Jewish Studies Forverts/Forward
by
Rachel Rojanski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0194

Introduction

Forverts (the Jewish Daily Forward or The Forward) was a Yiddish-language newspaper based in New York City that appeared as a daily for eighty-six years. It was the largest and most influential Jewish newspaper in the world, the most widely read socialist daily in the United States, and the foreign language newspaper with the largest distribution in the United States. Launched on 22 April 1897, Forverts was founded by a group of Yiddish-speaking members of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP). Abraham Cahan (b. 1860–d. 1951) was appointed its first editor. He left after a few months but returned in 1902 to lead the paper for some forty-eight years, until his death. Although Forverts was a Socialist paper, its readership encompassed the broad masses of eastern European Jewish immigrants in early-20th-century America, regardless of their political orientation. As many scholars have argued, Forverts played an important role in the Americanization of its readers, providing them with useful information about their new country and helping them integrate into American life. But it was an immigrant paper in a much deeper sense, too. By adapting ideological ideas and cultural trends from eastern Europe to the American reality, Forverts became instrumental in developing a new kind of secular Jewish identity. Its editorial policy was to preserve a socialist and nonreligious tone, to use simple Yiddish, to publish a range of articles—some more serious, others light—and to serve as a platform for both high-quality and popular literature (shund). As a result, Forverts contributed a great deal to the development of Yiddish literature, and many great Yiddish writers, including Isaac Bashevis Singer, published in its pages. The paper’s advice column—“a bintl brief” (a bundle of letters)—was especially popular. It regularly printed readers’ questions about important aspects of everyday life together with the editor’s responses reflecting his views on Jewish society and family life in America. No less important was the women’s page, which encouraged women to participate in the job market alongside their family roles. On the political front, Forverts supported the labor movement, participated in Jewish political debates during World War I, and fought immigration restrictions. In its early days, the paper featured anti-Zionist views, though this changed after the Balfour Declaration (1917) and Cahan’s trip to Palestine (1925). Demographic changes following immigration restrictions in the 1920s caused a gradual decline in its distribution. The paper continued as a daily until 1983, when it became a weekly. In 1990 an English-language weekly joined the Yiddish newspaper. Since early 2019, both the Yiddish and the English editions are entirely digital.

General Overview

A few general studies about the Jewish Daily Forward (Forverts) are available. Each of them provides just a partial picture of the paper’s history. The earliest, Milkh 1936, is a report on the paper’s founding and an account of the political struggles the founders waged with other newspapers. Levin 1948 is a historical survey of important events, debates, and controversies during the daily’s first fifty years, based on documents compiled by the author. Rogoff 1954 describes the history of Forverts in an impressionistic way. All these Yiddish books were written by journalists who had taken part in the development of Forverts or had been close to it. Rich 1967 is a short and more general overview of the history of the daily and its publisher, the Forward Association. Two scholarly monographs are dedicated to the Forverts. The earlier is Portnoy-Berman 1972, which covers seventy years of the daily’s history, and the more recent is Manor 2009, which is an attempt to revise our understanding of the power exerted by Forvert during its first twenty-five years. It is also worth mentioning here a number of books not specifically focused on Forverts, but important for understanding its history. Rischin 1962 which contains the first scholarly discussion of Forverts, while Howe 2005 has a long section on the Yiddish press in general and Forverts in particular, from the author’s unique point of view. Two other important books are Soltes 1925 and Chaikin 1946. Both discuss the Yiddish press in the United States and so shed light on the important role played by Forverts in American Jewish cultural and political arenas.

  • Chaikin, Joseph. Yidishe bleter in Amerike. New York: Joseph Chaikin, 1946.

    E-mail Citation »

    In Yiddish. A comprehensive history of the Yiddish press in the United States over seventy-five years, including a detailed description of the beginning of the Yiddish press. The editors of the different Yiddish papers and the contribution of the Yiddish press to the development of Yiddish literature. A significant part of the book deals with Forverts and Abraham Cahan, its editor, and the leading role both played in the development of the Yiddish press in America.

  • Glatstein, Jacob N., Shmuel Niger, and Hillel Rogoff, eds. Finf un zibetsik yor yidishe prese in Amerike. New York: Y. L. Peretz shrayber fareyn, 1945.

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    In Yiddish. Starting with two detailed and lengthy chapters on the history of the Yiddish press in America, followed by chapters on specific newspapers (the first is on Forverts), this collection of articles provides a broad picture of the Yiddish journalistic arena over seventy-five years. It provides good background for understanding the development of Forverts set within the broad context of the cultural development of eastern European Jewish society in the United States.

  • Howe, Irving. World of Our Fathers. 3d ed. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

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    Originally published in 1976. This comprehensive history of eastern European Jews in New York from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century constitutes a unique combination of personal memories and scholarship. The parts that deal with the Yiddish press and Forverts are of incomparable value, providing not only detailed information about the Yiddish press and Forverts, but also a compelling description of the role the Yiddish press played in the lives of its readers and their attitudes toward it.

  • Levin, Shmuel Dovid. 50 yor Forverts, di role fun Forverts in dem yidishn lebn: Faktn, fotostatn un tsitatn. New York: N.p., 1948.

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    In Yiddish. Levin argues that although Forverts promoted socialist ideology, in practice neither the editorial nor the administrative leadership of the daily followed socialist principles. The paper did not support striking employees, supported landlords against their tenants, and turned its back on the public struggle for unemployment insurance. It should be noted that the author was the Boston editor of the Communist Morgnfrayhayt, one of the fervent opponents of Forvets. Therefore, this publication should be read with care, although it still deserves attention.

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

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    This work constitutes an attempt to understand the political activity of Forverts during the daily’s first two decades in the context of its editor’s relationship with other political organizations, including the Bund in Russia, the Zionist movement, and especially the American Jewish political elite. The book presents the highly unusual, controversial argument that Forverts and its editor used socialist rhetoric to cover the kind of conservative politics that they were really interested in promoting.

  • Milkh, Jacob. Di antshteihung fun Forverts un zayn kamf mitn Abendblat, 1893–1902. New York: N.p., 1936.

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    In Yiddish. Memoirs of a Yiddish journalist and essayist who wrote for several Yiddish papers. It provides a detailed account of the early years of Forverts and especially the controversies between the different groups involved in its founding.

  • Portnoy-Berman, Barbara. “Environmental Impact on the Ideology of a Social Movement Organization: The Jewish Daily Forward, 1897–1966.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1972.

    E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Forverts was able to maintain its success for many decades because its editors were able to adjust their ideology to the changing views of their readers. Thus, the editorship gradually abandoned its radical socialism. The presentation of the political and social changes undergone by American Jewish society is general as is its treatment of the complexity of Jewish socialism and the ideological development of its followers.

  • Rich, Jacob C. The Jewish Daily Forward: An Achievement of Dedicated Idealists: The Extraordinary Story of a Unique Newspaper and Its Publisher, the Forward Association. New York: Knight Print, 1967.

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    An account of the early days of Forverts from the point of view of a past member of the staff. The focus is on the political battles behind the founding of the paper, its struggles with communism, and the personal stories of the editorial and managerial staff.

  • Rischin, Moses. The Promised City: New York’s Jews, 1870–1914. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962.

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    One of the earliest scholarly books, pathbreaking in its time, on the history of eastern European Jewish immigrants in New York. It contains a useful discussion of the place of Forverts and Abraham Cahan in the political development of Jewish immigrant society in the United States.

  • Rogoff, Harry (Hillel). Der gaysṭ fun “Forṿerṭs” maṭeryaln tsu der geshikhṭe fun der idisher prese in Ameriḳe. New York: Forvert Association, 1954.

    E-mail Citation »

    In Yiddish. Episodes and stories from the early history of Forverts, told by a veteran journalist who succeeded Cahan as the editor of the daily. Although told from a personal point of view, the book provides a great deal of information about journalists and writers, relations inside the paper, and relations with other newspapers and organizations, as well as the daily’s attitude to Zionism and trade unionism.

  • Soltes, Mordechai. The Yiddish Press: An Americanizing Agency. New York: Teachers College Columbia University, 1925.

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    This volume is a detailed analysis of the nature, distribution, influence, growth, and contents of the Yiddish press in the United States from 1885 to 1923. It presents a discussion of the role of this press as an Americanizing agency for its readers and draws comparisons between the Yiddish press and the general press. The appendix includes a list of the Yiddish dailies that appeared in New York City from 1885 to 1923 and information about the circulation of the entire Yiddish press between 1912 and 1921.

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