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The Yiddish language is approximately 1000 years old and originated in Germany, though exactly in which region is still debated. Max Weinreich, author of the 4 volume, History of the Yiddish Language, (original in Yiddish, now in English translation) presents strong evidence that the Rhine valley Jewish communities in Germany were the first to speak the German dialects of the time together with Hebrew-Aramaic elements, and a smaller element of older Old French and Old Italian words and names. As these Jews moved farther east into Poland and other Slavic-speaking lands in the 13th, 14th and 15th century, the Slavic languages influenced Yiddish in terms of syntax and vocabulary. Thus as a fusion language, not unlike English, Yiddish developed as the main spoken language of the Jews in the world until the Holocaust.


Yiddish literature began as an aid to learning the holy works in Loshn-Koydesh, the holy language of prayer and study - Hebrew/Aramaic - and then in the 15th, 16th and 17th century, a branch of the literature developed particularly for Jewish women who could not read Loshn-Koydesh as well as for less-learned men, that included folk literature - legends, folktales - and translations and adaptations of world literature. Some of these works such as the Tsene Rene ("The Woman's Bible") and the Mayse-bukh (Book of Legends, 1603) became bestsellers and were printed in numerous editions.

Modern Yiddish literature began in the early 19th century, typically as part of the Maskilic agenda that challenged the traditional Jewish lifestyle and outlook. Sholem Abramovitch (1836-1917) (pen name: Mendele Moykher Sforim), Sholem Rabinovitch (1859 - 1916) (pen name: Sholem Aleichem) and I. L. Peretz (1852 - 1915) are considered the three great classic Yiddish authors of the first and second generation of modern Yiddish writers. Avrom Goldfaden (1840 - 1908) is considered the father of modern Yiddish theater and dramaturgy.

In the 20th century, Yiddish literature quickly developed into a modernist literature, with such prose writers as David Bergelson (1884 - 1952), Israel Rabon (1900 - 1941) Sholem Asch (1880 - 1957) I . J. Singer (1893 - 1944) and the Nobel laureate I. B. Singer (1902 - 1991) and Yiddish poets in America such as Mani Leib (1883 - 1953), Moyshe-Leib Halperin (1886 - 1932), Yankev Glatstein (1896 - 1971), A. Leyeles (1889 - 1966); and in Eastern Europe such as Itzik Manger (1901 - 1969), Peretz Markish (1895 - 1952) and Avrom Sutzkever (1913 - 2010). Yiddish writers today continue to publish in many countries around the world.

Yiddish Theater and Press quickly grew at the beginning of the 20th century around the world, with more than a dozen Yiddish theaters at one time in NYC before the first world war, and the Yiddish Daily Forward newspaper attaining a readership of a quarter million in NY in the 1910s and 1920s.


With the Holocaust, Yiddish culture lost the majority of its speakers, supporters and creators; yet, in secular Yiddish circles in many countries, Yiddish cultural efforts continue to sustain the thousand year old language and culture which is at the heart of most of today's Jewry. As a spoken language Yiddish is not in danger, since the Hasidic Jewish world which is Yiddish-speaking is growing quickly in New York and Israel. Yiddish studies in universities have attracted hundreds of students who often become Yiddish cultural activists and leaders. As is often said about Yiddish - "It was dying two hundred years ago, and will continue to die for another thousand years".

© CYCO 2011