The most widely spoken Jewish language on the eve of the Holocaust, Yiddish continues to play a significant role in Jewish life today, from Hasidim for whom it is a language of daily life to avant-garde performers, political activists, and LGBTQ writers turning to Yiddish for inspiration. In Yiddish: Biography of a Language (Oxford University Press, 2020), Jeffrey Shandler presents the story of this centuries-old language, the defining vernacular of Ashkenazi Jews, from its origins to the present.
Shandler tells the multifaceted history of Yiddish in the form of a biographical profile, revealing surprising insights through a series of thematic chapters. He addresses key aspects of Yiddish as the language of a diasporic population, whose speakers have always used more than one language. As the vernacular of a marginalized minority, Yiddish has often been held in low regard compared to other languages, and its legitimacy as a language has been questioned. But some devoted Yiddish speakers have championed the language as embodying the essence of Jewish culture and a defining feature of a Jewish national identity. Despite predictions of the demise of Yiddish-dating back well before half of its speakers were murdered during the Holocaust-the language leads a vibrant, evolving life to this day.
Jeffrey Shandler is Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University
Schneur Zalman Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and the author of Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Temple University Press, 2020). Visit him online at ZalmanNewfield.com.