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

Contents of Vol. 11.008 [Sequential No. 185]
Date: 30 July 2007

1) This issue of TMR (ed.)
2) seyfer vs. bukh in Berglson's "Bay nakht" (ed.)
3) Forverts 110th  anniversary (Rachel Rojanski)
4) International Publishers and Librarians Agree On Access to Orphan Works

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30 July 2007
From: ed.
Subject:  This issue of TMR.

*** The editor continues a commentary begun in the previous edition of TMR: seyfer vs. bukh in Berglson's "Bay nakht".  ***Dr. Rachel Rojanski of the Universary of Haifa's  Department of Jewish History goes back 110 years to the founding of the Forverts, sketching the fortunes of the paper as well as of the famous building that housed it.  Dr. Rojanski earlier published an essay in TMR: "Status of Yiddish 1948-1951" (see TMR 9.002 [14 Feb 2005]).   ***Joseph Sherman of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies has kindly sent me the information below, pointing out its "special relevance to the copyright status of many Yiddish books, especially those for which translation rights are sought." He goes on to say that it "offers an internationally agreed solution to some of the problems about Yiddish copyright" that he raised in his TMR article of 22 July 2003 (Vol. 7.007). Needless to say, The Mendele Review is delighted that an authoritative copyright standard has been recommended by a responsible body. Despite its limited resources, TMR has spent countless hours in searching for copyright owners and has watched entirely too passively while materials prepared by its own efforts (including correcting texts, conforming Yiddish texts to Standard Yiddish Orthography, designing the text page, making texts searchable to facilitate stylistic and linguistic studies) has been copied outright by other sites without requesting permission. There is not a single Yiddish text in TMR (or in its close relation Di velt fun yidish) which is a simple copy. TMR and Di velt fun yidish will make the utmost effort to follow the guidelines formulated below and to clarify our own position regarding the downloading of our materials.  

30 July 2007
From: ed.
seyfer vs. bukh in Berglson's "Bay nakht"

A reader has written to TMR on the meaning of seyfer in Berglson's story "Bay nakht" [see TMR 11.007]. He writes: "When the nakht yid used the word seyfer he did not mean a 'book'. He meant a 'religious tome' and indeed quotes from one. Had he meant a 'book', he'd have said bukh". I am willing to grant that my translation is not altogether satisfactory, but none that I considered were better. I am, of course, aware of the distinction between seyfer and bukh. The problem is not defining the Yiddish words that the author uses but translating them into English so that they fit the context and give the reader a reasonable English equivalent. This can be a tricky business.

What I wrote -- and I consider both my translation and my commentary to be tentative -- was:  "Look into a book," he said, "study...." "But I cannot," the youth complained.  Would it have been natural for sour old Night Jew to suggest to Young Man that he pass the night delving into a 'religious tome'. He does not specifically suggest what Young Man is to read, he merely says, "Look into..." Peruse before delving deeply. The key word the Night Jew employs is lern, which perhaps is not merely 'study', but alludes to talmudic study, a learning level attained after much preparation. When Young Man complains he 'can not', he is not, then, saying he is illiterate but that he does not know Talmud.  

Yenne Velt is fairly satisfactory in its translation of this section: "Open up a sacred book," he said, "study the holy writings." It would be more subtle for Night Jew to suggest simply that Young Man read a worthwhile book, and I let 'book' stand alone here --  seyfer by extension means 'serious book'.  "Kuk arayn in a seyfer," hot er gezogt, "lern." "Ken ikh nisht, hot zikh der bokher geklogt."  The work, I repeat, that Night Jew has in mind is the Talmud, which can be studied independently by those adept at lernen -- kenen lernen means 'to know the Talmud'.

Just as students in a talmetoyre start with khumesh mit rashe, Night Jew begins his instruction with Breyshis, with Toyre rather than Talmud. The latter is from a certain rabbinical perspective more "religious". (Many yeshivas in Eastern Europe more or less ignored tanakh). Moreover, the Night Jew does not translate in the traditional khumesh-taytsh manner, giving the original Hebrew followed by a literal Yiddish translation, crawling along word or phrase after word or phrase. The Night Jew gives a Yiddish translation -- presumably his own -- that by virtue of being Yiddish is only marginally "sacred".  Here we touch on an exegetical problem in the story, whose subtitle we recall was "a halb-oysgetrakhte mayse."

