The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and
(A Companion to MENDELE)
Contents of Vol. 09.03 [Sequential No. 155]
Date: 1 March 2005
1) This issue (ed).
2) Next issue: Essay by Nathan Cohen
3) Coming TMR issue: Menke
4) Coming book reviews.
5) Yiddish Hasidic Children's Literature (Miriam Isaacs)
Date: 1 March 2005
From: Leonard Prager <email@example.com>
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://www.babelguides.com/view/work/54901 leads to a mail-order source for the book.
Date: 1 March 2005
From: Leonard Prager
Subject: Coming essay by Nathan Cohen
The next paper from Yiddish After the Holocaust (ed. Joseph Sherman) to be given in TMR is Nathan Cohen's "Association of Jewish Writers in Poland,1944-8."
Date: 1 March 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Date: 1 March 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: 1 March 2005
From: Miriam Isaacs <email@example.com>
Subject: Yiddish Hasidic Children's Literature
Languages Sometimes in Contact: Components in Yiddish Hasidic
by Miriam Isaacs
After Hitler, Yiddish lost its geographic core and, the Yiddish- speaking world, in shreds, survived mainly in Displaced Persons camps. There, for perhaps the last time, Yiddish was still a necessary, daily language for a mixed Jewish population of adults and children. The full spectrum of non-religious, religious, anti-religious and ultra-religious Jews used Yiddish as their natural lingua franca. But soon these remaining Jews migrated to their own spheres in America and Israel, in those places finding only dwindling pockets of elderly Yiddish speakers. The cultural descendants of the European Hasidim form a strange mixture of past and future. They are reactionary in that they strive to recreate an imagined past, but they are also post- modern urbanites and suburbanites. Many are computer literate and technologically and politically savvy. Yet an imagined past, a sense of lost home, includes Yiddish, the language of the sainted martyrs, of venerated rebbes. Does the Yiddish they teach their children represent a revival of the language in future generations? No one can pretend to predict.
The Hasidic world may well turn to English and Hebrew as vernaculars and erhaps keep some token Yiddish words. But if Yiddish does survive there, hen the character of what is presented to children may well be the Yiddish of the ensuing decades or beyond. This study focuses on the lexicon, on hat is being borrowed and fused into Yiddish, on how English has entered Yiddish, on what has happened to the older contact languages and their erman, Slavic and Hebrew components. Does Hasidic Yiddish display languag shift in adapting to new geographic and social contexts? Does the vocabulary reflect points of contact between Yiddish and other languages? What do the writers of children’s texts need to explain? What can they safely assume about the children’s knowledge? To what extent do the choices of words reflect identity issues? What are the influences of English, modern Hebrew and internationalisms?
Because the major poplation centres for Yiddish-speaking Hasidic children are in the United Stats and Israel, it is hardly surprising that English and modern Hebew would be the new co-territorial languages. Despite efforts to kee separate, there are many points of intersection with the utside world. Even many insiders, be they modern Orthodox or Hasdim in America or haredim (the Israeli term for the ultra-Orthodox in Israel, use English or modern Hebrew as their dominant or onlylanguage.(1) Will English simply supplant Yiddish or will the laguage spoken in America diverge so significantly from that used in Israel that the two will be mutually incomprehensible? Will that affect the future use of Yiddish as a transnational lingua ranca?
The data for this study is drawn from recent storybooks, colouring and ctivity books, and especially the children’s sections of a monthly magazine, Mallos.(2) All were published during the last two decades in the New York area and are sold in the many small gift and book stores that dot Hasidic concentrations in the Brooklyn enclaves of Williamsburg, Boro Park and Crown Heights, and in Hasidic suburbs just north of New York city, especially Monsey, New Square and Kiryas Yoel. The bookstores that serve Hasidim mainly stock serious religious texts but also have a range of books for the young, in Yiddish, Hebrew and English.
Mallos, produced in Monsey, serves an ultra-Orthodox readership by subscription, or through outlets that include distributors in Canada, Israel and Europe. Yiddish materials appeal to the more exclusionary of Hasidic sects, the Satmar, Belz, Viznitz and others. Sources in Yiddish are didactic and moralistic, but are often entertaining as well and have expanded in scope, even as older sources for children are linguistically and contextually outdated. Thus a whole new market opens for Hasidim, who tend to have very large families and more disposable income than most of their forebears ever possessed.(3) What may be read is severely restricted, so Hasidim provide their own carefully vetted reading materials, primers and storybooks. Because of competition with what children see is available to children outside their circles, the genres that Hasidim work in have been expanding. It is relevant to note that what was dominantly an oral culture has relatively recently blossomed into an array of forms adapting to American society, a kind of hybrid that keeps the moralistic quality of Hasidic cultural transmission but uses today’s forms and technology to include comic books, activity books with mazes and puzzles, and cassette and videotapes.
