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

Contents of Vol. 10.007 [Sequential No. 172]
31 July 2006

Eli Katz (1928 2006)



1) This issue of TMR (ed.)
2) "I spit blood" Avrom Goldfadn writes to Shomer (N.-M. Shaykevitsh) Yiddish text (RG and LP)
3) Review of Mordkhe Schaechter's Plant Names in Yiddish (Leonard Prager)
4) "Oyfn shtengl" (Yoysef Kerler) [Yiddish text]
5) Books and Periodicals Received (ed.)
6) Coming Issues

Click here to enter:
1) This issue of TMR (ed).

*** This issue of TMR is dedicated to the memory of the Yiddish scholar and translator Eli Katz, able editor of the engaging Book of Fables.


Title page of Book of Fables



*** All the letters of Goldfadn should be collected and studied. He complained of asthma and of "spitting blood" (a symptom that can point to over twenty different causes) but mainly of neglect by the public he so faithfully served. He praises Shomer's works extravagantly and in a nationalist spirit castigates the drift of Yiddish theatre to worldly themes. Does the original of this letter exist somewhere? We know that Shomer and Goldfadn were very close. Quite by chance I recently came across a brief citation in Zalmen Zylbercweig's Leksikon fun yidishn teater (vol. 1, p. 320, 1931) which is from a letter Goldfadn wrote to Shomer after returning from an extended stay abroad and which Shomer reprints. I here give the entire letter from Shomer's Die natsyon, a bilingual Yiddish/Hebrew periodical which is now scarce. I give the entire highly daytshmerish letter with the most proscribed words in red followed by suggested Standard Yiddish alternatives. [LP]

*** The nomenclature of plant life in Yiddish is one of the lifetime projects of the distinguished Yiddish philologist Mordkhe Schaechter. The recent publication of Plant Names in Yiddish, here reviewed, can hardly do justice to this immense enterprise.

*** Yoysef Kerler's "Oyfn [pronounced /afn/] shtengl" from the delightful collection Dafke itst (Jerusalem 2005) takes us from botanic to literary flora.


2)----------------------------------------------- ------------------

Date: 31 July 2006

From: Robert Goldenberg and Leonard Prager

Subject: "I spit blood" Goldfaden writes to Shomer (Shaykevitsh)

The periodical in which the letter appears started as The Nation/Di natsyon with a Hebrew supplement HaAm. The titles were subsequently changed to Di idishe natsyon and HaLeom. In LP's bound exemplar, the title pages have not been included and it is impossible to date individual issues accurately without comparison with complete volumes. It is however clear that the periodical started in August 1901 and continued through 1902. The editors and publishers were N.-M. Shaykevitsh, popularly known as Shomer (1846-1905) and M. Goldman. A quick search through Judaica libraries locate copies in the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem and one in the New York Public Library. It is obviously a scarce item.

Yiddish contributors include Sem Goldshteyn, Aleksander Harkavi, D.-M. Hermalin, Filip Krants [Philip Krantz], Y. Paley, A.-H. Rozenberg, Moris Roznfeld, N.-M. Shaykevitsh (Shomer), A. Tanenboym and Getsl Zelikovitsh.  Hebrew contributors include Gershn Kohn, Sh.-Kh. Kritishov, Ts.-H. Maslianski, Yitskhok Rabinovits, N.-M. Shaykevitsh (Shomer), Shemen.

The letter is from Di natsyon (New York, vol. 1 [1901], no.??, 136-137.


   NOTE: Errors of fact and omissions are, hopefully, corrected in the archival copies.



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Date: 31 July 2006

From: Leonard Prager

Subject: Review of Mordkhe Schaechter's Plant Names in Yiddish



Mordkhe Schaechter. Di geviksn-velt in yidish.

Nyu-york: Yidisher visnshaftlekher institut YIVO.


Given the widespread image of Yiddish as a language largely alienated from nature, Mordkhe Schaechter's magnum opus, Di geviksn velt in yidish [henceforth gevi] is at first glance in danger of eliciting a smile. Plant world in Yiddish? The word world suggests amplitude, plenitude as opposed to "yidishe melokhes" ('"Jewish" occupations') that are often perceived as narrow and horizonless. Yet there is nothing quixotic or absurd in the book under review. It is a very solid albeit incomplete and by no means easy to use -- contribution to a sorely neglected division of Yiddish lexicography.

