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Jewish Studies Yiddish
by
Naomi Seidman, Shaina Hammerman

Introduction

Yiddish is a thousand-year-old Jewish language, with origins, according to a broad scholarly consensus, in the German Rhineland. The major component of Yiddish, in both its Western and Eastern varieties, is Middle High German, with varying admixtures of Slavic, Hebrew, and other languages. Western Yiddish, spoken from Amsterdam to Germany, faded away in the course of the 19th century, with the acculturation and social integration of its speakers. Eastern Yiddish, which was spoken throughout Eastern Europe and its international diaspora until the Holocaust, persists primarily in ultra-Orthodox enclaves. While Yiddish was accepted as the Jewish vernacular in premodern periods, albeit in a subsidiary role to Hebrew, writers of the Jewish Enlightenment such as Moses Mendelssohn disparaged it as a “jargon,” and with the beginnings of Jewish modernization and secularization the status of Yiddish diminished. The maskil (Jewish Enlightener) Mendel Lefin, writing in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, was virtually unique among his peers in according Yiddish the status of a true language. In the late 19th century, when new varieties of Jewish nationalism began to emerge, Yiddish was championed as a language in its own right and embraced by a range of social, political, and cultural movements. During the first part of the 20th century, Yiddish culture in many forms (journalism, film, theater, criticism, and literature) flourished in Eastern Europe and the major centers of Eastern European immigration. The academic study of Yiddish in Yiddish began in earnest in the 1920s, and achieved its major advances in three main centers, the Vilnius-based YIVO (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut—Yiddish Scientific Institute); the Soviet centers of Yiddish literary criticism in Kiev and Minsk; and among the critics on the New York literary scene. The Holocaust and Soviet repression dealt a devastating blow to Yiddish culture in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The postwar period saw the transfer of YIVO activities to New York and the gradual establishment of new academic programs in Israel, Europe, and North America. Yiddish scholarship is now thriving, particularly in the field of literary criticism; this bibliography focuses on recent academic publications on the Yiddish language, culture, and literature, as well as major online, library, and archival resources.

General Overviews

The indispensable classic overview of Yiddish language and culture and arguably the greatest achievement of Yiddish studies is Weinreich 2008, which explores Yiddish in its full historical range and from linguistic, social, and cultural perspectives. A partial English translation of the Yiddish work, without Weinreich’s copious footnotes, appeared in 1980, with the full work republished in its entirety in English translation in 2008. While Weinreich’s understanding of the linguistic and geographic origins of Yiddish has been contested (most radically by Wexler 2002, cited under Linguistic Studies), the overall argument for Yiddish as both a “fusion” language and a language with its own unity, integrity, and character remains canonical. Weinreich and Reyzen 1931 provides a sense of Yiddishism at a major founding moment—the Czernowitz Conference of 1908. For general readers, Katz 2004 provides a learned but lively and accessible introduction to Yiddish in its long history, while Harshav 1990 focuses primarily on the interwar period, exploring the distinctive aspects of Yiddish discourse as well as Yiddish culture as a “polysystem” that included, at its height, a range of interconnected educational, cultural, political, and literary systems. Baumgarten and Bunis 1999 addresses Yiddish in its contact with other cultural systems, while Kerler 1991 and Kuznitz 2002 provide overviews of the academic field of Yiddish studies; Estraikh and Krutikov 1999 adds an overview of the state of Yiddish culture as well.

  • Baumgarten, Jean, and David Bunis, eds. Le yiddish: Langue, culture, société. Paris: CNRS, 1999.

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    Rejecting the trend of writing about Yiddish or Jews in isolation, these eight articles by French and Israeli scholars focus on Yiddish linguistic and cultural “porosity” over the past millennium, including “cultural transfers” not only between Jews and Gentiles but also among different Jewish cultures.

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  • Estraikh, Gennady, and Mikhail Krutikov, eds. Yiddish in the Contemporary World: Papers of the First Mendel Friedman International Conference on Yiddish. Oxford: Legenda, 1999.

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    This anthology of ten essays discusses the contemporary status of both the academic study of and Yiddish cultural production in Israel, Europe, and the United States. While obviously dated, it provides a snapshot of Yiddish academic and cultural offerings in the 1990s.

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  • Harshav, Benjamin. The Meaning of Yiddish. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

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    This richly textured profile of the meaning and “worlds” of Yiddish combines a history and analysis of the characteristics of Yiddish and an exploration of “the modern Jewish revolution” in the light of Yiddish literature, particularly Yiddish modernist poetry in America.

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  • Katz, Dovid. Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

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    A broad and animated overview addressed to a general audience, this book also has much to offer specialists, with well-researched and lively sections on Old Yiddish literature, Yiddish and Kabbalah, Westernization, Yiddish and Orthodoxy, and contemporary issues in Yiddish. The most readable and comprehensive of introductions to Yiddish.

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  • Kerler, Dov-Ber, ed. History of Yiddish Studies: Papers from the Third Annual Oxford Winter Symposium in Yiddish Language and Literature, 13–15 December 1987. Chur, Switzerland: Harwood, 1991.

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    A historiography of modern Yiddish Studies in the 20th century, including biographies of important linguists, contributions to Yiddish dialect studies, and an entertaining section on khoyzek and katoves (mockery and insults), with Dovid Katz’s summary of the “Pavlo/Pavel Slobodjans’kyj affair,” in which Paul Wexler published critical reviews of Katz’s work under this pseudonym.

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  • Kuznitz, Cecile E. “Yiddish Studies.” In The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies. Edited by Martin Goodman, 541–571. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Useful overview of Yiddish studies from its Christian beginnings to the flourishing of Yiddish studies in Vilnius, New York, and the Soviet Union; follows the decimation of these centers to post-Holocaust and “postvernacular” (the term is Kuznitz’s coinage) settings in North America, Israel, and Europe. Extensive bibliography.

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  • Weinreich, Max. History of the Yiddish Language. Edited by Paul Glasser. Translated by Shlomo Nobel. 2 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    The most comprehensive treatment of Yiddish in its long development, from a historical, cultural, and linguistic perspective. This monumental work explores the origins of Yiddish in the Rhineland, etymological components of Yiddish as a “fusion” language, and the influence of the Talmud on Ashkenazic culture. Originally published in Yiddish by YIVO in 1973.

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  • Weinreich, Max, and Zalmen Reyzen, eds. Di ershte yidishe shprakh-konferents: Barikhtn, dokumentn, un opklangen fun der tshernovitser konferents, 1908. Vilnius: Bibliotek fun YIVO, 1931.

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    A basic primary resource for Yiddish literary historians, which includes documents on the first Czernowitz Conference on the Yiddish Language in 1908, participants, a reconstruction (over twenty years later) of the schedule, the text of speeches, and (more reliably) responses from the worldwide press.

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Collections

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research library and archives, founded in Vilnius in 1925, is the premier research collection for serious scholars of Yiddish, although the Bodleian Library has significant holdings in Old Yiddish. More recently, the Yiddish Book Center has become an important repository for Yiddish books, with many available for sale or free online. With the growth of Yiddish studies during the interwar period in its various centers, a full range of reference works and collections were developed. In the post-Holocaust period, this enterprise was further propelled by the need to commemorate a destroyed culture, as well as by the emergence of new academic centers of Yiddish study; most recently, online resources have immeasurably eased access to Yiddish texts. Yiddish thus remains both a decimated culture and an unusually well-documented one, with rich resources available to beginning students as well as the most advanced scholars.

Dictionaries

The YIVO catalogue lists over a hundred Yiddish dictionaries of various types, many of purely historical interest. Those in regular scholarly use today, after many editions, are Harkavy 1988 and especially Weinreich 1968. Joffe and Mark 1961–1980 is unfinished but nevertheless the gold standard. Schaechter 1990 was designed both to demonstrate the rich resources of Yiddish and, through new coinages, to bring Yiddish lexicography into the contemporary era for scholars and new generations of speakers. Niborski 1999 is invaluable for the Hebrew component of Yiddish, while Stutchkoff 1950 is a treasure for those seeking to understand linguistic nuance, register, and context.

  • Harkavy, Alexander. Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary. New York: YIVO, 1988.

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    A reprint of the 1928 4th edition, this dictionary can be characterized as both descriptive (reflecting actual language usage) and Americanizing (for instance, in a section providing English versions of Yiddish names, and in its target audience of Yiddish speakers). It is still a valuable aid, particularly for reading 19th- and early-20th-century Yiddish.

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  • Joffe, Judah A., and Yudel Mark, eds. Groyser verterbukh fun der yidisher shprakh. 4 vols. New York: Komitet farn Groysn Verterbukh fun der Yidisher Shprakh, 1961–1980.

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    Unfinished Yiddish-Yiddish dictionary, in four volumes covering the letter aleph, giving etymology and literary and folkloric usage. Given the enormous percentage of Yiddish prefixes and words that begin with aleph, the dictionary covers more territory than might be assumed, and represents a cultural and folkloric resource for advanced students.

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  • Niborski, Yitskhok. Verterbukh fun loshn-koydesh-shtamike verter in yidish. Paris: Bibliothèque Medem, 1999.

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    This dictionary is the essential guide to Yiddish words with Hebrew and Aramaic roots, of particular use to Yiddish students who lack Hebrew.

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  • Schaechter, Mordkhe. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Early Childhood: An English-Yiddish Dictionary. New York: Yiddish Language Resource Center, 1990.

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    A concise dictionary with social and medical terminology with the dual aims, according to its compiler, of reaching those working in the academic study of Yiddish and as a resource for those who intend to speak Yiddish with their children. Schaechter also published dictionaries of academic terminology (1988) and botany (2005).

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  • Stutchkoff, Nahum. Der oytser fun der yidisher shprakh. Edited by Max Weinreich. New York: YIVO, 1950.

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    The definitive Yiddish thesaurus, organized according to concepts, with a useful index. Acronyms indicate whether an entry is an Americanism or Soviet usage, a dialectical variant, “thieves’ Yiddish,” an archaism, ironic usage, etc., making this a useful tool for scholars as well as Yiddish writers.

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  • Weinreich, Uriel. Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

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    With its normative approach, clear introduction, and bidirectional format, this is still the most useful Yiddish dictionary for English-speaking students of Yiddish.

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Atlases, Encyclopedias, and Lexicons

The interwar period saw the compilation of a number of ambitious lexicons (biographical encyclopedias) of Yiddish writers and other cultural figures. The postwar period saw the publication of Ravitch 1945–1958 and, for theater, Zylbercweig 1931–1970. Niger and Shatzky 1956–1981 is a revision of Rejzen 1999, adding details on younger writers and cataloguing the victimization of writers under Nazism and Stalinism. This lexicon, supported by German reparations funds, was boycotted by some writers and marred by errors; a revised and updated one-volume supplement appeared in 1986 (Kagan 1986). Herzog 1992–2000 is an ambitious effort to catalogue Yiddish speech and dialect variations; these are more fully represented in the holdings in the LCAAJ Collection of Spoken Yiddish. Most recently, scholarship has benefited enormously from Hundert 2008, with 1,800 entries on writers, genres, and themes by leading scholars in the field.