The materials I use are written sources, but they often fall somewhere between the oral and written registers. Some are written versions of stories originally told aloud, others come with accompanying cassettes; many stories are available only on cassette. Written language tends to be more formal than the spoken language, so it is safe to assume that oral language is more varied and may rely more heavily on borrowings than the written. What is written partly reflects the spoken language, but proficiencies differ.
Communities and Transmission of Yiddish
The post-Shoah Hasidic world is highly fragmented and variable, thus instead of a single speech community, it is better to think of a semi- connected array of communities in transition, communities that came to America from mixed linguistic backgrounds and with mixed proficiencies in their various languages. The community is complex linguistically, diglossic in its use of Hebrew-Aramaic for liturgical purposes, learned in combination with Yiddish and English, each having distinct functions. The mixed linguistic background of writers, parents and teachers heightens a need to establish editorial norms and school norms for the children to whom Yiddish is being transmitted.
Yiddish-speaking Hasidim in America are a small minority, living in scattered enclaves, mainly among English-speakers. Most American Jews, Orthodox included, speak only English and pray mainly in Hebrew- Aramaic, loshn koydesh, the ‘holy language’. Prior to World War 2, the linguistic environment for Hasidim was radically different. Yiddish was not the exclusive domain of the Hasidim, and the languages with which they were all in contact were various, including Ukrainian, Hungarian, Polish, Russian and modern German. Now, Hasidic children rarely come into contact with Yiddish speakers who live outside their own communities so that the Yiddish language, along with the distinctive clothing of each Hasidic sect that sets them apart from other Orthodox Jews as well as from non-Jews, has become a significant marker for an ultra-religious stance. Meanwhile their outside languages of contact are for the most part English or modern Hebrew.(4)
Historically, Yiddish was not formally taught but was transmitted through families. Yiddish is now usually taught at the same time as Hebrew, one result being that much of what is written for school-age children uses the pointing system used for Hebrew learners. The writing system for both Hebrew and Yiddish, the latter being an adaptation of the Hebrew system, is learned as a part of an integral whole. The use of pointing for young children is more common in Israel.(5) Elders, the rabbinic ?lite, set the general direction. Because the older Hasidim are deeply aware that secular Yiddish culture was opposed to their religious lifestyle, Yiddish books from secular sources are suspect and therefore not permitted. Their use of existing resources in standardized Yiddish is limited, so far, to the small Harduf dictionary.(6) Yiddish is used to socialize Hasidic children into community norms, as the heymish traditional language. (7) Language maintenance has traditionally been perpetuated in the home and in the school where parents and teachers created educational environments and written texts. Language policies are laid down by the rabbinic elders, and by publishers and editors, who are local and close to their readership. Books, especially those on religious subjects, often contain page after page of letters of approval by rabbinic authorities. Publishers and editors are conservative and tend to write Yiddish in the same way they learned it, except when change helps the reader’s comprehension.(8)
Bilingualism and Shift
Yiddish is a fusion language traditionally open to outside influences. This is still the case today so that interaction with English speakers now affects the language. At the same time, continued contact with textual Hebrew makes that language likely to remain a strong linguistic influence. Components are not only added, but also leave languages when contact is absent. Such is the case currently with respect to Slavic languages, and with modern German. These have diminished influence except for those elements that are deeply embedded.
The process of lexical choice, internal to the language, is evident even for those young enough to be wielding crayons in colouring books. While choices from outside Yiddish are available, the Hasidic writer must at times reach across linguistic lines. To illustrate, some bilingual Yiddish-English colouring books produced in Monsey illustrate the complexity of Yiddish, liturgical Hebrew, and English code-switching. Language mixing occurs within the language so that the captions to the drawings, consistently given in two languages, offer Yiddish, using the alef bet above the drawings, and parallel captions in English, in Latin script, below them. While both languages teach the same basic religious principles, interestingly the captions are by no means straight translations of one another. An examination of where they diverge proves revealing.At times the differences are minimal, as in:
Y: Mir shpiln zikh tsuzamen.
Men tor nisht redn loshn hore.(9)
E: We play together nicely. We must not speak loshn hora.
The lesson is against loshn hore, literally meaning ‘bad speech’, but also roughly against gossip and slander. This is but one of many central ethical ideas taught to children early, and kept in the original liturgical Hebrew. The English caption only adds the adjective ‘nicely’. Also close in meaning and form are the pair of captions below, where the child is told to fulfill the commandment of charity, mitzvah and tzedaka.(10) The difference is that the Yiddish adds an additional Hebrew term, mekayem in the periphrastic form, common in Hasidic Yiddish.
