Jewish and Israel Studies

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Twenty-First Century Yiddishism

Language, Identity, and the New Jewish Studies

Tatjana Soldat-Jaffe holds a PhD from University of Illinois, and is currently a professor at University of Louisville, Kentucky, where she supervises the linguistics program. Her research and teaching interest focus on Yiddish studies, language & culture, and language & ideology.

Drawing on sociolinguistics and cultural studies, Twenty-First Century Yiddishism examines transnational critical debates about teaching Yiddish over the last hundred years. It looks at the ways a contested pedagogical terrain comes to define a minority language’s on-going resources of cultural and ideological resilience. From the inaugural international academic conference on the language held in 1908 in the Austro-Hungarian empire to the rise of Yiddish home-schooling and the surge of interest as a subject of secondary language study in recent years, the status, turf-sharing conflicts and pedagogical frictions surrounding the shuttling of Yiddish back-and-forth reveal a fraught yet surprisingly dynamic situation.

Through historical and comparative analysis – including archival work, surveys, interviews, close textual reading, discourse analysis, and ideological critique – the author reports on three critical case-studies for the language’s futurity: ultra-orthodox Jewry in the UK, “heritage” learners in the US, and “multi-cultural” non-Jewish learners in Germany. The volume addresses several timely preoccupations in the fields of both Jewish Studies and Linguistics, pulling together multiple strands from the humanities and the social sciences concerning the evolving politics of language, pedagogy, transnationalism and diaspora, the meaning of heritage languages, and religious and ethnic identity in the modern era. Twenty-First Century Yiddishism will be of keen interest to all who study these disciplines academically, as well as other readers in literary and cultural studies, literary and cultural theory, anthropology, and history.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-406-2
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $59.50
Release Date: January 2012
Page Extent / Format: 978-1-84519-406-2
Illustrated: No


Introduction: Yiddish Goes On

Chapter One: Yiddishism and Its Discontents
Language Purity, Past and Present
Returning to the Scene of Yiddishism
Cultural Nationalism
In Defense of Hybridism
Reclaiming Cultural Autonomy
The Legacy of Czernowitz

Chapter Two: Anti-Yiddishism and the Erlikhe Yidn in the United Kingdom

Yiddish as a Cultural Trait
Jewish Education, Yiddish Education
Erlikhe Yidn Home-study
Language as an Ethnic Marker

Chapter Three: Complexity and Contradiction in American Yiddishland
Visions and Revisions of Yiddishland
Yiddish as a School of Thought, Yiddish as a School for Thought
Making Use of Yiddish
The Yiddish Academic Postmodern

Chapter Four: Yiddishism or Yidishkayt: Can Yiddish “Revive” in Germany?

The Life and Death Paradigm
Aspirational Self-Fashioning
German Yiddishland

Conclusion: Heritage Learning

Works Cited

Tatjana Soldat-Jaffe’s Twentieth-First Century Yiddishism is a risky yet engaging tour through the post-Holocaust social history of Yiddish in Israel, Europe — especially Germany — and the United States. It is a parallel history of the status of the Jewish imaginary, Jews in the imagination of non-Jews, Jews as historical figures, and Jews as self-creators of a new / old Jewish identity. Well researched and well written, it is both first-rate socio-linguistics and social history, of importance to scholars of American, Israeli, and German Jewry.
Sander L. Gilman, Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University

Even before the extermination of millions of native Yiddish speakers by Hitler, sociolinguists who followed the migration of Yiddish-speaking Jews from Europe to America and Palestine anticipated its categorization as an endangered language. It took only one American assimilationist generation and Hebrew University’s revival of Hebrew as a modern language to give the thousand-year-old language a push toward oblivion. The Holocaust could have been the final blow: the end of Yiddish as a language and literature. But that has not happened, and Soldat-Jaffe (Univ. of Louisville) adds to the discussion with this intelligent study of why Yiddish is still with us, and why it may persist. In Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish, David Katz used the astonishing rebirth of Haredi orthodoxy in the US as a critical case to examine Yiddish language survival. Soldat-Jaffe begins with the first great Yiddish language conference in Czernowitz in 1908, offering a social history of Yiddish, then concentrating on the postwar Haredi in the UK and the cultural revival of Yiddishkeit in Europe and America. This historical and comparative analysis makes a strong case for the survival of a language whose demise has been routinely predicted for the past 50 years. Recommended.

This ambitious, thought-provoking work examines the socio-linguistic implications and ideological debates surrounding Yiddish education today. Dr. Soldat-Jaffe presents and analyzes three arenas of Yiddish pedagogy: home study among Haredi Jewish children in London, and academic study in the United States and in Germany.
... Each arena has its own complications, which the author discusses in detail, noting that Yiddish language learning today defies many established categories. Yiddish variously reinforces the native, daily language of Haredi children in London; renews the roots of American university students; and connects non-Jews (especially Germans) to Jewish culture. Academic learning is not sufficient to provide a true cultural immersion, and the use of Yiddish in the klezmer scene is often superficial. Curiously, both Haredi and secular Yiddish pedagogues have promoted Yiddish as a way of fighting assimilation and strengthening Jewish identity, while German students of Yiddish seek a connection with Eastern European culture and a rejection of collective memory and guilt.
... This is a welcome contribution to the field of Yiddish and socio-linguistics. Densely written and employing academic language, this book is suitable for educated readers. The divergent yet related areas of Yiddish study addressed here raise many interesting questions. Indeed, each chapter could be expanded into its own book.
Recommended for academic libraries, especially collections including Jewish studies and socio-linguistics.
Amanda Seigel, Dorot Jewish Division, New York Public Library (Association of Jewish Libraries)

Reviewed in American Jewish Studies Review.

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