The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
A Companion to MENDELE)

Contents of Vol. 09.02  [Sequential No. 154]
Date: 14 February 2005


1) This issue (ed).
2) Next issues: Essays by Miriam Isaacs and Nathan Cohen
3) Coming TMR issue: Menke, tr. Benjamin and Barbara Harshav
4) Coming book reviews.
5) Status of Yiddish in Israel, 1948-1951 (Rachel Rojanski)


Date: 14 February 2005
From: Leonard Prager <>
Subject: Editor's Note


This issue of TMR presents a paper read at an Oxford conference in August 2003. It is included in the recently published Yiddish After the Holocaust, edited by Joseph Sherman. We thank the editor and the publisher for permission to reproduce it in TMR. The link http:// 54901 leads to a mail-order source for the book.


Date: 14 February 2005
From: Leonard Prager <>
Subject:  Coming essays by Miriam Isaacs and Nathan Cohen


The next paper from  Yiddish After the Holocaust  (ed. Joseph Sherman) to be given in TMR is "Languages Sometimes in Contact: Components in Yiddish Hasidic Children’s Literature" by Miriam Isaacs. It will appear in early March followed by Nathan Cohen's " Association of Jewish Writers in Poland , 1944-8."


Date: 14 February 2005
From: Leonard Prager <>
Subject: Coming  Menke issue.


An entire issue will be devoted to the compendious volume of Menke Katz's Yiddish verse translated into English by the celebrated translator-team Barbara and Benjamin Harshav. Menke. The Complete Yiddish Poems. Translated by  Benjamin and Barbara Harshav. Edited by Dovid Katz and Harry Smith.  Maps by Giedre Beconyte. Published by The Smith: New York 2005, 914 pp. For ordering information: artsend@


Date: 14 February 2005
From: Leonard Prager <>
Subject:  Book reviews to come.


Dovid Katz's Lithuanian Jewish Culture (Vilna:  Baltos  Lankos, 2004, 398 pp), will yet be reviewed in TMR, as will be Nancy Sinkoff' s  Out of the Shtetl (Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2004).


Date: 14 February 2005
From: Rachel Rojanski <>
Subject:  The Status of Yiddish in Israel, 1948-1951: An Overview


The Status of Yiddish in Israel, 1948-1951: An Overview (1)


Rachel Rojanski


On Sunday, 31 January 1945, at the sixth convention of the Histadrut, Ruzhka Korchak, a heroine of the Vilna Ghetto and the partisans, was invited to tell her story. She spoke in Yiddish because she knew no Hebrew. The next speaker was David Ben-Gurion, and he opened his remarks with the words, ‘Despite the fact that the previous speaker spoke in a foreign, grating language [lamrot she’ha-chavera shlefanai dibra be-safa zara ve’tzoremet] –’ But he did not go on, because a commotion broke out in the auditorium.(2) 


Ben-Gurion’s words immediately sent shock waves throughout the Jewish world. They were published widely in daily newspapers in Israel and in the Yiddish press in the United States, and their reverberations were felt elsewhere as well.(3)  In the Jewish public consciousness, Ben-Gurion’s image became that of a resolute enemy of Yiddish who had negatively influenced the attitude towards Yiddish in the State of Israel. Furthermore, Shabetai Tevet, Ben Gurion’s biographer, described this incident at length and discussed Ben Gurion’s attitude towards Yiddish in general. He concluded that Ben Gurion stuck to his hostility to Yiddish until the end of his life. ‘I very much doubt,’ Tevet wrote, ‘whether we will ever be able to understand what made Ben Gurion object so strongly to Yiddish.’(4) 


In this paper, I will examine key aspects of the Israeli establishment’s policy towards Yiddish in the years 1948-1951, and will argue that this policy was shaped within the tension between three elements: the national aspiration to shape and impart to the public a structured, cohesive and all-embracing Israeli culture; the tendency to attribute to Yiddish the power it possessed prior to the Holocaust; and the expectations of the Yiddish-speaking public and its sympathizers, in particular among survivors of the Holocaust, along with the ideological and emotional aspects of these expectations.


