Yiddish language

Yiddish language
ייִדיש yidish
Pronunciation [ˈjɪdɪʃ]
Spoken in United States, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Mexico, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Australia, France, Sweden and elsewhere.
Native speakers 1.8 million  (no date)[1]
11 million L2 speakers
Language family
Writing system uses a Hebrew-based alphabet
Official status
Official language in Official minority language in
 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Recognized as a minority language in the Russian
 Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Regulated by no formal bodies;
YIVO de facto
Language codes
ISO 639-1 yi
ISO 639-2 yid
ISO 639-3 yid – Macrolanguage
individual codes:
ydd – Eastern Yiddish
yih – Western Yiddish
Linguasphere 52-ACB-g = 52-ACB-ga (West) + 52-ACB-gb (East); totalling 11 varieties

Yiddish (ייִדיש yidish or אידיש idish, literally "Jewish") is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages.[2][3] It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.

The language originated in the Ashkenazi culture that developed from about the 10th century in the Rhineland and then spread to Central and Eastern Europe and eventually to other continents. In the earliest surviving references to it, the language is called לשון־אַשכּנז (loshn-ashknez = "language of Ashkenaz") and טײַטש (taytsh, a variant of tiutsch, the contemporary name for the language otherwise spoken in the region of origin, now called Middle High German). In common usage, the language is called מאַמע־לשון (mame-loshn, literally "mother tongue"), distinguishing it from Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, which are collectively termed לשון־קודש (loshn-koydesh, "holy tongue"). The term "Yiddish" did not become the most frequently used designation in the literature of the language until the 18th century.

For a significant portion of its history, Yiddish was the primary spoken language of the Ashkenazi Jews and once spanned a broad dialect continuum from Western Yiddish to three major groups within Eastern Yiddish, namely Litvish, Poylish and Ukrainish. Eastern and Western Yiddish are most markedly distinguished by the extensive inclusion of words of Slavic origin in the Eastern dialects. While Western Yiddish has few remaining speakers, Eastern dialects remain in wide use.

Yiddish is written and spoken in a number of Orthodox Jewish communities around the world, although there are also many Orthodox Jews who do not know Yiddish. It is a home language in most Hasidic communities, where it is the first language learned in childhood, used in schools and in many social settings.

Yiddish is also used in the adjectival sense to designate attributes of Ashkenazic Jewish culture (for example, Yiddish cooking and Yiddish music).[4]



The Ashkenazi culture that took root in 10th century Central Europe derived its name from Ashkenaz (Genesis 10:3), the medieval Hebrew name for the territory centred on what is now the westernmost part of Germany. Its geographic extent did not coincide with the German Christian principalities; Ashkenaz included Northern France. It also bordered on the area inhabited by the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews, which ranged into Southern France. Ashkenazi culture later spread into Eastern Europe.

The first language of European Jews may have been Aramaic,[5] the vernacular of the Jews in Roman-era Palestine and ancient and early medieval Mesopotamia. The widespread use of Aramaic among the large non-Jewish Syrian trading population of the Roman provinces, including those in Europe, would have reinforced the use of Aramaic among Jews engaged in trade. In Roman times, many of the Jews living in Rome and Southern Italy appear to have been Greek-speakers, and this is reflected in some Ashkenazi personal names (e.g., Kalonymus). Much work needs to be done, though, to fully analyze the contributions of those languages to Yiddish.

Nothing is known about the vernacular of the earliest Jews in Germany, but several theories have been put forward. It is generally accepted that it was likely to have contained elements from other languages of the Near East and Europe, absorbed through dispersion. Since many settlers came via France and Italy, it is also likely that the Romance-based Jewish languages of those regions were represented. Traces remain in the contemporary Yiddish vocabulary: for example, בענטשן (bentshn, to bless), from the Latin benedicere; and the personal name Anshl, cognate to Angel or Angelo.[citation needed] Western Yiddish includes additional words of Latin derivation (but still very few): for example, orn (to pray), cf. Latin "orare."

