature....  Language
itself is not enough of a bulwark to defend threatened cultures and
identities.  Certainly when the underlying cultures are practically
identical, the Big Brother's language must displace the smaller one.
Language cannot be the ultimate defense for threatened cultures and
identities, because threatened languages themselves need defenses:  the
distinctive values, cultural practices and beliefs (including
uncompromising identity-beliefs) that make a distinctive language
necessary and even possible."[98-99] This essay is just one of many
eye-openers in an important and assumption-challenging volume.
Yiddishists from both camps, and those who might seek to bridge the
chasm between them, would do well to read it.

Date: 21 May 2001
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: Excerpt from "Why is it so Hard to Save A Threatened Language?"
by Joshua A. Fishman, in Joshua A. Fishman, ed. _Can threatened
languages be saved?_, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Inc, 2001.

"...the true involvement of language in human culture and cultural
identity is... quite amazing....  Such a huge part of every ethnoculture
is linguistically expressed that it is not wrong to say that most
ethnocultural behaviours would be impossible without their expression
via the particular language with which these behaviours have been
traditionally associated.  Education (in content and in practice), the
legal system (its abstract prohibitions and concrete enforcements), the
religious beliefs and observances, the self-governmental operations, the
literature (spoken and/or written), the folklore, the philosophy of
morals and ethics, the medical code of illnesses and diseases, not to
mention the total round of interpersonal interactions (childhood
socialisation, establishment of friendship and kinship ties, greetings,
jokes, songs, benedictions, maladictions, etc.) are not only
linguistically expressed but they are normally enacted, at any given
time, via the specific language with which these activities grew up,
have been identified and have been intergenerationally associated.  It
is the specificity of the linguistic bond of most cultural doings that
makes the very notion of a 'translated culture' so inauthentic and even
abhorrent to most ethnocultural aggregates."[3]

Date: 21 May 2001
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: Excerpts from "Hebrew After a Century of RLS Efforts" by
B. Spolsky and E. Shohamy in Joshua A. Fishman, ed. _Can threatened
languages be saved?_, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Inc, 2001.

"The problem is that RLS is not an isolated event affecting a single
language but rather is interwoven with all the other languages in the
speech community.  Successful RLS for one language may be death or
extermination for other languages.  In the case of Hebrew, its success
came at the cost of the indigenous language ... and of the 40 or more
languages brought in by Jewish immigrants.  Its price was also the
nurturing of a monolingual linguistic ideology that replaced the earlier
general acceptance of the value of plurilingualism."[357]

"In another marginalised group, among the _haredi_ (ultra-orthodox or
fundamentalist) opponents of political Zionism and Hebraisation, RLS
efforts have continued in favour of Yiddish, not of course for its
secular and cultural values but for its maintenance of an enclave within
which endorsed traditions can be continued.  Here too, the evidence is
of serious erosion -- most _haredi_ children, including Hassidim, appear
now to be Hebrew-speaking or at best bilingual when their _heder_
(elementary school) teachers start a long process of bilingual education
for boys in Hebrew and Yiddish....  Of the immigrant groups, only the
English-speakers, the recent Russian-speakers and the Amharic-speakers
... have been successful in having the schools give a serious place to
the teaching of their language....  English... has continued to grow in
status and use...."  [360]

There are also signs of affection for the now virtually extinct
traditional Jewish languages, illustrated by the passing of a law
establishing national authorities for Yiddish ... and for

"... most people involved [in Hebrew education] believe that the chances
for Hebrew revival in the Diaspora are now slight.[361]

Date: 21 May 2001
From: Leonard Prager 
Subject: A joke about liking _lokshn_ in a Yiddish and a Hebrew version

                       "a bisl filisufye"

a geniter shatkhen hot gefirt a khosn ontsukukn a kale.  der khosn iz
geven, es zol im tsu keyn shande nit zayn, a rekhter lekish, lernt im
der shatkhen vi er zol zikh haltn baym mekhutn in shtub. un der iker vos
azoyns er zol shmuesn mit der kale ven zey veln blaybn eyne aleyn.

"mit hayntveltikn kales," zogt er im, "muz men visn vi azoy tsu firn dem
shmues. frier fun alts darf men redn fun libe, dernokh shmust men fun
mishpokhe zakhn, un tsum sof muz men a bisl a shmues ton khkire, oder
vi zey rufn es haynt filisufye, der guter yor veyst zey dort."

der khosn hot dos genumen in zinen un zikh gut ayngekhazert.  gekumen
tsu der kale, firt men im arayn in der likhtiker, yontefdiker zal, vu
es gefinen zikh ale shtub-layt. tsu bislekhvayz geyen ale, vi der
shteyger, aroys fun zal un es blaybn dort nor khosn-kale aleyn. der
khosn gedenkt gut, az er darf onhoybn dem shmues fun libe, git er a freg
der kale:

"zogt mir, ir hot lib, a shteyger, lokshn?"

