The Politics of Yiddish:
Studies in Language, Literature and Society

Dov-Ber Kerler (editor)

AltaMira Press 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 2013
Based on a series of symposia held in Oxford in 1988 and 1990, The Politics of Yiddish is a varied assortment of short essays on aspects of language politics and literary and social life.

There are pieces on the conferences at Czernowitz in 1908 and Yivo in 1935, and on Yiddish in the Ukraine in the 1930s. There are pieces on writers and artists in Soviet Russia, looking at the the poet Dovid Hofstein, the novelist Dovid Bergelson and the actor and director Shloyme Mikhoels, and at the accommodations they were forced to make with Soviet ideology. At the other end of the world, in New York, there are pieces on the Yiddish socialist press, the Yiddish Writers Group of the Works Progress Administration, and the Artef Theatre. Elsewhere, there are pieces on London's Yiddish community and its demographic rearrangements and on Yiddish in orthodox communities in Jerusalem. And some of the more technical pieces look at "the Aston corpus of Soviet Yiddish", "structural analysis of Yiddish riddles", and "the origin of some unusual family names in east Slavic areas".

A few of the essays present passages in Yiddish without English translations, one of them even in Hebrew script, but they are the exception. This is a mostly accessible and surprisingly involving collection: despite lacking any background in the area, I found it gave me, if not any kind of systematic view of the 20th century history of Yiddish, some feel for its outlines — and for the topics of interest to Yiddishists at the end of the century (several of the contributors are as much enthusiasts and advocates as scholars).

June 2013

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%T The Politics of Yiddish
%S Studies in Language, Literature and Society
%E Kerler, Dov-Ber
%I AltaMira Press
%D 1998
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0761990240
%P 212pp