Members of the young Ashkenazi community would have encountered the myriad dialects from which standard German was destined to emerge many centuries later. They would soon have been speaking their own versions of these German dialects, mixed with linguistic elements that they themselves brought into the region. These dialects would have adapted to the needs of the burgeoning Ashkenazi culture and may, as characterizes many such developments, have included the deliberate cultivation of linguistic differences to assert cultural autonomy. The Ashkenazi community also had its own geography, with a pattern of relationships among settlements that was somewhat independent of its non-Jewish neighbors. This led to the consolidation of Yiddish dialects, the borders of which did not coincide with the borders of German dialects.

Apart from the obvious use of Hebrew words for specifically Jewish artifacts, it is very difficult to determine the extent to which the Yiddish spoken in any earlier period differed from the contemporary German. There is a rough consensus that by the 15th century Yiddish would have sounded distinctive to the average German ear, even when restricted to the Germanic component of its vocabulary.[citation needed]

Written evidence

The calligraphic segment in the Worms Mahzor.

The oldest surviving literary document in Yiddish is a blessing in the Worms Mahzor,[6] a Hebrew prayer book from 1272 (with a scalable image online at the indicated reference; described extensively in Frakes, 2004 and Baumgarten/Frakes, 2005):

Yiddish גוּט טַק אִים בְּטַגְֿא שְ וַיר דִּיש מַחֲזֹור אִין בֵּיתֿ הַכְּנֶסֶתֿ טְרַגְֿא
Transliterated gut tak im betage se vaer dis makhazor in beis hakneses trage
Translated May a good day come to him who carries this prayer book into the synagogue.

This brief rhyme is decoratively embedded in a purely Hebrew text.[7] Nonetheless, it indicates that the Yiddish of that day was a more or less regular Middle High German into which Hebrew words – makhazor (prayer book for the High Holy Days) and beis hakneses (synagogue) – had been included. The pointing appears as though it might have been added by a second scribe, in which case it may need to be dated separately and may not be indicative of the pronunciation of the rhyme at the time of its initial annotation.

Over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, songs and poems in Yiddish, and also macaronic pieces in Hebrew and German, began to appear. These were collected in the late 15th century by Menahem ben Naphtali Oldendorf. During the same period, a tradition seems to have emerged of the Jewish community's adapting its own versions of German secular literature. The earliest Yiddish epic poem of this sort is the Dukus Horant, which survives in the famous Cambridge Codex T.-S.10.K.22. This 14th-century manuscript was discovered in the geniza of a Cairo synagogue in 1896, and also contains a collection of narrative poems on themes from the Hebrew Bible and the Haggadah.


The advent of the printing press resulted in an increase in the amount of material produced and surviving from the 16th century and onwards. One particularly popular work was Elia Levita's Bovo-Bukh, composed around 1507–08 and printed in at least forty editions, beginning in 1541. Levita, the earliest named Yiddish author, may also have written Pariz un Viene (Paris and Vienna). Another Yiddish retelling of a chivalric romance, Vidvilt (often referred to as "Widuwilt" by Germanizing scholars), presumably also dates from the 15th century, although the manuscripts are from the 16th. It is also known as Kinig Artus Hof, an adaptation of the Middle High German romance Wigalois by Wirnt von Gravenberg. Another significant writer is Avroham ben Schemuel Pikartei, who published a paraphrase on the Book of Job in 1557.

Women in the Ashkenazi community were traditionally not literate in Hebrew, but did read and write Yiddish. A body of literature therefore developed for which women were a primary audience. This included secular works, such as the Bovo-Bukh, and religious writing specifically for women, such as the Tseno Ureno and the Tkhines. One of the best-known early woman authors was Glückel of Hameln, whose memoirs are still in print.

A page from the Shemot Devarim (literally Names of Things), a Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary and thesaurus, published by Elia Levita in 1542

The segmentation of the Yiddish readership, between women who read mame-loshn but not loshn-koydesh, and men who read both, was significant enough that distinctive typefaces were used for each. The name commonly given to the semicursive form used exclusively for Yiddish was ווײַבערטײַטש (vaybertaytsh = "women's taytsh," shown in the heading and fourth column in the adjacent illustration), with square Hebrew letters (shown in the third column) being reserved for text in that language and Aramaic. This distinction was retained in general typographic practice through to the early 19th century, with Yiddish books being set in vaybertaytsh (also termed מעשייט mesheyt or מאַשקעט mashket — the construction is uncertain).[8]

An additional distinctive semicursive typeface was, and still is, used for rabbinical commentary on religious texts when Hebrew and Yiddish appear on the same page. This is commonly termed Rashi script, from the name of the most renowned early author, whose commentary is usually printed using this script. (Rashi is also the typeface normally used when the Sefardi counterpart to Yiddish, Ladino, is printed in Hebrew script.)


