A Goy Who Speaks Yiddish: Christians and the Jewish Language by Aya Elyada

By Aya Elyada

This publication explores the original phenomenon of Christian engagement with Yiddish language and literature from the start of the 16th century to the overdue eighteenth century. via exploring the motivations for Christian curiosity in Yiddish, and the differing ways that Yiddish used to be mentioned and handled in Christian texts, A Goy Who Speaks Yiddish addresses a big selection of concerns, such a lot significantly Christian Hebraism, Protestant theology, early glossy Yiddish tradition, and the social and cultural heritage of language in early glossy Europe.

Elyada’s research of a variety of philological and theological works, in addition to textbooks, dictionaries, ethnographical writings, and translations, demonstrates that Christian Yiddishism had implications past its in simple terms linguistic and philological dimensions. certainly, Christian texts on Yiddish display not just the ways that Christians perceived and outlined Jews and Judaism, but in addition, in a contrasting vein, how they considered their very own language, faith, and culture.

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43 The same idea, albeit ex- Yiddish in the Judenmission pressed in much more pleasant formulations, was restated almost a century later in the writings of Pietists and their supporters, who stressed an acquaintance with Jewish sources, both Hebrew and Yiddish, as a prerequisite for a well informed and hence effective mission. Wagenseil, for example, claimed in his Die Hoffnung der Erlösung Israelis (The hope of Israel’s redemption; Leipzig 1705) that “just as one cannot help a sick person as long as one does not know what he lacks .

In order to establish this point, the authors elaborate on what they refer to as the German Jews’ “great ignorance” of the Hebrew language, manifested in the Jews’ inability either to speak or to read the language in A Jewish Language in a Christian World a satisfactory manner. The chapter attempts to elucidate the complex matrix of motivations that stood behind the Christian discussions on this topic. Apart from the direct theological criticism of the Jews for failing to understand their Hebrew prayers or to read the Bible in its original tongue, the separation between the Yiddish-speaking Jews and the Hebrew language enabled the Christian authors to create a debased image of Jewish-Ashkenazi culture and religion, in contrast to which they could affirm and emphasize their own theological and cultural superiority.

21 In 1728 Wagenseil’s missionary vision in general, and that of mission in Yiddish in particular, was given an institutional framework with the establishment of the Institutum Judaicum et Muhammedicum in the Prussian city of Halle. 22 The missionary activities of Callenberg’s institute concentrated on three fields. The first was the publication and distribution of missionary literature in Oriental languages, especially in Yiddish. Thanks to a vast network of helpers and sympathizers stretching across and beyond the continent, missionary publications were taken to the remotest places and almost immediately distributed among the Jews, usually free of charge or at a very small price.

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