Y: Mir zenen mekayem di mitzva fun
tsedaka yedn tog.
E: We observe the mitzvah of tzedokoh every day.
(spelling as printed Di yidishe tokhter, p.12).
This pair above is still basically parallel. Below, by contrast, the child who reads, or is read to, in English needs to be told what blessing to say, while the child functioning in Yiddish would already know. Does this mean that the child speaking English is more likely to need remedial help?
Men vasht di hent farn esn.
E: We wash our hands before eating and make the ‘brokhoh’ ‘al n’tilas yodoyim’. (Di Yidishe tokhter, p.7.)
Sometimes the Hebrew origin words in English are in quotes, but this usage is inconsistent).Again, in the pair below, the English caption gives more information, while the Yiddish caption is very simple:
Y: Mir davenen
E: We daven nicely with kavonoh. (Di Yidishe tokhter, p.13)
English has to add the concept of kavonoh (kavone, fervour) which is very different from Yiddish erlikh, a culturally loaded word which, to secularists, signifies ‘honest’ and to the very religious, ‘observant’. This word keys into a whole value system. The idea of kavone, found in the English, conveys a different meaning of intensity of belief.(11) Again erlikh is not translated in the pair below. Notice how much more the English version has to throw in to encapsulate the concept:
Y: Di eltern betn az er zol oysvaksen
an erlikher yid.
E: The parents daven that their children should be Chachomim and Yirei Hashem. (Ikh bin alt dray yor, p.10)
In another colouring book, about a boy turning three, we find different words for skullcap: kapel in Yiddish and ‘yarmulke’ in English, not the Modern Hebrew equivalent kipah. (12)
In the captions below, the English is simpler than the Yiddish equivalent:
es zenen do vos firn zikh tsu makhn di peyes nebn dem kever fun r’ shimen
E: Some travel to Miron to cut their child’s hair.
The Yiddish version says, ‘There are some whose habit it is to make [lit.] the earlocks near the grave of Rabbi Shimen Bar Yochai.’ Perhaps the English-dominant child is less likely to have earlocks. The expectations of a child’s knowledge and behaviour clearly diverge according to language. It appears that the writer knows how to accommodate to differences within a bilingual community. While no such dual language books were seen for older children, there are entirely separate series of sanctioned publications, some for modern Hebrew readers, others for English speakers, and these are especially plentiful for the rapidly expanding Chabad/Lubavitch Hasidim who have a large English language readership, and for the non-Hasidic Orthodox.
The parameters of language contact are partly a function of geography, but mainly of religiously-based exclusiveness. The colouring books demonstrate how the Hasidic child, from the earliest years, learns how to use liturgical Hebrew in combination with other languages. Function in liturgical Hebrew is needed for all, but is especially essential for boys. A regular feature in Mallos features two little boys, Burukh and Berl,.drawn with peyes, imitating a learned conversation. They usually discuss a subject in the learned style employed by their elders, a kind of proto-Torah talk. For instance, they will introduce a citation with the Yiddish term, s’shteyt [...] followed by a quotation from the holy books, and usually this citation is immediately translated into Yiddish. On many occasions the Hebrew term or phrase needs no translation. There are also set forms, like the phrases er vet mekayem zayn di mitzve fun […] (He will realize/accomplish the commandment of […]).
This kind of setting creates a proto-lomdish register. Some forms are also used in the stories more appropriate for girls, who use less Hebrew but who also need key concepts and terms in their original terminology for culturally central values. The linguistic patterns are more greatly divided along gender lines later in life, since women are expected to use more English or outside languages to work and function outside the community boundaries.(13)
Elements of Bilingualism and Language Proficiency
Given their mixed population and variable skills, how do Hasidim establish a workable Yiddish for their young, who are by now third or fourth generation Americans? In many families, Yiddish was not transmitted continuously. In the speech communities, marked by movement and fluidity, uses of languages frequently overlap: Yiddish and Hebrew, modern and liturgical Hebrew, internationalisms and English. In this complex linguistic community, adaptation of vocabulary to local languages means that Yiddish texts produced in Israel are somewhat alien to readers in America, while the inverse is true for Israeli Yiddish speakers. The former travels on a bos (bus) driven by a drayver (driver) on the hayvey; the latter on kvish in an eged.(14) The use of the components varies by gender and by sect. Even the most exclusionary sects, in New Square and Williamsburg, require some English.