The Western Yiddish dialect - sometimes pejoratively labeled Mauscheldeutsch[9] (from Moischele-Deutsch or "Moses German")[10] - began to decline in the 18th century, as the Enlightenment and the Haskalah led to the view of Yiddish as a corrupt dialect. Owing to both assimilation to German and the incipient creation of Modern Hebrew, Western Yiddish survived only as a language of "intimate family circles or of closely knit trade groups" (Liptzin 1972). Farther east, the response to this force took the opposite direction, with Yiddish becoming the cohesive force in a secular culture (see Yiddish Renaissance).

The late 19th and early 20th century are widely considered[by whom?] the Golden Age of secular Yiddish literature. This coincides with the development of Modern Hebrew as a spoken and literary language, from which some words were also absorbed into Yiddish. The three authors generally regarded[by whom?] as the founders of the modern Yiddish literary genre were born in the 19th century, but their work and significance continued to grow into the 20th. The first was Sholem Yankev Abramovitch, writing as Mendele Mocher Sforim. The second was Sholem Rabinovitsh, widely known as Sholem Aleichem, whose stories about טבֿיה דער מילכיקער (tevye der milkhiker = Tevye the Dairyman) inspired the Broadway musical and film Fiddler on the Roof. The third was Isaac Leib Peretz.

20th century

American World War I-era poster in Yiddish. Translated caption: "Food will win the war – You came here seeking freedom, now you must help to preserve it – We must supply the Allies with wheat – Let nothing go to waste". Colour lithograph, 1917. Digitally restored.

In the early 20th century, especially after Socialist October Revolution in Russia, Yiddish was emerging as a major Eastern European language. Its rich literature was more widely published than ever, Yiddish theatre and Yiddish film were booming, and it even achieved status as one of the official languages of the Belarusian and the short-lived Galician SSR. Educational autonomy for Jews in several countries (notably Poland) after World War I led to an increase in formal Yiddish-language education, more uniform orthography, and to the 1925 founding of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, YIVO. Yiddish emerged as the national language of a large Jewish community in Eastern Europe that rejected Zionism and sought Jewish cultural autonomy in Europe. It also contended with Modern Hebrew as a literary language among Zionists.

Yiddish changed significantly during the 20th century. Michael Wex writes, "As increasing numbers of Yiddish speakers moved from the Slavic-speaking East to Western Europe and the Americas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were so quick to jettison Slavic vocabulary that the most prominent Yiddish writers of the time—the founders of modern Yiddish literature, who were still living in Slavic-speaking countries—revised the printed editions of their oeuvres to eliminate obsolete and 'unnecessary' Slavisms."[11] The vocabulary used in Israel absorbed many Modern Hebrew words, and there was a similar increase in the English component of Yiddish in the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. This has resulted in some difficulty in communication between Yiddish speakers from Israel and those from other countries.

Numbers of speakers

On the eve of World War II, there were 11 to 13 million Yiddish speakers (Jacobs 2005). The Holocaust, however, led to a dramatic, sudden decline in the use of Yiddish, as the extensive Jewish communities, both secular and religious, that used Yiddish in their day-to-day life were largely destroyed. Around 85 percent of the Jews that died in the Holocaust – five million people – were speakers of Yiddish.[12] Although millions of Yiddish speakers survived the war (including nearly all Yiddish speakers in the Americas), further assimilation in countries such as the United States and the Soviet Union, along with the strictly monolingual stance of the Zionist movement, led to a decline in the use of Eastern Yiddish. However, the number of speakers within the widely dispersed Orthodox (mainly Hasidic) communities is now increasing. Although used in various countries, Yiddish has attained official recognition as a minority language only in Moldova, the Netherlands[citation needed] and Sweden.