"far vos zol ikh nit lib hobn keyn lokshn," entfert zi.

nemt er vayter fregn vegn mishpokhe-zakhn: "zogt mir, ikh bet aykh, ir
hot a bruder?"

"neyn," entfert zi, "keyn bruder hob ikh nit."

itst hot zikh der khosn oyf a vayle fartrakht; er muz dokh redn tsum sof
a bisl filosufye. getrakht, un oysgetrakht. "vi meynt ir, a shteyger,"
zogt er un farkneytsht dem shtern, "vi volt geven ven ir zolt, lemoshl,
hobn a bruder, vi meynt ir, volt er lib gehat lokshn?"


                      "A Little Philosophy"

[A veteran matchmaker took a prospective bridegroom to look over a
bride-to-be.  The potential bridegroom was a proper ninny (may he never
be shamed because of this!) and so the matchmaker had to teach him how
to behave in the prospective in-laws' home and especially what to talk
about with the bride-to-be when they were alone.

"With today's brides," he said to him, "one has to know how to carry on
a conversation.  The first thing to talk about is love, after which you
move to family matters and you end on a speculative note, with what
today they call 'philosophy' -- whatever that may be."

The suitor took all this in and learned it by heart.  Arriving at the
bride-to-be's home, he was ushered into a brightly lit amd festive room
where all the family was gathered.  As the custom is, the young couple
soon found itself alone.  The young man remembered that he had to open
the conversation with talk of love and so he asked the young lady:
"Tell me, do you -- for example -- like noodles?"

-- "Why shouldn't I like noodles?," she answered.

-- He then proceeded to family matters:  "Tell me, I beg, do you have a

--"No," she said, "I don't have any brothers."

-- Now he paused to reflect; he had to end with philosophy.  Creasing
his brow and thinking hard, he asked:  "Tell me, if you did, say, have a
brother, do you think he would like noodles?"] [translation mine - ed.]

Y.-Kh. Ravnitski, comp. and ed. _Yudishe [yidishe] vitsn_, Berlin:
Moriah, 1922, no. 178.


bakhur kartani amad lehitvadeya lebakhura bat-kerakh -- lirot
ulehitraot. kodem shehalakh lesham amar lo hashadkhan:  "da lekha:  isha
nikneyt beshalosh sikhot:  sikha rishona -- inyaney mishpakha, sikha
sheniya -- inyaney ahava vesikha shelishit -- inyaney filosofya. im
tatsliakh beshalosh eyle -- ashrekha." zakhar habakhur ma shelimdo
hashadkhan. ukeshenifgash im hameshudekhet patakh vesha'al ota:  "yesh
lakh akhim va'akhayot?"  "lo," heyshiva habakhura, "yekhida ani le'aba
ule'ima." khazar habakhur vesha'al, "ohevet et itriot shel khalav?"
"lo," heyshiva habakhura, "eyni ohevet itriot shel khalav." yashav
habakhur vehirher:"kiyamti kehalakha shta'im rishonot -- mishpakha
ve'ahava. akhshav eyni zakuk ela lesayem befilosofya." umiyad hosif
vesha'al et habakhura" "ve'ilu hayu lakh akhim va'akhiyot, hayit ohevet
itriot shel khalav?"

[A provincial young man was about to meet a young woman from the town,
to look her over and to be looked over by her.  The matchmaker advised
him beforehand as follows:  "Mark what I say.  In talking to a woman,
there are three subjects that will win her:  firstly -- family, secondly
-- love, and thirdly -- philosophy.  If you succeed with these three,
you are a happy man."  The young man remembered what the matchmaker had
told him.  Upon meeting his potential bride, he opened with
the question, "Do you have brothers and sisters?"  "No," replied the
young woman, "I am my parents' only child."  The young man went on to
ask, "Do you like noodles with milk?"  "No," replied the young lady, "I
don't like noodles with milk."  The young man thought to himself, "I
have already covered the first two subjects properly, all I need to do
now is end with philosophy.  And he immediately asked the young woman,
"If you _did_ have brothers and sisters, would you like noodles with
milk?"]  [translation mine -- ed.]

Alter Druyanov, _Sefer habedikha vehakhidud_, #732 (vol. 2, pp. 231-2).

End of _The Mendele Review_ 05.006

Leonard Prager, editor

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