|Pronunciation||/ˈjɪdɪʃ/ or /ˈjidɪʃ/|
|Spoken in||United States, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, United Kingdom, Russia, Canada, Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Moldova, Lithuania, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Australia, France and elsewhere.|
|Writing system||uses a Hebrew-based alphabet|
|Official language in||Official minority language in: Sweden
Recognized as a minority language in Moldova
and parts of: Russia
( Jewish Autonomous Oblast)
|Regulated by||no formal bodies;
YIVO de facto
yid – Yiddish (generic)
ydd – Eastern Yiddish
yih – Western Yiddish
|Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.|
Yiddish (ייִדיש yidish or אידיש idish, literally "Jewish") is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages. It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.
The language originated in the Ashkenazi culture that developed from about the 10th century in the Rhineland and then spread to Central and Eastern Europe and eventually to other continents. In the earliest surviving references to it, the language is called לשון־אַשכּנז (loshn-ashkenaz = "language of Ashkenaz") and טײַטש (taytsh, a variant of tiutsch, the contemporary name for the language otherwise spoken in the region of origin, now called Middle High German; compare the modern New High German Deutsch). In common usage, the language is called מאַמע־לשון (mame-loshn, literally "mother tongue"), distinguishing it from biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, which are collectively termed לשון־קודש (loshn-koydesh, "holy tongue"). The term "Yiddish" did not become the most frequently used designation in the literature of the language until the 18th century.
For a significant portion of its history, Yiddish was the primary spoken language of the Ashkenazi Jews and once spanned a broad dialect continuum from Western Yiddish to three major groups within Eastern Yiddish, namely Litvish, Poylish and Ukrainish. Eastern and Western Yiddish are most markedly distinguished by the extensive inclusion of words of Slavic origin in the Eastern dialects. While Western Yiddish has few remaining speakers, Eastern dialects remain in wide use.
Yiddish is written and spoken in Orthodox Jewish communities around the world. It is a home language in most Hasidic communities, where it is the first language learned in childhood, used in schools and in many social settings.
The general history and status of Yiddish are discussed below, with further detail provided in separate articles on:
The Ashkenazi culture that took root in 10th century Central Europe derived its name from Ashkenaz (Genesis 10:3), the medieval Hebrew name for the territory centered on what is now Germany. Its geographic extent did not coincide with the German Christian principalities; Ashkenaz included northern France. It also bordered on the area inhabited by the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews, which ranged into Southern France. Ashkenazi culture later spread into Eastern Europe.
The first language of European Jews may have been Aramaic, the vernacular of the Jews in Roman-era Palestine and ancient and early medieval Mesopotamia. The widespread use of Aramaic among the large non-Jewish Syrian trading population of the Roman provinces, including those in Europe, would have reinforced the use of Aramaic among Jews engaged in trade. In Roman times, many of the Jews living in Rome and Southern Italy appear to have been Greek-speakers, and this is reflected in some Ashkenazi personal names (e.g., Kalonymus). Much work needs to be done, though, to fully analyze the contributions of those languages to Yiddish.
Nothing is known about the vernacular of the earliest Jews in Germany, but several theories have been put forward. It is generally accepted that it was likely to have contained elements from other languages of the Near East and Europe, absorbed through dispersion. Since many settlers came via France and Italy, it is also likely that the Romance-based Jewish languages of those regions were represented. Traces remain in the contemporary Yiddish vocabulary: for example, בענטשן (bentshn, to bless), from the Latin benedicere; and the personal name Anshl, cognate to Angel or Angelo. Western Yiddish includes additional words of Latin derivation (but still very few): for example, orn (to pray), cf. Latin "orare."
Members of the young Ashkenazi community would have encountered the myriad dialects from which standard German was destined to emerge many centuries later. They would soon have been speaking their own versions of these German dialects, mixed with linguistic elements that they themselves brought into the region. These dialects would have adapted to the needs of the burgeoning Ashkenazi culture and may, as characterizes many such developments, have included the deliberate cultivation of linguistic differences to assert cultural autonomy. The Ashkenazi community also had its own geography, with a pattern of relationships among settlements that was somewhat independent of its non-Jewish neighbors. This led to the consolidation of Yiddish dialects, the borders of which did not coincide with the borders of German dialects.