* * * * *


In its first years, the young state undertook to meet a long series of challenges in the fields of security, economics, industry and society. Paramount among these was the task of bringing in hundreds of thousands of Jews – many of them survivors of the Holocaust – and turning them into one nation, one society. Central components in that new society were the Israeli culture and way of life, which had to be shaped and passed down to the Israeli public, particularly to the new immigrants. And the most important aspect in that culture was the Hebrew language.


To demonstrate how important it was to instil new patterns into the cultural life of the new state, it should be noted that in November 1948, only six months after the declaration of the state, Ben-Gurion, with the help of writers and intellectuals, unofficially attempted to chart the general lines and character of Israeli cultural life. Later, in March 1949, he convened a meeting in his office with 35 writers to discuss ‘making writers and intellectuals partners in shaping the image of the nation in the State of Israel.’(5)  It is interesting to note that these intellectuals not only cooperated but also made some formal proposals about how cultural life in the state should be shaped, and the writer Asher Barash even submitted a detailed proposal to Ben-Gurion on the establishment of ‘a council of culture.’(6)  How, then, could Yiddish find a place in this cultural structure in which the Hebrew language was both the foundation and the rafters? And, in fact, Yiddish was never considered or discussed until it tried to push its way into the Israeli cultural life that was taking shape.


Two incidents led the makers of policy in general, and of cultural policy in particular, seriously to consider the Yiddish language and its culture, especially its place in the State of Israel, and they both clearly reflected the tension between the three elements I have mentioned above. Both incidents related to the daily Yiddish press and the Yiddish theatre.


The story of how the daily Yiddish press in Israel was founded and struggled to survive is largely the story of one man: Mordekhai Tsanin, formerly a member of the Bund in Warsaw and an official of the Tsentrale yidishe shul organizatsye (Central Yiddish School Organisation). Tsanin aspired to become a Yiddish writer. He had already published some articles and stories in the Folkstsaytung, the organ of the Polish Bund, and in the late 1940s he wrote for the New York Yiddish daily, Forverts. In 1941 Tsanin emigrated to Israel and earned his living mainly in commerce, but he never abandoned his journalistic aspirations.(7) After the establishment of the State of Israel and the beginning of mass immigration, Tsanin had the idea of publishing an illustrated Yiddish weekly. In accordance with a decision taken by the provisional government in September 1948, every projected newspaper was required to obtain a licence from the Ministry of the Interior and the approval of the Censor.(8)  Tsanin therefore applied to various agencies of the Ministry of the Interior, and on 16 January 1949 he received an appropriate licence for the weekly, which he called Ilustrirter vokhenblat. Copies of this licence were also sent to the military censor and to the police commissioner in the Tel-Aviv district.(9) 


During the first months of its publication, the Israeli Defence Forces bought several hundred copies of the new weekly, but towards the end of 1949 the army cancelled the subscription, mainly because it had been directed to play an active role in imparting and fostering the Hebrew language. Neverthless, Tsanin decided to start a new Yiddish newspaper, Letste nayes, a non-partisan broadsheet dealing with society, politics, economy and culture. The first issue of the new paper came out on 13 November 1949 and it was published regularly once a week. Tsanin, however, did not intend to publish a weekly. On 18 January 1950, he received an appropriate licence from the Ministry of the Interior to publish the paper twice a week,(10)  and from 3 March 1950 two issues of Letste nayes came out every week. At this point Tsanin decided to try to publish his paper three times a week. He applied for a licence, but his application was rejected on the grounds that there was a shortage of paper and printing materials. (11) Fourteen months later, on 22 July 1951, approval was finally granted to print Letste nayes three times a week. (12) At the time, six dailies in foreign languages were published in Israel, including the Jerusalem Post in English, L’echo d’Israel in French, and Yediot khadashot in German – a newpaper that had been in production since the 1930s – as well as Oy Kelet in Hungarian, a paper that first appeared in Israel in 1949. However, after a long correspondence between the editor of Letste nayes and the Ministry of the Interior, the attempt to turn the Yiddish paper into a daily met with a firm refusal. None the less, Tsanin did try to publish it as a daily, and the police reacted by almost closing it down. Then Tsanin came up with another idea – to publish another newspaper called Hayntike nayes that would also appear three times a week, on the days when Letste nayes did not. To let his readers know that this was in fact one and the same newspaper, he published a serial novel in both papers, every other episode appearing in a different paper, but creating a clear sequence between the two.


In this way, despite the official prohibition on the publication of a Yiddish daily in Israel, in actual practice one such daily was published every day from mid-1953. Its readers were not the only ones in on the secret. Those who had forbidden it knew and kept silent, a point to which I shall return later. This situation lasted until 1957, when approval was finally given for the publication of Letste Nayes as a daily.


The second incident relates to the Yiddish theatre. In August 1949, the Council for the Control of Films and Plays, established as a section of the Ministry of the Interior, decided to impose the following restrictions on theatre in Yiddish: not to permit the existence of local companies that performed in Yiddish; to permit the performance of plays in Yiddish only by individual artists from abroad who came to Israel on a brief visit; and to permit, for a limited time, plays in Yiddish performed inside immigrant camps.(13)  On 3 March 1950 a special meeting of the Council was convened to discuss these decisions, and many of those attending, who were opposed to the restrictions, put forward the following argument: Yiddish was not inundating the state as many had feared it would, and, in fact, no language should be disqualified. Those in favour of the restrictions, in particular the representative of the Ministry of Education, argued that any and all means should be adopted to safeguard the Hebrew language, and that in other countries too, the gates were not opened to languages other than the language of the state. ‘Theatre is a kind of school, and by permitting a company to perform in a language other than Hebrew, we are beginning to give the people education in other languages,’ they claimed.(14)  In view of this policy, the performance of the two famous comedians, Dzhigan and Shumakher, was forbidden, and the ban was lifted only after they had agreed to include some Hebrew in their act as well.(15) 


The fate of the Goldfaden Yiddish Theatre was different. The Goldfaden theatre was founded in Tel-Aviv in February 1951 as the private initiative of new immigrants from Eastern Europe who wanted to perform in Yiddish. All the members of the troupe were professional actors who had formerly enjoyed a career in Yiddish theatre in Eastern Europe.(16)  On 13 March 1951 the group applied to the Ministry of Interior for a permit to perform Goldfaden’s famous play, Di tsvey kuni lemel. In their application, members of the troupe wrote at length and in detail about the fact that there was an urgent need for a Yiddish theatre on the part of both audiences and artists, and they submitted their plans to perform in Hebrew in the future,(17) but their application was rejected.(18)None the less, over several months the Goldfaden Theatre presented ten performances in various halls. In May 1951 the theatre found a home in the Migdal Or park in Jaffa, where it mounted plays outdoors but at least in a permanent place.(19)The short-lived repertoire of the theatre included plays such as Goldfaden’s Di tsvey kuni lemel; Dos groyse gevins and Shver tsu zayn a yid by Sholem Aleykhem, Mirele Efros by Jacob Gordin, and Hershele Ostropoler by M. Gershonzon.(20) 


The performances of this theatre troupe earned rave reviews,(21)  but as they had performed illegally, a policeman turned up at the theatre several times to issue a penalty notice.(22)  Finally, by the end of June 1951, at the request of the Council for the Control of Films and Plays, the police commissioner of Tel-Aviv invited the director of the Godfaden Theatre troupe to his office and warned him against performing in Yiddish.(23)  The actors reacted by petitioning the High Court of Justice to order the Minister of the Interior, the Council for Control of Films and Plays, the headquarters of the Israeli police, and the Tel-Aviv police commissioner to submit arguments as to why they would not allow theatre performances in Yiddish. On 1 July 1951 the Supreme Court, sitting as a High Court of Justice, issued the requested order nisi and ordered all the official parties not to interfere with the performances of the Goldfaden Theatre.(24)  Still, the Goldfaden Theatre did not last long, and after only one year it was forced to close down because of budgetary problems.


These two cases aptly illustrate the elements underlying the attitude towards Yiddish in Israel during the late 1940s and early 1950s. First, both were cultural initiatives by private persons that were not rooted in the national patterns being forged, a matter of extreme importance in a state that strove both to shape cultural life and to direct it. Second, both these initiatives clearly expressed the attitude towards Yiddish of its exponents, who viewed Yiddish as the language of Holocaust survivors, with all the practical and emotional implications of this fact, and Yiddish as a national ideology whose hold on its champions had not weakened, even after the establishment of the State of Israel. And third, both of these initiatives were in the field of popular culture, of culture intended for broad sectors of the population.


This last aspect was, in my view, the most important of all, and is one I shall use to point to a pattern that characterized the attitude towards Yiddish in Israel in the 1950s. The more popular the cultural element was, and the more it appealed to broad sectors of the population, the greater was the opposition to it. As more attempts were made to direct projects in Yiddish towards high culture, to make it appeal to smaller, perhaps even elitist sectors, not only did the establishment have no objections, but it was even prepared to provide them with aid as well. This pattern is clearly evinced by references to Yiddish at a cabinet meeting, and in discussions of the Supreme Council for Cultural Affairs that was established according to a cabinet decision taken on 6 January 1952.(25) In May 1952 the Council prepared a bill on the inculcation of the Hebrew language to submit to the Knesset.(26) One of the clauses in this bill stated that all publications in Israel intended for Jews, which were not in Hebrew (including those in Yiddish), had to be published partly in Hebrew. This bill aroused a storm of objection among Yiddish writers and journalists both in Israel and in America.(27)  After the bill had been amended several times, the government met to discuss it on 12 December 1954, and at the same meeting raised the issue of the Yiddish press as well. The Minister of the Interior, Israel Rokakh, elaborated views on the publication of foreign- language newspapers. He noted that seven dailies in foreign languages appeared in Israel, but that most of these were weeklies and monthlies. ‘The danger,’ he argued, ‘is in a daily, because people who read a daily in a foreign language do not read a Hebrew paper. ’And then he added: ‘I would like to make a distinction between Yiddish and other languages. Speaking about German, Hungarian, and so on […] we can expect that children will teach their parents Hebrew, but Yiddish is different.’ (28)  It is important to point out that the majority of the speakers at this meeting expressed their appreciation of, and fondness for, Yiddish, but they all argued that a Yiddish daily newspaper, even if it were a ‘combination of three plus three,’ as the Minister of Posts, Joseph Burg, put it, would keep people from learning Hebrew.(29) 


The objection to a daily Yiddish newspaper did not, then, express an opposition in principle to Yiddish, but a practical opposition to a daily product which, by virtue of the fact that it was in a Jewish language and was a powerful vehicle, particularly among Holocaust survivors, was likely, in the view of many, to be a real obstacle, a ‘danger’ as some ministers put it, to the teaching and instilling of Hebrew. This interpretation is reinforced when we look at the discussions about Yiddish theatre that were held in April 1952 in the Supreme Cultural Council, with the participation of the poets Nathan Alterman and Leah Goldberg, the actor Shimon Finkel, and others. The participants stated that steps should be taken to ‘curtail the influence of Yiddish theatre’, and that ‘Yiddish theatre might damage us, not only from the aspect of the language. In order to wean audiences away from Yiddish theatre, other opportunities for entertainment have to be created, and popular artistic companies in Hebrew should be formed’.(30)  These discussions took place after the ban on the existence of a Yiddish theatre had been lifted, and that is probably why no practical proposals were put forward, but I think that the tenor of the statements made at the meetings shows that the approach taken to Yiddish theatre differed fundamentally from that taken to the possibility of a Yiddish press. No one spoke about the theatre in terms of a ‘danger’ or an ‘obstacle to Hebrew’ and for good reason, in my view. Theatre, unlike a daily newspaper, is not an everyday product found in every home, so there was not much chance that it would be an obstacle to the inculcation of the Hebrew language or even of Hebrew culture. Hence, even if there was any objection in principle or in practice to the Yiddish theatre, it was far less intense than the opposition to a proposed Yiddish daily.


