YIDDISH (ייִדיש, יידיש or אידיש, yidish/idish, lit.
"Jewish ", pronounced ; in older sources ייִדיש-טײַטש
Yidish-Taitsh, lit. Judaeo-German) is the historical language of the
Jews . It originated during the 9th century in Central
Europe , providing the nascent Ashkenazi community with an extensive
Germanic based vernacular fused with elements taken from Hebrew and
Aramaic , as well as from
Slavic languages and traces of Romance
Yiddish is written with a fully vocalized alphabet based
Hebrew alphabet .
The earliest surviving references date from the 12th century and call
the language לשון־אַשכּנז (loshn-ashknaz, "language of
Ashkenaz") or טײַטש (taytsh), a variant of tiutsch, the
contemporary name for
Middle High German
Middle High German . Colloquially, the language
is sometimes called מאַמע־לשון (mame-loshn, lit. "mother
tongue"), distinguishing it from לשון־קדש (loshn koydesh ,
"holy tongue"), meaning Hebrew and Aramaic. The term "Yiddish", short
for Yidish Taitsh "Jewish German", did not become the most frequently
used designation in the literature until the 18th century. In the late
19th and into the 20th century the language was more commonly called
"Jewish", especially in non-Jewish contexts, but "Yiddish" is again
the more common designation.
Yiddish has two major forms . Eastern
Yiddish is far more
common today. It includes Southeastern (Ukrainian–Romanian),
Mideastern (Polish–Galician–Eastern Hungarian), and Northeastern
(Lithuanian–Belarusian) dialects. Eastern
Yiddish differs from
Western both by its far greater size and by the extensive inclusion of
words of Slavic origin. Western
Yiddish is divided into Southwestern
(Swiss–Alsatian–Southern German), Midwestern (Central German), and
Northwestern (Netherlandic–Northern German) dialects.
used in a number of Orthodox Jewish communities worldwide and is the
first language of the home, school, and in many social settings among
Jews , and is used in most
Hasidic and some Lithuanian
Yiddish is also used in the adjectival sense, synonymously
with Jewish, to designate attributes of
culture"; for example,
Yiddish cooking and "
Yiddish music": klezmer ).
Prior to the Holocaust , there were over 10 million speakers of
Yiddish; 85% of the approximately 6 million
Jews who died in the
Yiddish speakers, leading to a massive decline in the
use of the language. Assimilation following
World War II
World War II further
decreased the use of
Yiddish both among survivors and Yiddish-speakers
from other countries (such as in the Americas). However, the number of
speakers is increasing in global
* 1 Origins
* 2 History
* 2.1 Written evidence
* 2.2 Printing
* 2.3 Secularization
* 2.4 20th century
* 3 Phonology
* 4 Numbers of speakers
* 5 Status as a language
* 5.2 Former
Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Council of Europe
* 5.5.1 Present U.S. speaker population
* 5.6 United Kingdom
* 5.7 Canada
* 5.8 Religious communities
* 5.9 Modern
* 5.10 Internet community
* 6 See also
* 7 References
* 8 Bibliography
* 9 Further reading
* 10 External links
The established view is that, as with other Jewish languages, Jews
speaking distinct languages learned new co-territorial vernaculars,
which they then Judaized. In the case of Yiddish, this scenario sees
it as emerging when speakers of
Judeo-French and Judeo-Romance
languages began to acquire varieties of
Middle High German
Middle High German , and from
these groups the Ashkenazi community took shape. Exactly what German
base lies behind the earliest form of
Yiddish is disputed.
In Weinreich's model, speakers of
Old French or
Old Italian ,
literate in Hebrew or Aramaic, migrated through Southern Europe to
settle in the Rhine Valley in an area known as
Yiddish as Loter) extending over parts of
Germany and France;
There, they encountered and were influenced by Jewish speakers of
High German and several other German dialects. Both Weinreich and
Solomon Birnbaum developed this model further in the mid-1950s. In
Weinreich's view, this Old
Yiddish substrate later bifurcated into two
distinct versions of the language, Western and Eastern Yiddish. They
retained the Semitic vocabulary needed for religious purposes and
created a Judeo-German form of speech, sometimes not accepted as a
fully autonomous language.
Later linguistic research has finessed the Weinreich model or
provided alternative approaches to the language's origins, with points
of contention being the characterization of its Germanic base, the
source of its Hebrew/Aramaic adstrata, and the means that and location
where this fusion occurred. Some theorists argue that the fusion
occurred with a Bavarian dialect base. The two main candidates for
the germinal matrix of Yiddish, the
Rhineland and Bavaria, are not
necessarily incompatible. There may have been parallel developments in
the two regions, seeding the Western and Eastern dialects of Modern
Dovid Katz proposes that
Yiddish emerged from contact between
High German and Aramaic-speaking
Jews from the Middle
East. The lines of development proposed by the different theories do
not necessarily rule out the others (at least not entirely); an
The Jewish Daily Forward
The Jewish Daily Forward argues that "in the end, a new
'standard theory' of Yiddish’s origins will probably be based on the
work of Weinreich and his challengers alike."