The nature of glossing reveals much about the child’s language proficiency. In the books (some with cassettes) we find a substantial amount of English and almost no Slavic words. They are set in surroundings familiar to the young readers. The basic Yiddish proper is straightforward and fairly sophisticated. A small paperback-tape set,Der leyb hot im gehitn,(15) provides an example of many professional looking, colourful products, enlivened with pictures and songs. It contains a fair amount of English, bits of modern Hebrew and, of course, liturgical Hebrew. The author, Zusha Schmeltzer, from New Square, is also a teacher and so knows his students. Right away, the first sentence of the story contains an English borrowing, teyp, that is not translated. Soon we learn that the characters are going on a trip, which is translated into Hebrew as nesiye, in parentheses, but not on a rayze, the Yiddish word. Once an English word is glossed with the Yiddish or Hebrew, its subsequent uses are no longer translated, being thereafter presumed to be in Yiddish use. In this book, a teacher and boys visit Russian immigrant children who attend a separate kheyder. In the story, the Russian children they visit use no Slavic words in their very fragmented Yiddish. They are met in the lontsh-rum (lunch room), glossed in Yiddish as (es zal) . The one Slavic word in this encounter occurs in a long speech by an older Russian, the emphatic particle zhe, usually found after questions and commands in Yiddish. This Russian explains the role of the evil komunistn, untranslated. He also uses an alien word, sinagog (synagogue), translated into shul. Ironically these children do not attend a synagogue and so need translation for words like ortodoksish and religye, which must be taught. They use the more homespun Yiddish equivalents: shul, frum and gloybn.
Yiddish in a post-Holocaust context is variable because normal patterns of language transmission have been disrupted. Like the author of the story above, Yiddish writers are drawn from within the community. Often they are themselves teachers or parents so they are aware of what words the children already know in their Yiddish and what would be alien; they possess a functional sense of the range of their children’s linguistic skills. Choices with respect to language use are based on a combination of what the writers presume the child knows and what they desire the child to learn, linguistically and conceptually.
However, Hasidic educators themselves often have mixed or limited proficiency in Yiddish. Ayala Fader notes that teachers in the school she observed had trouble speaking in Yiddish, and I observed the same in Israel. The writers of the instruction books come from mixed linguistic and national backgrounds but often know more Yiddish than the teachers and parents of the children. Women will know less liturgical Hebrew than their male counterparts. Therefore there is a tendency to borrow heavily from the local language, while at the same time raising children’s vocabulary to a higher level. Children are learning new concepts as they learn new words.
Old Contact Languages
Although liturgical Hebrew is necessary for religious and social functions, it is not a language of daily discourse for Hasidim in New York, unlike their counterparts in Israel. Hebrew terms rarely require explanation, but do function in the process of taytshn, a time-honoured process for teaching texts by translating the sacred into the vernacular. As Chaim Weiser has pointed out, English is replacing Yiddish in the yeshivas as the vernacular for translation. (16) Still, the taytsh format into Yiddish is still used for little ones, as even a pamphlet-sized activity book called Nuts dayn moyekh (Use Your Head)(17) teaches children blessings by having them taytsh.
Words of Hebrew origin, well integrated into day-to-day Yiddish, often represent a higher register. To say nifter zayn is more refined than to say shtarbn (to die). Everyday school words like kheyder, talmud tora are Yiddishized words of Hebrew origin, as are social activities and most life cycle events. Hebraic words provide the logical or temporal structure, a function undoubtedly born from Talmud study and deeply infused into day-to-day language through the use of words like mistome (apparently), efsher (perhaps), koydem/l’khatkhila,(at first), kdey (in order to), kimat (approximately); these are all words that need no glossing or explanation. One story describes someone as praying from shakhris to mayrev (as, very remotely, dawn to dusk). Moreover, words from Hebrew are visibly different in that they are plainly distinct in spelling. The demarcation between sacred and profane distinguishes everything, including spelling rules, so Hebrew words used in Yiddish writing follow standard Hebrew orthography. Interestingly, when fused with Germanic affixes, there is a trend to separate out stems of Hebraic origin from affixes or compounds from other sources: in the following examples, I omit the vowels from the stem to demonstrate what each word looks like in the original: iberge’khzr’t (repeated), dvd’z (David’s), khsid’ishe, (Hasidic).(18) Not every Hebrew word is potentially a Yiddish word. Ashkenazi-style Hebraic words and phrases follow Yiddish phonology, variable by dialect.(19)