Apart from the obvious use of Hebrew words for specifically Jewish artifacts, it is very difficult to determine the extent to which the Yiddish spoken in any earlier period differed from the contemporary German. There is a rough consensus that by the 15th century Yiddish would have sounded distinctive to the average German ear, even when restricted to the Germanic component of its vocabulary.
|Yiddish||גוּט טַק אִים בְּטַגְֿא שְ וַיר דִּיש מַחֲזֹור אִין בֵּיתֿ הַכְּנֶסֶתֿ טְרַגְֿא|
|Transliterated||gut tak im betage se vaer dis makhazor in beis hakneses trage|
|Translated||May a good day come to him who carries this prayer book into the synagogue.|
This brief rhyme is decoratively embedded in a purely Hebrew text, a reproduction of which is in Katz, 2004. Nonetheless, it indicates that the Yiddish of that day was a more or less regular Middle High German into which Hebrew words – makhazor (prayer book for the High Holy Days) and beis hakneses (synagogue) – had been included. The pointing appears as though it might have been added by a second scribe, in which case it may need to be dated separately and may not be indicative of the pronunciation of the rhyme at the time of its initial annotation.
Over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, songs and poems in Yiddish, and also macaronic pieces in Hebrew and German, began to appear. These were collected in the late 15th century by Menahem ben Naphtali Oldendorf. During the same period, a tradition seems to have emerged of the Jewish community's adapting its own versions of German secular literature. The earliest Yiddish epic poem of this sort is the Dukus Horant, which survives in the famous Cambridge Codex T.-S.10.K.22. This 14th-century manuscript was discovered in the geniza of a Cairo synagogue in 1896, and also contains a collection of narrative poems on themes from the Hebrew Bible and the Haggadah.
The advent of the printing press resulted in an increase in the amount of material produced and surviving from the 16th century and onwards. One particularly popular work was Elia Levita's Bovo-Bukh, composed around 1507–08 and printed in at least forty editions, beginning in 1541. Levita, the earliest named Yiddish author, may also have written Pariz un Viene (Paris and Vienna). Another Yiddish retelling of a chivalric romance, Vidvilt (often referred to as "Widuwilt" by Germanizing scholars), presumably also dates from the 15th century, although the manuscripts are from the 16th. It is also known as Kinig Artus Hof, an adaptation of the Middle High German romance Wigalois by Wirnt von Gravenberg. Another significant writer is Avroham ben Schemuel Pikartei, who published a paraphrase on the Book of Job in 1557.
Women in the Ashkenazi community were traditionally not literate in Hebrew, but did read and write Yiddish. A body of literature therefore developed for which women were a primary audience. This included secular works, such as the Bovo-Bukh, and religious writing specifically for women, such as the Tseno Ureno and the Tkhines. One of the best-known early woman authors was Glückel of Hameln, whose memoirs are still in print.
The segmentation of the Yiddish readership, between women who read mame-loshn but not loshn-koydesh, and men who read both, was significant enough that distinctive typefaces were used for each. The name commonly given to the semicursive form used exclusively for Yiddish was ווײַבערטײַטש (vaybertaytsh = "women's taytsh," shown in the heading and fourth column in the adjacent illustration), with square Hebrew letters (shown in the third column) being reserved for text in that language and Aramaic. This distinction was retained in general typographic practice through to the early 19th century, with Yiddish books being set in vaybertaytsh (also termed מעשייט mesheyt or מאַשקעט mashket — the construction is uncertain).
An additional distinctive semicursive typeface was, and still is, used for rabbinical commentary on religious texts when Hebrew and Yiddish appear on the same page. This is commonly termed Rashi script, from the name of the most renowned early author, whose commentary is usually printed using this script. (Rashi is also the typeface normally used when the Sefardi counterpart to Yiddish, Ladino, is printed in Hebrew script.)
The Western Yiddish dialect began to decline in the 18th century, as The Enlightenment and the Haskalah led to the German view that Yiddish was a corrupt dialect. Owing to both assimilation to German and the incipient creation of Modern Hebrew, Western Yiddish only survived as a language of "intimate family circles or of closely knit trade groups" (Liptzin 1972). Farther east, the response to this force took the opposite direction, with Yiddish becoming the cohesive force in a secular culture.
