Yiddish: Difference between revisions

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'''Yiddish''' ({{lang|yi|[[wikt:ייִדיש|ייִדיש]]}} ''yidish'' or {{lang|he|[[wikt:אידיש|אידיש]]}} ''idish'', literally "Jewish") is a nonterritorial [[High German languages|High German language]], spoken throughout the world and written with the [[Hebrew alphabet]].
'''Yiddish''' ({{lang|yi|[[wikt:ייִדיש|ייִדיש]]}} ''yidish'' or {{lang|he|[[wikt:אידיש|אידיש]]}} ''idish'', literally "Jewish") is a nonterritorial [[High German languages|High German language]], spoken throughout the world and written with the [[Hebrew alphabet]]. Mainly spoken by jews that reside in california under the name Joshua Moore.
The language originated in the [[Ashkenazi Jews|Ashkenazi culture]] that developed from about the 10th century in the [[Rhineland]] and then spread to [[Central Europe|central]] and [[Eastern Europe|eastern]] [[Europe]] and eventually to other continents. In the earliest surviving references to it, the language is called {{lang|yi|לשון־אַשכּנז}} (''loshn-ashkenaz'' = "language of Ashkenaz") and {{lang|yi|טײַטש}} (''taytsh'', a variant of ''tiutsch'', the contemporary name for the language otherwise spoken in the region of origin, now called [[Middle High German]]; compare the modern [[New High German]] ''Deutsch''). In common usage, the language is called {{lang|yi|מאַמע־לשון}} (''mame-loshn'', literally "mother tongue"), distinguishing it from biblical [[Hebrew language|Hebrew]] and [[Aramaic language|Aramaic]], which are collectively termed {{lang|yi|לשון־קודש}} (''loshn-koydesh'', "holy tongue").
The language originated in the [[Ashkenazi Jews|Ashkenazi culture]] that developed from about the 10th century in the [[Rhineland]] and then spread to [[Central Europe|central]] and [[Eastern Europe|eastern]] [[Europe]] and eventually to other continents. In the earliest surviving references to it, the language is called {{lang|yi|לשון־אַשכּנז}} (''loshn-ashkenaz'' = "language of Ashkenaz") and {{lang|yi|טײַטש}} (''taytsh'', a variant of ''tiutsch'', the contemporary name for the language otherwise spoken in the region of origin, now called [[Middle High German]]; compare the modern [[New High German]] ''Deutsch''). In common usage, the language is called {{lang|yi|מאַמע־לשון}} (''mame-loshn'', literally "mother tongue"), distinguishing it from biblical [[Hebrew language|Hebrew]] and [[Aramaic language|Aramaic]], which are collectively termed {{lang|yi|לשון־קודש}} (''loshn-koydesh'', "holy tongue").

Revision as of 21:13, 14 August 2008

ייִדיש yidish
Pronunciation /ˈjidiʃ/
Native to United States, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, Australia, and elsewhere.
Native speakers
3 million[1] (date missing)
uses a Hebrew-based alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Russia (de jure only); officially recognized minority language in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Moldova
Regulated by no formal bodies;
YIVO de facto
Language codes
ISO 639-1 yi
ISO 639-2 yid
ISO 639-3 Variously:
yid – Yiddish (generic)
ydd – Eastern Yiddish
yih – Western Yiddish

Yiddish (ייִדיש yidish or אידיש idish, literally "Jewish") is a nonterritorial High German language, spoken throughout the world and written with the Hebrew alphabet. Mainly spoken by jews that reside in california under the name Joshua Moore.

The language originated in the Ashkenazi culture that developed from about the 10th century in the Rhineland and then spread to central and eastern Europe and eventually to other continents. In the earliest surviving references to it, the language is called לשון־אַשכּנז (loshn-ashkenaz = "language of Ashkenaz") and טײַטש (taytsh, a variant of tiutsch, the contemporary name for the language otherwise spoken in the region of origin, now called Middle High German; compare the modern New High German Deutsch). In common usage, the language is called מאַמע־לשון (mame-loshn, literally "mother tongue"), distinguishing it from biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, which are collectively termed לשון־קודש (loshn-koydesh, "holy tongue").