Religious Yiddish speakers still possess a distinct level of usage that involves vocatives to address the deity or to ward off evil, words like kholile, got zol ophitn or khas ve sholem (may God forbid), barukh hashem (thanking or blessing God), alevhasholem (rest in peace). Yiddish and Hebrew share sanctity, as seen in verbal pairs like shabes koydesh and its equivalent, heyliger shabes ( holy Sabbath). Ritual objects are usually Hebraic, like talis, khumesh, tfiln, but there is also the negel vaser, ‘nail water’, both parts of the term being of Germanic origin. The word for the deity can be either Hebraic or Germanic in origin: in Hebrew, reboyne shel oylem (Lord of the universe) or in Yiddish, bashefer (the Creator). An interesting phenomenon is the tendency to combine words of the same meaning drawn respectively from Hebrew and German to serve as intensifiers, as in mazl un glik, ‘great luck’, emes un vur ‘very true’.(20)
The basic core vocabulary of Yiddish is still Germanic, but occasionally as modified by centuries of language contact. To varying degrees, the effects of contact with later forms of German appear, especially a silent [h] where its appearence in written German depends on the background of the writer, though this practice seems to be on the wane. The use of modern Germanisms, known as daytshmerish, at one time signified a higher register. Many Hasidim stem from families that lived under Austro-Hungarian rule, where German represented the language of upward mobility. Daytshmerisms found include bite (please), file (a lot) where standard Yiddish would use a sakh, and zofort (immediately).(21) If Germanic is still at the core, the once ever-present Slavic component has all but disappeared, since only very few words deeply rooted in Yiddish remain in the children’s literature. In all likelihood the speakers are not aware that the words that remain are indeed of Slavic origin, like murashke (ant), yagedes (strawberries), katshke (duck). (22) The phrase koyles fun di katshkes (the noise of ducks), combines all three traditional components – Hebraic, in koyles; fun di, from Germanic, and katshkes, as Slavic.(23) An unhappy twelve-year old girl correspondent to Mallos (#44) writes, ikh tshepe mayn zibn-yerige shvester, ‘I pick on my seven-year old sister.’ The word tshepe is of Slavic origin, meaning ‘to annoy’. Indeed the Slavic component may well be in the process of being replaced by English. The system is not static, and new lexical choices abound for old concepts and for new ones. An example of a Yiddish word of Slavic origin is petrishke. Without contact with Slavic languages, the word seems to have taken on variety of meanings for something to put into soup, variably denoting ‘parsley’, ‘parsnips’ and even ‘celery’. New Contact Languages: English, and Internationalisms
Modern Hebrew is accessible to children, who often have relatives in Israel. Some may have travelled or even emigrated themselves. Many Israeli Hasidim speak only modern Hebrew, and others include much of it in their Yiddish.(24) There is still discomfort at making the holy tongue into a vernacular, and in New York they do not need to in the same way they do in Israel. Instead, English is the major source in America and Canada. Where English is connected with events in the child’s life, borrowings are triggered by domains of function. As mentioned above, public transportation is a domain in which the children must function in English, so we find the words kar (car), bos (bus) driven by a drayver in which the children sit on a sit; these are commonplace as they describe daily events that occur outside the bounds of Jewish life. So too are medical visits, generating Yiddish borrowings like eksident, ambulans, sayrens, and so on. (25) Some English borrowings are Yiddishized easily, since Yiddish and English share a plural suffix, s/z. The Yiddish plural of kar is at times karn, not kars. Also Yiddishized is a phrase used while children wait for a hurt child biz m’tshekt im oys (until they check him out). The separable prefix structure again easily permits this English and Yiddish switch. The new construction is then explained in pure Yiddish as m’zukht im unter (he is examined). Specific topics often prompt the degree of borrowings where Hasidic life permits interaction with outside societal systems. A story in Mallos concerns a child in a wheelchair who receives therapy: the therapist, terapist,speaks English so the child says bay bay, tenk yu, and the word for wheelchair is calqued as rod-shtul. One young correspondent, in the ‘cute’ Small Treasures ( kleyne oytsres) section, writes about something a younger brother has said:
Az moshiakh vet kumen vet nokh zayn royt layts?
E: When Messiah comes will there still be red lights?
Oddly, the child keeps the Yiddish word for ‘red’, royt, but uses the English word, lights. The editor offers the gloss lompn (lamps), a Yiddish word which, if not specific, gets the idea across. A glitsher is a slide fun plestik. Danger comes in the form of poyzn ayvi, a plant which grows in ready abundance in Monsey, New York. A new-born child is a beybi, never an eyfele.(26)
When an immigrant language merges with the host language, one gets an ‘interlanguage’, a mix of the two, marked by frequent seamless code- switching across languages. Often perfectly ordinary Yiddish words are replaced with their English equivalents in much the same way as older immigrant Yiddish was replete with English. The extent of lexical depletion,the degree to which English has entered everyday talk, can be seen in the ‘Help Wanted’ advertisements in the weekly Satmar newspaper, Der Yid, published in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, To counter this influx requires effort and education in Yiddish, both of which are given to adults and to children alike in Mallos. A regular section for adults on mameloshn, mother tongue, gives vocabulary, with Yiddish explanations of meaning and even etymology.
Editors also give many internationalisms, which provide a sort of general education for those whose studies have been mainly in holy texts. The gradient between worldly and religious is illustrated in a story (Mallos #37) about a little girl whose family became religiously observant. She changes her name from Mary to Miriam, moves from Newburgh to Monsey, and the vocabulary follows her transition. At the beginning she is on a field trip with her parents in the realm of English, so we find stetyu af liberti, ‘Statue of Liberty’, trok, ‘truck’, muzeyums, ‘museums’, and hotel, ‘hotel’. One cute touch is a phoneticized mispronounced word, khasidiks, meaning Hasidim, designed to show the ignorance of the secular speaker. The story teaches the child new words for alien concepts such as religyez for ‘religious’, not a term a Hasidic child would run into, nor ortodoksish, ‘Orthodox’. When Miriam/ Mary’s family kitchen is made kosher, the words associated with the ritual process enter, and they are of Hebrew origin: tayvlen (soak), kashern (render kosher), and keylim (implements), among others. (27) In terms of language agenda and language awareness, there seems to be a new drift. The editors and publishers of Mallos seem to promote the Yiddish language and try to improve it. Mallos, meaning ‘to arise’, each month carries a series of children’s items in a section at the back, entitled Shtayg hekher (Ascend Higher). Each edition features stories with what might be difficult or unfamiliar vocabulary explained in simpler Yiddish at the end of the readings. These pieces also insert explanations into the text proper. Mostly, the new words learned are the more unusual Yiddish words, or borrowings from English and internationalisms. The following are some typical examples of alteration:
tsapl to tsiter (quiver)
tsinish to khoyzedik (cynical)
geshildert to forgeshtelt (presented)
aristokratish to geboyrn bay a khosheve mishpokhe (aristocratic, born to an important family)(28)
hafn (harbour) to breg fun yam vu di shifn onkern (the shore where ships come in)
ortodoksishe to [yidn] vos firn zikh al pi toyre (Jews who conduct themselves according to the precepts of the Torah)
statue to a geshtalt fun shteyn oder ander materialn (a figure made of stone or other materials)
volknkratzers(skyscrapers) or zeyer hoykhe gebaydes (very tall buildings)(29)
Children are taught language awareness. For example, a story has a character described as a Litvak from Lithuan ia, but the children already know that this term usually refers not only to the dialect associated with Lithuanian Jews but also to an ultra-Orthodox man who is not a Hasid.(30) In a section following the story, entitled Baraykher dayn verter oytser (enrich your vocabulary), synonyms are taught in glossary form using the divergent forms contained in the narrative: the synonyms are
berzl / tayster (purse, wallet)
nisht / nit (not)
tash / keshene (pocket)
Pedagogically, this offers the child a review of the new vocabulary, which is reinforced as the writer explains what a dialekt is. An analogy for the relationships between dialects of Yiddish is drawn between British and American English differences. They explain that Yiddish originated from German, and about the goyish (non-Jewish) sounds and words deriving from the many countries Jews inhabited. Notably, this explanation wholly omits any mention of the Hebrew component of Yiddish. The writer goes on to explain that each dialect has its own aktsent (accent). Familiar examples are given: the letter [r] as pronounced by Hungarian, Russian, Polish, Galitzianer and American Jews, variants the children have presumably heard. The children are encouraged in word-play. The word breyzl (dried bread crumbs) is mixed up with berzl (purse), a metathesis made by an incompetent caller. More examples of the richness of Yiddish include the many ways to say gesheft, ‘store’ or ‘shop’: in Israel kleyt, in Russia krom, and in Poland gevelb. One finds, too, that word boundaries are quite often different in Hasidic Yiddish. Funderheym is one word (from the home), rather than the three words, fun der heym.
The level of Yiddish use towards which the writers, editors and parents are working, the Yiddish of tomorrow, may not ultimately come into being. One cannot predict the future, as the pedagogues of the Workmen’s Circle schools finally learned. Despite noble efforts, they did not produce future generations of native Yiddish speakers in the face of larger social forces. But the movement toward restoring Yiddish vocabulary in Hasidic circles may well have a stronger chance among the Hasidim than in any other movement, simply because the community has integrated Yiddish functions into the home and school, into everyday life. The effort still has to counter the influences of the street and the playground and mixed speech communities. Yiddish has strangely become a contact language to itself.
If we imagine that the Yiddish of Mallos represents a trend in American Yiddish, it has also taken a different tack in language retention from the one taken by secular Yiddishists. Mallos is not prescriptive, but deals instead with an entire language environment, one that does not forbid the use of English borrowings, but does explicitly teach the Yiddish equivalents. This magazine provides children with a wealth of Yiddish vocabulary by introducing words in the context of engaging stories, in the target language, using mainly Yiddish explanations of the words. The appropriate uses of English and Hebrew in Yiddish are set within stories that mirror the lives of the children who read them, set within a Yiddish milieu and value system. New Yiddish words are not coined, but English words and phrases are adapted. The writers attempt to provide the children with mastery over a range of registers, from plain to lomdish.
What can these linguistic sources for juveniles tell us about the future of Yiddish? The texts suggest the presence of a great deal of English that has not yet seeped deeply into Yiddish. Modern Hebrew borrowings are few and far between, but there is much textual Hebrew with correct Yiddish settings. This process is the inverse of what the Soviets strove for when they insisted that Hebrew words be spelled phonetically, and actively discouraged the Hebrew component of Yiddish. If the Russians imbued the language with lots of Russian, the Hasidim have taken it out.(31) The child reader of Mallos would have a terrible time reading Sholem Aleichem in the original because of the Slavisms, and an even more difficult time with Soviet children’s stories. English and internationalisms are taught as useful for broadening the reader’s knowledge of worldly things in an educational system that does not teach much about the outside world. In the gradient between the interlanguages of Judaized English and Anglicized Yiddish, we find a competition of forms available, an overlapping vocabulary.
Joshua Fishman, in an article in the Forverts, once called this the Yiddish of the twenty-first century. His article rightly defended the correctness of Hasidic usage against those who find it poor.(32) Indeed, while many in the world of Yiddish literature decry the poor quality of Hasidic Yiddish writing, it is not poor consistently. While it is often enough sloppy, its quality is also often sophisticated. Moreover, some of what seems like sloppy writing may actually reflect variation in norms and grammatical usage and not necessarily deterioration. What may ultimately emerge is unclear. For the moment, Hasidic Yiddish is the vital Yiddish of the present. Whether it may simply be an intermediate phenomenon, or whether it may perhaps truly mark the future of Yiddish, only time can tell.
1. Baumel, Shlomo. ‘Language Policies of Ethnic Minorities as Influenced by Social, Economic, Religious and Political Contraints’. Unpublished dissertation, Bar-Ilan University, 2002. This study examines four haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups in Israel, including the Lubavitch and Ger Hasidim, who use Hebrew pervasively, and Yiddish to a lesser extent. The other two groups included in the study are not Hasidic.
2. The series of game-activity books Nutz Dayn Moyakh Series: Game and Activity Books is conveniently marked for age appropriateness: see Lomir Forn (Shevet Akhim: Brooklyn, 1995); Megiles Ester (Beis Rokhl: New York, 1981).
3 Along with books and tapes, there are also games in Yiddish to inculcate values, some mirroring secular games. Thus Monopoly in Hasidic garb is Handl Erlikh, and teaches charity instead of accumulation of wealth.
4 This varies by location. In the Montreal area they have French, in New York, Spanish, and in Antwerp, Flemish and French as co- territorials as well, but with very limited social contacts in those environments.
5 In Yiddish, words of Hebrew origin are generally spelled according to their Hebrew spelling. A new development in Hasidic writing is that an apostrophe separates affixes, all but the plural marker –im, derived from profane source languages. This apostrophe creates a visible separation between the sacred part of Yiddish from the profane. See Weinreich, Max. History of the Yiddish Language (New York: YIVO, 1985) for a discussion of Yiddish as the language of a religious way of life, and of the role of diglossia and co- territorial languages. The use of apostrophe in this way is an ancient custom, dating back to medieval times. For Hasidim in particular see Dan, Joseph. ‘The Ashkenazi Hasidic Concept of Language’, in Glinert, Lewis (ed.), Hebrew in Ashkenaz: A Language in Exile, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
6 Harduf, D.M. English-Yiddish, Yiddish-English Dictionary (Canada, 1983).
7 Isaacs, Miriam. ‘Haredi, Haymish and Frim’, in Pious Voices: Languages Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, ed.Miriam Isaacs and Lewis Glinert, International Journal of the Sociology of Language (IJSL #138, 1999), pp. 9-30.
8 Kerler, Dov-Ber. The Emergence of Modern Literary Yiddish (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999), describes the role of editors of religious books in accommodating change while remaining conservative as Yiddish publications shifted from Central to Eastern Europe in the 17th century. When the population moved into Slavic lands, it meant adding Slavicisms to Yiddish. Hasidic Yiddish now displays the reverse process, in which Slavic words have left the language.
9 I have romanized the Yiddish according to the YIVO transcription system.
10 Benor, Sarah. ‘Loan Words in the English of Modern Orthodox Jews: Yiddish or Hebrew?’ in S. Chang et al. (eds.) Proceedings of the 25th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 2000, pp. 287-298. Sarah Benor has explored the interesting question of whether the English is indeed taking the words from Yiddish, from liturgical Hebrew or modern Hebrew.
11 Isaacs, op.cit. ‘Haredi, Haymish and Frim’, in Pious Voices: Languages Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, International Journal of the Sociology of Language (IJSL #138), ed. Miriam Isaacs and Lewis Glinert., pp.9-30.
12 Brandwein, R. M. Coloring Books: I am Three Years Old / Ikh Bin Alt Dray Yor (3rd ed.); and Blessings/ Brokhes Hanehnin (Coloring and Fun Book, 3rd ed.)
13 Boguch, Bryna (1999) ‘Gender, Literacy and Religiosity: Dimensions of Yiddish education in Israeli government-supported schools’, in Pious Voices: Languages Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, ed.Miriam Isaacs and Lewis Glinert. (IJSL #138), pp.123-160. For a treatment of gender in an American setting, see Fader, Ayala. ‘Literacy, Bilingualism and Gender in a Hasidic Community’, Linguistics and Education 12(3) 2001: 261-83.
14 See Ayala Fader’s study of the Bobov, op. cit., which suggests that for women, Yiddish has become a baby language used with all the pre-school children to socialize them into the ways of their ancestors.
15 Schmeltzer, Zusha. Der layb hot im gehitn (New York: New Square, 1995).
16 Weiser, Chaim. Frumspeak: The First Dictionary of Yeshivish (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1995)
17 Samet, H.S. Nitz dayn moyekh, Part Bet, ages 5-11. Basheftigung mit khinukh tsu shtaygn gor hoykh, a series, (Brooklyn, NY: Roebling Distributors, 1998).
18 This practice, dating from medieval times, has not been the practice generally. Lexically, marking off the Hebrew Aramaic roots and affixes makes the Hebrew component apparent by physical separating the sacred from the profane within Yiddish.
19 Mark, Yudl. ‘Yidish-Hebraish, Hebraish-Yidish Nayshafungen’, YIVO Bleter: Journal of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1957-58, pp.124- 57; Weinreich, Max. ‘Vos Volt Yidish Geven on Hebraish’, Di Tsukunft, Vol. 36 ( 1931):.194-205 [reprinted in The Mendele Review].
20 Lomir Dertseyln/ Let’s Tell, author not given (New York: Shevet akhim publishers, 1998).
21 The most evident influence of modern German is orthographic, in spellings that retain a silent h where that is written in German. But since some of the writers do not know German, the silent h appears at times when it does not occur in German. More often, however, that h is simply absent.
22 Zilberman, Miriam, Mides hoyz (The House of Good Behavior) published by Makhon l’hotsat sifrei khinukh, for Beit Hannah l’banot (The House of Hannah for Girls). No other details given.
23 Nutz Dayn Moyekh, op. cit.
24 Isaacs, Miriam. 1999. ‘Contentious Partners: Yiddish and Hebrew in Haredi Israel’, in Pious Voices: Languages among Ultra-Orthodox Jews, International Journal of the Sociology of Language (IJSL # 138), ed. Miriam Isaacs and Lewis Glinert, pp. 101-22.
25 Fader, Ayala., op.cit.
26 Mallos Vol. # 60 (2001): 62.
27 Mallos Vol. #37 (2000): 4, in Shtayg hekher: ‘Shver ober gut / Difficult but good’.
28 Mallos, # 60 (2001): 58, Dayn verter oytser /Enrich your vocabulary.
29 Mallos # 37: 2- 4, Shtayg hekher Section 2 of volume.
30 Mallos # 44 (2000): 48-54, Shtayg Hekher section: Farloyrn dos berzl /Story of a lost purse.
31 Estraikh, Gennady. Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).
32 Fishman, Joshua. Forverts ‘Dos khsidishe yidish — gut tsi shlekht?’ Forverts, 29 Aug.1997, pp.13, 15; Fishman, Joshua. ‘The Sociology of Jewish Languages from a General Sociolinguistic Point of View’, in Fishman, Joshua, (ed.), Readings in the Sociology of Jewish Languages (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985), pp. 3-21.