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Hebrew Studies 41 (2000) 357 Reviews A MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN: THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF HEBREW AND YIDDISH. By Naomi Seidman. Contraversions: Critical Studies in Jewish Literature, Culture, and Society 7. pp. x + 160. Berkeley, CA: University of Califomia Press, 1997. Cloth, $40.00. In addition to its other accomplishments, Naomi Seidman's A Marriage Made in Heaven strengthens what should be an uncontested observation: that Jewish cultural studies must be ftrmly based in the multilingual contexts that have, until quite recently, marked Jewish cultures. Paying appropriately even-handed attention to the two languages that shaped Ashkenazic Jewry, Seidman examines "the ways in which the linguistic relationship [between Yiddish and Hebrew] reflects and reinforces the gender order of the dual-language community." Hers is certainly the most comprehensive and intriguing analysis of this gendered dynamic to have appeared in English, and it will set the standard for future work. Considering Hebrew and Yiddish as representative of the masculine and feminine sides of Ashkenazic culture, as a "family affair" in which fathers and mothers had distinctly different, often antagonistic, but also mutuallydependent roles, Seidman illuminates what she calls the "sexual/linguistic" metaphors surrounding Hebrew and Yiddish. The mastery of Yiddish by Hebrew, and by what we continue rather euphemistically to call the exigencies of twentieth-century Jewish history, meant not only a rejection of diaspora , but also a taming of the feminine, and a modernist privileging of the symbolic over the literal. In its resolutely feminist, posbnodernist, and theoretical vocabulary and sensibilities, A Marriage Made in Heaven claims a place for Jewish culture at the very center of contemporary criticism. Much as Bernard Malamud and others saw alienation as a Jewish condition preftguring modernity, Seidman sees in the multilingualism and extraterritoriality of the Jew a preftguring of the postmodern condition. Viewing the masculinity of Hebrew and femininity of Yiddish as powerful myths, she considers the symbolic language with which they were associated: Abramovitsh as the zayde [grandfather] of Yiddish literature; Yiddish as mame [mother]; Ben-Yehuda as the father of modem Hebrew speech; Achad Ha'Am's creation of a matrilineal heritage for Hebrew. The sexual metaphors on which she insists appear at times as a continuation, and at times as a counter, to this symbolic system. Among the most provocative of these analyses are ones that read Abramovitsh's tum from Hebrew to Yiddish as an assertion of normative heterosexuality, or the rise of spoken Hebrew as a psychosexual transfor- Hebrew Studies 41 (2000) 358 Reviews mation in Jewish life. She does not, as others have been tempted to do, make of Yiddish the language of feminism or feminist rebellion. Nor does she herald Yiddish as the feminine language sought by some French theorists. Similarly, she resists the temptation-no doubt made more inviting by post-Zionist analyses-to see Hebrew as the force of suppression, asserting its ruthless power. She offers, instead, a commitment to historicizing these language conflicts and to examining the gendered images that defmed them in myth and in practice. Two questions have always been at the center of the Hebrew-Yiddish divide . What are the politics of language choice in Jewish culture? Who were the readers-intended, implied, mythicized, actual-writers addressed? These questions, requiring aesthetic, political, and historical analyses, might just as well be asked of contemporary critical works, including Seidman's. What can it mean for Jewish cultural analysis that so much of it is produced in English? Who writes Yiddish criticism nowadays? And, perhaps more importantly, for whom? What impact does Hebrew criticism have beyond Israel? In addition to their largely rhetorical force and to their poignancy, such questions are noteworthy because of their persistence even now when there is arguably little productive debate to animate them. It may be time to recast the discussion. Writers, as so many of them tell us, do not generally write with a particular audience in mind. They create their own audiences in much the way that Seidman wonderfully obseJVes about Sholem Aleichem, Abramovitsh, Dvorah Baron, Bialik and others. Yiddish literature, despite the numerous subtitles indicating that it was intended for the female reader, was read by women and men. Modem Hebrew's masculinity did not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1681
Print ISSN
0146-4094
Pages
pp. 357-359
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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