  • Herzog, Marvin, ed. The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry. 3 vols. Tübingen, Germany: M. Niemeyer, 1992–2000.

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    These atlases (known as the LCAAJ) provide both a detailed description of the phonetic elements of the dialect continuum of the Eastern and Western varieties of Yiddish (and all others), and detailed maps showing their geographic distribution.

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  • Hundert, Gershon David, ed. YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    The essential reference for the study of Ashkenazic history and culture in Eastern Europe, this comprehensive and systematic guide also offers key bibliographic references with every entry. An online version of the encyclopedia features new scholars and includes copious audio, video, and image collections as well as interactive maps.

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  • Kagan, Berl. Leksikon fun yidish shraybers. New York: Raya Ilman-Kohen, 1986.

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    A corrected supplement to the Leksikon fun der nayer Yidisher literatur (Niger and Shatzky 1956–1981), with the addition of numerous writers (including some who had boycotted the earlier lexicon), dates of death, and a list of 5,400 pseudonyms.

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  • LCAAJ Collection of Spoken Yiddish. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

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    An extraordinary archive that is the basis for the LCAAJ (Herzog 1992–2000), with thousands of hours of field interviews with Yiddish-speaking informants collected between 1959 and 1972 and about 100,000 pages of accompanying field notes. Of interest far beyond Yiddish dialectology. Many of the recordings may be heard online.

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  • Niger, Samuel, and Jacob Shatzky, eds. Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur. 8 vols. New York: Alveltlekhn Yidishn Kultur-Kongres, 1956–1981.

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    Building on Rejzen 1999 (which was originally completed in 1929), this massive work provides biographical and bibliographical information on thousands of authors and researchers from Reb Nakhmen, the Hasidic tsaddik and storyteller (1772–1810) to the post-Holocaust period, as well as entries on numerous periodicals.

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  • Ravitch, Melech. Mayn leksikon. Vols. 1–3. Montreal: Yidisher Folks Bibliotek, 1945–1958.

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    A whimsical and idiosyncratic five-volume biographical dictionary of hundreds of Yiddish writers of Ravitch’s acquaintance, with a fictional introduction by Y. L. Peretz. Continued in Volumes 4–5 (Tel Aviv: Farlag Y. L. Perets, 1980–1982).

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  • Rejzen, Zalman. Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese un filologye. Amherst, MA: National Yiddish Book Center, 1999.

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    Rejzen’s monumental four-volume work, first published in 1926–1929, catalogues biographical and bibliographical information (in Yiddish and other languages) on thousands of authors and researchers, and full information on Yiddish periodicals. A good beginning resource, but material should always be verified against later sources.

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  • Zylbercweig, Zalmen. Leksikon fun yidishn teater. 6 vols. New York: Elisheva, 1931–1970.

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    Contains entries on thousands of theater personnel, with bibliographical information and additional articles on, for instance, the Purim shpil (Purim play) and the badkhn (wedding jester). Sometimes inaccurate, so cross-checking is advised.

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Linguistic Studies

Katz 1986 describes the earliest forays into Yiddish language studies. The linguistic study of Yiddish as a language in its own right, rather than as a corrupt dialect of German, is often said to begin with Mates Mieses’s speech at the 1908 Czernowitz Language Conference (Weinreich and Reyzen 1931, cited under General Overviews), which defended the integrity of the language. Borokhov 1913 calls for the scientific study of Yiddish philology, which bore fruit in the major linguistic research at YIVO and elsewhere in the interwar period. Trachtenberg 2008 (cited under Politics) explores these developments, while Fishman 1981 collects many pivotal primary sources. Fishman 1991 provides a range of sociological analysis, while Jacobs 2005 is an important introduction for linguists. Of special interest is Matisoff 2000, on Yiddish “psycho-ostensives,” and Timm 2005, on the role of oral Bible translation in the development of the language. Wexler 2002 is a controversial, eccentric challenge to the dominance of Weinreich 2008 (cited under General Overviews) on Yiddish origins.

  • Borokhov, Ber. “Di ufgabn fun der yidisher filologye.” In Der pinkes: Yorbukh far der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur un shprakh, far folklor, kritik, un bibliografye. Edited by Samuel Niger, 1–22. Vilnius: B.A. Kletskin, 1913.

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    A manifesto calling for the philological investigation, standardization, and elevation of Yiddish on behalf of Jewish national renewal. In another essay for the volume, Borokhov also provided a catalogue of 501 then-extant studies of Yiddish.

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  • Fishman, Joshua. Yiddish: Turning to Life. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1991.

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    Spanning twenty-five years of scholarship, this collection by the prominent sociolinguist covers Yiddish’s relationship to Hebrew, its status and history in America and across the world, and its projected future; suited for the general sociolinguist and the Yiddish scholar alike.

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  • Fishman, Joshua A., ed. Never Say Die! A Thousand Years of Yiddish in Jewish Life and Letters. The Hague: Mouton, 1981.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110820805Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A Yiddish-English treasure trove of historical material and more recent critical essays on the history and sociolinguistics of Yiddish, with an extensively referenced foreword by Fishman; includes sections on Yiddish and Orthodoxy as well as Yiddish and the press, education, theater, and schools, and reproductions of cartoons and historical documents.

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  • Jacobs, Neil G. Yiddish: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    This comprehensive introduction includes sections on the history of Yiddish, dialectology, phonology, morphology, syntax, and sociolinguistics. Directed primarily at general linguists (and sometimes burdened with specialized vocabulary), the sociolinguistics section offers fascinating discussions of “male and female Yiddish,” style, and register for scholars of Yiddish literature and culture.

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  • Katz, Dovid. “On Yiddish, in Yiddish, and for Yiddish: 500 Years of Yiddish Scholarship.” In Identity and Ethos: A Festschrift for Sol Liptzin on the Occasion of His 85th Birthday. Edited by Mark H. Gelber, 23–36. New York: P. Lang, 1986.

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    A brief, lucid, and useful summary (although lacking footnotes or bibliography) of the prehistory of Yiddish studies among missionaries, Orientalists, Germanists, and scholars of Wissenschaft des Judentums. Describes the turn to writing on Yiddish “in Yiddish and for Yiddish” in the 20th century.

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  • Matisoff, James A. Blessings, Curses, Hopes, and Fears: Psycho-ostensive Expressions in Yiddish. 2d ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

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    This unique and entertaining book provides a collection of formulaic Yiddish blessings and curses, the social contexts in which they would be used, and a rigorous and technical linguistic analysis of these sayings. Given the importance of such “psycho-ostensives” to Yiddish speech, literary scholars will benefit alongside linguists.

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  • Timm, Erika. Historische jiddische Semantik: Die Bibelübersetzungssprache als Faktor der Auseinanderentwicklung des jiddischen und des deutschen Wortschatzes. Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110945034Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Mobilizing Yiddish Bible translations and glosses, Timm demonstrates how the practice of translating the Bible in kheyder (religious school) during the medieval period influenced Yiddish origins, and argues that important aspects of this translation vocabulary is preserved in everyday Modern Eastern Yiddish.

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  • Wexler, Paul. Two-Tiered Relexification in Yiddish: Jews, Sorbs, Khazars, and the Kiev-Polessian Dialect. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110898736Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most expansive explanation of Wexler’s controversial argument that the substratum of Yiddish (as well as premodern Ashkenazic Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, and Esperanto), is Sorbian, a West Slavic language, which was “relexified” with a German vocabulary. Also argues for the Turko-Iranian Khazar genetic origins of Eastern European Jewry.

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Bibliographies

Weinreich and Weinreich 1959 covers publications in both Yiddish language and folklore, while Bratkowsky 1988 updates Weinreich and Weinreich 1959, focusing more exclusively on language studies. Bunis 1994 is an expansion of Weinreich and Weinreich 1959, also focusing on language, and is particularly useful for students of the history of Yiddish linguistics.

  • Bratkowsky, Joan G. Yiddish Linguistics: A Multilingual Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1988.

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    A 2,188-entry update to Weinreich and Weinreich 1959, covering works published from 1959 to 1988, including textbooks, dictionaries, and journal articles in Yiddish, English, and other languages.

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  • Bunis, David M., and Andrew Sunshine, eds. Yiddish Linguistics: A Classified Bilingual Index to Yiddish Serials and Collections, 1913–1958. New York: Garland, 1994.

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    Indexes articles “of linguistic concern” that appeared in collected volumes and in Yiddish-language serials published in Eastern Europe and the United States between 1913 and 1958; organized by linguistic theme (phonology, lexicography, stylistics, etc.). A useful tool for research in the history of Yiddish linguistics during those years.

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  • Weinreich, Uriel, and Beatrice Weinreich. Yiddish Language and Folklore: A Selective Bibliography for Research. The Hague: Mouton, 1959.

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    Brief bibliography of Yiddish studies in many languages; the section on folklore studies includes essays on riddles, games, cookery, the life cycle, marriage, etc.

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Literary Studies

Yiddish literary studies, late in developing and sometimes secondary in interest to the linguistic research at the core of Yiddish studies “in Yiddish and for Yiddish,” emerged in the interwar period at YIVO in Vilnius, in the Jewish sections of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kiev and the Institute for White Russian Culture in Minsk, and in New York and other centers of Yiddish culture. In the Soviet Union, ideological constraints demanded that Yiddish be understood separately from Hebrew, and through a Marxist framework; nevertheless, Zinberg 1972 (cited under Historical Studies) manages to perform important synthetic research, including Hebrew in its analysis, despite having been produced in isolation in Leningrad. Serious Yiddish literary scholarship in English began, perhaps, with the publication in 1973 of Miron 1996 (cited under Hasidism and Haskalah/Haskole (Jewish Enlightenment)) and developed slowly over the next few decades; it has burgeoned in the past two decades. Scholarship in Israel owes much to Sadan 1950 (cited under Relationship to Hebrew and Other Languages) and Shmeruk 1978, which brought new appreciation both to the multilingual character of Jewish literature and to the European cultural contact zones in which this literature emerged. Important later scholarship on the nature of Yiddish as a literary language includes Kerler 1999 and Finkin 2010. Roskies 1995 demonstrates the connection between more traditional and modern forms of Yiddish storytelling. Of special interest for scholars of Jewish-Christian relations are Sherman 2003 and Hoffman 2007.

  • Finkin, Jordan D. A Rhetorical Conversation: Jewish Discourse in Modern Yiddish Literature. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.

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    A rare work in its rigorous and sensitive combination of linguistics and literary analysis. Demonstrates through close readings of modern Yiddish prose and poetry how the highly stylized modern Yiddish literary idiom draws extensively on the Talmud and rabbinic literature in vocabulary and discursive or dialogic patterns.

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  • Hoffman, Matthew. From Rebel to Rabbi: Reclaiming Jesus and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

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    In rich readings, shows how the reclamation of the figure of Jesus in modern Jewish culture illuminates Jewish cosmopolitanism as well as Jewish nationalism. Major sections discuss the dispute between An-sky and Zhitlovsky over “the Crucifix question,” as well as the mobilization of Christian images in Yiddish modernism.

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  • Kerler, Dov-Ber. The Origins of Modern Literary Yiddish. Oxford: Clarendon, 1999.

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    Traces the linguistic development of Yiddish literature beginning in the 18th century. Analyzing the dialects and grammars of otherwise neglected literature, offers a window into how a literary language, even one as diverse as Yiddish, crystallizes over time. Yiddish linguistics for literary scholars, who will find much to appreciate.

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  • Roskies, David G. A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

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    Argues that modern Yiddish literature, through acts of “creative betrayal,” appropriates the traditional motifs and moral vision of Yiddish storytelling. Roskies traces this legacy from Nakhmen of Bratslav’s Hasidic tales to the neotraditional storytelling of the classic and modernist Yiddish writers.

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  • Sherman, Joseph. The Jewish Pope: Myth, Diaspora and Yiddish Literature. Oxford: European Humanities Research Centre, 2003.

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    Sherman’s fascinating analysis of the myth of a Jewish-born apostate pope in four Yiddish iterations from the Mayse-bukh, an Old Yiddish collection of tales first published in 1602, to Isaac Bashevis Singer. Argues that the myth expresses Jewish fantasies of power. A translation of Isaac Meir Dik’s “Rabbi Shimen Barbun, the Rabbi of Mainz” is appended.

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  • Shmeruk, Chone. Sifrut Yidish: Perakim le-toldoteha. Tel Aviv: Mif’alim Universitaʼiyim le-Hotsaʼah le-Or, 1978.

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    Beautiful literary-historical essays on the biblical intertextuality of Old Yiddish, the origins of modern Yiddish literature in the tensions between Hasidism and Haskalah (Enlightenment), and the beginnings of Yiddish journalism. The Yiddish translation (1988) contains Shmeruk’s influential article debunking the shpilman (troubadour) theory of old Yiddish epic poetry.

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Relationship to Hebrew and Other Languages

Among the longest and most ideologically charged scholarly discussions in Yiddish studies has been the question of whether Yiddish and Hebrew literature form a single “Jewish literature.” An early statement by the critic Baal-Makhshoves on the bilingualism of Jewish literature (Baal-Makhshoves 1953) was followed by fuller studies in Yiddish (Niger 1990) and Hebrew (Sadan 1950). Seidman 1997 focuses on the gender dimension of Hebrew-Yiddish relations. The discussion, now largely if not entirely free of the heated atmosphere of the Hebrew-Yiddish “language wars,” continues (Miron 2010). The less-studied relationship between Yiddish and non-Jewish literatures has tended to focus on German, especially for Old Yiddish, but work in Polish-Yiddish relations holds promise as well (Shmeruk 1985).

  • Baal-Makhshoves. “Tsvey shprakhn—eyn eyntsike literatur.” In Geklibene verk. By Baal-Makhshoves, 112–123. New York: Tsiko, 1953.

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    An early statement (1918) of the notion that Hebrew and Yiddish literature represent two branches of a single national Jewish literature.

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  • Miron, Dan. From Continuity to Contiguity: Toward a New Jewish Literary Thinking. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010.

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    Building on the long scholarly discussion of whether Hebrew and Yiddish form a single, continuous “Jewish literature,” with connections between ancient and modern forms, Miron argues in favor of notions of discontinuity, based on “contiguity,” cultural encounter, and historical disruptions.

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  • Niger, Samuel. Bilingualism in the History of Jewish Literature. Translated by Joshua A. Fogel. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990.

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    A balanced historical survey of the Hebrew-Yiddish bilingualism of modern Jewish literature, grounded in analyses of earlier Jewish and non-Jewish bilingual formations. Ends with a personal and heartfelt plea for the end of the Hebrew-Yiddish “family feud.” The Yiddish text originally appeared in 1941.

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  • Sadan, Dov. Al sifrutenu: Masat mavo. Jerusalem: Ha-Maḥlakah le-‘Inyane ha-No’ar vehe-Ḥaluts shel ha-Histadrut ha-Tsiyonit, 1950.

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    A brief but influential and informative argument for a “holistic” reading of the relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish as two parts of a single national literature. Shaped, in part, by a teleological-Zionist ideological impulse.

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  • Seidman, Naomi. A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Yiddish and Hebrew. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

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    A historical analysis of the associations between Hebrew and Yiddish through the lens of gender politics.

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  • Shmeruk, Chone. The Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature: A Case Study in the Mutual Relations of Two Cultural Traditions. Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1985.

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    A concise but important comparative study of the legendary story of the Polish King Casimir and his Jewish mistress, Esterke, as it appears in Polish and Yiddish sources from the 16th to the 20th century; reads the legend as a narrative exploration of the complexities of Polish-Jewish relations.

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Anthologies

Literary anthologies, in Yiddish and English translation, appeared in great numbers throughout the 20th century. While many are nonscholarly, some represent Yiddish cultural phenomena in their own right: Korman’s astonishing and beautiful collection of Yiddish women’s poetry (Korman 1928), forerunner to the late-20th-century feminist recovery of Yiddish women’s literature; the anthologies in the Argentinian Musterverk series, organized according to theme or community (and often dedicated to the works of a single author); Shmeruk’s collection of Soviet Yiddish literature (Shmeruk 1987); and the post-Holocaust anthologies that recommended and explained (and recanonized) Yiddish literature for an American audience (Howe and Greenberg 1989; Howe, et al. 1987). Neugroschel 2002 demonstrates the more recent broadening of interest in the full historical range of Yiddish writing.

  • Howe, Irving, and Eliezer Greenberg, eds. A Treasury of Yiddish Stories. Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1989.

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    Often credited with introducing Yiddish literature to the sophisticated postwar reader, who was alert to the tragedy of the Holocaust and open to Yiddish literature in its modernist range. Bellow’s artful translation of Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool” (reprinted from Partisan Review) set the stage for Singer’s reception in English.

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  • Howe, Irving, Ruth Wisse, and Khone Shmeruk, eds. The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse. New York: Viking, 1987.

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    This bilingual collection of thirty-nine Yiddish poets provides a substantial and informed introduction to Yiddish poetry from Peretz to Sutzkever to the English-reading public. Useful biographical notes and a full bibliography.

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  • Korman, Ezra, ed. Yidishe dikhterins: Antologye. Chicago: Farlag L. M. Stein, 1928.

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    A handsomely produced anthology of Yiddish women’s poetry, with photographs, biographies, a historical-literary introduction, and photostats of Old Yiddish manuscripts. Begins with four poets of the premodern period (16th to 18th centuries); the much longer second section (1888–1928) includes sixty-six poets.

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  • Musterverk fun der yidisher literature series. 100 vols. Buenos Aires: Literatur Gezelshaft baym YIVO in Argentine, 1957–1984.

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    These volumes include many thematic and geographic anthologies, with critical essays and footnotes. The modernized and standardized texts are inappropriate for academic citation, but they provide material not readily available elsewhere, for instance, on literary production in South Africa (Vol. 50), Chile (54), Brazil (58), Canada (62), Western Europe (78), Romania (88), and Mexico-Uruguay-Cuba (92).

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    • Neugroschel, Joachim, ed. and trans. No Star Too Beautiful: Yiddish Stories from 1382 to the Present. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

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      This extensive anthology presents original translations of Yiddish writing—some for the first time in English—beginning in 1382 and ending with late-20th-century Yiddish fiction. Neugroschel spans genres from religious texts and haskole philosophy through Yiddish modernist fiction.

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    • Shmeruk, Chone, ed. A shpigl oyf a shteyn: Poezye un proze fun tsvelf farshnitene Yidishe shraybers in Ratn-Farband. Rev. ed. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1987.

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      This authoritative anthology collects the prose and poetry of twelve Yiddish writers murdered in the Soviet Union, introducing the selection with a description of the cultural climate in which these writers produced their work and the circumstances under which they met their ends between the 1930s and 1952.

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    Old and Early Modern Yiddish

    The periodization of Old Yiddish (and indeed the name) varies, but scholars often consider 1382 (the date of the oldest dated Yiddish literary work) as its beginning and 1750 or 1800 as the end of the period. Weinreich 1928 (cited under Historical Studies) uses the term Old and Middle Yiddish to differentiate two different periods, while Dauber 2010 (cited under Historical Studies) speaks of the later period as “early modern Yiddish,” reflecting recent trends in periodization.

    Primary Sources

    Fuks 1957 presents the oldest Yiddish literary work, the Cambridge Yiddish Codex), which dates from 1382 and includes a Yiddish epic, “Dukus Horant,” for which the German original is missing. Beginning in the 1530s in Krakow, Yiddish print culture flourished for the next few centuries in a range of genres, from such famous adaptations of the Bible for women as the Tsenerene to Judaized versions of well-known European epics such as Elijah Levita’s Bovo-bukh, retellings of the Bible such as Dos shmuel bukh, homiletic and muser (ethical) literature, translations of Hebrew religious literature of a variety of genres, and tkhines (women’s supplicatory prayers). Access to this material has been greatly enhanced by Shmeruk 1969 and such recent academic publications of a comprehensive anthology of Old Yiddish texts (Frakes 2004) and a critical edition of Glikl of Hamln (Turniansky 2006).

    • Frakes, Jerold C., ed. Early Yiddish Texts, 1100–1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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      With excerpts ranging from Rashi and the Cairo Genizah to charms for use with childbirth and travel, translations of sacred texts, letters, fables, medical journals, and more, this anthology offers a sweeping view of a diverse culture spanning nearly a millennium. Invaluable introduction and rich explanatory notes.

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    • Fuks, Lajb, ed. and trans. Di eltste haynt bakente verk fun der Yidisher literatur (1382): Faksimile-oysgabe. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1957.

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      An introduction, facsimiles, transcription, transliteration, modern German translation, and bibliography of the Cambridge Codex. Fuks’s study of what he presumes to be the transcriptions of oral performances by a Jewish shpilman (troubadour) has been superseded.

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    • Shmeruk, Chone, ed. Mahazot mikrai’im be-yidish: 1697–1750. Jerusalem: Ha’Akademia ha-Leumit ha-Yisraelit le-Mada’im, 1969.

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      Invaluable academic edition of all eight known biblical plays in Yiddish in the middle period, with introductory essays on the relationship between Jewish and Christian biblical plays, the emergence of Yiddish biblical drama, the function of its comic characters (particularly Mordechai), and the performances—including the possibility of “professional” actors.

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    • Turniansky, Chava, ed. and trans. Glikel: Zikhronot, 1691–1719. Jerusalem: Zalmen Shazar Center for Jewish History, 2006.

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      The long-awaited critical Yiddish-Hebrew edition of the memoirs of Glikl of Hamln, with Turniansky’s introduction and notes, maps, family trees, and illustrations, and an essay on Glikl’s language by Erika Timm. A beautiful and essential resource for early modernists and students of Yiddish literature. The field still awaits its English equivalent.