For centuries Jewish society ranked its members by wealth and by learning. A tilem yid expresed hi piety by recitation of Psalms, a good distance from the talmed-khokhem who grappled with rabbinic texts. Confrontations between literate and illiterate Jews are widespread in Yiddish literature. Perets' "Sholem Bayis" repeats the question, "Can't you learn?" The watercarrier protagonist is illiterate but the melamed who teaches the working men from the popular Alshekh, can suggest that he serve God by doing what he can do -- providing the scholars in the study house with water. Comparably, the speechless protagonist of Asch's "A dorf-tsadik" can pray effectively by whistling. But in Bergelson's story there is no clearcut advice. The somnolent speaker makes a note that Noah saved mankind from a second catastrophic flood, and acknowledges the mythic proportions of that act. The story's ending leaves the reader wondering what the Night Jew was trying to do and what success he had in his effort.  (ed.)

30 July 2007
From: Rachel Rojanski
Subject:  Forverts 110th anniversary

Rachel Rojanski

A Neon Sign Overlooking the Manhattan Bridge

110 years of the New York Jewish Daily Forward

Manhattan. Friday afternoon, spring 2007. East Broadway, on the Lower East Side, is bustling as always. The beautiful weather brings out throngs of people to Seward Park. In building no. 175 across the street the renovations are almost finished. Not long ago, the building was converted into condominiums, and all the units—so I am told by Anthony, the doorman—are already taken. A wide ethnic range, singles, families. New York. Only the lobby is not yet finished. Once there was a spacious lobby here with two staircases. Now it must be adapted for use by the new residents, while preserving the character of the building. This historic building stood vacant for several years, he explains, but has now come back to life.

Ten stories high, it is still—as in 1912 when it was built—the tallest building in the area. The newly restored row of pillars and wide entrance arch attest to its glorious past. Just above the pillars,  the words “Forward Building” are carved in stone; on either side of the building are stern-faced portraits, artistically restored, of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Just like the old days. For sixty-two years the building housed the  Jewish Daily Forward, the Yiddish daily that first came out in New York on April 22, 1897 and eventually became the most important Yiddish newspaper in the world, with the largest circulation of any foreign-language daily in the United States.  The Forward was also a New York institution. The neon sign atop the building showing the name of the newspaper in English to people crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Lower Manhattan, and in Yiddish to those leaving for Brooklyn was the best evidence of this.

The Jewish Daily Forward was born out of conflict within the Socialist Labor Party. In January 1897, a group from the Yiddish-speaking  section of the party broke off and founded their own organization; on April 22 they started publishing   the Jewish Daily Forward (in Yiddish, Forverts). Their act of defiance of the party leadership and its strategy vis-à-vis the trade-union movement was seen by some people at the time as an open play for control of the daily press.

Abraham Cahan (1860–1951) was immediately named editor of the paper. He headed it for some fifty years and became an institution, as the New York Times put it, like the Jewish Daily Forward itself. Born in a shtetl near Vilna, Cahan moved to the United States in 1882, worked in a cigarette factory and was active in the Socialist Party, whose Yiddish newspapers he edited. He learned English quickly, and in 1896  published a novel in English, Yekl, on which the movie Hester Street, made 80 years later, was based. In the late-nineteenth century, Cahan pursued a journalistic career in English, wrote short stories in English, and in 1917 published the well-known novel The Rise of David Levinsky. Cahan's devotion to Yiddish was ideologically motivated.

Although the Jewish Daily Forward came into the world as a result of a party dispute, its target audience consisted of the eastern-European Jewish immigrants who were arriving in New York en masse at the turn of the century. Like any immigrant paper, the Jewish Daily Forward provided practical information that would be useful to the newcomers, but from its very first day it was an immigrant paper in a much broader sense. The paper was imbued with the cultural world which the Jews brought with them from eastern Europe, and was based on adapting to America the political and cultural ideas that had germinated there. Thus it not only fulfilled the classic role of an agent of Americanization, but also fostered secular Jewish identity and Jewish culture.

The  Forward had a hard time at first, but by 1905, as Jewish immigration from eastern Europe increased its situation stabilized. In 1907 it had a circulation of 72,000 copies daily; by the 1920s circulation was up to 275,000. The editorial policy of the Jewish Daily Forward was set by  Cahan at the start: the paper would maintain a secular and socialist tone. Its language would be simple, its Yiddish easily understandable. It would print popular—sometimes “yellow”—material along with serious journalism; and it would offer good literature as well as "shund". The popular Bintl Briv advice column first appeared in 1906 and became a major institution of immigrant life.  It included letters from readers (some of them apparently written by the editors) on typical, everyday issues. For instance, a woman who worked in a sweatshop wanted to know what to do about her boss who was harassing her; the editor advised her to publicize the harassment and embarrass the man. A young man asked whether he should leave school to help support his family; the paper urged him never to give up his studies and impede his advancement in the new land. A woman who had had an arranged marriage in the Old World asked whether she should get divorced; she was advised not to break up a Jewish family.

The Jewish Daily Forward emphasized the importance of the family. It denounced men who left their wives and disappeared, and it printed their pictures in a regular section that became widely associated with the paper. The weekly women’s page provided information on home, family, and job market, but between the lines shaped the role of the Jewish immigrant woman in Americanizing her family while preserving its Jewishness.

Despite being a political newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward assigned prime importance to Yiddish literature and culture. While providing a regular platform for "shund", it also printed serious authors such Morris Rosenfeld, Sholem Asch, Abraham Reysin, Zalman Shneour, I. J. Singer, Mani-Leib, and of course Isaac Bashevis Singer, who later became a Nobel Laureate. Some of these writers were first published in the  Forward. The paper also printed articles on theater, music, and painting.

The Jewish Daily Forward was above all a political newspaper. It had an active role in the struggles of the trade unions, especially in the garment industry, not only giving them a place to express themselves but also recruiting workers to the cause—especially in 1909–1911. It played an important part in the public contests for the leadership of American Jewry during World War I; over the years it fought against restrictions on immigration to the United States; and in 1935 it backed Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Although the  Forward hailed the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and one of its regular staffers that year was Lev Trotsky, who was in New York at the time, from the 1920s it adopted an anti-Communist line, and in the 1930s it waged a campaign against Jewish Communists in America. From the start the Jewish Daily Forward was identified as non-Zionist. Nevertheless, after the Balfour Declaration, during the 1920s, and especially after Cahan’s visit to Palestine in 1925, Palestine became a frequently covered topic, and major writers discussed its future and the possibilities of Jewish settlement there extensively.

Restricted immigration to the United States in the early 1920s led to a decline in Yiddish and the Yiddish press in America, including the Jewish Daily Forward. Although the paper’s circulation was still at its peak, and the weekly The Nation called it “America’s most interesting daily,” in the early 1930s its circulation started dropping steadily. In 1939 the circulation was 170,000 copies a day, and in 1962 it was down to just 60,000 on weekends. That year—when according to Time magazine the Jewish Daily Forward still had the largest circulation of any foreign-language newspaper in the United States—the editors decided to add a daily supplement in English in an attempt to attract the younger generation.

Nevertheless, circulation continued to decline. In 1983, by which point the Jewish Daily Forward was the last remaining Yiddish daily in New York, its management decided to turn it into a weekly.  In 1990 the publishers of the Jewish Daily Forward decided to produce a separate English weekly that would cover the pressing issues of concern to the Jewish world and would serve as a forum for leading Jewish authors and intellectuals. At the start of the twenty-first century, the English-language  Forward has managed to bolster its status as a leading American Jewish newspaper and like its Yiddish-language parent, the Forverts, to reflect the many facets of the American Jewish experience. Today the Yiddish Forverts weekly continues to be published and may also be read as part of the English-language Forwards internet edition. This cybernetic version of a century-old periodical (see  is attractively designed, well written and intellectually in the tradition of its namesake. A Russian edition of the Forward is also published, serving a new generation of Russian immigrants.