Reports of the number of current Yiddish speakers vary significantly. Ethnologue estimated in 2009 there were 1,762,320 speakers of Eastern Yiddish,[1] of which over one-third lived in the United States. In contrast, the Modern Language Association reports fewer than 200,000 in the United States.[13] Western Yiddish, which had "several tens of thousands of speakers" on the eve of the Holocaust, is reported by Ethnologue to have had an "ethnic population" of slightly below 50,000 in 2000.[14] Other estimates are also given, for example, of a worldwide Yiddish-speaking population of about two million in 1996 in a report by the Council of Europe.[15] Further demographic information about the recent status of what is treated as an Eastern-Western dialect continuum is provided in the YIVO Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry).

Status as a language

There has been frequent debate about the extent of the linguistic independence of Yiddish from the languages that it absorbed. There has been periodic assertion that Yiddish is a dialect of German, or even "just broken German, more of a linguistic mishmash than a true language".[16] Even when recognized as an autonomous language, it has sometimes been referred to as Judeo-German, along the lines of other Jewish languages like Judeo-Persian or Judeo-French. A widely cited summary of attitudes in the 1930s was published by Max Weinreich, quoting a remark by an auditor of one of his lectures: אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט ( a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot—"A language is a dialect with an army and navy", facsimile excerpt at [17] discussed in detail in a separate article). More recently, Prof. Paul Wexler, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, has proposed that Eastern Yiddish should be classified as a Slavic language, formed by the relexification of Judeo-Slavic dialects by Judeo-German.[18]


The national languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. The rejection of Yiddish as an alternative reflected the conflict between religious and secular forces. Many in the larger, secular group wanted a new national language to foster a cohesive identity, while traditionally religious Jews desired that Hebrew be respected as a holy language reserved for prayer and religious study. In the early twentieth century, Zionist immigrants in Palestine tried to eradicate the use of Yiddish among their own population, and make its use socially unacceptable.

This conflict also reflected the opposing views among secular Jews worldwide, one side seeing Hebrew (and Zionism) and the other Yiddish (and Internationalism) as the means of defining emerging Jewish nationalism. In the 1920s and 1930s, gdud meginéy hasafá, "the language defendants regiment", whose motto was ivrí, dabér ivrít "Hebrew [i.e. Jew], speak Hebrew!", used to tear down signs written in "foreign" languages and disturb Yiddish theatre gatherings.[19] However, according to linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann, the members of this group in particular, and the Hebrew revival in general, did not succeed in uprooting Yiddish patterns (as well as the patterns of other European languages Jewish immigrants spoke) within what he calls "Israeli", i.e. Modern Hebrew. Zuckermann believes that "Israeli does include numerous Hebrew elements resulting from a conscious revival but also numerous pervasive linguistic features deriving from a subconscious survival of the revivalists’ mother tongues, e.g. Yiddish.".[20]

In religious circles, it is the Ashkenazi Haredi Jews, particularly the Hasidic Jews and the Lithuanian yeshiva world (see Lithuanian Jews), who continue to teach, speak and use Yiddish, making it a language used regularly by hundreds of thousands of Haredi Jews today. The largest of these centers are in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. However, virtually all of these Yiddish speakers also speak Modern Hebrew.

There is a growing revival of interest in Yiddish culture among secular Israelis, with the flourishing of new proactive cultural organizations like YUNG YiDiSH, as well as Yiddish theater (usually with simultaneous translation to Hebrew and Russian) and young people are taking university courses in Yiddish, some achieving considerable fluency.[21]

Former Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union during the 1920s, Yiddish was promoted as the language of the Jewish proletariat. It was one of the official languages of the Byelorussian SSR, as well as several agricultural districts of the Galician SSR. A public educational system entirely based on the Yiddish language was established and comprised kindergartens, schools, and higher educational institutions (technical schools, rabfaks and other university departments). At the same time, Hebrew was considered a bourgeois language and its use was generally discouraged. The vast majority of the Yiddish-language cultural institutions were closed in the late 1930s along with cultural institutions of other ethnic minorities lacking administrative entities of their own. After the Second World War, growing anti-Semitic tendencies in Soviet politics drove Yiddish from most spheres. The last Yiddish-language schools, theaters and publications were closed by the end of the 1940s. It continued to be spoken widely for decades, nonetheless, in areas with compact Jewish populations (primarily in Moldova, Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Belarus).