Matters were quite different when it came to promoting other channels of Yiddish culture that were the province of a small and highly educated public. Here, not only was there no opposition, but some of these initiatives were also actually supported by the establishment. The two chief examples of this contrasting attitude are the establishment of the chair of Yiddish at the Hebrew University, in the first category, and the establishment of the Yiddish literary quarterly, Di goldene keyt, in the second.


The idea of establishing a chair of Yiddish at the Hebrew University was first raised in 1927, after Jehuda L. Magnes, the chancellor of the University, had visited America and had agreed to accept a donation for this purpose, a decision that aroused great opposition. In November and December of 1927 a series of meetings was held by teachers at the Institute for Jewish Studies, with the participation of public figures such as Menahem Ussishkin and Chaim Nahman Bialik, to discuss the question of founding a chair of Yiddish at the university. These meetings were electric with tension, until finally, at a meeting held in Magenza, Germany, the Institute’s board of directors decided on the establishment of the chair. This decision was strongly opposed. However, on 6 January 1928, the teaching staff of the Institute convened to discuss the matter, and passed a resolution that was sympathetic to the idea of a chair, but postponed its implementation to some future date. The controversy that raged around the issue of the chair’s establishment, which continued even after the decision had been taken to postpone its implementation, clearly illustrates the problematic status of Yiddish in the pre- state Jewish yishuv.(31) 


The idea of founding a Yiddish chair was raised again at the first Zionist Congress after the Holocaust, held in Basel in 1946. The man who initiated it was Dr Mark Dvorzhetzky, a physician and a survivor of the Vilna ghetto, who attended the Congress as the representative of the World Confederation of Po’alei Zion. He found support for his initiative from Haim Finkelstein, a leader of the Left Po’alei Zion in Argentina. The Congress did not pass a clear-cut resolution on the subject, but merely called on the Hebrew University to establish a chair for Yiddish language and literature. A short time later, this call was backed by the Yidish natsyonaler arbeter farband, the fraternal order of Po’alei Zion in America, which undertook to finance the chair. (32)  As it had in 1928, in 1947 too the proposal evoked the opposition of Professors Israel Klausner and Gershom Scholem. But this time there was a majority on the board of the Faculty of Humanities in favour of the proposal. The next step was to search for a suitable incumbent for the chair. A committee was set up for this purpose, headed by Professor Ben Zion Dinburg (later Dinur), which recommended Dr Max Weinreich, from YIVO in New York.(33)  In the end, however, Weinreich refused to accept the appointment, and after consulting with the members of Po’alei Zion in America, the decision was taken to appoint Dov Sadan.(34)  Avraham Novershtern, who has written on this subject, has pointed to two striking features of the process of founding a Yiddish chair at the Hebrew University. First, both the initiative and the financing came from Jewish political organizations outside Israel; and second, Dov Sadan, the incumbent, did not come from the world of academia but was a Socialist Zionist, identified with the political establishment, and this made the founding of the Yiddish chair easier.(35)  At the ceremony inaugurating the chair in Yiddish at the Hebrew University held in December 1951, the Rector, Professor M. Schwabe, stated that the controversy surrounding the introduction of Yiddish studies at the University, which had raged for twenty years, had drawn to a close.(36) 


Thus we can see that the attitude towards a department of Yiddish was in accord with the pattern I pointed out earlier. First, the initiative for its establishment came from circles outside the State of Israel and its everyday life. Second, these circles were not identified as especially Yiddishist, although in practice they championed Yiddish. Third, and most important, not only were the studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem themselves intended for a small audience, but beyond academia the influence of these studies extended only to narrow, educated sectors – far from the cultural discourse meant for the broad public – and had no effect on the general inculcation of Hebrew.