The  Forward building on East Broadway was sold in 1974, and the paper moved to smaller offices in midtown Manhattan. The  Lau family that bought the building used only the first two stories. Most of the building, which New York City declared a designated landmark, was unused. In 2005, more than a hundred years after the first issue of the Jewish Daily Forward, the building was sold to the current owner who decided to convert it into condominiums and restore its original façade. Today the Forward building has regained its past glory. It towers over its neighbors, with the clock at the top and the Yiddish word Forverts inscribed beneath it. The neon sign that lit up the name of the paper in English facing the Manhattan Bridge and in Yiddish facing Lower Manhattan has been turned off.

[A slightly modified version of this essay appeared in the Hebrew-language HaAretz this past weekend in the Tarbut veSifrut section (27 July 2007), page 2.]  

30 July 2007
IFLA/IPA Joint Press Release
International Publishers and Librarians Agree On Access to Orphan Works

International Publishers and Librarians Agree On Access to Orphan Works

Geneva/The Hague, 27 June 2007  

A joint steering group of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and the International Publishers' Association (IPA) has agreed on key principles of access to orphan works. The position paper is a contribution to the international debate on so-called “orphan works”: “Orphan Works” are works in copyright whose owner cannot be identified and located by someone who wishes to make use of the work in a manner that requires the rights owner’s permission. In a joint statement the international umbrella organisations of librarians and book and journal publishers have set out principles aimed at facilitating the use of orphan works. The joint statement on orphan works was agreed by the Joint Steering Group, a working group established by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and the International Publishers Association (IPA) to discuss issue of mutual interest.

The statement sets out five principles to be followed by users of orphaned works:

-        A reasonably diligent search should be undertaken to find the copyright owner.

-        The user of an orphan work must provide a clear and adequate attribution to the copyright owner.

-        If the copyright owner reappears, the owner should be reasonably remunerated or appropriate restitution should be made.

-        If injunctive relief is available against the use of a previously orphaned work, the injunctive relief should take into account the creative efforts and investment made in good faith by the user of the work.

-        The use of orphan works in non-exclusive.

Claudia Lux (IFLA), co-Chair of the IFLA/IPA Steering Group declared: “Orphan works are bad news for all concerned: for information users, librarians, publishers and authors. Creativity and progress are stifled when so many works are consigned to a legal limbo because their copyright owners cannot be traced. The principles which IFLA has agreed with the IPA are an important step forward because they set out clearly what bona fide users of orphan works must do to avoid being held liable for copyright infringement, and what should be done if a missing copyright owner is found after the work has been used. If applied, the principles would ensure that the rights of copyright owners are respected without exposing users of orphan works to an intimidating level of risk.”

Herman P. Spruijt (IPA), co-Chair of the Steering Group declared: “Copyright is crucially important to publishers. We must ensure that it supports access to knowledge and takes into account the interests of all those contributing to the knowledge economy, including publishers. As part of their business publishers seek authorisation to use previously published works, including orphan works. Publishers will therefore benefit from a pragmatic, common sense approach that balances the legitimate interests of all sides. Our principles will help to achieve this.”

Notes for editors:

The full statement can be found at:

IFLA is the global voice of the library and information profession. Established in 1927, IFLA currently has some 1500 members in 50 countries. Together, IFLA’s association and institutional members represent over 500.000 librarians and library workers serving almost two billion registered library users worldwide. IFLA is an accredited Non-Governmental Organisation enjoying consultative status to the United Nations. For more on IFLA, see:

The International Publishers Association (IPA) is the global non-governmental organisation representing all aspects of book and journal publishing worldwide. Established in 1896, IPA's mission is to promote and protect publishing and to raise awareness for publishing as a force for cultural and political advancement worldwide. IPA is an industry association with a human rights mandate. IPA currently has 65 member associations in 53 countries. The members of the IFLA/IPA Steering Group are:


Claudia Lux, IFLA President-elect (Co-Chair)
Vinyet Panyella, IFLA Governing Board member
Winston Tabb, Chair of the IFLA Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters
Peter Lor, IFLA Secretary General

For IPA:

Herman P. Spruijt (Co-Chair), IPA Vice President, Brill Academic, NL
Marc Brodsky, American Institute of Physics, USA
Michael Mabe, Chief Executive Officer, STM
Jens Bammel, IPA Secretary General

For further information, please see


End of The Mendele Review Vol. 11.008

Editor, Leonard Prager

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