The Life and Legacy of Max Weinreich, the Architect of Yiddish Scholarship

Born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in what is now Latvia, Max Weinreich encountered anti-Semitism from the moment he left the ḥeder for a secular school, and reacted by gravitating toward Jewish culture. He would eventually become the world’s leading scholar of Yiddish, and of the history and cultural anthropology of Ashkenazi Jewry more broadly. In a biographical essay examining Weinreich’s remarkable career, David Roskies begins with his subject’s debut in the Yiddish literary world:

Weinreich published the first-ever translation of cantos from Homer’s Iliad into Yiddish hexameters, so stunning a feat that it earned him a shoutout from the rising star of Yiddish lyric poetry, Moyshe Kulbak. “In every nation,” Kulbak wrote in “The Yiddish Word,” his essay-manifesto of 1918, “translations of Homer are a measure not only of that nation’s spiritual maturity, but also of the artistic development of its language, capable of rendering a writer such as Homer.”

Weinreich would later spearhead efforts to standardize Yiddish spelling, participating in seemingly obscure debates that in fact turned on how one defines the very essence of Jewish culture:

The Vilna standard [developed by Weinreich and his companions] demanded that the etymological spelling of the Hebrew-Aramaic component of Yiddish, the most ancient stratum of the language, be preserved, for this is what all Jewish languages had in common. Soviet Jewish language planners thought otherwise. To achieve universal literacy while eviscerating rabbinic culture, dismantling ḥeder education, banning religious observance, and driving a permanent wedge between the Soviet working classes and “petit-bourgeois” nationalisms, the Soviet state apparatus mandated a naturalized system of spelling in which all Yiddish words were treated equally. By eliminating [the] “superfluous” letters . . . used only in Hebrew-Aramaic-origin words, followed by the abolition of the final, . . . any Yiddish text printed outside the Soviet Union was rendered indecipherable. Not just ritual purity lay in the details; the devil too.

Yet perhaps the work of Weinreich’s that remains most relevant today was the one that did not concern Yiddish at all, but “a second tier of loyal Nazis and enablers” not tried at Nuremberg, which included “scholars, thinkers, and researchers, some world-renowned.” Roskies continues:

They were the most insidious servants of evil, for scholarship in the service of the Nazis was a double betrayal. Besides aiding and abetting Hitler, Weinreich held them responsible for defiling, perverting, and destroying the very integrity of scholarship itself, the ideal of dispassionate visnshaft [academic study] that only yesterday had been the beacon of Jewish self-emancipation. Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes against the Jewish People (1946) appeared in Yiddish, then again as the first volume in the YIVO English Translation Series.

In it, Weinreich tracked the careers of such luminaries as Martin Heidegger and Hans Naumann, a criminal docket that was alphabetically searchable in the Index of Persons and Institutions. For Weinreich, as for Abraham Joshua Heschel, who read Hitler’s Professors in the Yiddish original, some of these German scholars had been mentors, thesis advisers, and trusted colleagues. So on the day when Weinreich completed the manuscript, March 15, 1946, he asked his personal secretary, Chana Gordon, for a cigarette, a pleasure he had denied himself all through the war. She watched Dr. Weinreich light up and take a few richly deserved puffs; then, without finishing, he put it out.

Read more at Tablet

More about: East European Jewry, Jewish studies, Nazi Germany, Yiddish


Why Saturday Was a Resounding Defeat for Iran

Yaakov Lappin provides a concise and useful overview of what transpired on Saturday. For him, the bottom line is this:

Iran and its jihadist Middle Eastern axis sustained a resounding strategic defeat. . . . The fact that 99 percent of the threats were intercepted means that a central pillar of Iranian force projection—its missile and UAV arsenals—has been proven to be no match for Israel’s air force, for its multilayered air-defense system, or for regional cooperation with allies.

Iran must now await Israel’s retaliation, and unlike Israel, Iranian air defenses are by comparison limited in scope. After its own failure on Sunday, Iran now relies almost exclusively on Hizballah for an ability to threaten Israel.

And even as Iran continues to work on developing newer and deadlier missiles, the IDF is staying a few steps ahead:

Israel is expecting its Iron Beam laser-interception system, which can shoot down rockets, mortars, and UAVs, to become operational soon, and is developing an interceptor (Sky Sonic) for Iran’s future hypersonic missile (Fattah), which is in development.

The Iron Beam will change the situation in a crucial way. Israell’s defensive response on Saturday reportedly cost it around $1 billion. While Iron Beam may have to be used in concert with other systems, it is far cheaper and doesn’t run the risk of running out of ammunition.

Read more at JNS

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iron Dome, Israeli Security, Israeli technology