Di geviksn-velt in yidish is itself a rare and much-to-be prized plant that has been gestating for almost half a century. The author began his Yiddish plant names project in the 1960s "nor tsulib kolerley sibes hot es nisht gehat frier oysgekumen" ('but for all kinds of reasons it could not be realized sooner.') The main parts of the work were completed by the end of the 1970s and the introductory sections in the 1990s. When it became apparent that Dr. Schaechter was too overladen with work and, later, physically unable to go on with his large project, the Yivo to whom we must all be grateful came to the rescue. The chief co-worker in the project's later stages was the talented young linguist David Braun.

The stretching out of the project over almost half a century has resulted in a number of discrepancies. Among the minor ones: persons now dead are thanked as though still alive. The work was typed in the pre-computer age on an electric typewriter and was proofread at that time; it must now be reedited. Regarding the published work's most glaring omission, the publisher writes: "tsulib tekhnishe sibes is der mekoyrim-vayzer geblibn a nisht-farendikter er fargeyt bloyz biz veyz." ('For technical reasons the Source-Finder remains incomplete it includes only alef, beyz and veyz.') It is a terrible blot on the Yiddish scholarly establishment that several major projects have not reached completion and may never do so (one thinks of the Groyser verterbukh among others, with the four volumes covering the letter alef all that has appeared). In addition to the Source-Finder gaps, a "morphological list, which includes the most important words for plant parts or stages of a plant's development" is also omitted from the volume "for technical reasons." (p. XXXVII) The editors express hope for a second edition, which would include the omitted sections. At this point it may be well to ask what value or importance the present first edition has and why a second edition is needed.

gevi is both descriptive and prescriptive. As a descriptive work it is a virtual last-minute rescue operation to salvage thousands of botanical terms current in Yiddish for centuries and nowhere systematically identified according to scientific taxonomic principles. Botanical terminology in Yiddish can be found in Old Yiddish books and manuscripts as early as the 13th century. Yiddish sifrey refuot ('recipe books') mention numerous medicinal plants and one Vatican ms. gives a list of pharmaceutical plants in Latin with Yiddish translation. Yiddish Tanakh and Talmud translations are rich sources of botanical names. In the 1920s the Soviet Yiddish school system prepared numerous botany and agricultural texts, making extensive borrowings and calques on Slavic and international names. Jewish agricultural colonization in modern times took place in Ukraine, Byelorussia, Crimea, Birobidzan, Argentine and Palestine. Jewish agriculturalists and other Jewish rural dwellers knew local plant names. In the past two centuries Yiddish botanical terminology has grown through bilingual dictionaries, original and translated literature, gardening and agricultural books. Among dictionary-makers gevi assigns pride of place to the nineteenth-century pioneering lexicologist Y.-M. Lifshits, author of Rusish-yudisher verter bukh (Zhitomir 1869) and Yudish-rusisher verter bukh (Zhitomir 1876). Nokhem Stutshkov's Der oytser fun der yidisher shprakh (New York 1950), under the editorial supervision of Max Weinreich, was also among the most important of gevi's published sources. The four volumes of the Groyser verterbukh mentioned above were also scoured by the author. When the many written sources and the numerous oral testimonies are systematically mined, they yield a quantitatively substantial lexicon.

Yiddish botanic names illuminate a rural dimension of Jewish life which tends to be overlooked given the overwhelmingly urban character of modern Jewry. In particular, Dr. Schaechter's lexicographic and taxonomic project modifies widespread half-truths regarding the relationship to nature of Yiddish poets and writers. The charge that Yiddish authors refer to "birds" or "flowers" without specifying species or varieties applies to many Yiddish writers in many periods and places, but not to all. European romanticism had by the end of the nineteenth century belatedly indeed -- affected many Eastern-European Yiddish poets both in their lands of birth and in the widespread diaspora to which many migrated. As the author concedes, talking about or admiring flowers in earlier times was seen as "bitl-zman" ('a waste of time'). But there is far more nature poetry in Yiddish, especially after the 1920s, than is generally known. Modern written literature is but one of the multiple sources of Yiddish botanic nomenclature. In its prescriptive role gevi extends the standardizing operations of contemporary Yiddish language-planning, giving those who wish to speak or write a modern and lexically rich Yiddish an adequate nomenclature. This means selecting a standard term from among multiple popular ones.

We distinguish between classification and nomenclature. Classification is systematic grouping; nomenclature is the assignment of universal unambiguous names. Scientific names are conventional labels understood by botanists the world over. Vernacular or common names, what we call in Yiddish "poshet-folkishe nemen" ('simple folk names'), abound in all regions but are usually understood only locally. The same names often refer to different plants and more seriously, many different names point to the same plant folkloric richness here spells scientific poverty . Aesthetically appealing though many of them are, folk names can only confuse botanists whose aim is to visualize the plant kingdom according to the relationships between plants and who require one fixed name for every species of plant. Since the middle of the eighteenth century botanists have employed a system developed by Linnaeus called Binomial Nomenclature.

Every plant species (Yiddish zgal; Hebrew min) has a name consisting of two parts. The first part is the name of the genus (Yiddish genus; Hebrew genus); the second part is a very specific epithet; no two plants can have the same name. Thus the plant known universally as Arum palaestinum and called Luf eretsyisraeli in Hebrew [see Azaria Alon, 300 pirkhey-bar betsvaey hakeshet, p. 13] carries the identical Latin binomial description among Yiddish-speakers, who call it in Yiddish Erets-yisroeldiker arns shtekn (literally 'Land of Israel Aaron's Staff'). The latter can be found in Dr. Schaechter's work because we find the Latin name in "Dos litaynish-english-yidishe taksonomishe verter-bikhl". This Trilingual Taxonomic Dictionary (as it is called in the English section of the book) is the central lexicon of the entire project and it identifies and names 4288 Yiddish equivalents of Latin terms. Many more Yiddish names can be formed for species and varieties of plants by using the Key to Proper Names (which in Yiddish is called "Der geografish-etnisher zukhtsetl tsu botanisher terminologia"). What does the seeker for a Yiddish plant name do if he does not know the Latin binomial? If he knows the English name he looks in an auxiliary lexicon called the "English-Latin-Yiddish Index to the Taxonomic Dictionary", finds the Latin name and then looks in the Trilingual list. If he knows neither the Latin nor the English name he must seek one of them in a reference work in whatever language(s) he does know.

Now what if the reader wishes to know the source or sources for the Yiddish terms chosen in the central lexicon, wishes to identify plant terms employed in the works of some of our major Yiddish poets. If the Yiddish plant term begins with alef, beyz or veyz, one looks in the Source-Finder (Yiddish: mekoyrim vayzer) and is pointed to rich and significant details which, however, can only be deciphered if one knows what the scores of abbreviations stand for in the compendious Mekoyrim ('Sources') section (pp. 78-157!). For the fields of Yiddish lexicography and botanics in Yiddish, the Mekoyrim section is an invaluable bibliographical aid.

The figure of 4288 Yiddish names is impressive. It is good to know that the JUNIPERUS communis depressa is the koyrim-kadik , that the JEFFERSONIA diphylla (American Twinleaf) is the amerikaner tsvilingblat. These are our local Yiddish treasures; when we look up from them, our ecological conscience has its say: "Only about 1.6 million organisms out of a conservative estimate of between seven and ten million have been recognized scientifically. A great majority of these are poorly known. Some 250,000 of 300,000 species of plants have been identified, leaving 50,000 completely unknown." [from a report by Peter Raven at the 16th Internatonal Botanical Congress (1999)] The fact that there are almost two hundred apple varieties identified in Yiddish will surprise and delight Yiddish-lovers, yet again we must see our lexical wealth in proper proportion: there are over 2,000 known apple varieties! [see the Random House The New Book of Apples].