In the former Soviet states, presently active Yiddish authors include Yoysef Burg (Chernivtsi 1912-2009) and Aleksander Beyderman (b. 1949, Odessa). Publication of an earlier Yiddish periodical (דער פֿרײַנד), was resumed in 2004 with דער נײַער פֿרײַנד (der nayer fraynd; lit. "The New Friend", St. Petersburg).

Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Russia

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Federation
Birobidzhan's train terminal square

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast was formed in 1934 in the Russian Far East, with its capital city in Birobidzhan and Yiddish as its official language. The intention was for the Soviet Jewish population to settle there. Jewish cultural life was revived in Birobidzhan much earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Yiddish theaters began opening in the 1970s. The newspaper דער ביראָבידזשאנער שטערן (Der Birobidzhaner Shtern; lit: "The Birobidzhan Star") includes a Yiddish section.[22] Although the official status of the language was not retained by the Russian Federation, its cultural significance is still recognized and bolstered. The First Birobidzhan International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture was launched in 2007.[23]

Council of Europe

Several countries which ratified the 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages have included Yiddish in the list of their recognized minority languages: the Netherlands (1996), Sweden (2000), Poland (2009), Romania (2008), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2010). In 2005, Ukraine did not mention Yiddish as such, but "the language(s) of the Jewish ethnic minority".[24]


Banner from the first issue of the Jidische Folkschtime (Yiddish People's Voice), published in Stockholm, 12 January 1917.

In June 1999, the Swedish Parliament enacted legislation giving Yiddish legal status[25] as one of the country's official minority languages (entering into effect in April 2000). The rights thereby conferred are not detailed, but additional legislation was enacted in June 2006 establishing a new governmental agency, The Swedish National Language Council, the mandate of which instructs it to, "collect, preserve, scientifically research, and spread material about the national minority languages", naming them all explicitly, including Yiddish. When announcing this action, the government made an additional statement about "simultaneously commencing completely new initiatives for ... Yiddish [and the other minority languages]".

The Swedish government publishes documents in Yiddish, of which the most recent details the national action plan for human rights.[26] An earlier one provides general information about national minority language policies.[27]

On 6 September 2007, it became possible to register Internet domains with Yiddish names in the national top-level domain .SE.[28]

United States

Yiddish distribution in the United States.
  More than 100,000 speakers
  More than 10,000 speakers
  More than 5,000 speakers
  More than 1,000 speakers
  Fewer than 1,000 speakers

At first, in the United States most Jews were of Sephardic origin, and hence did not speak Yiddish. It was not until the mid to late 19th century, as first German, then Eastern European, Jews arrived in the nation, that Yiddish became dominant within the immigrant community. This helped to bond Jews from many countries. פֿאָרווערטס (forvertsYiddish Forward) was one of seven Yiddish daily newspapers in New York City, and other Yiddish newspapers served as a forum for Jews of all European backgrounds. The Yiddish Forward still appears weekly and is available in an online edition.[29] It remains in wide distribution, together with דער אַלגעמיינער זשורנאַל (der algemeyner zhurnalAlgemeiner Journal; algemeyner = general) a Lubavitcher newspaper which is also published weekly and appears online.[30] The widest-circulation Yiddish newspapers are probably the two prominent Satmar weekly issues דער בּלאַט (Der Blatt; blat = newspaper) and דער איד (Der Yid = The Jew). Several additional newspapers and magazines are in regular production, such as the monthly publications דער שטערן (Der Shtern; shtern = star) and דער בליק (Der Blick; blik = view). (The romanized titles cited in this paragraph are in the form given on the masthead of each publication and may be at some variance both with the literal Yiddish title and the transliteration rules otherwise applied in this article.)

Interest in klezmer music provided another bonding mechanism. Thriving Yiddish theater, especially in New York City, kept the language vital. Many "Yiddishisms," like "Italianisms" and "Spanishisms," continued to enter the spoken New York dialect, often used by Jews and non-Jews alike, unaware of the linguistic origin of the phrases (described extensively by Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish). However, native Yiddish speakers tended not to pass the language on to their children, who assimilated and spoke English.

