Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

I find it odd that Jody and David have missed Ruth Wisse’s rather obvious point about the philosophical importance of Yiddish. Yiddish was the language in which the logically complex, multi-voiced world of the Talmud made its way into Jewish folk wisdom. The ironic and indirect ways of affirming and denying—God bless the Czar and keep him far, far away—modes of speaking that are so important for Jewish humanism, are found in Yiddish, a plastic language that hung like a long suspension bridge over the chasm that separated the world of an isolated, vulnerable religious minority from the dangerous Gentile-dominated majority culture.

I agree with Ruth Wisse. The point is not that Yiddish literature is somehow superior to what one reads in German. Rather, her point is that the twentieth century might have been more humane if the ideologues of the nineteenth century had their sledgehammer theories softened, perhaps even overturned, by the twisting, evasive, allusive verbal ambiance of Yiddish, a folk tradition of language that testifies to the uncertainties and fragilities of life.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles