The Early Stage The language of daily communication develops an artificial “twin” – literary Yiddish (16th-18th centuries). Early literature: Biblical translations and interpretations, legends, homiletic stories. 1534 – a Biblical dictionary and concordance in Yiddish, the first Yiddish printed book. Late 17th century: the Bible published in Yiddish in Amsterdam. Genres of the Early Literature Epic: rhymed renderings of Biblical stories and midrashim,* 14th -16th centuries (The Book of Esther, Book of Kings, Isaiah, etc.). Formally kin to German epic poetry of respective epochs. Functions: spreading Biblical knowledge; providing entertainment; diverting attention from non-Jewish literature. *midrashim – rabbinical commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures. Genres of the Early Literature Homiletic Prose (late 16th-17th centuries): Prose collections of midrashim, didactic tales, Biblical interpretations, and homilies written in accessible style, such as The Tsenerene (nicknamed “women’s Bible”) by Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi (still in print). Made a lasting effect on literary Yiddish (archaic vocabulary, idioms, syntax). Genres of the Early Literature Drama (17th-18th) centuries: Biblical stories embellished with midrashim. Contained elements of comedy and other aspects prompted by non-Jewish drama of the time. Participated in the tradition of Purim spiel (comic plays performed during Purim*). *Purim – joyous holiday celebrating the deliverance of Jewish people from death in ancient Persia. Genres of the Early Literature Liturgy: the tkhine (private prayers); translations of liturgical prayers (for women); religious poems and hymns for home celebrations. Ethical Writings: Accessible instructions on the code of conduct on various religious, social, and domestic occasions; Parables, exempla, hagiography, and fables (ex., Ki Bukh, “Book of Cows,” the first Yiddish collection of fables, late 16th century, Northern Italy). Genres of the Early Literature “Historical” Songs, lider: long narrative poems set to music. Reflected contemporary events; Served as news releases; Contained topical satire; Expressed public opinions; Were influenced by German poetic conventions. Last manifestations of the genre occurred during the World War II in ghettoes and death camps. Intellectual Movements: The Haskalah Jewish Enlightenment (mid 18th – late 19th cent.) Based on European Enlightenment. Promoted rationalism, secularization, interaction with other cultures and languages. Encouraged non-traditional arts and crafts, as well as secular sciences. Supported integration in the life of the countries where Jews lived, politically and socially. Intellectual Movements: The Haskalah Developed a practice of transcribing German literature into the Yiddish alphabet. Gave rise to secular Yiddish drama (late 18th-early 19th cent.), especially didactic comedies endorsing assimilation. Paradox 1: Yiddish drama denying and mocking Yiddish language as “corrupt.” Paradox 2: Anti-Yiddish in sentiment, secular drama assisted modernization of Yiddish literature. Intellectual Movements: Hasidism Religious “renaissance”: fervent piety, exuberant devotion, mysticism, emotional forms of worship Started in early 18th century as opposition to rationalist trends. Founded by Rabbi Baal Shem Tov (Besht). To this day, have dynastic Rabbis as spiritual leaders. Intellectual Movements: Hasidism In close connection with folklore, produced important genres of Yiddish literature: Hagiographic stories about extraordinary deeds of spiritual leaders (ex., The Praises of the Baal Shem Tov, 1815). Mystic stories with religious subtext exploring the dichotomy between soul and reason, spirituality and earthliness. Affected symbolist and modernist fiction. Modern Yiddish short stories developed as a continuation of Hassidic stories. Intellectual Movements: The Labour Movement (The Bund) Secular, politicized, Marxist, socialist. Nationalistic, pro-Yiddish. Appeared in late 19th century. Used Yiddish literature, especially poetry, as a propagandist tool. Gave Yiddish literature ideological support. Introduced purely secular themes (daily life hardships, social inequality, etc.). Inadvertently promoted assimilation through secular education and revolutionary ideas. THE RISE OF SECULAR YIDDISH CLASSICS Mendele Moykher-Sforim (Sholem Yankev Abramovich) 1835-1917 Born in Belarus, lived in various eastern parts of the Russian Empire. “Grandfather of Yiddish literature.” Proponent of the Haskalah. Drama, novels, and stories about Jewish daily life and specific problems. Satire; a gallery of typical characters. THE RISE OF SECULAR YIDDISH CLASSICS Sholem-Aleykhem (Shalom Rabinowitz) 1859-1916 Born in Ukraine, lived in Russia and the USA. Genres: pamphlets, short stories, the novel, drama. Elaborate prose, unforgettable characters, “laughter through tears.” THE RISE OF SECULAR YIDDISH CLASSICS Isaac Leib Perets (1852-1915) Born and lived in Poland Wrote stories, plays, tales. Sympathized with Hasidism and the Labour Movement. Wrote both in realistic and visionary mode. Yiddish Literature in the Soviet Union Supported from 1917 till the 1930s. In the 1930s, labeled as “nationalist” and by 1952 nearly liquidated, along with writers themselves (ex., Perets Markish). Birobibidzan, a Soviet Jewish utopia (1934). In the 1960s – 1990, a few books and magazines were published. At present, almost non-existent. Yiddish Literature in Poland Until 1939, Poland was the main centre of Yiddish culture. Newspapers, magazines, writers’ clubs, theatres, mass book-production. Rich variety of genres, both popular and highbrow. Poetry flourished, religious and secular. Ceased to exist with the Holocaust and emigration. Yiddish Literature in the “New World” New York as the main centre. Poetic groups (ex., Di Yunge, Proletpen) and literary magazines appear between the World Wars. One of the major themes: self-identity. Writings about immigrant life and the new country; historical novels; nostalgic poetry and stories. Big impact made by English literature. Decline of readership since late 1940s to now. Yiddish Literature in the “New World” Israel: tensions between Yiddishist and Israeli ideology; introduction of specific Israeli themes; appearance of literary magazines and prizes counteracted by decline of readership. South Africa, Argentina, Canada: reprints of classical Yiddish literature; magazines and newspapers with limited audience. Little new works produced. The Internet has become a new tool for popularization of Yiddish language and literature. Yiddish Literature in the “New World” Hassidic communities: Growing number of Yiddish readers; Children’s books; Serial narratives and adventure stories (to ward off “alien” influence); Historical novels; Translations; Ethical writings; Periodicals. The pattern is reminiscent of general development of Yiddish literature from its early stages. Gives hope to its resurrection.