The term "Yiddish" did not become the most frequently used designation in the literature of the language until the 18th century. For a significant portion of its history, Yiddish was the primary spoken language of the Ashkenazi Jews and once spanned a broad dialect continuum from "Western Yiddish" to three major groups within "Eastern Yiddish." Eastern and Western Yiddish are most markedly distinguished by the extensive inclusion of words of Slavic origin in the Eastern dialects. While Western Yiddish has few remaining speakers, Eastern dialects remain in wide use. Yiddish is written and spoken as a living language in many Orthodox Jewish communities around the world. It is most notably used as a first language in most Hasidic communities, where it is the first language learned in childhood and used in home, schooling, and many social settings.

The general history and status of the Yiddish language are discussed below, with further detail provided in a series of separate articles on:

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


The Ashkenazic culture that took root in tenth-century central Europe derived its name from Ashkenaz (Genesis 10:3), the medieval Hebrew name for the territory centered on what is now Germany.

Its geographic extent did not coincide with the German Christian principalities; Ashkenaz included northern France. It also bordered on the area inhabited by the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews, which ranged into southern France; later, the Ashkenazic culture would spread into Eastern Europe as well.

Nothing is known about the vernacular of the earliest Jews in Germany, but several theories have been put forward. It is generally accepted that it was likely to have contained elements from other languages of the Near East and Europe, absorbed through dispersion.

Since many settlers came via France and Italy, it is also likely that the Romance-based Jewish languages of those regions were represented. Traces remain in the contemporary Yiddish vocabulary: for example, בענטשן (bentshn, to bless), from the Latin benedicere; and the personal name Anshl, cognate to Angel or Angelo. Western Yiddish includes additional words of Latin derivation (but still very few): for example, orn (to pray), cf. Latin "orare."

Liuboml, near Kovel, Volhynia, around 1900. A bilingual German/Yiddish sign reads "Volks-Küche/Folks-kikh" (People's Kitchen).

The first language of European Jews may have been Aramaic (Katz, 2004), the vernacular of the Jews in Roman-era Palestine and ancient and early medieval Mesopotamia. The widespread use of Aramaic among the large non-Jewish Syrian trading population of the Roman provinces, including those in Europe, would have reinforced the use of Aramaic among Jews engaged in trade.

In Roman times, many of the Jews living in Rome and southern Italy appear to have been Greek-speakers, and this is reflected in some Ashkenazi personal names (e.g., Kalonymus). Much work needs to be done, though, to fully analyze the contributions of those languages to Yiddish.

Members of the young Ashkenazi community would have encountered the myriad dialects from which standard German was destined to emerge many centuries later. They would soon have been speaking their own versions of these German dialects, mixed with linguistic elements that they themselves brought into the region. These dialects would have adapted to the needs of the burgeoning Ashkenazi culture and may, as characterizes many such developments, have included the deliberate cultivation of linguistic differences to assert cultural autonomy.

The Ashkenazi community also had its own geography, with a pattern of relationships among settlements that was somewhat independent of its non-Jewish neighbors. This led to the consolidation of Yiddish dialects, the borders of which did not coincide with the borders of German dialects.

Written evidence

The oldest surviving literary document in Yiddish is a blessing in a Hebrew prayer book from 1272 (described extensively in Frakes, 2004 and Baumgarten/Frakes, 2005):

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

This brief rhyme is decoratively embedded in a purely Hebrew text, a reproduction of which is in Katz, 2004. Nonetheless, it indicates that the Yiddish of that day was a more or less regular Middle High German into which Hebrew words — makhazor (prayer book for the High Holy Days) and beis hakneses (synagogue) — had been included. The pointing appears as though it might have been added by a second scribe, in which case it may need to be dated separately.

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

Apart from the obvious use of Hebrew words for specifically Jewish artifacts, it is very difficult to determine to what extent 15th-century written Yiddish differed from the German of that period. This is highly dependent on the phonetic properties that the alphabet is assumed to have had, particularly the vowels. There is a rough consensus that by this period, Yiddish would have sounded distinctive to the average German ear, even when restricted to the Germanic component of its vocabulary.


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

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

A page from the Shemot Devarim, a Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary and thesaurus, published by Elia Levita in 1542


The segmentation of the Yiddish readership, between women who read mame-loshn but not loshn-koydesh, and men who read both, was significant enough that distinctive typefaces were used for each. The name commonly given to the semicursive form used exclusively for Yiddish was ווײַבערטײַטש (vaybertaytsh = "women's taytsh," shown in the heading and fourth column in the adjacent illustration), with square Hebrew letters (shown in the third column) being reserved for text in that language and Aramaic. This distinction was retained in general typographic practice through to the early 19th century, with Yiddish books being set in vaybertaytsh (also termed מעשייט mesheyt or מאַשקעט mashket--the construction is uncertain).[2]

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


The Western Yiddish dialect began to decline in the 18th century, as The Enlightenment and the Haskalah led to the German view that Yiddish was a corrupt dialect. Owing to both assimilation to German and the incipient creation of Modern Hebrew, Western Yiddish only survived as a language of "intimate family circles or of closely knit trade groups" (Liptzin 1972). Farther east, where Jews were denied such emancipation, Yiddish was the cohesive force in a secular culture based on, and termed, ייִדישקייט (yidishkeyt = "Jewishness").

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

The 20th century

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

On the eve of World War II, there were between 11 and 13 million Yiddish speakers (Jacobs 2005). The Holocaust, however, led to a dramatic, sudden decline in the use of Yiddish, as the extensive Jewish communities, both secular and religious, that used Yiddish in their day-to-day life were largely destroyed. 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 similar to the earlier decline in Western Yiddish. However, the number of speakers within the widely dispersed Orthodox (mainly Hasidic) communities has recently increased. Although used in various countries, Yiddish has attained official recognition as a minority language only in Moldova, The Netherlands and Sweden.

Reports of the number of current Yiddish speakers vary significantly. Ethnologue estimates that in 2005 there were three million speakers of Eastern Yiddish,[1] of which over one-third lived in the United States. In contrast, the Modern Language Association reports fewer than 200,000 in the United States.[3] Western Yiddish, which had "several tens of thousands of speakers" on the eve of the Holocaust, is reported by Ethnologue to have had an "ethnic population" of slightly below 50,000 in 2000.[4] Intermediate estimates are also given, for example, of a worldwide Yiddish-speaking population of about two million in 1996 in a report by the Council of Europe.[5] 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 (LCAAJ). Numbers of native speakers from the latest available national censuses and other estimates are as follows:

  • Russia: 29,998, or 13% of the total Jewish population (2002)
  • Moldova: 17,000, or 26% of the total Jewish population (1989)
  • Ukraine: 3,213, or 3.1% of the total Jewish population (2001)
  • Belarus: 1,979, or 7.1% of the total Jewish population (1999)
  • Canada: 19,295, or 5.5% of the total Jewish population (2001)
  • Romania: 951, or 16.4% of the total Jewish population
  • Latvia: 825, or 7.9% of the total Jewish population
  • Lithuania: 570, or 14.2% of the total Jewish population
  • Estonia: 124, or 5.8% of the total Jewish population

There has been frequent debate about the extent of the linguistic independence of Yiddish from the languages that it absorbed. Some commentary dismisses Yiddish as mere jargon, although that precise term, in Yiddish, is also used as a colloquial designation for the language (without a pejorative connotation). There has been periodic assertion that Yiddish is a German dialect and, even when recognized as an autonomous language, it has sometimes been referred to as Judeo-German. A widely-cited summary of attitudes in the 1930s was published by Max Weinreich, quoting a remark by an auditor of one of his lectures: אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט (a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot — "A language is a dialect with an army and navy", facsimile excerpt at [2], discussed in detail in a separate article). More recently, Prof. Paul Wexler, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, has proposed that Eastern Yiddish should be classified as a Slavic language, formed by the relexification of Judeo-Slavic dialects by Judeo-German.

