Look­ing for some­thing new to read with your book club? Have you thought about try­ing some­thing old? Thanks to a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press, New Yid­dish Library, and Open Road Media, not only can you read a clas­sic work of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture, you can do it on your e‑reader!

Josh Lam­bert, the author of Amer­i­can Jew­ish Fic­tion: A JPS Guide and the award-win­ning Unclean Lips: Jews, Obscen­i­ty and Amer­i­can Cul­ture writes about the dig­i­tal release of nine clas­sic works and what the e‑book rev­o­lu­tion means for Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture

I still love old-fash­ioned books, but every day brings anoth­er rea­son not just to grudg­ing­ly accept, but to feel actu­al joy about the e‑book rev­o­lu­tion. One exam­ple: with the tran­si­tion to the dig­i­tal for­mat, the New Yid­dish Library will final­ly accom­plish its mis­sion.

Don’t know the New Yid­dish Library? It’s a book series owing its exis­tence to the his­to­ri­an Lucy Daw­id­ow­icz, who raised mon­ey in the 1980s for a Fund for the Trans­la­tion of Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture, and who, in doing so, couldn’t have even imag­ined that her efforts would result in Sholem Aleichem’s Motl end­ing up on a Kin­dle. 

Over the years, under the direc­tion of the lit­er­ary schol­ars and sib­lings Ruth Wisse and David Roskies, and in a part­ner­ship between Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press and my employ­er, the Yid­dish Book Cen­ter, the New Yid­dish Library pro­duced a series of tru­ly excel­lent vol­umes: sharp, care­ful, read­able trans­la­tions of mas­ter­pieces of world lit­er­a­ture, accom­pa­nied by rich intro­duc­tions and foot­notes by lead­ing schol­ars. There are, of course, plen­ty of oth­er trans­la­tions of Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture by var­i­ous hands and of vary­ing qual­i­ty, but the New Yid­dish Library set the gold standard. 

And, until now, that gold was a lit­tle pricey. Not extrav­a­gant­ly so — pub­lished by Yale, the vol­umes were gor­geous­ly pro­duced and inex­pen­sive by aca­d­e­m­ic press stan­dards, but they were still most­ly too cost­ly to assign to col­lege stu­dents. And, for that mat­ter, more expen­sive than most of what’s on the tables at your local Barnes & Noble. 

Thanks to a new part­ner­ship with Open Road Media, an ambi­tious e‑book pub­lish­er found­ed by pub­lish­ing vet­er­an Jane Fried­man, the books are now not just avail­able on every device you can name (Nook, iPhone, an so on), but they’re rea­son­ably priced. Or, to put it anoth­er way, the only thing stand­ing between you and a gen­uine lit­er­ary trea­sure — be it the sto­ries of Mendele the Book Ped­dler, the grit­ty tales of Lamed Shapiro, or the delight­ful poet­ry of Itzik Manger — is less than what you’d spend on a movie ticket. 

So, what does the e‑book rev­o­lu­tion mean? Today it means more access to some of the sig­nal works of lit­er­ary genius in which Jews fig­ured out how to use their lan­guage, Yid­dish, to express the com­plex­i­ty and excite­ment of becom­ing mod­ern. Noth­ing wrong with that. 

Josh Lam­bert is the Aca­d­e­m­ic Direc­tor at the Yid­dish Book Cen­ter in Amherst, MA, a vis­it­ing assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at UMass Amherst, and a con­tribut­ing edi­tor for Tablet. 

Relat­ed Content: 

Josh Lam­bert (web/twit­ter) is the Sophia Moses Robi­son Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish Stud­ies and Eng­lish, and Direc­tor of the Jew­ish Stud­ies Pro­gram, at Welles­ley Col­lege. His books include Unclean Lips: Obscen­i­ty, Jews, and Amer­i­can Cul­ture (2014), and The Lit­er­ary Mafia: Jews, Pub­lish­ing, and Post­war Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture (2022).