The late 19th and early 20th century are widely considered the Golden Age of secular Yiddish literature. This coincides with the development of Modern Hebrew as a spoken and literary language, from which some words were also absorbed into Yiddish. The three authors generally regarded as the founders of the modern Yiddish literary genre were born in the 19th century, but their work and significance continued to grow into the 20th. The first was Sholem Yankev Abramovitch, writing as Mendele Mocher Sforim. The second was Sholem Rabinovitsh, widely known as Sholem Aleichem, whose stories about טבֿיה דער מילכיקער (tevye der milkhiker = Tevye the Dairyman) inspired the Broadway musical and film Fiddler on the Roof. The third was Isaac Leib Peretz.
In the early 20th century, Yiddish was emerging as a major Eastern European language. Its rich literature was more widely published than ever, Yiddish theater and Yiddish film were booming, and it even achieved status as one of the official languages of the Belorussian and the short-lived Galician SSR. Educational autonomy for Jews in several countries (notably Poland) after World War I led to an increase in formal Yiddish-language education, more uniform orthography, and to the 1925 founding of the Yiddish Scientific Institute, YIVO. Yiddish emerged as the national language of a large Jewish community in Eastern Europe that rejected Zionism and sought Jewish cultural autonomy in Europe. It also contended with Modern Hebrew as a literary language among Zionists.
Yiddish changed significantly during the 20th century. Michael Wex writes, "As increasing numbers of Yiddish speakers moved from the Slavic-speaking East to Western Europe and the Americas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they were so quick to jettison Slavic vocabulary that the most prominent Yiddish writers of the time – the founders of modern Yiddish literature, who were still living in Slavic-speaking countries – revised the printed editions of their oeuvres to eliminate obsolete and 'unnecessary' Slavisms." The vocabulary used in Israel absorbed many Modern Hebrew words, and there was a similar increase in the English component of Yiddish in the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. This has resulted in some difficulty in communication between Yiddish speakers from Israel and those from other countries.
On the eve of World War II, there were 11 to 13 million Yiddish speakers (Jacobs 2005). The Holocaust, however, led to a dramatic, sudden decline in the use of Yiddish, as the extensive Jewish communities, both secular and religious, that used Yiddish in their day-to-day life were largely destroyed. Although millions of Yiddish speakers survived the war (including nearly all Yiddish speakers in the Americas), further assimilation in countries such as the United States and the Soviet Union, along with the strictly monolingual stance of the Zionist movement, led to a decline in the use of Eastern Yiddish. However, the number of speakers within the widely dispersed Orthodox (mainly Hasidic) communities is now increasing. Although used in various countries, Yiddish has attained official recognition as a minority language only in Moldova, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Reports of the number of current Yiddish speakers vary significantly. Ethnologue estimated in 2009 there were 1,762,320 speakers of Eastern Yiddish, of which over one-third lived in the United States. In contrast, the Modern Language Association reports fewer than 200,000 in the United States. Western Yiddish, which had "several tens of thousands of speakers" on the eve of the Holocaust, is reported by Ethnologue to have had an "ethnic population" of slightly below 50,000 in 2000. Other estimates are also given, for example, of a worldwide Yiddish-speaking population of about two million in 1996 in a report by the Council of Europe. Further demographic information about the recent status of what is treated as an Eastern-Western dialect continuum is provided in the YIVO Language and Cultural Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ). Numbers of native speakers from the latest available national censuses and other estimates are as follows:
There has been frequent debate about the extent of the linguistic independence of Yiddish from the languages that it absorbed. Some commentary dismisses Yiddish as mere jargon, although in Yiddish that term is also used as a colloquial designation for the language without any pejorative connotation. There has been periodic assertion that Yiddish is a dialect of German, or even "just broken German, more of a linguistic mishmash than a true language". Even when recognized as an autonomous language, it has sometimes been referred to as Judeo-German, along the lines of other Jewish languages like Judeo-Persian or Judeo-French. A widely-cited summary of attitudes in the 1930s was published by Max Weinreich, quoting a remark by an auditor of one of his lectures: אַ שפּראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמיי און פֿלאָט (a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot — "A language is a dialect with an army and navy", facsimile excerpt at, discussed in detail in a separate article). More recently, Prof. Paul Wexler, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, has proposed that Eastern Yiddish should be classified as a Slavic language, formed by the relexification of Judeo-Slavic dialects by Judeo-German. However, from a linguistic point of view, all of these arguments lack foundation. If Yiddish is close enough to Modern High German that speakers of both could understand one another, it might be considered a dialect of German. If it is different enough from Modern High German that speakers cannot understand one another, than the two could be considered different languages. Referring to an entire language which people use as their mother tongue and in daily interaction as "jargon" has no linguistic meaning - jargon refers to specific elements of speech such as a word of a phrase - not an entire language. Basque also has no army and no navy, yet it is quite clearly accepted as a language.
