How Yiddish Writers Became Yiddish Writers

14 May 2019 - 5:30 PM

Carmen Reichert (Augsburg University)

Narrations on the Choice of Yiddish in Autobiographical Writings after Peretz

It should come as no surprise that literary autobiographies essentially tell us how writers became writers. From Rousseau’s Confessions to Goethe’s Bildungsroman – lire and écrire – an author’s reading lists and their first attempts at writing are crucial topoi to the genre. But the Yiddish writers of the early twentieth century did not grow up with the knowledge that their mother tongue was a literary language. Hebrew and not Yiddish was the language of learning in private schools for Jewish boys. This is why Yiddish writing in the early twentieth-century developed somewhere between the traditional, Hebrew-dominated education system of Cheders and Yeshivas and non-Jewish libraries. According to tradition, written Yiddish texts were primarily intended for women and uneducated men. Therefore, male and female writers developed different writing strategies when writing Yiddish: Whereas women could trace their writings back to early Yiddish autobiographies such as Glikl of Hameln’s “Zikhroynes” (Memories), men preferred to follow Western European traditions. Yiddish autobiographies often link the personal lives of their writers to the history of Yiddish. For example, when Sholem Aleichem compares his life to the market (“yarid”), he simultaneously commits his voice to the “market language” of Yiddish.  I. L. Peretz, the “father” of the Yiddish literature, was particularly influential in this context. Not only did he encourage writers to switch to their native language, his autobiography “Mayne zikhroynes” (My Memoirs), which draws inspiration from Romanticism, inspired a great number of autobiographical texts from younger writers.

Carmen Reichert is a postdoctoral researcher at the Augsburg University currently working on a project about literature and language debates in context of the Czernowitz language conference. For more, please see here.


Modern Jewish History Seminar

The seminar is intended to provide a platform for academic discussion about the latest research on Jewish history especially of the last three centuries. Though primarily focused on the Jews of central and east central Europe, the seminar also includes topics related to the Jews of other regions. The seminar is further enriched by including topics not directly concerned with Jews, but enabling one to see Jewish history from other perspectives (for instance, the perspective of other marginalized communities).

Despite our preference for the methods of historical research, the organizers welcome multidisciplinary approaches to the topics, including those of sociology, political science, religious studies, and art history.

The seminar is held in the library of CEFRES, Na Florenci 3, Prague 1 always at 5:30 p.m. The language of the seminar is English. The seminar is organized by Kateřina Čapková and Michal Frankl. Since 2018/2019 the seminar is included into the MA program of the Prague Center for Jewish Studies at the Charles University. In the academic year 2019/2020 Michal Frankl is the primary organizer of the seminar. Your suggestions of speakers should be sent to