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 nineteenth and early twentieth 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."[6] The vocabulary used in Israel absorbed many Modern Hebrew words, and there was a similar increase in the English component of Yiddish in the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. This has resulted in some difficulties in communication between Yiddish speakers from Israel and those from other countries.


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

This conflict also reflected the opposing views among secular Jews worldwide, one side seeing Hebrew (and Zionism) and the other Yiddish (and Internationalism) as the means of defining emerging Jewish nationalism. Finally, the large post-1948 influx of Sephardic (including Mizrachi) Jewish refugees (to whom Yiddish was entirely foreign, but who already were familiar with Hebrew) effectively made Hebrew the only practical option for a state language. Still, state authorities in the young Israel of the 1950s went to the extent of using censorship laws inherited from British rule in order to prohibit or extremely limit Yiddish theater in Israel.[7][not in citation given]

In religious circles, it is the Ashkenazi Haredi Jews, particularly the Hasidic Jews and the mitnagdim of the Lithuanian yeshiva world, who continue to teach, speak and use Yiddish, making it a language used regularly by hundreds of thousands of Haredi Jews today. The largest of these centers are in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.

There is a growing revival of interest in Yiddish culture among secular Israelis, with Yiddish theater now flourishing (usually with simultaneous translation to Hebrew and Russian) and young people are taking university courses in Yiddish, some achieving considerable fluency (albeit with an accent that would seem very strange to native speakers).[8]

Former Soviet Union

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

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

Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Russia

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Federation, where Yiddish is an official language.
File:Birobidzhan Vokzal.jpg
Birobidzhan's train terminal square.

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast was formed in 1934 in the Russian Far East, with its capital city in Birobidzhan and Yiddish as its official language. The intention was for the Soviet Jewish population to settle there. Jewish cultural life was revived in Birobidzhan much earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Yiddish theaters began opening in the 1970s. The newspaper דער ביראָבידזשאנער שטערן (der birobidzhaner shtern; lit: "The Birobidzhan Star") includes a Yiddish section. The First Birobidzhan International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture was launched in 2007. [3].


Yiddish, along with Hebrew, is an officially recognized minority language in Moldova for the purposes of the Jewish community. In the capital city of Chişinău, there is a Yiddish language radio program ייִדיש לעבן (yidish lebn; lit. "Jewish Life"), a television program אויף דער ייִדישער גאַס (af der yidisher gas; lit. "On the Jewish Street") and the newspaper אונדזער קול (undzer kol; lit. "Our Voice").[9] There are 17,000 Yiddish speakers in Moldova.


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

In June 1999, the Swedish Parliament enacted legislation giving Yiddish legal status[10] as one of the country's official minority languages (entering into effect in April 2000). The rights thereby conferred are not detailed, but additional legislation was enacted in June 2006 establishing a new governmental agency, The Swedish National Language Council, the mandate of which instructs it to, "collect, preserve, scientifically research, and spread material about the national minority languages", naming them all explicitly, including Yiddish. When announcing this action, the government made an additional statement about "simultaneously commencing completely new initiatives for ... Yiddish [and the other minority languages]".

The Swedish government publishes documents in Yiddish, of which the most recent details the national action plan for human rights.[11] An earlier one provides general information about national minority language policies.[12]

On 6 September 2007, it became possible to register Internet domains with Yiddish names in the national top-level domain .SE.[13]

United States

File:Yiddish Distribution USA.JPG
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

In the United States, the Yiddish language bonded Jews from many countries. פֿאָרווערטס (forverts - Yiddish Forward) was one of seven Yiddish daily newspapers in New York City, and other Yiddish newspapers served as a forum for Jews of all European backgrounds. The Yiddish Forward still appears weekly and is available in an online edition.[14] It remains in wide distribution, together with דער אַלגעמיינער זשורנאַל (der algemeyner zhurnal - Algemeiner Journal; algemeyner = general) which is also published weekly and appears online.[15] The widest-circulation Yiddish newspapers are probably the two prominent Satmar weekly issues [[Der Blatt|דער בּלאַט]] (Der Blatt; blat = newspaper) and [[Der Yid|דער איד]] (Der Yid). Several additional newspapers and magazines are in regular production, such as the monthly publications דער שטערן (Der Shtern; shtern = star) and דער בליק (Der Blick; blik = view). (The romanized titles cited in this paragraph are in the form given on the masthead of each publication and may be at some variance both with the literal Yiddish title and the transliteration rules otherwise applied in this article.) One large center of Yiddish linguistics in Kiryas Joel, New York.