The national language of Israel is Hebrew, Arabic being an official language too. The rejection of Yiddish as an alternative reflected the conflict between religious and secular forces. Many in the larger, secular group wanted a new national language to foster a cohesive identity, while traditionally religious Jews desired that Hebrew be respected as a holy language reserved for prayer and religious study. In the early twentieth century, Zionist immigrants in Palestine tried to eradicate the use of Yiddish among their own population, and make its use socially unacceptable.
This conflict also reflected the opposing views among secular Jews worldwide, one side seeing Hebrew (and Zionism) and the other Yiddish (and Internationalism) as the means of defining emerging Jewish nationalism. In the 1920s and 1930s, gdud meginéy hasafá, "the language defendants regiment", whose motto was ivrí, dabér ivrít "Hebrew [i.e. Jew], speak Hebrew!", used to tear down signs written in "foreign" languages and disturb Yiddish theatre gatherings. However, according to linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann, the members of this group in particular, and the Hebrew revival in general, did not succeed in uprooting Yiddish patterns (as well as the patterns of other European languages Jewish immigrants spoke) within what he calls "Israeli", i.e. Modern Hebrew. Zuckermann believes that "Israeli does include numerous Hebrew elements resulting from a conscious revival but also numerous pervasive linguistic features deriving from a subconscious survival of the revivalists’ mother tongues, e.g. Yiddish.".
In religious circles, it is the Ashkenazi Haredi Jews, particularly the Hasidic Jews and the mitnagdim of the Lithuanian yeshiva world, who continue to teach, speak and use Yiddish, making it a language used regularly by hundreds of thousands of Haredi Jews today. The largest of these centers are in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. However, some of these Yiddish speakers also speak Modern Hebrew.
There is a growing revival of interest in Yiddish culture among secular Israelis, with the flourishing of new proactive cultural organizations like YUNG YiDiSH, as well as Yiddish theater(usually with simultaneous translation to Hebrew and Russian)and young people are taking university courses in Yiddish, some achieving considerable fluency.
In the Soviet Union during the 1920s, Yiddish was promoted as the language of the Jewish proletariat. It was one of the official languages of the Byelorussian SSR, as well as several agricultural districts of the Galician SSR. A public educational system entirely based on the Yiddish language was established and comprised kindergartens, schools, and higher educational institutions (technical schools, rabfaks and other university departments). At the same time, Hebrew was considered a bourgeois language and its use was generally discouraged. The vast majority of the Yiddish-language cultural institutions were closed in the late 1930s along with cultural institutions of other ethnic minorities lacking administrative entities of their own. After the Second World War, growing anti-Semitic tendencies in Soviet politics drove Yiddish from most spheres. The last Yiddish-language schools, theaters and publications were closed by the end of the 1940s. It continued to be spoken widely for decades, nonetheless, in areas with compact Jewish populations (primarily in Moldova, Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Belarus).
In the former Soviet states, presently active Yiddish authors include Yoysef Burg (Chernivtsi, b. 1912) and Aleksander Beyderman (b. 1949, Odessa). Publication of an earlier Yiddish periodical (דער פֿרײַנד), was resumed in 2004 with דער נײַער פֿרײַנד (der nayer fraynd; lit. "The New Friend", St. Petersburg).
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast was formed in 1934 in the Russian Far East, with its capital city in Birobidzhan and Yiddish as its official language. The intention was for the Soviet Jewish population to settle there. Jewish cultural life was revived in Birobidzhan much earlier than elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Yiddish theaters began opening in the 1970s. The newspaper דער ביראָבידזשאנער שטערן (der birobidzhaner shtern; lit: "The Birobidzhan Star") includes a Yiddish section. Although the official status of the language was not retained by the Russian Federation, its cultural significance is still recognized and bolstered. The First Birobidzhan International Summer Program for Yiddish Language and Culture was launched in 2007.
Yiddish is an officially recognized minority language in Moldova for the purposes of the Jewish community, along with Hebrew. In the capital city of Chişinău, there is a Yiddish language radio program ייִדיש לעבן (yidish lebn; lit. "Jewish Life"), a television program אויף דער ייִדישער גאַס (af der yidisher gas; lit. "On the Jewish Street") and the newspaper אונדזער קול (undzer kol; lit. "Our Voice"). There are 17,000 Yiddish speakers in Moldova.