Paul Wexler proposed a highly heterodox model in 1991 that took
Yiddish, by which he means primarily eastern Yiddish, not to be
genetically grounded in a Germanic language at all, but rather as
"Judeo-Sorbian" (a proposed Western Slavic language) whose lexicon had
been largely replaced by
High German in the 9th to 12th centuries,
when, according to his theory, large numbers of German-speakers
settled in Sorbian and Polabian lands and developed a Judeo-Slavic
tongue which was subsequently relexified with Old High German. In
more recent work, Wexler has argued that Eastern
Yiddish is unrelated
genetically to Western Yiddish. Wexler's model has met with little
academic support, and strong critical challenges, especially among
By the 10th century, a distinctive
Jewish culture had formed in
Central Europe which came to be called אַשכּנזי Ashkenazi,
Jews , from Hebrew : אַשכּנז
10:3), the medieval
Hebrew name for northern Europe and
Ashkenaz was centered on the
Rhineland and the Palatinate (notably
Speyer ), in what is now the westernmost part of Germany.
Its geographic extent did not coincide with the German principalities
of the time, and it included northern
Ashkenaz bordered on
the area inhabited by another distinctive Jewish cultural group, the
Jews , who ranged into southern
France . Ashkenazi culture
later spread into
Eastern Europe with large-scale population
Nothing is known with certainty about the vernacular of the earliest
Jews in Germany, but several theories have been put forward. The first
language of the Ashkenazim may, as noted above, have been the Aramaic
language , the vernacular of the
Jews in Roman-era Judea and ancient
and early medieval
Mesopotamia . The widespread use of Aramaic among
the large non-Jewish Syrian trading population of the Roman provinces,
including those in Europe, would have reinforced the use of Aramaic
Jews engaged in trade. In Roman times, many of the
Southern Italy appear to have been Greek -speakers, and
this is reflected in some Ashkenazi personal names (e.g., Kalonymus).
Hebrew, on the other hand, was regarded as a holy language reserved
for ritual and spiritual purposes and not for common use. Much work
needs to be done, though, to fully analyze the contributions of those
languages to Yiddish.
It is generally accepted that early
Yiddish was likely to have
contained elements from other languages of the
Near East and Europe,
absorbed through migrations. Since some settlers may have come via
France and Italy, it is also likely that the Romance-based Jewish
languages of those regions were represented. Traces remain in the
Yiddish vocabulary: for example, בענטשן (bentshn,
"to bless"), from the Latin benedicere; לייענען (leyenen, "to
read"), from the Latin legere; and the personal names אַנשל
Anshl, cognate to Angel or Angelo; בונים Bunim (probably from
"bon homme"). Western
Yiddish includes additional words of Latin
derivation (but still very few): for example, אָרן orn (to pray),
cf. Latin and Italian "orare".
The Jewish community in the
Rhineland would have encountered the many
dialects from which
Standard German would emerge a few centuries
later. In time, Jewish communities would have been speaking their own
versions of these German dialects, mixed with linguistic elements that
they themselves brought into the region. Although not reflected in the
spoken language, a main point of difference was the use of the Hebrew
alphabet for the recording of the Germanic vernacular, which may have
been adopted either because of the community's familiarity with the
alphabet or to prevent the non-Jewish population from understanding
the correspondence. In addition, there was probably widespread
illiteracy in the non-Hebrew script, with the level of illiteracy in
the non-Jewish communities being even higher. Another point of
difference was the use of Hebrew and Aramaic words. These words and
terms were used because of their familiarity, but more so because in
most cases there were no equivalent terms in the vernacular which
could express the Jewish concepts or describe the objects of cultural
The calligraphic segment in the Worms Mahzor.
It is not known when
Yiddish orthography first developed. The oldest
surviving literary document using it is a blessing in the Worms
machzor, a Hebrew prayer book from 1272. There is a scalable image
online at the indicated reference. The Worms machzor is discussed in
Frakes, 2004, and Baumgarten, ed. Frakes, 2005 – see the
Bibliography at the foot of this article.
גוּט טַק אִים בְּטַגְֿא שְ וַיר
דִּיש מַחֲזוֹר אִין בֵּיתֿ
gut tak im betage se vaer dis makhazor in beis hakneses trage
May a good day come to him who carries this prayer book into the
This brief rhyme is decoratively embedded in an otherwise purely
Hebrew text. Nonetheless, it indicates that the
Yiddish of that day
was a more or less regular
Middle High German
Middle High German written in the Hebrew
alphabet into which Hebrew words –מַחֲזוֹר, makhazor
(prayerbook for the
High Holy Days ) and בֵּיתֿ
הַכְּנֶסֶתֿ, "synagogue " (read in
Yiddish as beis
hakneses) –had been included. The niqqud appears as though it might
have been added by a second scribe, in which case it may need to be
dated separately and may not be indicative of the pronunciation of the
rhyme at the time of its initial annotation.
Over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, songs and poems in
Yiddish, and macaronic pieces in Hebrew and German, began to appear.
These were collected in the late 15th century by Menahem ben Naphtali
Oldendorf. During the same period, a tradition seems to have emerged
of the Jewish community's adapting its own versions of German secular
literature. The earliest
Yiddish epic poem of this sort is the Dukus
Horant , which survives in the famous Cambridge Codex T.-S.10.K.22.
This 14th-century manuscript was discovered in the
Cairo Geniza in
1896, and also contains a collection of narrative poems on themes from
Hebrew Bible and the
The advent of the printing press in the 16th century enabled the
large scale production of works, at a cheaper cost, some of which have
survived. One particularly popular work was
Elia Levita 's Bovo-Bukh
(בָּבָֿא-בּוך), composed around 1507–08 and printed in at
least forty editions, beginning in 1518 (Pesaro). Levita, the earliest
Yiddish author, may also have written פּאַריז און
װיענע Pariz un Viene (
Vienna ). Another Yiddish
retelling of a chivalric romance, װידװילט Vidvilt (often
referred to as "Widuwilt" by Germanizing scholars), presumably also
dates from the 15th century, although the manuscripts are from the
16th. It is also known as Kinig Artus Hof, an adaptation of the Middle
High German romance Wigalois by Wirnt von Gravenberg. Another
significant writer is Avroham ben Schemuel Pikartei, who published a
paraphrase on the
Book of Job
Book of Job in 1557.
Women in the Ashkenazi community were traditionally not literate in
Hebrew, but did read and write Yiddish. A body of literature therefore
developed for which women were a primary audience. This included
secular works, such as the Bovo-Bukh, and religious writing
specifically for women, such as the צאנה וראינה Tseno Ureno
and the תחנות Tkhines . One of the best-known early woman authors
Glückel of Hameln , whose memoirs are still in print. A page
from the Shemot Devarim (lit. Names of Things), a
Yiddish–Hebrew–Latin–German dictionary and thesaurus, published
Elia Levita in 1542
The segmentation of the
Yiddish readership, between women who read
מאַמע־לשון mame-loshn but not לשון־קדש
loshn-koydesh, and men who read both, was significant enough that
distinctive typefaces were used for each. The name commonly given to
the semicursive form used exclusively for
ווײַבערטײַטש (vaybertaytsh = "women's taytsh," shown in
the heading and fourth column in the adjacent illustration), with
square Hebrew letters (shown in the third column) being reserved for
text in that language and Aramaic. This distinction was retained in
general typographic practice through to the early 19th century, with
Yiddish books being set in vaybertaytsh (also termed מעשייט
mesheyt or מאַשקעט mashket—the construction is uncertain).
An additional distinctive semicursive typeface was, and still is,
used for rabbinical commentary on religious texts when Hebrew and
Yiddish appear on the same page. This is commonly termed Rashi script
, from the name of the most renowned early author, whose commentary is
usually printed using this script. (Rashi is also the typeface
normally used when the
Sephardic counterpart to Yiddish,
Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino, is printed in Hebrew script.)
Yiddish dialect—sometimes pejoratively labeled
Mauscheldeutsch (i. e. "
Moses German") —declined in the 18th
century, as the
Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment and the
Haskalah led to a view of
Yiddish as a corrupt dialect. A
Maskil (from the same root word as
Haskalah) would write about and promote acclimatization to the outside
world. Jewish children began attending secular schools where the
primary language spoken and taught was German, not Yiddish. Owing to
both assimilation to German and the revival of Hebrew , Western
Yiddish survived only as a language of "intimate family circles or of
closely knit trade groups". (Liptzin 1972 ).
In eastern Europe, the response to these forces took the opposite
Yiddish becoming the cohesive force in a secular
culture (see the
Yiddishist movement ). Notable
Yiddish writers of the
late 19th and early 20th centuries are Sholem Yankev Abramovitch,
Mendele Mocher Sforim
Mendele Mocher Sforim ; Sholem Rabinovitsh, widely known as
Sholem Aleichem , whose stories about טבֿיה דער
Tevye der milkhiker, "
Tevye the Dairyman") inspired
the Broadway musical and film
Fiddler on the Roof ; and
World War I
World War I -era poster in Yiddish. Translated caption:
"Food will win the war – You came here seeking freedom, now you must
help to preserve it – We must supply the Allies with wheat – Let
nothing go to waste". Colour lithograph, 1917. Digitally restored.
