as part of the online Yiddish program at the New York Workmens Circle
SUMMER SESSION 2021
All times listed are North American Eastern, please check your local time!
1: Contemporary Hasidic Yiddish Journals
Sundays 1—2:30 PM on June 20; July 11, 25 & Aug. 1, 8
This five-week mini-course provides a survey of readings from Hasidic Yiddish publications from the last five or so years (but mostly from 2020 and 2021). Course goals: to explore the Yiddish of the magazines published by this Yiddish-speaking civilization, and confront all those friendly ghosts out there: Is it really Yiddish? Is it any good? Do they know what they are doing with “Yiddish fit for print”? Does it have a future? How does it compare with today’s Yiddish coming out of our own classes, courses, clubs, and conferences? With the Yiddish of the last generation of non-Hasidic East-European-born Jewish immigrants to America and beyond (and their children….)? If you’re ready to take on a curious Yiddish taboo, and look with an open mind at the actual language used in Hasidic magazines, you might want to try this course, where participants take turns reading and analyzing in a spirit of tolerance and and good humor…
2: Vilna in Jewish Lore
Mondays 1—2:30 PM on July 5, 12, 19, 26 & Aug. 2
Reading and discussion of short excerpts from writings on Vilna by (among others): sons of the Gaon of Vilna; Shmuel Joseph Fin (Fuenn); Hillel Noah Maggid (Steinschneider); Chaikel (Khaykl) Lunski; Meyshe Kulbak; Kalmen Marmor; Daniel Charny; Max Weinreich; Noyakh Prilutski; Leyzer Ran; Israel Lempert (Izraelis Lempertas). A few of the early readings are in Ashkenazic Hebrew, with full (verbal-only, in-session) translation into Yiddish. Knowledge of Hebrew not required. PDFs of texts will be provided weekly at each session. Participants who volunteer take turns reading segments as per the classic Yiddish reading circle tradition. Conducted entirely in Yiddish.
3: Ideas about Yiddish
Tuesdays 2—3:30 PM on July 6, 13, 20, 27 & Aug. 3
This five-week mini-course entails five sessions each devoted to one or more excerpts from a Yiddish scholar’s provocative work about Yiddish (with reference, where relevant, to his/her opponent’s work). Excerpts to be read include works of (in alphabetical order): S.A. Birnbaum, Jean Jofen, Yudl Mark, Matisyohu Mieses, Sh. Niger, Chaya R. Nove, Noyakh Prilutski, I. M. Shpilreyn, Max Weinreich, Uriel Weinreich, L. L. Zamenhof. Conducted entirely in Yiddish.
4: Introduction to Ashkenazic Hebrew
Wednesdays 2—3:30 PM on July 7, 14, 21, 28 & Aug. 4
A five-session mini-course whose prime object is to help participants gain the skills and confidence to speak Ashkenazic Hebrew as a living language and better enjoy classic works written in the language as well as ancient texts as recast in the language over a period of many centuries. The course, conducted in Ashkenazic Hebrew (with occasional explanations as needed in Yiddish, English, or Israeli) is appropriate for participants who have working proficiency in some form of Hebrew (whether ancient, rabbinic, or modern) and who have some passion for East European Jewish culture. Knowledge of Yiddish helpful but not required. The online manual (and slowly evolving dictionary) were initiated as a work in progress during the WC’s first course in Spring 2021.
5: Chaim Grade’s Vilna Vignettes
Thursdays 1—2:30 PM on July 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
Readings of some Chaim Grade vignettes set in prewar Jewish Vilna, selected from his Der mámes shabósim (My Mother’s Sabbaths) and Der shtúmer mínyen (The Silent Prayerhouse) with possible addition of a poem or two. The five-session course follows the classic Yiddish reading circle tradition of taking turns reading and discussing the material read. The instructor will provide cultural, linguistic and Vilna-specific background. Conducted entirely in Yiddish.