In June 1999, the Swedish Parliament enacted legislation giving Yiddish legal status as one of the country's official minority languages (entering into effect in April 2000). The rights thereby conferred are not detailed, but additional legislation was enacted in June 2006 establishing a new governmental agency, The Swedish National Language Council, the mandate of which instructs it to, "collect, preserve, scientifically research, and spread material about the national minority languages", naming them all explicitly, including Yiddish. When announcing this action, the government made an additional statement about "simultaneously commencing completely new initiatives for ... Yiddish [and the other minority languages]".
The Swedish government publishes documents in Yiddish, of which the most recent details the national action plan for human rights. An earlier one provides general information about national minority language policies.
At first, in the United States most Jews were of Sephardic origin, hence did not speak Yiddish. It was not until the mid to late 19th Century, as first German, then Eastern European Jews arrived in the nation, when Yiddish became dominant within the immigrant community. This helped to bond Jews from many countries. פֿאָרווערטס (forverts - Yiddish Forward) was one of seven Yiddish daily newspapers in New York City, and other Yiddish newspapers served as a forum for Jews of all European backgrounds. The Yiddish Forward still appears weekly and is available in an online edition. It remains in wide distribution, together with דער אַלגעמיינער זשורנאַל (der algemeyner zhurnal - Algemeiner Journal; algemeyner = general) which is also published weekly and appears online. The widest-circulation Yiddish newspapers are probably the two prominent Satmar weekly issues דער בּלאַט (Der Blatt; blat = newspaper) and דער איד (Der Yid = The Jew). Several additional newspapers and magazines are in regular production, such as the monthly publications דער שטערן (Der Shtern; shtern = star) and דער בליק (Der Blick; blik = view). (The romanized titles cited in this paragraph are in the form given on the masthead of each publication and may be at some variance both with the literal Yiddish title and the transliteration rules otherwise applied in this article.)
Interest in klezmer music provided another bonding mechanism. Thriving Yiddish theater, especially in New York City, kept the language vital. Many "Yiddishisms," like "Italianisms" and "Spanishisms," continued to enter the spoken New York dialect, often used by Jews and non-Jews alike, unaware of the linguistic origin of the phrases (described extensively by Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish). However, native Yiddish speakers tended not to pass the language on to their children, who assimilated and spoke English.
Most of the Jewish immigrants to the New York metropolitan area during the years of Ellis Island considered Yiddish their native language. For example, Isaac Asimov states in his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, that Yiddish was his first and sole spoken language and remained so for about two years after he emigrated to the United States as a small child. By contrast, Asimov's younger siblings, born in the United States, never developed any degree of fluency in Yiddish.
In 1976, the Canadian-born American Author Saul Bellow, received the Nobel Prize in literature. He was fluent in Yiddish, and translated several Yiddish poems and stories into English, including Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Gimpel the Fool".
Legal scholars Eugene Volokh and Alex Kozinski argue that Yiddish is “supplanting Latin as the spice in American legal argot.” Note: an updated version of the article appears on Professor Volokh's UCLA web page at.
In the 2000 census, 178,945 people in the United States reported speaking Yiddish at home. Of these speakers, 113,515 lived in New York (63.43% of American Yiddish speakers); 18,220 in Florida (10.18%); 9,145 in New Jersey (5.11%); and 8,950 in California (5.00%). The remaining states with speaker populations larger than 1,000 are Pennsylvania (5,445), Ohio (1,925), Michigan (1,945), Massachusetts (2,380), Maryland (2,125), Illinois (3,510), Connecticut (1,710), and Arizona (1,055). The population is largely elderly: 72,885 of the speakers were older than 65, 66,815 were between 18 and 64, and only 39,245 were age 17 or lower. In the six years since the 2000 census, the 2006 American Community Survey reflected an estimated 15 percent decline of people speaking Yiddish at home in the U.S. to 152,515.
There are a few predominantly Hasidic communities in the United States in which Yiddish remains the majority language. Kiryas Joel, New York is one such; in the 2000 census, nearly 90% of residents of Kiryas Joel reported speaking Yiddish at home.