In Latin-letter works such as The Plant-Book by D.J. Mabberley [Cambridge University Press, 1997]) we have a simple and familiar dictionary-style organization. Dr. Schaechter's work is complicated by the necessity to use both the Hebrew and Latin alphabets, but we may ask if five different lists are necessary:

1. English-Latin-Yiddish Index to the Taxonomic Dictionary

2. Dos litaynish-english-yidishe taksonomishe verter-bikhl

First page of Litaynish-english-yidishe taksonomishe verter-bikhl

3. Der geografish-etnisher zukhtsetl tsu botanisher terminologia

4. Mekoyrim Vayzer [alef, beyz, veyz]

5. Mekoyrim

The user of Di geviksn-velt in yidish must contend with all of these lists in a work much taken up with instructions on how to navigate -- the English introductory section even calls its summary help notes "Troubleshooting". This is a book packed with lexicographical riches which only a masterful philologist such as Mordkhe Schaechter could have assembled. It is worthy of being completed, reedited and organized in a more usable form.



Date: 31 July 2006
From: ed.
Subject: "Oyfn shtengl" fun Yoysef Kerler (1918-2000)


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31 July 2006
From: ed.
Subject: Books and Periodicals Received

*** Yoysef Kerler , Dafke itst; fun di letste un andere lider. Yerusholayim: Farlag Yerushalmer almanakh, tashsa"v (2005).

*** Davka; Erets Yidish veTarbuta. Gilyon 1 Tammuz Tashsa"v Yuli 2006 [Dafke, yidishland un ir kultur / 'Just So' , Yiddishland and its Culture
is one of the most untranslatable words in the Yiddish language and one of the idiomatically most expressive and most characteristically Yiddish. The title of the new Hebrew-language journal devoted to Yiddish language and literature is not original, but it is certainly apposite. One recalls the fine Yiddish-language periodical Dafke of Buenos-Aires, which survived from 1949 to 1976 (Nos.1-20) in Buenos-Aires and then moved to Tel-Aviv, where it survived for two more issues (1981,2); it was largely the effort of Shloyme Susnovitsh [Salomon Susnovich]. The sub-title Erets-yidish is equally old-hat, but essentially new in Israeli Hebrew usage. The word land is neuter in Standard Yiddish, but Hebrew like litvish yidish has no neuter and so the new journal feminizes the metaphorical country Yiddishland, a sometimes useful term for the wide but non-sovereign realms of Yiddish language and literature. The semi-annual Dafka , illustrated, lively, should complement the academic annual Khulyot sponsored by three of
Israel's universities.

*** Glikl zikhroynes 1691-1719 / Glikl Memoires 1691-1719. Edited and translated from Yiddish by Chava Turniansky, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, 2006, 113, 642 pp. An exemplary bilingual (Hebrew and Yiddish) edition of a classic work of the older Yiddish literature, richly annotated, deeply researched, a must for the book shelf of every student of Yiddish.

*** Afn shvel; gezelshaftlekh-literarisher zhurnal [organ fun der Yidish-lige] Nyu-york. Zumer-Harbst [Num. 331/332]; Vinter-Friling 2006 [Num. 333-334]. Under the editorship of Sheva Tsuker, this veteran journal of Yiddish language and letters has a new and more contemporary look.

*** Yidishe heftn Yuli-Oygust 2006 [Les Cahiers Yiddish Juillet-Aout 2006] This issue celebrates the one-hundredth anniversary of the rehabilitation of Captain Alfred Dreyfuss and includes the Yiddish text of Sholem Aleykhem's famous story "Dreyfus in Kasrilevke".



Coming Issues

David Mazower continues his series of illustrated essays on "Portraits of Yiddish Writers" with a fourth installment in The Mendele Review Vol. 10, No. 8 (August 2006) focused on the famous critic Dr. Aleksander. Mukdoyni (pen name of Aleksander Kapl [Kapel], 1878-1958). Mukdoyni was credited by the leading Yiddish critic Sh. Niger as "der shafer fun der yidisher teater-kritik" ('the creator of Yiddish theater criticisim.')


End of The Mendele Review Vol. 10.007

Editor, Leonard Prager

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