Yiddish Is a Language That Can’t Be Disconnected from Judaism

June 17 2021

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.

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More about: Judaism, Yiddish

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship