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Review. Hasidism, Haskalah —why are these significant for the history of Yiddish culture in particular? What is the debate about how these movements affected the internal hierarchies within Jewish culture?

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  • Hasidism, Haskalah—why are these significant for the history of Yiddish culture in particular?

  • What is the debate about how these movements affected the internal hierarchies within Jewish culture?

  • Why is Yiddish culture’s focus in the 19th century going to be primarily in the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empire? What about the rest of Europe?

Final product for the course
Final Product for the Course

  • 2000-3000 words in English, unless you’re up for the task of writing in Yiddish

  • Aim is to prepare a 20 minute presentation for the conference in the format that you and your mentor decide works best for your project

  • Should be original research that involves at least one Yiddish-language source


Who is which classic Yiddish writer?

What makes you think that?

Di klassikers the classic yiddish writers
Di klassikers: The Classic Yiddish Writers

  • Time period: Late 1850s through Early 1910s

  • End of Haskalah (secularization, gender revolution) “German citizens of the Jewish faith”), beginning of populism, nationalism, socialism;

  • Increase in Jewish population, birth of mass Jewish migration;

  • Marx: Communist Manifesto, 1848 Revolutions, Sparks interest in Revolution. Russians love Marx, and the Jews love Russian revolutionaries. Therefore, Jews love Marx

  • Rise of capitalism; industrial revolution (trains introduced). Destroy economy of the shtetl. Crisis of modernization

  • Nation/State-building: Germany, Italy, Eastern Europeans are clamoring for nation-states.

  • Tsar Alexander II: The Tsar-Liberator (1855-1881); Serfs emancipated in 1861;

  • The Jews’ Search for Their Language and Culture in Eastern Europe

Sholem aleichem s grave
Sholem Aleichem’s Grave

Here lies a simple Jew,

Who wrote yidish-taytsh for women,

And for the common people—

He was a humorist-writer.

He ridiculed all of life,

Reviled the world.

The whole world made out very well,

And he—alas—had troubles.

And precisely when his audience

Was laughing, applauding, and having a good time,

He was ailing—only God knows this—

In secret, so no one would see.

S abramovitch benjamin the 3 rd 1878
S. Abramovitch, Benjamin the 3rd 1878

1.   First published in KolMevaser, first modern Yiddish newspaper, Odessa, 1860s. The Little Man (Dos kleynementschele), The Mare (Di kliatshe).

2. Who is Mendel the Book Peddler?

3. What do we make of the opening, about Western newspapers flocking to hear of the Benyomin story?

4. How is the relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish figured?

5. Note the power of books to spark imagination

6. How is the shtetl figured?  A closed place?  A place of exile.  How do non Jews figure in the story? Note the satire with which he describes Moochville.7.    Why is Benyomin fleeing town?8.    Is there an overall point to the story? Note echoes with Don Quixote8.    How does this story reflect the maskilic background of Abramovitch?  How is it showing something new?

Sholem aleichem chava 1905 6 and railroad stories 1902 1909
Sholem Aleichem, Chava (1905-6) and Railroad Stories (1902,1909)

Sholem Aleichem:

1.How are we to relate to Tevye?  As a pathetic character?  Sad? Letting the world pass him by?2.How do you think the author judges the daughters?3. How are gender roles being portrayed?  Positively, negatively?

4. How is Yiddish talked about in his stories?

Il perets if not higher 1900
IL Perets, If Not Higher (1900)

1.    Why is it important that the woman is a non-Jew?  How do we know she’s a non-Jew?2.    What is a Litvak?  How is he portrayed?3.    What is the overall point of this story?