Most of the Jewish immigrants to the New York metropolitan area during the years of Ellis Island considered Yiddish their native language. For example, Isaac Asimov states in his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, that Yiddish was his first and sole spoken language and remained so for about two years after he emigrated to the United States as a small child. By contrast, Asimov's younger siblings, born in the United States, never developed any degree of fluency in Yiddish.

In 1976, the Canadian-born American author Saul Bellow received the Nobel Prize in literature. He was fluent in Yiddish, and translated several Yiddish poems and stories into English, including Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Gimpel the Fool".

In 1978, the Polish-born Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, a resident of the United States, received the Nobel Prize in literature.

Legal scholars Eugene Volokh and Alex Kozinski argue that Yiddish is “supplanting Latin as the spice in American legal argot.”[31] Note: an updated version of the article appears on Professor Volokh's UCLA web page.[32]

Present U.S. speaker population

In the 2000 census, 178,945 people in the United States reported speaking Yiddish at home. Of these speakers, 113,515 lived in New York (63.43% of American Yiddish speakers); 18,220 in Florida (10.18%); 9,145 in New Jersey (5.11%); and 8,950 in California (5.00%). The remaining states with speaker populations larger than 1,000 are Pennsylvania (5,445), Ohio (1,925), Michigan (1,945), Massachusetts (2,380), Maryland (2,125), Illinois (3,510), Connecticut (1,710), and Arizona (1,055). The population is largely elderly: 72,885 of the speakers were older than 65, 66,815 were between 18 and 64, and only 39,245 were age 17 or lower.[33] In the six years since the 2000 census, the 2006 American Community Survey reflected an estimated 15 percent decline of people speaking Yiddish at home in the U.S. to 152,515.[34]

There are a few predominantly Hasidic communities in the United States in which Yiddish remains the majority language. Kiryas Joel, New York is one such; in the 2000 census, nearly 90% of residents of Kiryas Joel reported speaking Yiddish at home.[35]

United Kingdom

There are well over 30,000 Yiddish speakers in the United Kingdom, and several thousand children now have Yiddish as a first language. The largest group of Yiddish speakers in Britain reside in the Stamford Hill district of North London, but there are sizeable communities in Golders Green, Stoke Newington, Greater Manchester (in parts of Salford; mainly in the Broughton and Kersal areas, North Manchester and in the north Manchester suburb of Prestwich) and Gateshead.[36] The Yiddish readership in the UK is mainly reliant upon imported material from the United States and Israel for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. However, the London-based weekly Jewish Tribune, has a small section in Yiddish called אידישע טריבונע Idishe Tribune.

Religious communities

A typical poster-hung wall in Jewish Brooklyn, New York

The major exception to the decline of spoken Yiddish can be found in Haredi communities all over the world. In some of the more closely knit such communities Yiddish is spoken as a home and schooling language, especially in Hasidic, Litvish or Yeshivish communities such as Brooklyn's Borough Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, and in the communities of Monsey, Kiryas Joel and New Square in New York State (over 88% of the population of Kiryas Joel is reported to speak Yiddish at home.[37]) Also in New Jersey Yiddish is widely spoken mostly in Lakewood but also in smaller towns with yeshivos such as Passaic, Teaneck and elsewhere. Yiddish is also widely spoken in the Antwerp Jewish community and in Haredi communities such as the ones in London, Manchester and Montreal. Yiddish is also spoken in many communities throughout Israel. Among most Ashkenazi Haredim, Hebrew is generally reserved for prayer, while Yiddish is used for religious studies as well as a home and business language. In Israel, however, Haredim commonly speak Hebrew, with the notable exception of many Hasidic communities. However, some Haredim who use Modern Hebrew also understand Yiddish. There are some who send their children to schools in which the primary language of instruction is Yiddish. Members of movements such as Satmar Hasidism, who view the commonplace use of Hebrew as a form of Zionism, use Yiddish almost exclusively.

Hundreds of thousands of young children around the globe have been, and are still, taught to translate the texts of the Torah into Yiddish. This process is called טײַטשן (taytshn)—"translating" . Most Ashkenazi yeshivas' highest level lectures in Talmud and Halakha are delivered in Yiddish by the rosh yeshivas as well as ethical talks of mussar. Hasidic rebbes generally use only Yiddish to converse with their followers and to deliver their various Torah talks, classes, and lectures. The linguistic style and vocabulary of Yiddish have influenced the manner in which many Orthodox Jews who attend yeshivas speak English. This usage is distinctive enough that it has been dubbed "Yeshivish".