In the early 20th century, especially after the Socialist October
Revolution in Russia,
Yiddish was emerging as a major Eastern European
language. Its rich literature was more widely published than ever,
Yiddish theatre and
Yiddish cinema were booming, and it for a time
achieved status as one of the official languages of the Ukrainian
People\'s Republic , the
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and
Galician Soviet Socialist Republic , and the Jewish
Autonomous Oblast . Educational autonomy for
Jews in several countries
Poland ) after
World War I
World War I led to an increase in formal
Yiddish-language education, more uniform orthography, and to the 1925
founding of the
Yiddish Scientific Institute,
YIVO . In
there was debate over which language should take primacy, Hebrew or
Yiddish changed significantly during the 20th century. Michael Wex
writes, "As increasing numbers of
Yiddish speakers moved from the
Slavic-speaking East to
Western Europe and the Americas in the late
19th and early 20th centuries, they were so quick to jettison Slavic
vocabulary that the most prominent
Yiddish writers of the time—the
founders of modern
Yiddish literature, who were still living in
Slavic-speaking countries—revised the printed editions of their
oeuvres to eliminate obsolete and 'unnecessary' Slavisms." The
vocabulary used in
Israel absorbed many
Modern Hebrew words, and there
was a similar but smaller increase in the English component of Yiddish
United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. This
has resulted in some difficulty in communication between Yiddish
Israel and those from other countries.
Yiddish phonology is similar to that of
Standard German . In the area
of consonants, it does not have final devoicing and fortis (voiceless
) stops are unaspirated, and the /χ/ phoneme is invariably uvular,
unlike the German phoneme /x/, which is palatal, velar, or uvular. It
has a smaller inventory of vowels , with no vowel length distinction.
NUMBERS OF SPEAKERS
Map of the
Yiddish dialects between the 15th and the 19th
centuries (Western dialects in orange / Eastern dialects in green).
On the eve of
World War II
World War II , there were 11 to 13 million Yiddish
The Holocaust , however, led to a dramatic, sudden decline
in the use of Yiddish, as the extensive Jewish communities, both
secular and religious, that used
Yiddish in their day-to-day life,
were largely destroyed. Around five million of those killed — 85
percent of the
Jews who died in the Holocaust — were speakers of
Yiddish. Although millions of
Yiddish speakers survived the war
(including nearly all
Yiddish speakers in the Americas), further
assimilation in countries such as the
United States and the Soviet
Union , along with the strictly monolingual stance of the Zionist
movement, led to a decline in the use of Eastern Yiddish. However, the
number of speakers within the widely dispersed Orthodox (mainly
Hasidic) communities is now increasing. Although used in various
Yiddish has attained official recognition as a minority
language only in
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina , the
Reports of the number of current
Yiddish speakers vary significantly.
Ethnologue estimates, based on publications through 1991, that there
were at that time 1.5 million speakers of Eastern Yiddish, of which
40% lived in Ukraine, 15% in Israel, and 10% in the United States. The
Modern Language Association agrees with fewer than 200,000 in the
United States. Western
Yiddish is reported by
Ethnologue to have had
an ethnic population of 50,000 in 2000, and an undated speaking
population of 5,000, mostly in Germany. A 1996 report by the Council
of Europe estimates a worldwide Yiddish-speaking population of about
two million. Further demographic information about the recent status
of what is treated as an Eastern–Western dialect continuum is
provided in the
YIVO Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry
(Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry).
STATUS AS A LANGUAGE
There has been frequent debate about the extent of the linguistic
Yiddish from the languages that it absorbed. There has
been periodic assertion that
Yiddish is a dialect of German, or even
"just broken German, more of a linguistic mishmash than a true
language". Even when recognized as an autonomous language, it has
sometimes been referred to as Judeo-German, along the lines of other
Jewish languages like
A widely cited summary of attitudes in the 1930s was published by Max
Weinreich , quoting a remark by an auditor of one of his lectures:
אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן
אַרמיי און פֿלאָט (a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey
un flot — "
A language is a dialect with an army and navy ").
ISRAEL AND ZIONISM
An example of graffiti in Yiddish, Tel Aviv, Washington Avenue
(און איר זאלט ליב האבן דעם פרעמדען,
ווארום פרעמדע זייט איר געווען אין לאנד
מצרים Un ir zolt lib hobn dem fremdn varum fremde seit ir geven
in land mitsrayim). "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress
him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21) Amen?"
The national languages of
Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. The debate in
Zionist circles over the use of
Israel and in the Diaspora
in preference to Hebrew also reflected the tensions between religious
and secular Jewish lifestyles. Many secular Zionists wanted Hebrew as
the sole language of Jews, to contribute to a national cohesive
identity. Traditionally religious Jews, on the other hand, preferred
use of Yiddish, viewing Hebrew as a respected holy language reserved
for prayer and religious study. In the early 20th century, Zionist
activists in Palestine tried to eradicate the use of
Jews in preference to Hebrew, and make its use socially unacceptable.
This conflict also reflected the opposing views among secular Jews
worldwide, one side seeing Hebrew (and Zionism) and the other Yiddish
(and Internationalism ) as the means of defining Jewish nationalism.
In the 1920s and 1930s, גדוד מגיני השפה gdud maginéi
hasafá, "the language defendants regiment", whose motto was
"עברי, דבר עברית ivri, dabér ivrít," that is, "Hebrew
, speak Hebrew!", used to tear down signs written in "foreign"
languages and disturb
Yiddish theatre gatherings. However, according
to linguist Ghil\'ad Zuckermann , the members of this group in
particular, and the Hebrew revival in general, did not succeed in
Yiddish patterns (as well as the patterns of other European
languages Jewish immigrants spoke) within what he calls "Israeli",
Modern Hebrew . Zuckermann believes that "Israeli does include
numerous Hebrew elements resulting from a conscious revival but also
numerous pervasive linguistic features deriving from a subconscious
survival of the revivalists’ mother tongues, e.g. Yiddish."
After the founding of the State of Israel, a massive wave of Jewish
immigrants from Arab countries arrived. In short order, these Mizrachi
Jews and their descendants would account for
nearly half the Jewish population. While all were at least familiar
with Hebrew as a liturgical language, essentially none had any contact
with or affinity for
Yiddish (some, of
Sephardic origin, spoke Ladino
, others various
Judeo-Arabic vernaculars). Thus, Hebrew emerged as
the dominant linguistic common denominator between the different
In religious circles, it is the Ashkenazi Haredi
Jews , particularly
Jews and the Lithuanian yeshiva world (see Lithuanian Jews
), who continue to teach, speak and use Yiddish, making it a language
used regularly by hundreds of thousands of Haredi
Jews today. The
largest of these centers are in
Bnei Brak and
There is a growing revival of interest in
Yiddish culture among
secular Israelis, with the flourishing of new proactive cultural
organizations like YUNG YiDiSH, as well as
Yiddish theater (usually
with simultaneous translation to Hebrew and Russian) and young people
are taking university courses in Yiddish, some achieving considerable
FORMER SOVIET UNION
Soviet Union during the 1920s,
Yiddish was promoted as the
language of the Jewish proletariat . State emblem of the
Belarusian SSR with the motto
Workers of the world, unite! in Yiddish
(lower left part of the ribbon)
It was one of the official languages of the
Belarusian SSR . Until
1938, the Emblem of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
included the motto
Workers of the world, unite! in Yiddish. Yiddish
was also official language in several agricultural districts of the
Galician SSR .
A public educational system entirely based on the
was established and comprised kindergartens, schools, and higher
educational institutions (technical schools, rabfaks and other
university departments). At the same time, Hebrew was considered a
bourgeois language and its use was generally discouraged. The vast
majority of the Yiddish-language cultural institutions were closed in
the late 1930s along with cultural institutions of other ethnic
minorities lacking administrative entities of their own. The last
Yiddish-language schools, theaters and publications were closed by the
end of the 1940s. It continued to be spoken widely for decades,
nonetheless, in areas with compact Jewish populations (primarily in
Moldova, Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Belarus).
In the former Soviet states, presently active
Yiddish authors include
Yoysef Burg (
Chernivtsi 1912–2009) and Aleksander Beyderman (b.
Odessa ). Publication of an earlier
Yiddish periodical (דער
פֿרײַנד - der fraynd; lit. "The Friend"), was resumed in 2004
with דער נײַער פֿרײַנד (der nayer fraynd; lit. "The New
St. Petersburg ).
On the 2010 census , 1,683 people speak
Yiddish in Russia,
approximately 1% of all the
Jews of the Russian Federation. According
Mikhail Shvydkoy , former Minister of Culture of
Russia and himself
of Jewish origin,
Yiddish culture in
Russia is gone, and its revival
From my point of view,
Yiddish culture today isn't just fading away,
but disappearing. It is stored as memories, as fragments of phrases,
as books that have long gone unread. ...
Yiddish culture is dying and
this should be treated with utmost calm. There is no need to pity that
which cannot be resurrected — it has receded into the world of the
enchanting past, where it should remain. Any artificial culture, a
culture without replenishment, is meaningless. ... Everything that
Yiddish culture is transformed into a kind of
cabaret—epistolary genre, nice, cute to the ear and the eye, but
having nothing to do with high art, because there is no natural,
national soil. In Russia, it is the memory of the departed, sometimes
sweet memories. But it's the memories of what will never be again.
Perhaps that's why these memories are always so sharp.
Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Federation Main
Jewish Autonomous Oblast ,
Birobidzhan , and
Judaism in the
Jewish Autonomous Oblast
Jewish Autonomous Oblast was formed in 1934 in the Russian Far
East , with its capital city in
Yiddish as its
official language. The intention was for the Soviet Jewish population
to settle there. Jewish cultural life was revived in
earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union.
Yiddish theaters began
opening in the 1970s. The newspaper דער
ביראָבידזשאַנער שטערן (Der
Birobidzhaner Shtern ;
Birobidzhan Star") includes a
Yiddish section. Although the
official status of the language was not retained by the Russian
Federation, its cultural significance is still recognized and
bolstered. The First
Birobidzhan International Summer Program for
Yiddish Language and Culture was launched in 2007.
As of 2010 , according to data provided by the Russian Census Bureau,
there were 97 speakers of
Yiddish in the JAO.
Yiddish was an official language of the Ukrainian People\'s Republic
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Several countries which ratified the 1992 European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages have included
Yiddish in the list of
their recognized minority languages: the
Netherlands (1996), Sweden
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina (2010).
Ukraine did not mention
Yiddish as such, but "the language(s)
of the Jewish ethnic minority".
Banner from the first issue of the Yidishe Folksshtime (Yiddish
People's Voice), published in Stockholm, 12 January 1917.
In June 1999, the Swedish Parliament enacted legislation giving
Yiddish legal status as one of the country's official minority
languages (entering into effect in April 2000). The rights thereby
conferred are not detailed, but additional legislation was enacted in
June 2006 establishing a new governmental agency, The Swedish National
Language Council, the mandate of which instructs it to "collect,
preserve, scientifically research, and spread material about the
national minority languages", naming them all explicitly, including
Yiddish. When announcing this action, the government made an
additional statement about "simultaneously commencing completely new
The Swedish government publishes documents in Yiddish, of which the
most recent details the national action plan for human rights. An
earlier one provides general information about national minority
On 6 September 2007, it became possible to register Internet domains
Yiddish names in the national top-level domain .SE .
Jews were permitted to reside in
Sweden during the late
18th century. The Jewish population in
Sweden is estimated at around
20,000. Out of these 2,000–6,000 claim to have at least some
Yiddish according to various reports and surveys. In
2009, the number of native speakers among these was estimated by
linguist Mikael Parkvall to be 750–1,500. It is believed that
virtually all native speakers of
Sweden today are adults,
and most of them elderly.
Yiddish distribution in the United States. More than 100,000
speakers More than 10,000 speakers More than 5,000 speakers More
than 1,000 speakers Fewer than 1,000 speakers Women
surrounded by posters in English and
Yiddish supporting Franklin D.
Herbert H. Lehman
Herbert H. Lehman , and the
American Labor Party teach
other women how to vote, 1936.
At first, in the
United States most
Jews were of
and hence did not speak Yiddish. It was not until the mid-to-late 19th
century, as first German, then Eastern European,
Jews arrived in the
Yiddish became dominant within the immigrant community.
This helped to bond
Jews from many countries. פֿאָרווערטס
The Jewish Daily Forward
The Jewish Daily Forward ) was one of seven Yiddish
daily newspapers in
New York City
New York City , and other
served as a forum for
Jews of all European backgrounds. In 1915, the
circulation of the daily
Yiddish newspapers was half a million in New
York City alone, and 600,000 nationally. In addition, thousands more
subscribed to the numerous weekly papers and the many magazines.
The typical circulation in the 21st century is a few thousand. The
Yiddish Forward still appears weekly and is also available in an
online edition. It remains in wide distribution, together with דער
אַלגעמיינער זשורנאַל (der algemeyner zhurnal –
Algemeiner Journal ; algemeyner = general), a
which is also published weekly and appears online. The
Yiddish newspapers are probably the weekly issues
Der Yid (דער איד = The Jew),
Der Blatt (דער בלאַט;
blat = paper) and Di Tzeitung (די צייטונג = the newspaper).
Several additional newspapers and magazines are in regular production,
such as the weekly אידישער טריביון
Yiddish Tribune and
the monthly publications דער שטערן (Der Shtern; shtern = star)
and דער בליק (Der Blick; blik = view). (The romanized titles
cited in this paragraph are in the form given on the masthead of each
publication and may be at some variance both with the literal Yiddish
title and the transliteration rules otherwise applied in this
Yiddish theater, especially in the New York City
Yiddish Theater District , kept the language vital. Interest in
klezmer music provided another bonding mechanism.
Most of the Jewish immigrants to the New York metropolitan area
during the years of
Ellis Island considered
Yiddish their native
language; however, native
Yiddish speakers tended not to pass the
language on to their children, who assimilated and spoke English. For
Isaac Asimov states in his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green
Yiddish was his first and sole spoken language and remained so
for about two years after he emigrated to the
United States as a small
child. By contrast, Asimov's younger siblings, born in the United
States, never developed any degree of fluency in Yiddish.
Many "Yiddishisms," like "Italianisms" and "Spanishisms," entered the
spoken New York dialect , often used by
Jews and non-
unaware of the linguistic origin of the phrases.
Yiddish words used in
English were documented extensively by
Leo Rosten in The Joys of
Yiddish ; see also the list of English words of
Yiddish origin .
In 1975, the film Hester Street , much of which is in Yiddish, was
released. It was later chosen to be on the Library of Congress
National Film Registry for being considered a "culturally,
historically, or aesthetically significant" film.
In 1976, the Canadian-born American author
Saul Bellow received the
Nobel Prize in literature
Nobel Prize in literature . He was fluent in Yiddish, and translated
Yiddish poems and stories into English, including Isaac
Bashevis Singer 's "Gimpel the Fool".
Isaac Bashevis Singer , a writer in the
who was born in
Poland and lived in the United States, received the
Nobel Prize in literature
Nobel Prize in literature .
Eugene Volokh and
Alex Kozinski argue that
"supplanting Latin as the spice in American legal argot."
Present U.S. Speaker Population
In the 2000 census , 178,945 people in the
United States reported
Yiddish at home. Of these speakers, 113,515 lived in New York
(63.43% of American
Yiddish speakers); 18,220 in
New Jersey (5.11%); and 8,950 in
California (5.00%). The
remaining states with speaker populations larger than 1,000 are
Michigan (1,945), Massachusetts
Connecticut (1,710), and
Arizona (1,055). The population is largely elderly: 72,885 of the
speakers were older than 65, 66,815 were between 18 and 64, and only
39,245 were age 17 or lower. In the six years since the 2000 census ,
American Community Survey
American Community Survey reflected an estimated 15 percent
decline of people speaking
Yiddish at home in the U.S. to 152,515. In
2011, the number of persons in the
United States above the age of 5
Yiddish at home was 160,968.
There are a few predominantly
Hasidic communities in the United
States in which
Yiddish remains the majority language. Kiryas Joel,
New York is one such; in the 2000 census, nearly 90% of residents of
Kiryas Joel reported speaking
Yiddish at home.
There are well over 30,000
Yiddish speakers in the United Kingdom,
and several thousand children now have
Yiddish as a first language.
The largest group of
Yiddish speakers in Britain reside in the
Stamford Hill district of North London, but there are sizable
communities in northwest London, Leeds,
Manchester and Gateshead. The
Yiddish readership in the UK is mainly reliant upon imported material
United States and
Israel for newspapers, magazines and other
periodicals. However, the London-based weekly Jewish Tribune has a
small section in
Yiddish called אידישע טריבונע Idishe
Tribune. From 1910s to 1950s,
London had a daily
called די צײַט (Di Tsayt,
Yiddish pronunciation: ; in English,
The Time), founded, and edited from offices in
Whitechapel Road, by
Roumanian born Morris Myer, succeeded on his death in 1943 by his son
Harry. There were also from time to time
Yiddish newspapers in
Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Leeds.
Montreal had and to some extent still has one of the most thriving
Yiddish communities in North America.
Yiddish was Montreal's third
language (after French and English) for the entire first half of the
twentieth century. Der
Keneder Adler ("The Canadian Eagle", founded by
Hirsch Wolofsky ), Montreal’s daily
Yiddish newspaper, appeared from
1907 to 1988. The
Monument National was the center of
from 1896 until the construction of the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the
Arts , inaugurated on September 24, 1967, where the established
resident theater, the
Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre , remains the
Yiddish theatre in North America. The theatre group
also tours Canada, US, Israel, and Europe.
Yiddish has receded, it is the immediate ancestral
language of Montrealers like
Mordecai Richler ,
Leonard Cohen as well
as former interim city mayor
Michael Applebaum . Besides
Yiddish-speaking activists, it remains today the native everyday
language of 15,000
A typical poster-hung wall in Jewish
Brooklyn , New York
The major exception to the decline of spoken
Yiddish can be found in
Haredi communities all over the world. In some of the more closely
knit such communities,
Yiddish is spoken as a home and schooling
language, especially in Hasidic,
Litvish , or
Brooklyn 's Borough Park , Williamsburg , and Crown Heights ,
and in the communities of Monsey , Kiryas Joel , and New Square in New
York (over 88% of the population of Kiryas Joel is reported to speak
Yiddish at home. ) Also in
Yiddish is widely spoken mostly
in Lakewood , but also in smaller towns with yeshivos , such as
Passaic , Teaneck , and elsewhere.
Yiddish is also widely spoken in
the Antwerp Jewish community , and in Haredi communities such as the
Manchester , and
Yiddish is also spoken in
many Haredi communities throughout Israel. Among most Ashkenazi
Haredim, Hebrew is generally reserved for prayer, while
used for religious studies, as well as a home and business language.
In Israel, however, Haredim commonly speak Hebrew, with the notable
exception of many
Hasidic communities. However, many Haredim who use
Modern Hebrew also understand Yiddish. There are some who send their
children to schools in which the primary language of instruction is
Yiddish. Members of anti-
Zionist Haredi groups such as the Satmar
Hasidim, who view the commonplace use of Hebrew as a form of Zionism,
Yiddish almost exclusively.
Hundreds of thousands of young children around the globe have been,
and are still, taught to translate the texts of the
Yiddish. This process is called טײַטשן (taytshn) –
"translating". Most Ashkenazi yeshivas ' highest level lectures in
Halakha are delivered in
Yiddish by the rosh yeshivas as
well as ethical talks of mussar .
Hasidic rebbes generally use only
Yiddish to converse with their followers and to deliver their various
Torah talks, classes, and lectures. The linguistic style and
Yiddish have influenced the manner in which many
Jews who attend yeshivas speak English. This usage is
distinctive enough that it has been dubbed "
While Hebrew remains the exclusive language of
Jewish prayer , the
Hasidim have mixed some
Yiddish into their Hebrew, and are also
responsible for a significant secondary religious literature written
in Yiddish. For example, the tales about the
Baal Shem Tov were
written largely in Yiddish. The
Torah Talks of the late Lubavitch
leaders are published in their original form, Yiddish. In addition,
some prayers, such as the Got fun Avrohom , were composed and are
recited in Yiddish.
MODERN YIDDISH EDUCATION
A road sign in
Yiddish (except for the word "sidewalk") at an
official construction site in the Monsey hamlet, a community with
Yiddish speakers, in Ramapo , New York .
There has been a resurgence in
Yiddish learning in recent times among
many from around the world with Jewish ancestry. The language which
had lost many of its native speakers during WWII has been making
somewhat of a comeback. In Poland, which traditionally had Yiddish
speaking communities, a particular museum has begun to revive Yiddish
education and culture. Located in Kraków, the Galicia Jewish Museum
offers classes in
Yiddish Language Instruction and workshops on
Yiddish Songs. The museum has taken steps to revive the culture
through concerts and events held on site. There are various
Universities worldwide which now offer
Yiddish programs based on the
Yiddish standard. Many of these programs are held during the
summer and are attended by
Yiddish enthusiasts from around the world.
One such school located within
Vilnius University (
Institute) was the first
Yiddish center of higher learning to be
established in post-Holocaust Eastern Europe.
Institute is an integral part of the four-century-old Vilnius
Yiddish scholar and researcher
Dovid Katz is
among the Faculty.
Despite this growing popularity among many American
Jews , finding
opportunities for practical use of
Yiddish is becoming increasingly
difficult, and thus many students have trouble learning to speak the
language. One solution has been the establishment of a farm in
Goshen, New York for Yiddishists.
Google Translate includes
Yiddish as one of its languages, as does
Over ten thousand
Yiddish texts, estimated as over 1/2 of all the
published works in Yiddish, are now online based on the work of the
Yiddish Book Center , volunteers, and the Internet Archive.
Many websites on the Internet are in Yiddish. In January 2013, The
Yiddish Forward announced the launch of the new daily version of their
newspaper's website, which has been active since 1999 as an online
weekly, supplied with radio and video programs, a literary section for
fiction writers and a special blog written in local contemporary
Raphael Finkel maintains a hub of Yiddish-language
resources, including a searchable dictionary and spell checker .
In late 2016, Motorola, Inc. has released its smartphones with
keyboard access for the
Yiddish language in its foreign language
A 2008 Election poster in front of a store in Village of New
Square , Town of Ramapo, New York, entirely in Yiddish. The
candidates' names are transliterated into Yiddish. Rosh
Hashanah greeting card,
Montevideo , 1932. Inscription includes text
in Hebrew (לשנה טובה תכתבו—LeShaná Tová Tikatevu) and
List of English words of Yiddish origin
List of Yiddish language poets
List of Yiddish newspapers and periodicals
The Yiddish King Lear
Yiddish Book Center
Yiddish dialects —as spoken in different regions of Europe.
Yiddish grammar —the structural detail of the language.
Yiddish orthography —the written representation of the language.
Yiddish words used in English —definitions of
Yiddish words used
in a primarily English context.
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* Rosten, Leo (2000). Joys of Yiddish. Pocket. ISBN 0-7434-0651-6 .
* Shandler, Jeffrey (2006). Adventures in Yiddishland:
Postvernacular Language and Culture. Berkeley: University of
California Press. ISBN 0-520-24416-8 .
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(in Yiddish). Tel Aviv: Peretz.
* Stutchkoff, Nahum (1950). Oytser fun der Yidisher Shprakh (in
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* Weinreich, Uriel (1999). College Yiddish: An Introduction to the
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English) (6th rev. ed.). New York:
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
ISBN 0-914512-26-9 . CS1 maint: Unrecognized language (link )
* Weinstein, Miriam (2001). Yiddish: A Nation of Words. New York:
Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-44730-1 .
* Wex, Michael (2005).
Born to Kvetch :
Yiddish Language and Culture
in All Its Moods. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-30741-1 .
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YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, NYC, initial
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* Yidishe Heftn, pub. Le Cercle Bernard Lazare, Paris, since 1996,
יידישע העפטן sample cover, subscription info.
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YIDDISH EDITION of , the free encyclopedia
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: YIDDISH
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: YIDDISH FOR YESHIVAH BACHURIM
For a list of words relating to Yiddish, see the YIDDISH category
of words in
Wiktionary , the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to YIDDISH LANGUAGE .
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for YIDDISH PHRASEBOOK .
Wikisource has the text of the 1920
Encyclopedia Americana article
YIDDISH LANGUAGE .
* Lorne Rozovsky, Path to Extinction: The Declining Health of Jewish
* http://lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=12887 Israeli Government
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