Another project, of great importance in the field of Yiddish culture, also appealed to a small educated public That was the establishment of the Yiddish literary quarterly, Di goldene keyt. Unlike everything that has been mentioned until now, and probably also unlike any other Yiddish endeavour in Israel to this very day, Di goldene keyt was created as a joint initiative with the state establishment – to be more precise, with the cooperation of the Histadrut, the General Federation of Hebrew Workers. The man who initiated the founding of this distinguished literary journal in Yiddish was the poet Avrom Sutzkever, who emigrated to Israel in September 1947 with his family, all of them carrying forged British passports. Later Sutzkever gave credit for the founding of Di goldene keyt to Yosef Sprinzak, secretary-general of the Histadrut from 1946-1948, whom he called a yidishfraynd (friend of Yiddish). Following the publication of the first 33 issues, in an article published in Di goldene keyt in 1959 on the occasion of Sprinzak’s death and the tenth anniversary of the periodical, Sutzkever described how he had gone to Sprinzak’s office in early June 1948 to submit the budget proposal for the new periodical and to ask him to speed up the process necessary for its publication.(37)  The decision to publish a quarterly in Yiddish had already been taken by the Histadrut earlier. On 9 May 1948, the proposal to publish a Yiddish quarterly, to be edited by Sutzkever and Levinson, had first been raised for discussion at a meeting of the central committee of the Histadrut, but no decision had been reached. At another meeting of the committee held several days later, on 16 May, two days after the Declaration of Independence, the proposal was approved. The minutes of the meeting do not tell us whether the idea aroused any opposition or reaction. All that was recorded on 16 May 1948 is the brief sentence: ‘The publication of a quarterly in Yiddish – approved.’(38)  Indeed, in early January 1949, in the midst of the War of Independence, the first issue of the new Yiddish quarterly dealing with literature and social issues was published in Tel-Aviv. On that issue’s first page, Yosef Sprinzak wrote: ‘Hebrew is the language of our Jewish state […] [none the less] the struggle in favour of Hebrew was never a struggle against Yiddish, but against those attempts to defeat the enormous effort required to ensure our people a state, language and culture of their own that would unite all parts of the Jewish people.’ (39) 


Yet it would seem that there was something more behind the idea of Di goldene keyt. Avrom Sutzkever – a poet, partisan and witness at the Nuremberg trials – was a well-known figure in the Jewish world. His emigration to Israel had never been a foregone conclusion nor something that could be taken for granted, and he finally did come in response to the urging of senior figures in the Histadrut. I tend to believe that Sutzkever was welcomed with open arms and given an eminent position at Di goldene keyt not solely for the purpose of giving intellectuals who had emigrated to Israel an opportunity to express themselves in Yiddish, nor even to create a public relations vehicle for the Histadrut in Yiddish, as some contemporaries claimed. (40)  Even before the establishment of the state, and more forcefully afterwards, Ben-Gurion began intensively to address the issue of the relations between the nascent state and the Diaspora. An important question that concerned him was how the young state, with a Jewish population of 600,000, could become a centre for the Jewish people as a whole, in particular for American Jewry, which at that time numbered about five million Jews. His preoccupation with this issue was often reflected in his diary and correspondence, and one aspect of it was Jewish culture, of which Yiddish was an important component.


Ben-Gurion never repeated the lamentable remark he made about Yiddish in 1945, and during 1950-51 he met several times with representatives of Yiddish culture, where he displayed a completely different attitude. He conducted a correspondence with Yiddish writers in America about the situation of Yiddish in Israel, met with the Yiddish poet H. Leyvik when Leyvik visited Israel and aroused a public storm with his anti-army and anti-Hebrew remarks, and also referred to Yiddish affairs in cabinet meetings. There were two main themes in what Ben-Gurion had to say about Yiddish during the 1950s. First, there was a marked change in the public expression of his personal attitude towards the language, and second, there was clear articulation of his understanding that Yiddish was one of the assets of Jewish culture.(41)  If the Yiddish language and its literature is indeed one of the assets of Jewish culture, it is the duty of the state of Israel to preserve it and perhaps also continue it.