There are well over 30,000 Yiddish speakers in the United Kingdom, and several thousand children now have Yiddish as a first language. The largest group of Yiddish speakers in Britain reside in the Stamford Hill district of North London, but there are sizeable communities in Golders Green, Manchester and Gateshead. The Yiddish readership in the UK is mainly reliant upon imported material from the United States and Israel for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. However, the London-based weekly Jewish Tribune, has a small section in Yiddish called אידישע טריבונע Idishe Tribune.
Scots-Yiddish is the name given to a hybrid vernacular between Lowland Scots and Yiddish which had a brief currency in the Lowlands of Scotland in the first half of the 20th century. The Scottish literary historian David Daiches describes it in his autobiographical account of his Edinburgh Jewish childhood, Two Worlds:
"Recently I received a letter from the son of the man who was stationmaster at one of the small railway stations where the earliest trebblers (Yiddish pronunciation of travellers, i.e. Jewish travelling salesmen) would alight; he told me how, at the very beginning of this century, these Jewish immigrants, not yet knowing any English, would converse with his father, they talking in Yiddish and he in broad Scots, with perfectly adequate mutual intelligibility. Scots-Yiddish as a working language must have been developing rapidly in the years immediately preceding the first World War. It must have been one of the most short-lived languages in the world. I should guess that 1912 to 1914 was the period of its flourishing. The younger generation, who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, of course did not speak it, though they knew yiddish; and while there is an occasional old man in Edinburgh who speaks it today, one has to seek it out in order to find it, and in another decade it will be gone for ever. ‘Aye man, ich hob’ getrebbelt mit de five o’clock train,’ one trebbler would say to another. ‘Vot time’s yer barmitzvie, laddie?’ I was once asked. ‘Ye’ll hae a drap o’ bamfen (whisky). It’s Dzon Beck. Ye ken: “Nem a schmeck fun Dzon Beck.”’ (‘Take a peg of John Begg’, the advertising slogan of John Begg whisky.)
Daiches explores the social stratification of Edinburgh Jewish society in the interwar period, noting what is effectively a class divide between two parts of the community, on the one hand a highly educated and well-integrated group who sought a synthesis of Orthodox Rabbinical and Modern Secular thinking, on the other a Yiddish-speaking group most comfortable maintaining the lifestyle of the Eastern European ghetto. The Yiddish population grew up in Scotland in the 19th century, but by the late 20th century had mostly switched to using English. The creolization of Yiddish with Scots was therefore a phenomenon of the middle part of this period.
The major exception to the decline of spoken Yiddish can be found in Haredi communities all over the world. In some of the more closely-knit such communities Yiddish is spoken as a home and schooling language, especially in Hasidic, Litvish or Yeshivish communities such as Brooklyn's Borough Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, and in Monsey, Kiryas Joel and New Square. (Over 88% of the population of Kiryas Joel is reported to speak Yiddish at home.) Also in New Jersey Yiddish is widely spoken mostly in Lakewood but also in smaller Yeshivishe towns with yeshivos such as Passaic, Teaneck and elsewhere. Yiddish is also widely spoken in the Antwerp Jewish community and in Haredi communities such as the ones in London, Manchester and Montreal. Among most Ashkenazi Haredim, Hebrew is generally reserved for prayer, while Yiddish is used for religious studies as well as a home and business language. In Israel, however, Haredim commonly speak Hebrew, with the notable exception of many Hasidic communities. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Haredim who use Modern Hebrew also understand Yiddish. Many send their children to schools in which the primary language of instruction is Yiddish. Members of movements such as Satmar Hasidism, who view the commonplace use of Hebrew as a form of Zionism, use Yiddish almost exclusively.
Hundreds of thousands of young children around the globe have been, and are still, taught to translate the texts of the Torah into Yiddish. This process is called טײַטשן (taytshn) – "translating" . Most Ashkenazi yeshivas' highest level lectures in Talmud and Halakha are delivered in Yiddish by the rosh yeshivas as well as ethical talks of mussar. Hasidic rebbes generally use only Yiddish to converse with their followers and to deliver their various Torah talks, classes, and lectures. The linguistic style and vocabulary of Yiddish have influenced the manner in which many Orthodox Jews who attend yeshivas speak English. This usage is distinctive enough that it has been dubbed "Yeshivish".
While Hebrew remains the language of Jewish prayer, the Hasidim have mixed some Yiddish into their Hebrew, and are also responsible for a significant secondary religious literature written in Yiddish. For example, the tales about the Baal Shem Tov were written largely in Yiddish. As well as the Torah Talks of the late Lubavitch leaders are published in their original form, Yiddish. In addition, some prayers, such as the Got fun Avrohom, were composed and are recited in Yiddish.
Moreover, many Hasidic girls in the Diaspora are not taught Hebrew at all, and therefore do not understand either ancient or modern Hebrew. Even those who are taught parts of the Bible will still use prayer books with Yiddish translation and commentaries, as their comprehension of Hebrew is deficient.
There has been a resurgence in Yiddish learning in recent times among many from around the world with Jewish ancestry. The language which had lost many of its native speakers during WWII has been making somewhat of a comeback. In Poland, which traditionally had Yiddish speaking communities, a particular museum has begun to revive Yiddish education and culture. Located in Krakow,the Galicia Jewish Museum offers classes in Yiddish Language Instruction and workshops on Yiddish Songs. The museum has taken steps to revive the culture through concerts and events held on site. There are various Universities worldwide which now offer Yiddish programs based on the YIVO Yiddish standard. Many of these programs are held during the summer and are attended by Yiddish enthusiasts from around the world. One such school located within Vilnius University (Vilnius Yiddish Institute) was the first Yiddish center of higher learning to be established in post-Holocaust Eastern Europe. Vilnius Yiddish Institute is an integral part of the four-century-old Vilnius University. Published Yiddish scholar and researcher Dovid Katz is among the Faculty. Other schools which offer Yiddish programs include Tel Aviv University, Brandeis University, University College London, YIVO, New York University, Hampshire College campus at Amherst (home of the National Yiddish Book Center), Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ohio State University, University of Düsseldorf, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Vassar College, UMass Amherst, UCLA, University of Virginia, and the University of Manitoba. Despite this growing popularity among many American Jews, finding opportunities for practical use of Yiddish is becoming increasingly difficult, and thus many students have trouble learning to speak the language.
Yiddish is spoken as a daily language in some parts of America, mostly in New York City, and in some parts of Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, and South America, as well as in Israel. It is slightly higher than standard German, with a large admixture of words of Hebrew, Slavic, or other origin. As Yiddish is roughly 75% Germanic in origin, German speakers can understand a large part of it.
Yiddish is written with the same alphabet as Hebrew, with a few additional letters, and is written from right to left.
Yiddish has several dialects which differ in their vowel sounds and certain vocabulary items. Words of European origin are spelled out phonemically. On the other hand, words of Semitic (Hebrew and Aramaic) origin are written just as in the original Hebrew or Aramaic, without vowels. In many cases, you must learn how to pronounce these words in Yiddish on a word-by-word basis; you cannot necessarily work it out from their spelling, and they are mostly pronounced differently from Israeli Hebrew.
Some phrases in this phrasebook still need to be translated. If you know anything about this language, you can help by plunging forward and translating a phrase.
½ - halb
0 - nul
1 - eyn
2 - tsvey
3 - dray
4 - fir
5 - finf
6 - zeks
7 - zibm
8 - akht
9 - nayn
10 - tsen
11 - elf
12 - tsvelf
13 - draytsn
14 - fertsn
15 - fuftsn
16 - zektsn
17 - zebetsn
18 - akhtsn
19 - nayntsn
20 - tsvantsik
25 - finf un tsvantsik
30 - draysik
40 - fertsik
50 - fuftsik
60 - zektsik
70 - zibetsik
80 - akhtsik
90 - nayntsik
100 - hundert
200 - tsvey hundert
500 - finf hundert
1000 - toyznt
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Yiddish ייִדיש, from Yidish Daytsh (short for Jidisch Dajtsch), from Middle High German jüdisch diutsch (“‘Jewish German’”), cognate with German jüdisch (“‘Jewish’”). (also called Judeo-German, Judendeutsch; see Ashkenazi)
Aimed toward: Anyone wishing to be able to have conversations in Yiddish.
Aimed toward: Yeshivah Bachurim or Yungerleit
Yiddish is a language used by some Jews. At first it was a dialect of the German language which Jews began to use in Europe about a thousand years ago. It was (and is) used in the United States, especially in New York. Most of its words are of German origin. Also, Yiddish has many words from Hebrew and Slavic languages, notably Polish. Yiddish is usually written in Hebrew characters.
In the whole world, Yiddish is spoken by about 3 million people. It is mainly spoken by Hasidic Jews.
In the Netherlands and Sweden, Yiddish is protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages