The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Roots of Mod­ern Yid­dish 1903 – 1917

Bar­ry Trachtenberg
  • Review
By – January 6, 2012

As nation­al­ism swept across Europe in the 19th cen­tu­ry, Jews respond­ed by try­ing to define their own nation­al­i­ty. In Rus­sia, the nation with the largest Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion, one answer was the cre­ation of a ful­ly real­ized Yid­dish cul­ture—Yidishe visnshaft, a move­ment that embraced all areas of schol­ar­ship as well as the devel­op­ment of the lan­guage itself. 

After the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion of 1905, Yid­dish also became the vehi­cle for a wide array of social and polit­i­cal move­ments, the lan­guage that could ener­gize the pro­le­tari­at and become the foun­da­tion of a Jew­ish nation with the same stand­ing as the oth­er nation­al­i­ties in the Russ­ian Empire. Bar­ry Tra­cht­en­berg, assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Euro­pean Stud­ies at SUNY Albany, traces this move­ment from 1905 to its posi­tion as the dom­i­nant lan­guage of East Euro­pean Jew­ry in the decades before World War II through the work of three major fig­ures — Shmuel Niger, Ber Borokhov, and Nokhem Shtif. 

Pri­mar­i­ly a con­tri­bu­tion to the field of Yid­dish stud­ies, the book gives the more gen­er­al read­er a pic­ture of the social and ide­o­log­i­cal fer­ment of this peri­od and the ground­work it laid for the rich Yid­dish cul­ture of the 1920’s and 1930’s that died in the ash­es of the Holo­caust, and the emer­gence of the Unit­ed States and Israel as the new cen­ters of the Jew­ish world. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, illus­tra­tions, index, notes.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions