Commenting on the controversies that emerged when the popular language-learning app Duolingo initiated its Yiddish course, Meir Soloveichik objects to those who see the tongue as way to express a Jewish identity at a safe distance from both the Jewish religion and the Jewish state. He writes:
[T]o reduce Yiddish in this way is to commit a calumny against a language that is not about negativity. Isaac Bashevis Singer was surely correct when, in his Nobel Prize address, he argued that there is in Yiddish “a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love.” The most insightful summation of Yiddish’s character was put forward by Max Weinreich, the 20th century’s greatest scholar of the language, who argued that Yiddish embodies the Derekh ha-Shas, or “the way of the Talmud.” By this he meant not that the Talmud was written by Yiddish speakers, but that Yiddish trains its speakers to see the entire world from a talmudic perspective, so that every aspect of reality is described in similes and metaphors that refer back, in some profound way, to the life of halakhic Judaism.
A plethora of idioms in Yiddish reflect this, and Weinreich notes many of them. If one wishes to express that something happens often, one says that it occurs Yeder montik un donershtik, every Monday and Thursday, because the weekday Torah readings take place on them. . . . Since every married male Jew among the Ashkenazim wore a tallis, a prayer shawl, a statement in Yiddish that “our town has thirty talleisim” means that there are 30 families.
Here, then, is the terrible irony. The suggestions that Yiddish should be represented by a bagel, or a fiddler on a roof, or, as others have suggested in a different context, a Chagallian goat playing a clarinet, reflect the fact that many modern Jews seek in Yiddish a source of Jewish identity that is a replacement of faith. They hunger for a touchstone of cultural Jewishness that is devoid of the Divine. But . . . Yiddish is the tongue of a community that viewed reality through the perspective not of abstract pursuits of the good but through daily liturgy and daily rituals that were, and are, life-affirming.