While Hebrew remains the language of Jewish prayer, the Hasidim have mixed some Yiddish into their Hebrew, and are also responsible for a significant secondary religious literature written in Yiddish. For example, the tales about the Baal Shem Tov were written largely in Yiddish. As well as the Torah Talks of the late Lubavitch leaders are published in their original form, Yiddish. In addition, some prayers, such as the Got fun Avrohom, were composed and are recited in Yiddish.

Moreover, some Hasidic girls in the Diaspora are not taught Hebrew at all, and therefore do not understand either ancient or modern Hebrew. Even those who are taught parts of the Bible will still use prayer books with Yiddish translation and commentaries, as their comprehension of Hebrew is deficient.

Modern Yiddish education

A road sign in Yiddish (except for the word "sidewalk") at an official construction site in the Monsey hamlet, a community with thousands of Yiddish speakers, in the Town of Ramapo, New York.

There has been a resurgence in Yiddish learning in recent times among many from around the world with Jewish ancestry. The language which had lost many of its native speakers during WWII has been making somewhat of a comeback.[38] In Poland, which traditionally had Yiddish speaking communities, a particular museum has begun to revive Yiddish education and culture.[39] Located in Kraków, the Galicia Jewish Museum offers classes in Yiddish Language Instruction and workshops on Yiddish Songs. The museum has taken steps to revive the culture through concerts and events held on site.[40] There are various Universities worldwide which now offer Yiddish programs based on the YIVO Yiddish standard. Many of these programs are held during the summer and are attended by Yiddish enthusiasts from around the world. One such school located within Vilnius University (Vilnius Yiddish Institute) was the first Yiddish center of higher learning to be established in post-Holocaust Eastern Europe. Vilnius Yiddish Institute is an integral part of the four-century-old Vilnius University. Published Yiddish scholar and researcher Dovid Katz is among the Faculty.[41] Other schools which offer Yiddish programs include Tel Aviv University,[42] Brandeis University,[43] Monash University, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation,[44] University College London,[45] University of Oxford[46], University of Maryland[47], YIVO, New York University,[48] Hampshire College campus at Amherst[49] (home of the National Yiddish Book Center), Binghamton University,[50] Harvard University,[51] Stanford University,[52] University of Pennsylvania,[53] Indiana University, Bloomington,[54] The Ohio State University,[55] University of Düsseldorf,[56] University of Chicago,[57] Columbia University,[58] Vassar College,[59] UMass Amherst,[60] McGill University,[61] UCLA,[62] Emory University in Atlanta, University of Virginia,[63] the University of Manitoba,[64] and the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil.[65] Despite this growing popularity among many American Jews,[66] finding opportunities for practical use of Yiddish is becoming increasingly difficult, and thus many students have trouble learning to speak the language.[67]

Google translate

Google translate also includes Yiddish as one of its languages. [68] [69]

See also

A 2008 Election poster in front of a store in Village of New Square, Town of Ramapo, New York, entirely in Yiddish. The candidate names are transliterated into Yiddish.


  1. ^ a b Yiddish, Eastern, on Ethnologue. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
  2. ^ Introduction to Old Yiddish literature, p. 72, Baumgarten and Frakes, Oxford University Press, 2005
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  • Wexler, Paul, Two-Tiered Relexification in Yiddish: Jews, Sorbs, Khazars, and the Kiev-Polessian Dialect, Berlin, New York, Mouton de Gruyter, 2002, ISBN 3-11-017258-5.
  • Katz, Hirshe-Dovid, 1992. Code of Yiddish spelling ratified in 1992 by the programmes in Yiddish language and literature at Bar Ilan University, Oxford University Tel Aviv University, Vilnius University. Oxford: Oksforder Yidish Press in cooperation with the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies. (כלל–תקנות פון יידישן אויסלייג. 1992. אקספארד: אקספארדער צענטער פאר העכערע העברעאישע שטודיעס) ISBN 1-897744-01-3

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