In my view, Israel’s attitude towards Yiddish culture in the 1950s can be summed up as follows: as long as there were sporadic popular attempts to revive Yiddish as a daily language, to present it as one of the languages of the Jewish people, and to bring it back into the Israeli street, the establishment rejected it, even fought against it. However, at the same time, the state’s policy-makers favoured the creation of a kind of small island of Yiddish culture that would allow it to be preserved, perhaps even developed, like an asset that every nation keeps in its pantheon of culture, as a positive feature of the past, to be preserved, nurtured and developed, in the central state of the people, not in its Diaspora. Many of the formal restrictions on Yiddish in Israel were lifted in the mid-1950s. The prohibition against Yiddish theatre was abolished, and in 1957 Letste nayes became a daily newspaper. But the public atmosphere that was shaped with the establishment of the state, which sanctified Hebrew and rejected anything perceived as an obstacle to its hegemony, was conducive to the continued existence of the model I have presented here. A high culture in Yiddish developed, while a popular culture in Yiddish was relegated to the sidelines.


Di goldene keyt, under Sutzkever’s leadership, became the vehicle that developed Yiddish culture and became one of the most important forums in the world of Yiddish literature. The chair in Yiddish at the Hebrew University expanded into an entire department, and some of its graduates became well-known Yiddish scholars.


This pattern prevailed right up until the early 1960s. The beginning of significant change came when a high school in Kiryat Chaim, in northern Haifa, started teaching Yiddish to its students, but the truly important turning-point came in 1965, when a production of Di megile by Itsik Manger was mounted in the hall of the Hamam Theatre in Jaffa. The Hebrew press praised the production, and cabinet ministers and high officials came to see the show. It seemed as if earlier rejection of Yiddish had now been replaced by appreciation and enthusiasm. The true situation, however, was far from this ideal. Yiddish was still treated as the culture of the Galut and as the language of old people. Nevertheless, at the same time Di megile, and later Di khumesh lider, gave Yiddish a kind of public legitimation as an important part of Jewish culture. The debate of the next decades would centre on whether Yiddish belonged to the past and was only an expression of nostalgia, or whether it could still be revived.




1. This paper is part of a broader study on the status of Yiddish in Israel 1948-1965  


2. Ruzhka Korchak to Shabtai Tevet, 1980 (no exact date), in Ruzhka, Lekhimata, Haguta, Dmuta (Tel-Aviv, 1988), pp.213-14.   


3. In the above-mentioned letter,  Ruzhka mentions a note that she received from Sutzkever describing the impression this incident made on him.  


4. Shabtai Tevet, ‘Safa zara ve-tzoremet’, Ha’aretz, 5 May 1995.  


5. Michael Keren, Ben Gurion Ve’ha’intelektualim (Sede Boqer, 1988), pp.114-15.  


6. Asher Barash to Ben Gurion , 30 August 1949, Israel State Archives, G-29/335  


7. An interview with Mordekhai Tsanin, Tel-Aviv, May 2000.   


8. Meeting of the provisional government, 21 September 1948, Israel State Archives.


9. A license for Ilustrirter vokhenblat, including a list of addressees, 16 January 1949, private archives of M. Tsanin.  


10. A letter from the censor in Tel-Aviv to the editorial board of Letste nayes, 18 January 1950, private papers of M. Tsanin.   


11. About the debate in the Knesset on the allocation of paper for newspapers, see: ‘Papir debate in kneset’, Letste nayes, 11 August 1950 .  


12. Ministry of Interior to editorial board of Letste nayes, 22 July 1951, private papers of M. Tsanin.  


13. Affidavit to the Israel Supreme Court, Supreme Court file No. 135/ 51.  


14. Minutes of the Council for the Control of Films and Plays, 17 March, 1950. Israel State Archives, G-716/74.  


15. The Council for Control of Films and Plays to Dzhigan and Shumakher, 9 April 1950, 15 May 1950, The theatre museum, Tel- Aviv.  


16. On the former career of Natan Volfovitsh, a member of the Goldfaden theatre, see: ‘Volfovitsh in land’, Letste nayes, 9 October 1950.  


17. A letter to the Council for Control of Films and Plays, 13 March 1951, Israeli Supreme Court file, 135/51.  


18. The Council for Control of Films and Plays to Pesakh Gutmark, 27 March 1951, Israeli Supreme Court file No. 135/51.   


19. Appeal to High Court of Justice, 29 June 1951, Israeli Supreme Court file No. 135/51.  


20. For a full description of these events see Israeli Supreme Court file No. 135/51.


21. For example: ‘Di tsvey kuni lemel’, Letste nayes, 16 May 1951  


22.  TZ. R—n, ‘Yidishe aktyorn un politseyishe protokoln’ , Letste nayes, 6 April 1951.  


23. Appeal to High Court of Justice, 29 June 1951, Israeli Supreme Court file No. 135/51   


24. Order nisi of the High Court of Justice, July 1 1951, Israeli Supreme Court file No. 135/51


25. Minutes of the first meeting of the Supreme Council for Cultural Affairs, 13 March 1952. Israel State Archives, GL-1086/9003.  


26. Decision of the the Supreme Council for Cultural Affairs, in the matter of the inculcation of the Hebrew language, 12 June 1952 (the decision passed in 28 May), Israel State Archives.  


27. Letters from Yiddish writers to Ben-Gurion: ‘Inyen Yidish in Yisroel’, Di tsukunft, September 1951, pp. 297-298.  


28. Minutes of the government meeting, 12 December 1954, Israel State Archives.  


29, Ibid.  


30. Minutes of the Supreme Council for Cultural Affairs , 24 April 1952 Israel State Archives, GL-1086/9003  


31. On the efforts to found a Yiddish chair in the Hebrew University in the pre-state period, see Aryeh-Leyb Pilowsky, Yidish veSifruta be’Eretz Yisrael, 1907-1948, Doctoral dissertation, Jerusalem 1980, pp.116-53.  


32. On the establishment of the Yiddish chair at the Hebrew University see Avraham Novershtern, ‘Between Town and Gown: The Institutionalization of Yiddish at Israeli Universities’ in Gennady Estreikh and Mikhail Krutikov (eds.), Yiddish in the Contemporary World (Oxford, 1999), pp. 2-10.  


33. Minutes of the Committee for Yiddish, 11 November 1949, The Hebrew University Archives, Jerusalem, file 22730, 1949.   


34. Haim Greenberg to Ben-Zion Dinaburg (Dinur), 25 October 1950, The Hebrew University Archives, file 22730, 1951.  


35. Novershtern, op. cit., p. 6.  


36. A report on the inauguration of Yiddish chair, 20 December 1951, Hebrew University Archives, file 22730, 1951.  


37. Avraham Sutzkever, ‘Der Yidishfraynd,’ Di goldene keyt 33 (1959) : 22-27.  


38. Minutes of the central committee of the Histadrut, 9 May 1948 ; 16 May 1948, Labor Archives at Lavon Institute, Tel-Aviv.  


39. Yoseph Shprintzak, ‘Di goldene keyt,’ Di goldene keyt 1 (Winter 1949):.5-6.  


40. On reactions to the appearance of Di goldene keyt, see Y.M. Nayman, ‘Mi’Saviv le’sharsheret ha’zahav’, Davar, 4 March 1949.  


41. Ben Gurion’s Diary, 29 April 1950, Ben Gurion Archives, Sede Boqer.


End of The Mendele Review Vol. 09.02


Editor, Leonard Prager


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