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The Revolutionary Roots of Modern Yiddish, 1903-1917

Barry Trachtenberg

Publication Year: 2008

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Yiddish was widely viewed, even by many of its speakers, as a corrupt form of German that Jews had to abandon if they hoped to engage in serious intellectual, cultural, or political work. Yet by 1917 it was the dominant language of the Russian Jewish press, a medium for modern literary criticism, a vehicle for science and learning, and the foundation of an ideology of Jewish liberation. The Revolutionary Roots of Modern Yiddish, 1903-1917 investigates how this change in status occurred and three major figures responsible for its transformation.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

For their kind and constant support of this project, I thank my advisors and teachers at the University of California, Los Angeles, especially Professors David N. Myers and Arnold J. Band. The time, dedication, and patience they offer to their students are unparalleled and a model for me as I teach my own. Since first meeting David in 1996, he has continued to sharpen ...

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Author's Note

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pp. xv-xvi

For Yiddish words, this work follows the orthographic standards of the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research, except in those instances where there exist commonly accepted spellings for proper names [hence Max Weinreich and not Maks Vaynraykh, Peretz and not Perets]. For Hebrew and Russian words, I have used the system of the Library of Congress. In the case of the ...

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Introduction: Yiddish as Instrument and Ideology

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pp. 1-19

In 1929, the Russian-Jewish historian Simon Dubnow (1860-1941) reflected upon the dramatic changes that had occurred within the Yiddish language over the course of his lifetime. In a collection of essays entitled Fun 'zhargon' tsu yidish (From Jargon to Yiddish), he traced how Yiddish had been transformed from an unnamed "jargon" without status or ...

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1. The Jewish Revolution of 1905

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pp. 20-45

This chapter is a discussion of the modernization of Russian Jewry during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In particular, it demonstrates how a combination of heightened emancipatory expectations and crushing anti-Jewish violence during the years 1903-7 drove many Jewish political activists in the postrevolutionary period to concentrate their ...

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2. From Jargon to Visnshaft

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pp. 46-81

Concurrent with the political changes in Russian-Jewish society during the 1905 Revolutionary period came a similarly profound shift in the status, function, perception, and significance of the Yiddish language. Although a centuries-old sophisticated and multifarious literary tradition in Yiddish already existed, in the second half of the nineteenth century in Russia ...

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3. Shmuel Niger and the Making of Yiddish High Culture

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pp. 82-107

Shmuel Niger (1883-1955) was intimately involved with nearly every major Yiddish literary movement to appear during the first half of the twentieth century. More so than any other member in the cohort of Jewish cultural activists, scholars, and writers who came of age with the 1905 Revolution, Niger introduced generations of popular and educated audiences to ...

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4. Ber Borochov: Science in Service of the Revolution

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pp. 108-134

Shmuel Niger's characterization notwithstanding, Ber Borochov's path to Yiddish activism was remarkably unrepresentative of that followed by most of his contemporaries in the 1905 generation. He did not champion the possibilities of Yiddish during the first Russian Revolution and in fact, only came to learn the language well in the years following the revolution's ...

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5. Nokhem Shtif: A Contrarian’s Yiddishism

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pp. 135-157

Nokhem Shtif (1879-1933), the Yiddish linguist, philologist, and literary historian, was one of the most influential and provocative figures involved in the project to transform Yiddish into a modern language capable of sophisticated scholarly activity. Like Niger, Borochov, and many others of his generation, Shtif championed a variety of ideological solutions to ...

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pp. 158-166

Once Jews became citizens in the Soviet Union and the newly independent Poland in the aftermath of World War I, the Yiddish language and culture stood at the center of Eastern European-Jewish popular and intellectual life. Over the next two decades, Yiddish reached its greatest heights of scholarly, cultural, and political expression and dominance. This was the...


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pp. 167-196


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pp. 197-216


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pp. 217-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651369
E-ISBN-10: 0815651368
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815631903
Print-ISBN-10: 0815631901

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 4 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 759158746
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Revolutionary Roots of Modern Yiddish, 1903-1917

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Subject Headings

  • Niger, Samuel, 1883-1955.
  • Borochov, Ber, 1881-1917.
  • Shṭif, Naḥum, 1879-1933.
  • Yiddish language -- Social aspects -- Russia.
  • Yiddish language -- Russia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jews -- Russia -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
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