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    Historical Studies

    The study of Old Yiddish was long highly influenced by ideological trends, as analyzed in Frakes 1989: Germanists mined Old Yiddish for evidence of medieval German; Yiddishists argued for the specificity of Jewish cultural formations; and Soviet critics (Erik 1979) focused their attention on the presence of challenges to religious, political, or economic authority within medieval Jewish culture. Among the still useful approaches by earlier Yiddishists are those of Weinreich 1928 and Zinberg 1972–1979. Research in this field, now open to a wide variety of linguistic and literary approaches, has been enormously advanced by the publication of such critical collections as Bartal, et al. 1993 and the accessible, comprehensive, and scholarly introduction Baumgarten 2005. Weissler 1998 broke ground with its feminist analysis of the tkhines, while Dauber 2010 explores occult literature of the early modern period.

    • Bartal, Yisra’el, Chava Turniansky, and Ezra Mendelsohn, eds. Ke-minhag ashkenaz ve-polin: Sefer yovel le-hane shmeruk. Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1993.

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      In Hebrew and English. English title: Studies in Jewish Culture in Honour of Chone Shmeruk. Important essays by Erika Timm on the Yiddish Bible translations of Blitz and Witzenhausen and by Shmeruk’s students Sara Zfatman on the 1665 mayse-bikhl and Chava Turniansky on literary sources for Glikl. Includes a bibliography of Shmeruk’s writings, 1953–1992.

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    • Baumgarten, Jean. Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature. Translated by Jerold C. Frakes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199276332.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Revised and expanded from the 1993 French edition. This expansive survey of Old Yiddish literature from the Middle Ages through the mid-18th century, covering a wide range of genres, is the first such work published in a language other than Yiddish or Hebrew, opening the field to those who work on medieval and early modern European literature, linguistics, and history.

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    • Dauber, Jeremy. In the Demon’s Bedroom: Yiddish Literature and the Early Modern. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

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      An enjoyable exploration of a number of early modern fables, demon tales, and romances. Argues persuasively for the relevance of economic and class readings for understanding demonic possession, in addition to sexual and gender interpretations.

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    • Erik, Max. Di geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur fun di eltste tsaytn biz der haskole tkufe. New York: Alveltlekher Yidisher Kultur-Kongres, 1979.

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      In a thesis already controversial in his own time, Erik argued for the division of old Yiddish literature into the shpilman (troubadour) period and the muser (ethical) period, with the shpilman as forerunner of the modern secular writer. Although there is no evidence for the existence of the shpilman, the book is still read for evidence of ideological currents and for its sharp cultural analyses. Originally published in 1928.

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    • Frakes, Jerold C. The Politics of Interpretation: Alterity and Ideology in Old Yiddish Studies. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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      An ideological analysis of the divide between Germanist and Yiddishist readings of Old Yiddish literature, exploring the politics of naming the language and producing scholarly editions of its literature; Frakes’s critique is most sharply directed to the Germanist de-Judaizing of old Yiddish.

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    • Weinreich, Max. Bilder fun der yidisher literatur geshikhte: Fun di onheybn biz Mendele Moykher Sforim. Vilnius: Farlag “Tomor” fun Y. Kamermakher, 1928.

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      A masterful survey of Yiddish literature from what were then the earliest known manuscript fragments until Mendele, with particular attention to Old Yiddish. Chapters include studies of the shpilmener (traveling bards), the Shmuel-bukh and Bovo-bukh, Yiddish responses to Chmielnicki and Sabbatai Zevi, the earliest Yiddish press, and the Haskalah (Enlightenment) in Eastern Europe.

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    • Weissler, Chava. Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women. Boston: Beacon, 1998.

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      A pioneering historical and literary analysis of traditional Jewish women’s spirituality and the tkhines (women’s petitionary prayers), with special focus on the construction of gender in, and Kabbalistic background to, women’s devotional practices. The book concludes with a fascinating reflection on Weissler’s evolving relation, as a feminist, to her research.

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    • Zinberg, Israel. A History of Jewish Literature. Translated and edited by Bernard Martin. 12 vols. Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University, 1972–1978.

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      Originally published in eight volumes in Yiddish. The seventh volume studies Old Yiddish literature “from its beginnings to the Haskalah period,” with attention to the connections between Yiddish and the masses, and between Yiddish and German; the tension between heroic-epic and moral-religious literature; and such characters as the shpilman (troubadour), the badkhn (wedding jester), and the firzogerin (woman prayer leader).

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    Hasidism and Haskalah/Haskole (Jewish Enlightenment)

    While Hasidic stories, in particular those of Nakhmen of Bratslav, have sometimes been accorded an important role in the rise of modern Yiddish (and Hebrew) literature, Hasidic literature is most often studied in the context of Jewish intellectual history and Hasidic thought rather than literary history. Exceptions include the first chapter of Roskies 1995 (cited under Literary Studies) and Zinberg 1972–1978. More commonly, the modern period of Yiddish literature is considered to begin with the Haskalah; the term Haskalah (haskole in Yiddish), often translated as “Jewish Enlightenment,” refers to a movement in Jewish circles, beginning in Germany and later moving to Eastern Europe, for the reform and modernization of Jewish life; it also refers to the literary production of Jewish intellectuals first in Central Europe and then in Galicia and Russia between the late 18th century and the early 1880s. For the most part, the intelligentsia of the period in all these regions scorned Yiddish and preferred Hebrew, although maskilim (Jewish enlighteners) were also keenly aware of the utility of Yiddish for reaching the masses. Erik 1934 focuses on these broader social dimensions; Zinberg 1972–1978 provides a historical and literary framework for the literature; and Miron 1996 reads the emergence of modern Yiddish literature from the denigration of the language. Dauber 2004 analyzes both Central and East European literary formations in their relation to traditional Jewish literature. Parush 2004 expands the framework of research on this period by exploring broad changes in gender and reading practices beyond the maskilic intelligentsia. The field still lacks a comprehensive survey of the literary period.

    • Dauber, Jeremy. Antonio’s Devils: Writers of the Jewish Enlightenment and the Birth of Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.

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      In close intertextual readings, of interest mainly to specialists, Dauber argues that three major figures of the Jewish Enlightenment, Moses Mendelssohn, Aaron Halle-Wolfssohn, and Yosef Perl, whom he calls “Antonio’s Devils” (in Shakespeare’s formulation), set the ground for modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature by boldly appropriating the Bible and postbiblical Jewish literature for modernizing purposes.

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    • Erik, Max. Etyudn tsu der geshikhte fun der haskole (1789–1881). Minsk, USSR: Melukhe-Farlag fun Vaysrusland Natssekter, 1934.

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      A still useful Marxist introduction to the Haskalah in Germany and Galicia, with attention to the “Mendelssohn legend,” Jewish embourgeoisement, attitudes toward absolute monarchy, and shifting class dynamics. With its view of the Haskalah as a “bourgeois revolution,” foreshadows later postcolonialist analyses.

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    • Miron, Dan. A Traveler Disguised: The Rise of Modern Yiddish Fiction in the Nineteenth Century. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

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      Miron describes how Yiddish emerged from its status as a disparaged “jargon” to become a respectable literary language through Y. A. Abramovitsh’s most important invention—the character (not, as is often asserted, the pseudonym) of Mendele Moykher Sforim, who mediated between the acculturated writer and the traditional masses. An indispensable work. Originally published in 1973 (New York: Schocken).

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    • Parush, Iris. Reading Jewish Women: Marginality and Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Eastern European Jewish Society. Translated by Saadya Sternberg. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2004.

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      Reading memoirs as primary resources, Parush lays the groundwork for understanding the new and distinctive reading practices of 19th-century Jewish women in Yiddish, Hebrew, and non-Jewish European languages. Arguing for the “paradoxical benefits of marginality,” Parush demonstrates that these women’s reading practices placed them at the vanguard of modernity.

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    • Zinberg, Israel. A History of Jewish Literature. Translated and edited by Bernard Martin. 12 vols. Cleveland, OH: Case Western Reserve University, 1972–1978.

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      Volume 10 focuses on Hasidism and the Enlightenment, while Volumes 11 and 12 cover the literature (understood broadly to include philosophical and programmatic writing) of the Galician and Russian Haskalah, as always with attention to the political, social, and economic contexts. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Zinberg treats the Haskalah nonpolemically.

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    Di Klasiker

    The study of the three “classic” writers of Yiddish literature—S. Y. Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Y. L. Peretz—is hampered by the proliferation of unreliable and incomplete editions of their work, the curious paucity of significant monographs on their work, and the lack of academic biographies. Berkowitz 1926 provides significant supplementary material for Sholem Aleichem studies. The situation has certainly improved since the publication of Weinreich 1954, which laments the state of scholarship on Sholem Aleichem and Peretz, and deficiencies are beginning to be remedied: Frieden 1995 provides an important overview of the three writers; Wisse 1991 admirably describes the central role of Y. L. Peretz in the ideological formation of Yiddish culture; and Bacon 1995 reads the Hebrew-Yiddish bilingualism of Abramovitsh and Sholem Aleichem. Miron and Norich 1980 stands as an exemplary close reading of the political and literary allusions in a central Abramovitsh text.

    • Bacon, Yitzhak. Mendele, Shalom Alekhem: Behinah mehudeshet. Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 1995.

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      A reading of the Hebrew-Yiddish dynamics behind the different varieties of bilingualism in Abramovitsh and Sholem Aleichem; Part 1 analyzes Abramovitsh’s path from Hebrew to Yiddish and back again, while Part 2 explores the midrashic-parodic Hebrew-Yiddish “translations” in Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye monologues.

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    • Berkowitz, Y. D., ed. Dos Sholem-Aleykhem bukh. New York: Sholem-Aleykhem Bukh Komitet, 1926.

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      Indispensable collection of autobiographical and biographical essays and portraits, bibliographical essays, selected correspondence with family and colleagues, youthful and unfinished work, and photographs and facsimiles.

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    • Frieden, Ken. Classic Yiddish Fiction: Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz. Albany: State University of New York, 1995.

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      A survey of the class period of Yiddish literature, providing an overview of the work of Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz and close readings of Abramovitsh’s use of satire and parody, the complexities of Sholem Aleichem’s “folksy” humor, and Peretz’s subtle irony.

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    • Miron, Dan, and Anita Norich. “The Politics of Benjamin III: Intellectual Significance and Its Formal Correlatives in Sh. Y. Abramovitsh’s Masoes Benyomin Hashlishi.” In The Field of Yiddish: Studies in Language, Folklore, and Literature. Vol. 4. Edited by Marvin I. Herzog, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Dan Miron, and Ruth Wisse, 1–115. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1980.

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      A reading of Abramovitsh’s novella as a parody of Jewish and European texts of exploration and a satire of European adventurism and colonialism and Jewish political aspirations.

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    • Weinreich, Uriel. “Literary Bibliographies: 1. Sholom Aleichem (1859–1916): Principal Research Sources; 2. Guide to English Translations of Sholom Aleichem; 3. Guide to English Translations of Yitskhok Leybush Peretz (1851?–1915).” In The Field of Yiddish: Studies in Yiddish Language, Folklore, and Culture. Edited by Uriel Weinreich, 287–299. New York: Linguistic Circle of New York, 1954.

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      Annotated guide to the then-extant criticism in Yiddish and other languages, and editions of Sholem Aleichem’s work, followed by a list of English translations of Sholem Aleichem and Y. L. Peretz.

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    • Wisse, Ruth R. I. L. Peretz and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

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      Using both biographical contextualization and close analysis of a few of Peretz’s stories, Wisse describes Peretz’s influential role in forging secular Jewish culture as a substitute for both political sovereignty and the cohesive power of religion.

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    Modern Yiddish Prose

    Yiddish prose in the post-klasiker period developed in a range of geographical centers and many divergent styles. Somewhat less influenced by international modernism than Yiddish poetry, practitioners nevertheless included such major modernists as David Bergelson (Sherman and Estraikh 2007) and Der Nister (Bechtel 1990). Among the writers who have received significant recent attention are Sholem Asch (Stahl 2004) and, of course, Isaac Bashevis Singer (Wolitz 2001). Krutikov 2001 is the best historical introduction to the period, while thematic considerations include Hadda 1988 on suicide and Garrett 2003 on travel.

    • Bechtel, Delphine. Der Nister’s Work, 1907–1929: A Study of a Yiddish Symbolist. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 1990.

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      Der Nister (pen name of Pinkhes Kahanovich, 1884–1950) is best known for his highly stylized, modernist versions of fairytales and folklore. Bechtel’s book examines these tales in relation to French and Russian symbolist literature as well as Jewish folklore, tracing Der Nister’s embrace and eventual renunciation of allegorical symbolism.

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    • Garrett, Leah. Journeys beyond the Pale: Yiddish Travel Writing in the Modern World. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

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      Garrett’s analysis explores the nexus between traditionalist Jewish conceptions of homeland versus exile and modern (and modernist) Yiddish writings on travel. The thematic organization—with chapters titled “The Road,” “The Train,” and “The Ship”—disrupts more normative chronological approaches in favor of a rich literary phenomenology of Jewish travel.

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    • Hadda, Janet. Passionate Women, Passive Men: Suicide in Yiddish Literature. Albany: State University of New York, 1988.

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      This psychoanalytic study explores the perhaps surprising prevalence of suicidal characters in Yiddish fiction through a series of literary case studies of suicidal women and men. Hadda concludes that patterns of an absence of early nurturing environments and failure to find marital/sexual satisfaction undergird Yiddish literary suicide; a final chapter explores post-Holocaust literary suicide.

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    • Krutikov, Mikhail. Yiddish Fiction and the Crisis of Modernity, 1905–1914. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

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      Krutikov explores the period between the 1905 Russian revolution and World War I as a site for understanding the Yiddish modernist impulse, bringing together literary analyses of Yiddish modernist stylistics and historical descriptions of economic and political-ideological crises, immigration patterns, and the evolving role of women.

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    • Sherman, Joseph, and Gennady Estraikh, eds. David Bergelson: From Modernism to Socialist Realism. Leeds, UK: Legenda, 2007.

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      These essays by major scholars challenge the traditional view that Bergelson produced his best work before the Russian Revolution, and they contribute to our understanding of Bergelson as perhaps the finest Yiddish prose stylist of his time. Includes biography, bibliography, and translations of two of Bergelson’s literary essays.

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    • Stahl, Nanette, ed. Sholem Asch Reconsidered. New Haven, CT: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, 2004.

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      While Asch’s literary reputation has not risen (despite the “reconsideration” of the title), some of the more controversial aspects of his career—the lesbian drama in God of Vengeance, the “Christological” trilogy—have led to renewed interest, of which this volume is a product.

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    • Wolitz, Seth L., ed. The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

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      Scholarship on Singer still rests largely on translations of his work. An important exception is this volume, in which leading scholars of Yiddish literature set out to “resurrect, recover, and restore” the Yiddish Isaac Bashevis Singer, returning him to the context of Yiddish literature.

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    Modern Yiddish Poetry

    Yiddish poetry emerged in the 1890s on the American scene with the “sweatshop poets,” but it saw its greatest flourishing in the period following the klasiker (who focused on prose). Yiddish poetry sometimes coalesced around urban centers, as in the Yung Vilne group; other poets affiliated themselves with such international modernist styles as expressionism, symbolism, and futurism or developed poetic schools unique to Yiddish, such as Introspectivism. Harshav and Harshav 2007 provides the best academic introduction to American Yiddish modernism, but noteworthy studies have appeared on the bilingual poetic production of Gabriel Preil (Feldman 1986) and on Yiddish modernism in its international context (Kronfeld 1996). Novershtern 1990 offers a subtle exploration of Anna Margolin’s place within the New York literary scene, while Wisse 1988 provides critical biographies of two interwar New York poets, and Glaser and Weintraub 2005 introduces and translates a group of leftist poets marginalized in the Cold War period.

    • Feldman, Yael S. Modernism and Cultural Transfer: Gabriel Preil and the Tradition of Jewish Literary Bilingualism. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1986.

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      An insightful formalist and sociolinguistic study of the Yiddish and Hebrew modernist poet Gabriel Preil in the context of Jewish literary bilingualism; Feldman argues that Hebrew-Yiddish tensions were not only linguistic-political but also literary-stylistic, between the romantic traditions of Hebrew poetry and the imagist minimalism of Yiddish modernism.

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    • Glaser, Amelia, and David Weintraub, eds. Proletpen: America’s Rebel Yiddish Poets. Translated by Amelia Glaser. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

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      Translations of poetry from the American Yiddish proletarian movement of the 1920s through the 1950s who were left out of the poetic canon during the Cold War. Dovid Katz’s introduction and the translations open a window to an often overlooked body of poetry.

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    • Harshav, Benjamin, and Barbara Harshav. American Yiddish Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2007.

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      With its extensive introduction and appendices (including Introspectivist manifestos), this is far more than an anthology, introducing an important poetic trend in its richness and historical-literary context. First published in 1986 (Berkeley: University of California Press).

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    • Kronfeld, Chana. On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

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      Arguing with the then-current theories of Deleuze and Guattari on Kafka as minor literature, Kronfeld explores the dynamics of international modernism from the perspective of truly minor or marginal literatures, in particular Hebrew and Yiddish. Important reading of the Yiddish modernism of Moshe Leib Halpern in its international context.

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    • Novershtern, Abraham. “‘Who Would Have Believed That a Bronze Statue Can Weep’: The Poetry of Anna Margolin.” Prooftexts 10.3 (September 1990): 435–468.

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      Situates Margolin’s poetic persona and modernist poetry within the aesthetic context of literary trends of the period and of the emergence of Yiddish women’s poetry; Novershtern establishes her unique contribution to Yiddish poetry through close readings of pivotal works.

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    • Wisse, Ruth R. A Little Love in Big Manhattan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

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      Biographies and close readings of the life and works of Mani Leib and Moshe Leib Halpern, contrasting Mani Leib’s refined style with Halpern’s coarser and more experimental language, while linking these very different poets to the working-class literary New York environment in which they wrote and worked.

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    Autobiography and Memoir

    Yiddish literature has a long and vast tradition of autobiography and memoir, beginning with Glikl of Haml (see Primary Sources) and reaching new heights in the modern period, as in Kotik 2002. Particular high points include the autobiographical essays collected by YIVO in the 1930s (Shandler 2002 and Trunk 2007), and the enormous corpus of Holocaust memorial literature. Dawidowicz 1989 and Roskies 2008 are of particular interest for Yiddish scholars, while Rakovsky 2002 illuminates the intersection between gender and politics. Theoretical work on Yiddish memoir and autobiography has been slower to develop, although Schwarz 2005 represents a strong beginning.

    • Dawidowicz, Lucy S. From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938–1947. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.

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      A charming combination of personal memoir and historical reconstruction of Vilnius in the late 1930s, when the American author spent a year as a visiting graduate student at the famed YIVO Institute. Of particular interest to Yiddish students and those interested in YIVO.

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    • Kotik, Yekhezkel. Journey to a Nineteenth-Century Shtetl: The Memoirs of Yekhezkel Kotik. Edited by David Assaf. Translated by Margaret Birstein. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

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      The first volume of Kotik’s memoirs of Kamenetz in the 1860s and 1870s, initially published in 1913, edited by David Assaf. They present the life of a leaseholder in nonapologetic, nonsentimental, but evocative prose and are considered among the first and finest of a secularizing generation’s memoirs of traditional life.

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    • Rakovsky, Puah. My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland. Edited by Paula Hyman. Translated by Barbara Harshav and Paula Hyman. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

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      First published in Yiddish in 1954, Rakovsky’s compelling life story as a feminist and Zionist activist locates her at the heart of several radical political movements in interwar Poland. The memoirs chronicle her life from its traditional religious beginnings to her immigration to Palestine in 1935.

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    • Roskies, David G. Yiddishlands: A Memoir. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008.

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      A beautiful literary memoir and family saga beginning in Vilnius and moving to the Yiddishist scene in postwar Montreal, the havurah movement, and the author’s own emergence as a major scholar of Yiddish.

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    • Schwarz, Jan. Imagining Lives: Autobiographical Fiction of Yiddish Writers. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

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      An academic study of the Yiddish autobiographical fiction of S. Y. Abramovitsh, Yankev Glatshteyn, Chaim Grade, Y. L. Peretz, Jonah Rosenfeld, Sholem Aleichem, and I. B. Singer, describing the formal and stylistic means by which these writers lent their life stories Jewish cultural meaning.

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    • Shandler, Jeffrey, ed. Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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      Selected texts, translated mostly from Yiddish (with some from Polish or Hebrew), from the youth autobiography contests held by YIVO in 1932, 1934, and 1939. Fascinating introduction on the autobiography initiative, and rich and moving entries from a diverse group of fifteen young men and women.

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    • Trunk, Yehiel Yeshaia. Poyln: My Life within Jewish Life in Poland; Sketches and Images. Translated by Anna Clarke. Edited by Piotr J. Wróbel and Robert M. Shapiro. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

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      A fine English translation of the first volume of Trunk’s far-ranging portrait of Polish-Jewish life, which appeared in seven volumes between 1944 and 1953. A rich gallery of Jewish and non-Jewish characters from all walks of life, and detailed descriptions of Hasidic sects and of Trunk’s journey between traditional and secular worlds.

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    Folklore

    As Dan Miron has shown in an essay in Miron 2000, the ethnographic and folkloristic (as well as the critical “anti-folklore”) impulse animated modern Yiddish literature from its 19th-century beginnings. By the first decades of the 20th century, folkloristics was among the central pillars of Yiddish scholarship and cultural activity, with Yiddish activists and writers from Y. L. Peretz to S. An-sky and Moshe Beregovski participating in its collection (see Beregovski 2000). The study of Yiddish folkloristic studies has now become a fascinating field in its own right, with Gottesman 2003 shedding light on the politics and motivations of the Yiddish-speaking nationalists who set out to preserve what they considered an endangered traditional culture.

    • Beregovski, Moshe. Old Jewish Folk Music: The Collections and Writings of Moshe Beregovski. Edited and translated by Mark Slobin. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

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      This translation of the meticulous collection and annotation of Yiddish folksongs by ethnomusicologist Moshe Beregovski is geared, as translator/editor Mark Slobin explains, toward two audiences: ethnomusicologists, folklorists, and Jewish studies scholars, on the one hand, and musicians who might make use of this copious collection of Yiddish songs, on the other. First published in 1982 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvannia Press).