SPRING SESSION 2021
Course goals: The course follows the “read together and discuss in Yiddish” method of the classic Yiddish reading circle. Emphasis on development and enrichment of participants’ language capabilities. Texts will be analyzed for cultural nuance and dialect as well as religious and civilizational background (including the nature of Yiddish humor). Course Tools: Texts, to be provided as online PDFs of excerpts from Sholem Aleichem, including Menakhem-Mendl, Tevye der milkhiker, Motl Peyse dem khazns, and Funem yarid. (Readings from previous semesters will not be repeated, so “veterans” are welcome to re-enroll if they feel the format is useful to their ongoing Yiddish development.) Additional Information: This course is suitable for those who have completed one year of college-level Yiddish instruction or the equivalent. This course is taught entirely in Yiddish.
TENTATIVE SLOT: Mondays 1—2:30 PM NY time: on 1, 8, 15 & 22 March; 5, 12, 19 & 26; April; 3 &10 May.
(2) Advanced via Chaim Grade:
A close reading of Chaim Grade’s short story (/novella) Di Shvúe (The Oath). Course goals: To read the text of a modern master as a group with analysis focused on linguistic, stylistic, cultural, historical and religious elements “of every sentence” (rather than aiming for some great number of pages covered). Participants take turns reading with each segment followed by discussion. Course Tools: PDF of the text provided online to participants. Additional Information: This course is taught entirely in Yiddish.
TENTATIVE SLOT: Thursdays, 1—2:30 PM NY time: on 4, 11, 18 & 25 March; 8, 15, 22 & 29 April; 6 & 13 May.
(3) Topics in Grammar, Semantics, Stylistics & Dialectology:
Intended for a wide spectrum of students of Yiddish (at intermediate and advanced levels). No specialized background in technical linguistics required. The course will look both at issues that continue to confront many Yiddish students in our times, and at others where prevalent variation itself makes way for an array of meaningful observations on usage, including the secular-religious, normativist-descriptivist, and purist-variationist axes, as well as the centuries-old “north-south division” in grammar, semantics and pronunciation. At the first session, students will be invited to propose specific issues under these rubrics that interest them, which will, in the event of wider interest among participants, be added as possible and appropriate. Additional information: The course is conducted entirely in Yiddish.
TENTATIVE SLOT: Tuesdays 2—3:30 PM NY time: on 2, 9, 16 & 23 March; 6, 13, 20 & 27 April; 4 & 11 May.
(4) Ashkenazic Hebrew:
A five-session mini-course whose prime object is to help participants gain the skills and confidence to speak and communicate in Ashkenazic Hebrew as a living language and better enjoy classic works written in the language as well as ancient texts as recast in the language over a period of many centuries. The course, conducted in Ashkenazic Hebrew (with occasional explanations as needed in Yiddish, English, or Israeli as appropriate to participants) is appropriate for participants who have working proficiency in some form of Hebrew (whether ancient, medieval or modern — or Israeli) and who have some passion for East European Jewish culture. Knowledge of Yiddish very helpful but not required.
Far from being a monolith, Ashkenazic comprises an array of variants that are systematically differentiated on two axes. First, that of basic type: (1) formal synagogue Torah, Haftorah and Megillah reading; (2) prayers; (3) Talmud study; (4) Creators of modern Hebrew (“pre-Israeli”) poetry (Bialik, Gordon, Imber, Lebensohn, Tchernichovsky etc.) and prose (Mendele, Berdichevsky, Gnessin, early Devorah Baron) (5) the Semitic (Hebrew & Aramaic) component in Yiddish per se. Second, the dialect variation for each of these five categories (following the sound patterning of the coterritorial Yiddish dialect). Beyond the sound system, Ashkenazic Hebrew, a vital (and understudied) component of East European Jewish culture, has its own specificities in vocabulary, semantics, syntax and idiomaticity, collectively a manifestation of a unique Jewish (and European) milieu.
Participants interested also in more technical linguistic aspects, particularly in relation to Yiddish linguistics (which will not be the focus of this course) are invited to have a look at the instructor’s papers in English and Yiddish (more: here and here; on the origins of Ashkenazic stress; on the Ashkenazic of a poem by Y. L. Gordon; see also Yiddish linguistics page).
TENTATIVE SLOT: Wednesdays 3—4:30 PM NY time: on 24 February; 3, 10, 17 & 24 March.