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  • Jüdische Sprachen in deutscher Umwelt: Hebräisch und Jiddisch von der Aufklärung bis ins 20. Jahrhundert
  • Jonathan Skolnik
Jüdische Sprachen in deutscher Umwelt: Hebräisch und Jiddisch von der Aufklärung bis ins 20. Jahrhundert, edited by Michael Brenner. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2002. 134 pp. 39.00.

This conference volume is stimulating reading for anyone interested in the evolution of Jewish languages in Ashkenaz and their renaissance in the modern period. Michael Brenner has assembled a collection of complementary papers which investigate Hebrew and Yiddish in the German-speaking countries.

Nils Roemer does an outstanding job of sketching the broader historical framework for understanding German Jewry's linguistic complexity. Drawing on his own research as well as recent scholarship on the Haskalah (especially David Sorkin and Steven Lowenberg), Roemer challenges the mid-nineteenth century mythologization (still a commonplace in many scholarly works) of Moses Mendelssohn as the "Germanizer" of Central European Jewry. Instead, Roemer convincingly situates Mendelssohn at the climax of a longer process of linguistic and social change, emphasizing the evolving roles of Yiddish and German in daily life and the centrality of the Haskalah's language aesthetic for Mendelssohn's thought. Inspired by Amos Funkenstein, Roemer also calls us to re-examine the boundaries between Yiddish and other German dialects before the nineteenth century.

Andrea Schatz's thoughtful paper takes up the problem of the secularization of the Hebrew language, exploring precursors of Berlin Haskala in order to better understand the Maskilic notion of a "new holy language." Andreas Gotzmann offers a dense analysis of the inner-Jewish discourse of linguistic identity in nineteenth-century Germany, emphasizing the centrality of evolving Jewish religious practice in the debates. Thomas Kollatz surveys the Hebrew-language press in Germany from the mid-eighteenth century up through the founding of ha-Maggid in 1856. Based on the usage of Hebrew words in the daily language of Jews in Alsace and south-west Germany before 1933, Uri Kaufmann offers some thoughts on the nature of Western Jewish dialects. In view of polemical attacks by some Zionist writers that German-language Wissenschaft des Judentums contributed to Western Jewry's neglect of the Hebrew language, Henry Soussan judiciously discusses the contributions to Hebrew scholarship by nineteenth-century figures like Leopold Zunz and Michael Sachs, as well as the growing rapprochement between Eastern European and Central European Jewish scholarship which contributed to the founding of the journal Dvir in 1924. Barbara Schaefer gives a concise [End Page 168] overview of efforts by Berlin Zionists to promote Hebrew from 1900 through the Weimar period. Rachel Perets' article first examines the 1909 and 1931 Berlin conferences on Hebrew in some detail, then offers a study of Hebrew teaching methods and institutions in Germany before 1933. Delphine Bechtel's excellent portrait of the flowering Yiddish literary scene in 1920s Berlin is an expanded version of an essay published in English in the Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German (1997).

Amir Eshel's contribution revisits the question of Franz Kafka's relation to Jewish languages. Although Eshel doesn't explicitly engage with Robert Alter's recent book on Kafka, Benjamin, and Scholem (which probes the theological dimensions to their relation to Hebrew), he offers a unique dissenting view. For Eshel, Kafka's turn to Hebrew and Yiddish reveals ethical, universalizing concerns more than a wish to experiment with radically new forms of Jewish religion, politics, and culture. Eshel interprets Kafka through a framework that at times seems comparable to Heidegger or, rather, to a Hegelian model divorced from theologies, negative or otherwise: an interplay of "foreign" and "individual" which leads to categories like "eternal" or "universal." The second half of Eshel's article examines Paul Celan's use of Hebrew words in his German poetry, with some reference to the poems of Gertrud Kolmar and Nelly Sachs. Eshel notes Celan's critical distance to Heidegger and the tremendous ruptures which the Holocaust inflicted upon Jewish life and language, yet he still insists on the redemptive, humanizing potential of a meeting of German, Yiddish, and Hebrew in Celan's poetry.

Jonathan Skolnik
Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies
University of Maryland-College...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 168-169
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-24
Open Access
No
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