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    • Gottesman, Itzik Nakhmen. Defining the Yiddish Nation: The Jewish Folklorists of Poland. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

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      Explores the work of Yiddish folklorists, including An-sky, arguing for the importance of folklore in the development of Yiddish nationalism. Jewish folklore, according to Gottesman, was unique in emerging from urban rather than peasant culture. Includes an extensive bibliography of Yiddish folklore studies.

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    • Miron, Dan. The Image of the Shtetl, and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

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      The title essay sharply distinguishes between the historical realities of the shtetl and its “metaphorical” transmutations in Hebrew and Yiddish literature, shaped by Jewish myths of exile and redemption. Another important essay explores folklore and “anti-folklore” in Haskalah (Enlightenment) Yiddish literature.

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    S. An-Sky

    S. An-sky defies easy categorization, in his role as ethnographer, ideologue, playwright, and memoirist, and as a Russian as well as Yiddish writer. His play The Dybbuk (An-sky 1992) draws persistently from the folkloric traditions that he and his team of ethnographers gathered, but the play itself became the source of its own folkloric tradition. An-sky 1992 long served as the basic introduction to An-sky’s life and work, but Safran and Zipperstein 2006 and Safran 2010 have greatly expanded knowledge of the many dimensions of An-sky. Avrutin, et al. 2009 is a fascinating reading and documentation of An-sky’s expeditions, while Deutsch 2011 provides new readings of An-sky’s persona as well as the full text and translation of An-sky’s questionnaire.

    • An-sky, S. The Dybbuk, and Other Writings. Edited by David Roskies. Translated by Golda Werman. New York: Schocken, 1992.

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      A collection of An-sky’s literary writings, anchored by his most famous work, The Dybbuk, and introduced by Roskies’s authoritative introduction.

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    • Avrutin, Eugene M., Valerii Dymshits, Alexander Ivanov, Alexander Lvov, Harriet Murav, and Alla Sokolova, eds. Photographing the Jewish Nation: Pictures from S. An-Sky’s Ethnographic Expeditions. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2009.

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      This beautiful book presents nearly two hundred photographs taken between 1912 and 1914 during An-sky’s ethnographic expeditions into the western Russian Empire. Accompanying essays explore the ideological foundations behind the photographs, part of the project of creating a unified Jewish nation from geographical and demographic diversity.

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    • Deutsch, Nathaniel. The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.

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      In illuminating readings of “the ethnographer as Rebbe,” Deutsch lays out the surprising resonances between An-sky’s ethnography and Hasidic collection of tales, music, and culture. Includes the full text and English translation and annotation of An-sky’s questionnaire.

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    • Safran, Gabriella. Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk’s Creator, S. An-sky. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2010.

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      This lively literary biography allows An-sky’s most famous work, The Dybbuk, to serve as a metaphor for his experiences, highlighting the multiple identities that existed within a single individual. More broadly, the work offers insight into the often conflicting religious, linguistic, and national identities of European Jews at the turn of the 20th century.

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    • Safran, Gabriella, and Steven J. Zipperstein, eds. The Worlds of S. An-sky: A Russian Jewish Intellectual at the Turn of the Century. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

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      An extraordinarily full examination of An-sky’s life and literary, ethnographical, and political work by historians and literary scholars, with a historical timeline, sixteen academic essays, an English translation of an early Russian draft of The Dybbuk, photographs, and a CD featuring music from An-sky’s field recordings.

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    Press

    Aside from a few short-lived precursors, the Yiddish press began with a supplement to the Odessa-based Ha-Melits, Kol mevaser (1862–1873) and flourished in the major centers of Yiddish culture beginning in 1906 and continuing until World War II, with an abundance of dailies and weeklies of all ideological stripes and other periodicals devoted to literature, education, and scholarship. The Jewish press showed a progression in its early period from Hebrew to Yiddish, with the Yiddish press flourishing in the interwar years and falling into sharp decline in the second half of the 20th century (with the exception of the haredi press). Glatstein, et al. 1945 surveys the American press until 1945, while Manor 2009 is a political reading of the Forverts in its early years. Stein 2004 is a rare comparative study of the Yiddish and Ladino press as agents of modernization. We still await a major general study of the Yiddish press, a project eased by the bibliographic work of Szeintuch and Solomon 1986 and the online index of Yiddish periodicals now available (Indeks tsu der yidisher peryodik).

    • Glatstein, Jacob, Samuel Niger, and Hillel Rogoff. Finf un zibetsik yor yidishe prese in amerike: 1870–1945. New York: Y. L. Perets Shrayber Fareyn, 1945.

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      Essays on various American periodicals, including the Forverts, the Tog, the Morgn Zhurnal, and the Groyser Kundes, and on the Yiddish Telegraph Agency, Yiddish literature and the press, and the American Hebrew press.

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    • Indeks tsu der yidisher peryodik.

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      This searchable bibliographical database of eight hundred Yiddish periodicals from Eastern Europe, the United States, and Palestine, compiled by the Department of Yiddish at the Hebrew University, includes all signed articles and unsigned articles that deal with Yiddish literature and culture, the focus of the index.

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      • Manor, Ehud. Forward: The Jewish Daily Forward (Forverts) Newspaper: Immigrants, Socialism and Jewish Politics in New York, 1890–1917. Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2009.

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        Focusing on the internal politics and political coverage (for instance, of the Leo Frank case) of the Forverts, Manor complicates the picture of the Forverts’ socialism by exploring its conservative impulses.

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      • Stein, Sarah Abrevaya. Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

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        Notable for its rare comparative methodology and special attention to visual elements (cartoons, advertisements), this lively history of the fluorescence of the Yiddish and Ladino press argues for the role of journalism in Jewish modernization and the construction of national Jewish affiliations.

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      • Szeintuch, Yehiel, and Vera Solomon, eds. Reshime fun tsaytungen un tsaytshriftn aroysgegebn af yidish in Poyln tsvishn beyde velt-milkhomes. Jerusalem: Center for Research on the History and Culture of Polish Jews, 1986.

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        An inventory of Yiddish dailies and periodicals published in Poland between the two world wars. Supplements the index (see Indeks tsu der yidisher peryodik) by describing 1,500 dailies and periodicals that appeared in Poland, with details about editorship, affiliations, and place and period of publication.

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      Theater

      The origins of Yiddish theater lie in performances by jesters, musicians, and amateur performers around the festival of Purim; professional Yiddish theater began in the mid-19th century. The study of Yiddish theater long revolved around the ideologically charged question of these origins, with scholars arguing against the notion that Jews lacked real theater until modern times, or championing the “populist” spirit of premodern performance. Major overviews of Jewish theater in premodern times appeared in the interwar years (Schiper 1923–1928), and Zalmen Zylbercweig’s six-volume Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Zylbercweig 1931–1970, cited under Atlases, Encyclopedias, and Lexicons) remains a scholarly mainstay. Although a number of actors, directors, and playwrights wrote memoirs and general overviews, academic scholarship on Yiddish theater took decades to develop in the postwar era, with Sandrow 1999, first published in 1977, long serving as the only single-volume English-language work on the subject. Scholarly interest and publication in the area began to revive in the mid-1990s, with monographs on many aspects of Yiddish theater as well as new editions and translations of plays. Yiddish theater in Moscow has been the subject of two important studies, with Harshav 2008 focusing on its aesthetic aspects and Veidlinger 2000 on Soviet Jewish identity. The American stage is covered in a literary treatment by Berkowitz 2002, one focused on art and politics by Nahshon 1998, and a more popular treatment of that subject in Schechter 2008. The introduction to Berkowitz 2003 provides a good entrée to the field.

      • Berkowitz, Joel. Shakespeare on the American Yiddish Stage. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002.

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        This well-researched and cleverly organized (by Shakespearean work) monograph offers an in-depth study of how one long-dead British Gentile, “Vilyam Shekspir,” helped Jewish immigrants participate in American culture.

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      • Berkowitz, Joel, ed. The Yiddish Theatre: New Approaches. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2003.

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        Essays from the field’s leading specialists reveal the scope and significance of Yiddish theater. Covering Eastern and Central Europe, London, Vienna, and the United States as well as genres from the traditional Purim shpil (Purim skit) to the operetta, this anthology is a valuable contribution to Yiddish cultural history and an indispensable introduction to Yiddish theater.

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      • Harshav, Benjamin. The Moscow Yiddish Theater: Art on Stage in the Time of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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        Introduces readers to Moscow’s avant-garde Yiddish theater and its revolutionary politics, before it was violently shut down by Soviet authorities in 1948. Includes reproduction stage sets by Chagall (among other artists), as well as translations of plays, essays, brochures, and memoirs from the theater’s florescence.

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      • Nahshon, Edna. Yiddish Proletarian Theatre: The Art and Politics of the Artef, 1925–1940. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

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        Nahshon narrates the story of a small proletarian acting studio through its expansion as an important art theater and its ultimate arrival on Broadway to become a part of mainstream Yiddish theater. Nahshon’s rigorous archival work uncovers over two decades of how a particular brand of Yiddish Communist political activism shaped this art theater.

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      • Sandrow, Nahma. Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

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        The first synthetic history of the international Yiddish theater, Sandrow’s lively work remains a useful introductory text, with chapters on the Purim shpil, haskole theater, Abraham Goldfaden, and the modern Yiddish theater in its worldwide dispersion and post-Holocaust life. Originally published in 1977 (San Francisco: Harper and Row).

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      • Schechter, Joel. Messiahs of 1933: How American Yiddish Theatre Survived Adversity Through Satire. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008.

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        Focusing on the satirical Yiddish plays of the 1930s in America, Schechter presents a lyrical portrait of a world of radical theatrical politics where the stage was used to advance political agendas and raise social consciousness among American Jews.

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      • Schiper, Ignacy. Geshikhte fun yidisher teater-kunst un drame: Fun di eltste tsaytsn biz 1750. 3 vols. Warsaw: Kultur-Lige, 1923–1928.

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        Strives to show that the Jews, like other ethnic groups, had a long history of theatrical activity, which was limited by the resistance of religious authorities; in this study, as elsewhere, the Purim shpil plays a pivotal role.

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      • Veidlinger, Jeffrey. The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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        Veidlinger argues that the Moscow State Yiddish Theater should be conceived more as an example of “Soviet Jewish Culture” than as “Soviet Culture in Yiddish.” Despite state controls and censorship, Veidlinger sees the State Yiddish Theater as a specifically Jewish forum for cultural innovation.

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      Film

      Jews were prominent in the development of the cinema in Eastern Europe and the United States, and newly urbanized and immigrant Yiddish-speaking audiences were among the most enthusiastic of filmgoers in the heyday of Yiddish talkies—from 1929 through World War II. Hoberman 2010 remains the standard introductory text to Yiddish film, although its approach is more journalistic than academic. Goldman 2011 covers a greater range of Yiddish film, but is also a popular treatment. Paskin 1999 breaks new ground, but despite the increasing availability of Yiddish film through the National Center for Jewish Film, Yiddish film is still an underdeveloped field, especially when contrasted with recent accomplishments in Yiddish theater studies.

      • Goldman, Eric A. Visions, Images, and Dreams: Yiddish Film Past and Present. Rev. ed. Teaneck, NJ: Holmes & Meier, 2011.

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        Originally published in 1983 (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press), Visions, Images, and Dreams spans decades and continents, popular and rare films. The 2011 updated edition includes films produced since the mid-1990s as interest in Yiddish has surged. A compelling introduction, but not a scholarly work.

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      • Hoberman, J. Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film between Two Worlds. Rev. ed. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2010.

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        Hoberman’s subtitle (an allusion to the subtitle of S. An-sky’s Dybbuk) suggests the multiple worlds that Yiddish cinema bridges: the old country and New World, Jews and Gentiles, parents and children, screen and viewer, tradition and modernity. A beautiful and accessible introduction, with over 150 still images from Yiddish films.

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      • National Center for Jewish Film.

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        A film archive and library responsible for preserving and promoting once-celebrated Yiddish feature films (among others). Also contains a collection of rare and one-of-a-kind Yiddish films, documentaries, home videos, and newsreels dating back to 1903.

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      • Paskin, Sylvia, ed. When Joseph Met Molly: A Reader on Yiddish Film. Nottingham, UK: Five Leaves, 1999.

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        The title refers to director Joseph Green and his brightest star, Molly Picon, Yiddish film’s most influential figures. Includes essays on classics like Ost und West and Uncle Moses, reactions to The Jazz Singer, and Eve Sicular’s seminal essay on queer subtexts in Yiddish film, “The Celluloid Closet of Yiddish Film.”

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      In Western and Central Europe

      In standard accounts, Yiddish went into a rapid decline in western and central Europe with the emancipation, Enlightenment, and acculturation of Jewish communities in those regions. The selections listed here complicate this story, demonstrating that Yiddish played a role in modernizing Amsterdam Jews (Michman and Aptroot 2002) and persisted in German cities (Estraikh and Krutikov 2010) and within German (and German-Jewish) discourse (Grossman 2000).

      • Estraikh, Gennady, and Mikhail Krutikov, eds. Yiddish in Weimar Berlin: At the Crossroads of Diaspora Politics and Culture. London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2010.

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        Arguing against the stereotype of Yiddish speakers in Germany only as poor, isolated immigrants, these essays make the case that Yiddish in Weimar Berlin was a dynamic language of high culture, at the heart of Weimar multiculturalism. Weimar Yiddish was the crossroads between East and West, Europe and the United States.

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      • Grossman, Jeffrey A. The Discourse on Yiddish in Germany from the Enlightenment to the Second Empire. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2000.

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        An examination of Jewish and non-Jewish discourses on Yiddish, in linguistic theory and nationalist discourse, literature and ideology, from 1781 through the late 19th century. Grossman reads the role of Yiddish in this discourse as an “anarchic” element connecting as well as differentiating German and Jew.

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      • Michman, Jozeph, and Marion Aptroot, eds. and trans. Storm in the Community: Yiddish Polemical Pamphlets of Amsterdam Jewry, 1797–1798. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2002.

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        A fascinating and entertaining study of the polemical pamphlets published in the wake of a split between modernizers and traditionalists in the Amsterdam Ashkenazic community at the outset of emancipation. The introduction sets the historical context, and selected issues of the satirical Diskurs are presented, in bilingual Yiddish-English form.

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      Soviet Yiddish

      Yiddish was promoted by the Soviet authorities as the official language of the Jewish proletariat, reflecting a Soviet ideology that envisioned Jews as a distinct nationality within the Soviet Union. Schools, radio stations, and other institutions were established to promote the language in an official capacity, often with Jews at the forefront of regulating language use. While these institutions were curtailed with the rise of anti-Semitism after World War II, the language continued to thrive in many Soviet regions. Estraikh 1999 illuminates the intersection between Soviet ideology and Yiddish linguistic transformation, while Estraikh 2005 and Estraikh 2008 trace Communist Yiddish literary culture, the former until 1935 and the second, more globally, during the Cold War. Grözinger and Ruta 2008 picks up the Communist Yiddish narrative in the post-Holocaust era. Shneer 2004 and Shternshis 2006 highlight Soviet Jewish culture and the struggle between Jewish and Communist identities, Shneer 2004 examining the role of Yiddish in this tension and Shternshis 2006 more broadly examining popular Jewish culture. Krutikov 2011 argues forcefully for the role of the Jewish and European as well as Soviet influences within the work of the Soviet Yiddish literary critic Meir Wiener.

      • Estraikh, Gennady. Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development. Oxford: Clarendon, 1999.

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        A monograph focusing on the debates surrounding the Soviet reform of Yiddish during the interwar period (which coincided with a decline in Yiddish speakers), demonstrating how changes in orthography and lexicon reflected anti-Zionist and Communist ideologies. A compelling contribution to Soviet Yiddish sociolinguistics.

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      • Estraikh, Gennady. In Harness: Yiddish Writers’ Romance with Communism. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

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        Traces the political and artistic paths taken by Yiddish Communist writers beginning in Kiev after the 1905 revolution through their peak in the mid-1930s. Covering notable writers and lesser-known ones, the book charts the development and decline of Yiddish Communist literary life.

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      • Estraikh, Gennady. Yiddish in the Cold War. Leeds, UK: Legenda, 2008.

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        This book, by the editor of the Moscow literary journal Sovetish Heymland from 1988–1991, serves as a sequel to Estraikh 2005, describing the still-vibrant Yiddish Communist literary culture after the point where the previous volume left off. Unlike the earlier work, this volume spans the globe.

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      • Grözinger, Elvira, and Magdalena Ruta, eds. Under the Red Banner: Yiddish Culture in the Communist Countries in the Postwar Era. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2008.

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        This collection of seventeen papers on the development of Yiddish in Eastern Europe during the postwar period includes essays on cultural production in journalism and the fine arts as well as political and cultural activism to revive and maintain Yiddish language and literature.

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      • Krutikov, Mikhail. From Kabbalah to Class Struggle: Expressionism, Marxism, and Yiddish Literature in the Life and Work of Meir Wiener. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2011.

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        Rare study of the life and work of a single critic; traces Wiener’s unusual journey from Austria to the Soviet Union and analyzes his critical work as an integration of Yiddish, European, and Soviet impulses. Argues for reading Wiener against the background of European Jewish trends.

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      • Shneer, David. Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture, 1918–1930. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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        A rich and detailed exploration of Soviet Yiddish culture through the political lens of Soviet Nationalities policies and Soviet Yiddish language politics, the cultural lens of the Yiddish publishing industry, and the literary lens of the negotiation between Soviet ideologies and Jewish affinities in the poetry of Izi Kharik.

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      • Shternshis, Anna. Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

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        This unique and delightful exploration of such Soviet Jewish cultural artifacts as songs that parody religious texts, propaganda in all forms, and amateur poetry and theater unveils how Soviet Jewish culture developed, in response to and with the aid of official government structures.

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      In North America

      The urban centers of North America proved a generally hospitable environment for Yiddish, and Yiddish speakers made substantial contributions to political activism, literature, music, the press, theater, and film. Robinson and Butovsky 1990 describes the rich Yiddish culture of Montreal, while Peltz 1998 is an ethnographical study tracing this narrative in South Philadelphia among second-generation Jewish American Yiddish speakers. Kliger 1992 traces the maintenance of ties to Eastern Europe within American Yiddish culture (a theme that returns with a more particular focus and theoretical engagement in Kobrin 2010), and Kelman 2009 describes the “acoustic community” constructed by Yiddish radio. Using the tools of literary criticism, Norich 2007 argues for the richness and significance of Yiddish culture in World War II. Bachman 2008, an unusual hybrid of memoir and literary criticism, is a product and exploration of the “afterlife” of this culture, with the decline of secular Yiddish in the wake of acculturation, suburbanization, and Americanization. Despite this decline, Yiddish has found a home in the North American academy, not only among haredi speakers but also among Yiddish-culture enthusiasts, for some of whom it exists in the “postvernacular” form explored by Shandler 2006.

      • Bachman, Merle L. Recovering “Yiddishland”: Threshold Moments in American Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

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        Exploring the role of Yiddish in “threshold moments”—in which Americanization is ambivalently embraced and resisted—Bachman combines autobiographical reflections on her experience as “the Yiddish student” with readings of immigrant novels, American Yiddish poetry on the black experience, and the Yiddish modernism of Mikhl Likht.

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      • Kelman, Ari Y. Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

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        A groundbreaking study investigating the “acoustic community” of American Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. Jews used Yiddish radio as a means to strengthen their ties to one another and to their immigrant pasts via a distinctly American medium of mass communication. Rich with archival materials, Kelman’s book opens new pathways for exploring how Jews became Americans.

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      • Kliger, Hannah. Jewish Hometown Associations and Family Circles in New York: The WPA Yiddish Writers’ Group Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

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        With the help of federal funding, the Yiddish Writers’ Group conducted a survey of over 2,400 landsmanshaften (hometown associations). These philanthropic societies connected immigrants with their hometowns and provided aid to those still in the native towns. Includes an abridged translation of the survey.

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      • Kobrin, Rebecca. Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

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        Kobrin’s study is a creative companion to Kliger 1992, focusing on a single East European city and its international diaspora. Mobilizing recent theoretical insights about both local history and diaspora identity, Kobrin uses the particularities of Bialystok’s diaspora to rethink Jewish notions of home, place, and exile.

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      • Norich, Anita. Discovering Exile: Yiddish and Jewish American Culture during the Holocaust. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

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        A sophisticated argument against the academic neglect of American Yiddish culture during the war years, exploring the cultural climate of the Yiddish world with chapters on the controversy over Sholem Asch’s “Christological” novels, Yankev Glatshteyn’s poem “Good Night, World,” and the rise of the Jewish American culture of mourning.

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      • Peltz, Rakhmiel. From Immigrant to Ethnic Culture: American Yiddish in South Philadelphia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

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        Challenging the assumption that second-generation immigrants wished to reject their parents’ culture, this ethnography of South Philadelphia Jews introduces readers to a generation that used Yiddish as a bridge between their parents and the English-speaking culture in which they were immersed.

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      • Robinson, Ira, and Mervin Butovsky, eds. An Everyday Miracle: Yiddish Culture in Montreal. Montreal: Véhicule, 1990.

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        Essays on the Montreal Yiddish renaissance that took place between 1900 and the late 1950s in the special multilingual, sometimes linguistically hostile, environment of Montreal.

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      • Shandler, Jeffrey. Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

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        Studying the vagaries of Yiddish in its “postvernacular” life, Shandler discloses the surprisingly rich and complex meaning of phenomena generally seen as beneath scholarly notice—the Yiddish tchotchke or Yiddish translations of Winnie-the-Pooh. A lively, learned, and illuminating analysis of Jewish popular culture.

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      Americanization

      The epistolary manual Harkavy 1999 and the letters to the editor reproduced in Metzker 1971 illuminate the difficulties in acculturation faced by Yiddish-speaking immigrants and demonstrate the role of Yiddish editors and educators in the Americanization process.

      • Harkavy, Alexander. Amerikanisher brivn-shteler: English un yidish. Amherst, MA: Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, 1999.

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        This fascinating and charming epistolary manual, compiling and translating sample business letters, family letters, love letters, telegrams, birth announcements, and wedding invitations, is a rich and still largely untapped primary resource for the study of the role of Yiddish in Jewish Americanization. Originally published in 1902.

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      • Metzker, Isaac, comp. and ed. A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.

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        A now-classic collection of letters to the editor written to the Jewish Daily Forward about social, political, and personal issues affecting new immigrants and their children. Organized by date, this carefully selected assortment of letters covers the years 1910–1967.

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      In Palestine

      While Yiddish flourished in the interwar period in its Eastern European and North American centers, the culture of Hebraist Zionism marginalized or suppressed (with varying degrees of success) Yiddish language use in prestatehood Palestine. Pilowsky 1986 explores the place of Yiddish in Palestine from the historical perspective (with some focus on literature), while Chaver 2004 focuses on the same prestatehood period from the literary perspective. The field still awaits a comprehensive study of the role of Yiddish in the State of Israel.

      • Chaver, Yael. What Must Be Forgotten: The Survival of Yiddish in Zionist Palestine. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004.

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        Mobilizing archival resources and the theoretical literature on nation building and language, Chaver provides a literary analysis of the aversion to Yiddish in Palestine, working as well to recover the Yiddish literary activity that took place despite and within the Hebrew-Yiddish “language wars” and to describe the normative role of Hebrew translation in this context.

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      • Pilowsky, Arye. Tsvishn yo un neyn: Yidish un yidish literatur in erets-yisroel, 1907–1948. Tel Aviv: World Council for Yiddish and Jewish Culture, 1986.

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        An authoritative historical study, with special attention to the language polemics in political parties, the establishment of a chair in Yiddish at Hebrew University, and debates in the literary journal Ketuvim. A final section gives an overview of Yiddish literary production in Palestine during this period.

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      Politics

      For the period of its greatest flourishing, Yiddish was deeply enmeshed, in various ways, in a variety of ideological currents as well as organized political movements; some of these took the championing of Yiddish as a central platform, while others used Yiddish as a mobilizing tool. Trachtenberg 2008 explores this conjunction between Yiddish and leftist politics in Eastern Europe, while Michels 2005 follows the narrative to immigrant New York. The academic study of Yiddish in the interwar years was itself deeply implicated in these ideological trends, as analyzed in Kerler 1998. Our present “post-ideological” academic environment, while not entirely free of political engagement (it is characteristic of this moment that such a stance can hardly be upheld), nevertheless provides the opportunity both to investigate the precise nature of the relationship between language and ideology (Estraikh and Krutikov 2001) and to complicate the stereotypical associations of Yiddish with the left to which the political life of Yiddish has sometimes been reduced (Fishman 2005).

      • Estraikh, Gennady, and Mikhail Krutikov, eds. Yiddish and the Left. Oxford: University Humanities Research Centre, 2001.

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        A collection of essays by an international cadre of Yiddish scholars about the often fraught but deeply enmeshed relationship between Yiddish-speaking Jews and leftist politics.

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      • Fishman, David E. The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.

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        Fishman locates the social, political, and intellectual history of Yiddish within a trilingual culture (Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish or Russian). Moving away from the study of Yiddish literature, this innovative work focuses on philosophical and political discourses written in Yiddish, boldly countering the assumption that modern Yiddish was essentially a proletarian and socialist language, rather than one with middle-class and Zionist strains.

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      • Kerler, Dov-Ber, ed. The Politics of Yiddish: Studies in Language, Literature, and Society. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 1998.

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        When this anthology was finally published, many of the essays in it had already been expanded into monographs. The collection may serve as both an introduction to the works of some of the major figures and ideological currents in the field and as a primary source for those interested in the development of Yiddish studies as a field.

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      • Michels, Tony. A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

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        Traces the roots of Yiddish socialism in America from pogroms in Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side, placing emphasis less on how Jewish immigrants brought socialism to America than on how socialism grew out of the Jewish American experience. With special attention to the role played by Yiddish in shaping the political agenda.

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      • Trachtenberg, Barry. The Revolutionary Roots of Modern Yiddish, 1903–1917. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

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        Examines Yiddish during the revolutionary period (before its official recognition by Soviet authorities), with a focus on the works of three intellectuals—Shmuel Niger, Ber Borokhov, and Nokhem Shtif—who charted the path for Yiddish from a denigrated “jargon” to a national language.

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      The Holocaust

      Holocaust scholarship has been carried out very largely outside of Yiddish, and Yiddishists sometimes strenuously object to the broad public and academic focus on genocide rather than on the Jewish cultural life destroyed in the Holocaust. Certainly, the Holocaust (der khurbn in Yiddish) was a blow to Yiddish that registered powerfully in every cultural domain and in every Yiddish center. Among the significant projects of Yiddish Holocaust scholarship has been the recovery of Yiddish testimony (Kassow 2007), the exploration of the meaning of the Holocaust within specifically Jewish cultural traditions (Roskies 1984), and the study of the memorial books (yizker bikher) compiled by immigrants and survivors in the postwar decades (Kugelmass and Boyarin 1998).

      • Kassow, Samuel D. Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

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        Describes the unearthing of the buried Oyneg Shabes archives in 1946; the life, work and death of its lead historian, Emmanuel Ringelblum; and the mission to preserve honestly the range of human responses to the Holocaust. Kassow also explores the complex dynamic of Polish Jewish identity of the interwar period.

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      • Kugelmass, Jack, and Jonathan Boyarin, eds. From a Ruined Garden: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

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        In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, survivors and immigrants compiled books memorializing towns, cities, and regions, detailing both life in these towns and their destruction. This collection excerpts roughly sixty such yizker bikher and includes an introduction to the genre and Zachary Baker’s bibliography of hundreds of memorial books.

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      • Roskies, David G. Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

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        Setting literary responses to the Holocaust within the context of Jewish responses to persecution, Roskies devotes particular attention to modern Yiddish literature in Eastern Europe, movingly arguing for literature as an act of creative resistance against the meaninglessness and overthrow of values that constitutes violent catastrophe.

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      Among Religious Jews

      Yiddish persists not only in academic circles and among cultural enthusiasts but also among haredi (“God-fearing,” or “ultra-Orthodox) Jews, who have actively worked to support and revive the language in their communities. Epstein 1998 provides a rich case study of one such language community, while Fishman 1981 includes primary sources on the significance of Yiddish for religious Jewry. Isaacs and Glinert 1999 brings the discussion to contemporary ultra-Orthodoxy, addressing the complex nexus between religion and language.

      • Epstein, Shifra. “Daniyel-shpil” ba-Ḥasidut Bobov: Mi-mahaze ‘amami le-tekes purimi. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1998.

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        This beautiful and rich monograph provides the Ukrainian and Polish Hasidic background for the emergence of this Purim shpil, and traces its development, performances, meaning, language, financial support, and audience in the period following the Holocaust and immigration to the United States. Includes the Yiddish text of the “Danil shpil,” musical notation, and photographs.

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      • Fishman, Joshua A., ed. Never Say Die! A Thousand Years of Yiddish in Jewish Life and Letters. The Hague: Mouton, 1981.

        DOI: 10.1515/9783110820805Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        This massive anthology (also cited under Old and Early Modern Yiddish) includes a wealth of material on Yiddish in its religious context, including material not only on contemporary ultra-Orthodox Yiddish but also on Yiddish in the rabbinic courts of Vilnius, Yiddish in Orthodox girls’ education, and Yiddish and Modern Orthodoxy.

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      • Isaacs, Miriam, and Lewis Glinert, eds. Special Issue: Pious Voices: Languages among Ultra-Orthodox Jews. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 138.1 (1999).

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        This collection addresses the attempt by some haredi communities to maintain Yiddish as their vernacular, exploring the ideologies behind these efforts and the particular challenges of language planning in religious communities.

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      Women, Gender, and Sexuality

      The scholarship on Yiddish and women does not begin with late-20th century feminism, though certainly feminist scholarship has propelled the field in recent decades. Yiddishists such as Shmuel Niger (Niger 1959) drew attention to the gender dimensions of Yiddish literary production and consumption in the 1912 inaugural issue of the pioneering journal of Yiddish literary criticism Der Pinkes, and Eliezer Korman edited a nearly four-hundred-page anthology of Yiddish women’s poetry in 1928 (Korman 1928, cited under Anthologies). After these pioneering efforts and the activism of such Yiddishist feminists as Irena Klepfisz (Kaye/Kantrowitz and Klefisz 1986), feminist and gender criticism of Yiddish made a strong academic impact in the 1990s, with the rise of feminist scholarship in Jewish studies more generally. Issues of particular interest have continued to be (as indeed they were at the outset) the Yiddish prayers of Ashkenazic women (Weissler 1998), gender and the relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish (Seidman 1997), and the reading practices of Ashkenazic women in the 19th century (Parush 2004).

      • Kaye/Kantrowitz, Melanie, and Irena Klepfisz, eds. The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology. Montpelier, VT: Sinister Wisdom, 1986.

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        This pioneering volume brought attention to such Yiddish writers as Kadia Molodowsky, Anna Margolin, and Fradl Shtok, as well as articulating the connections between Yiddish and feminist-secularist identity.

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      • Niger, Samuel. “Yidish literatur un di lezerin.” In Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur. By Samuel Niger, 35–107. Edited by H. Leivick. New York: Niger Book Committee, 1959.

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        Niger’s groundbreaking essay inaugurated the study of the relationship between Yiddish literature and the female readership it sometimes explicitly addressed, arguing that this readership sometimes “feminized” (here, Niger descends into essentializing stereotype) its male authors.

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      • Parush, Iris. Reading Jewish Women: Marginality and Modernization in Nineteenth-Century Eastern European Jewish Society. Translated by Saadya Sternberg. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2004.

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        Reading memoirs as primary resources, Parush lays the groundwork for understanding the new and distinctive reading practices of 19th-century Jewish women in Yiddish, Hebrew, and non-Jewish European languages. Arguing for the “paradoxical benefits of marginality,” Parush demonstrates that these women’s reading practices placed them at the vanguard of modernity.

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      • Seidman, Naomi. A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Yiddish and Hebrew. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

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        A historical analysis of the associations between Hebrew and masculinity, and Yiddish and femininity, as seen in the bilingual works of Sh. Y. Abramovitsh and Dvora Baron, as well as in the sexual politics of the Hebrew-Yiddish “language war.”

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      • Weissler, Chava. Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women. Boston: Beacon, 1998.

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        A pioneering historical and literary analysis of traditional Jewish women’s spirituality and the thkines (women’s petitionary prayers), with a special focus on the construction of gender in the tkhines and the Kabbalistic background to women’s devotional practices. The book concludes with a fascinating reflection on Weissler’s evolving relation, as a feminist, to the subject of her study.

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      LAST MODIFIED: 08/29/2012

      DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199840731-0017

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