15 September 2014

The death of Yiddish

I've never been one to share the agonies of those who despair over the death of languages, except insofar as the loss of ancient languages renders certain documents and artworks unreadable.  An entry at The Dish discusses the inclusion of Yiddish as a threatened language:
Frankel comments on how secular Judaism has contributed to the death of Yiddish and a simultaneous loss of traditional Jewish identity:

The secular community is dead, dead, dead. There’s no Yiddish press, no Yiddish theater [not quite accurate since there is one still-vibrant group, the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene]. Dead, dead, dead. There were hundreds of Sholem Aleichem schools, Peretz schools. Where are they? How many Yiddish books are being published? The secular people dominated everything and now they’ve lost. Hasidim are pushing everyone to be more religious, more Jewish.

Rabbi Frankel’s bemoaning of the potential extinction of Yiddish illuminates a greater issue: The language has become synonymous with Orthodox Judaism and has lost its meaning within the secular parts of the faith.


  1. Around 1979, I was in Israel for a short time for a German company, I had only lived in Germany for a couple of years then and my German was very shaky But after a short conversation with a taxi driver and the barman in my hotel I found that broken German and Yiddish had a lot in common. Both of these men had recently immigrated to Israel from Poland and USSR and Yiddish was easier for them than Hebrew and certainly easier than English.
    After a few beers and a nice chat as the only guest at the hotel bar, I paid my bill and asked for a receipt. He said "Wollen Sie eine höhere?" Did I want a higher one. i.e. tweak my expenses a bit. But I heard " Wollen Sie eine Hüre?" Do I want a whore?. I didn't know if that was customary there and if so how did one respectfully decline. I said something in bad German that implied I could get all the ... I needed without paying for it. The barman was just mortified. He backed off a couple of feet and said in English "Would you like a higher receipt Sir?" After that we only spoke if at all in English.
    If this incident has in any way contributed to the death of Yiddish, I am so terribly sorry. I will try to behave in future. - Matthew

  2. LOL Matthew!! I do know Orthodox Jews that speak very little Yiddish. I know more than my secular friends. But I love words.

    1. I actually didn't believe anybody reads these comments; it was just me talking to myself really. But I read your lines and imagine a big smile and a wonderful Jewish sense of humor. I live in Arabia now for a while and am learning new words for things I never had words for before. Hell, never even knew the things the words describe. Yes, words are cool. You can never have enough. Every new language fills in spaces in your world that you did not even know were there.
      So more to come when there is a post on Arabic language. Take care. - Matthew


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