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

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

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

Present speaker population

In the 2000 census, 178,945 people in the United States reported speaking Yiddish at home. Of these speakers, 113,515 lived in New York (63.43% of American Yiddish speakers), 18,220 in Florida (10.18%), 9,145 in New Jersey (5.11%), and 8,950 in California (5.00%). The remaining states with speaker populations larger than 1,000 are Pennsylvania (5,445), Ohio (1,925), Michigan (1,945), Massachusetts (2,380), Maryland (2,125), Illinois (3,510), Connecticut (1,710), and Arizona (1,055). The population is largely elderly: 72,885 of the speakers were older than 65, 66,815 were between 18 and 64, and only 39,245 were age 17 or lower.[16] In the six years since the 2000 census, the 2006 American Community Survey reflected an estimated 15 percent decline of people speaking Yiddish at home in the U.S. to 152,515.[17]

United Kingdom

There are well over 30,000 Yiddish speakers in the United Kingdom, and several thousand children now have Yiddish as a first language. The largest group of Yiddish speakers in Britain reside in the Stamford Hill district of North London, but there are sizeable communities in Golders Green, Manchester and Gateshead.[18] The Yiddish readership in the UK is mainly reliant upon imported material from the United States and Israel for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. However, the London-based weekly Jewish Tribune, has a small section in Yiddish called אידישע טריבונע Idishe Tribune.


Scots Yiddish is the name given to a Jewish hybrid vernacular between Lowland Scots and Yiddish which had a brief currency in the Lowlands of Scotland in the first half of the 20th century. The Scottish literary historian David Daiches describes it in his autobiographical account of his Edinburgh Jewish childhood, Two Worlds:

"Recently I received a letter from the son of the man who was stationmaster at one of the small railway stations where the earliest trebblers [Yiddish pronunciation of travellers, i.e. Jewish travelling salesmen] would alight; he told me how, at the very beginning of this century, these Jewish immigrants, not yet knowing any English, would converse with his father, they talking in Yiddish and he in broad Scots, with perfectly adequate mutual intelligibility. Scots-Yiddish as a working language must have been developing rapidly in the years immediately preceding the first World War. It must have been one of the most short-lived languages in the world. I should guess that 1912 to 1914 was the period of its flourishing. The younger generation, who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, of course did not speak it, though they knew yiddish; and while there is an occasional old man in Edinburgh who speaks it today, one has to seek it out in order to find it, and in another decade it will be gone for ever. ‘Aye man, ich hob’ getrebbelt mit de five o’clock train,’ one trebbler would say to another. ‘Vot time’s yer barmitzvie, laddie?’ I was once asked. ‘Ye’ll hae a drap o’ bamfen (whisky). It’s Dzon Beck. Ye ken: “Nem a schmeck fun Dzon Beck.”’ (‘Take a peg of John Begg’, the advertising slogan of John Begg whisky.)[19]

Daiches explores the social stratification of Edinburgh Jewish society in the interwar period, noting what is effectively a class divide between two parts of the community, on the one hand a highly educated and well-integrated group who sought a synthesis of Orthodox Rabbinical and Modern Secular thinking, on the other a Yiddish-speaking group most comfortable maintaining the lifestyle of the Eastern European ghetto. The Yiddish population grew up in Scotland in the 19th century, but by the late 20th century had mostly switched to using English. The creolisation of Yiddish with Scots was therefore a phenomenon of the middle part of this period.

The Glaswegian Jewish poet A. C. Jacobs also refers to his language as Scots-Yiddish.online

Religious communities

The major exception to the decline of spoken Yiddish can be found in Haredi communities all over the world. In some of the more closely-knit such communities Yiddish is spoken as a home and schooling language, especially in Hasidic, litvish or yeshivish communities such as Brooklyn's Borough Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, and in Monsey, Kiryas Joel, and New Square. (Over 88% of the population of Kiryas Joel is reported to speak Yiddish at home.[20]) ; Also in New Jersey Yiddish is widely spoken mostly in Lakewood but also in smaller yeshivishe towns with yeshivos such as Passaic and more... Yiddish is also widely spoken in the Antwerp Jewish community and in Haredi communities such as the ones in London, Manchester and Montreal. Among most Ashkenazi Haredim, Hebrew is generally reserved for prayer, while Yiddish is used for religious studies as well as a home and business language. In Israel, however, Haredim commonly speak Modern Hebrew, with the notable exception of many Hasidic communities. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Haredim who use Modern Hebrew also understand Yiddish. Many send their children to schools in which the primary language of instruction is Yiddish. Members of movements such as Satmar Hasidism, who view the commonplace use of Hebrew as a form of Zionism, use Yiddish almost exclusively.

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

While Hebrew remains the language of Jewish prayer, the Hasidim have mixed considerable 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. In addition, some Hassidic prayers, such as the Got fun Avrohom, were composed and are recited in Yiddish.

See also


  1. ^ a b Yiddish, Eastern, on Ethnologue. Accessed online 17 October 2006.
  2. ^ Max Weinreich, געשיכטע פֿון דער ייִדישער שפּראַך (New York: YIVO, 1973), vol. 1, p. 280, with explanation of symbol on p. xiv.
  3. ^ Most spoken languages in the United States, Modern Language Association. Accessed online 17 October 2006.
  4. ^ Yiddish, Western, on Ethnologue. Accessed online 17 October 2006.
  5. ^ Emanuelis Zingeris, Yiddish culture, Council of Europe Committee on Culture and Education Doc. 7489, 12 February 1996. Accessed online 17 October 2006.
  6. ^ Wex, Michael (2005). Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods. St. Martin's Press. p. 29. 
  7. ^ Crossing Jerusalem and negotiating issues of censorship and self-censorship - Jewish Theater News
  8. ^ Yiddish Studies Thrives at Columbia After More than Fifty Years - Columbia News
  9. ^ [1], Jewish Virtual History Tour, Moldova. Accessed online 3 July 2007.
  10. ^ (in Swedish) Regeringens proposition 1998/99:143 Nationella minoriteter i Sverige, 10 June 1999. Accessed online 17 October 2006.
  11. ^ (in Yiddish) אַ נאַציאָנאַלער האַנדלונגס־פּלאַן פאַר די מענטשלעכע רעכט A National Action Plan for Human Rights 2006–2009. Accessed online 4 December 2006.
  12. ^ (in Yiddish) נאַציאַנאַלע מינאָריטעטן און מינאָריטעט־שפּראַכן National Minorities and Minority Languages. Accessed online 4 December 2006.
  13. ^ IDG: Jiddischdomänen är här
  14. ^ (in Yiddish) פֿאָרווערטס: The Forward online.
  15. ^ (in Yiddish) דער אַלגעמיינער זשורנאַל: Algemeiner Journal online
  16. ^ Language by State: Yiddish, MLA Language Map Data Center, based on U.S. Census data. Accessed online 25 December 2006.
  17. ^ Detailed Tables - American FactFinder
  18. ^ Times on Yiddish in the UK
  19. ^ David Daiches, Two Worlds, 1956, Cannnongate edition 1987, ISBN 0-86241-148-3, p. 119f.
  20. ^ MLA Data Center Results: Kiryas Joel, New York, Modern Language Association. Accessed online 17 October 2006.


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  • Katz, Hirshe-Dovid, 1992. Code of Yiddish spelling ratified in 1992 by the programmes in Yiddish language and literature at Bar Ilan University, Oxford University Tel Aviv University, Vilnius University. Oxford: Oksforder Yidish Press in cooperation with the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies. (כלל–תקנות פון יידישן אויסלייג. 1992. אקספארד: אקספארדער צענטער פאר העכערע העברעאישע שטודיעס) ISBN 1-897744-01-3

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